Player Challenge strategies for Week 8

This column is primarily designed to help strategize for our four-week Player Challenge games, but is essentially about great matchups and overlooked stats, offering deeper options for those in daily leagues.


My pick for the Player Challenge: Tony Romo, Cowboys

On paper, the Lions look like a solid defense against the pass -- allowing an average of 17.4 Fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks and giving up multiple passing touchdowns in just three of seven games. But a deeper look reveals some recent fissures: all three of the multi-touchdown games have come in the last four games. And while the Lions have still kept the average quarterback score against them below 20 points, Jay Cutler, Brandon Weeden, Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton have put up an average of 22 Fantasy points over the last four games. The Lions have also allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game, giving up 300 yards three times and 290 passing yards or more in four of the last five games. Romo is the second-best quarterback the Lions will face this year (behind Rodgers), which should end up with 300-plus yards, a couple touchdowns and a 20-plus point day.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Carson Palmer, Cardinals

Opposing quarterbacks have scored 20 or more points in five of six games against the Falcons this year, for an average of 24.3 Fantasy points per game -- the worst in the league. All six opposing quarterbacks have thrown at least two touchdowns, and three have passed for more than 300 yards. Additionally, the Falcons have just three interceptions this season, the second-lowest total in the league. Arizona's offense looked predictably bad against a stellar Seahawks pass defense in Week 7. This Week 8 gift could prove to be a fruitful reversal of fortune.

Running Back

My picks for the Player Challenge: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; Frank Gore, 49ers

Marshawn Lynch is currently third in Fantasy points among all running backs. His 138 rushing attempts are second-most in the league and his 177 receiving yards have Lynch on pace to shatter his previous career high. In Week 8, Lynch gets a Monday night date with the Rams, who have allowed an average of 22.6 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs -- the most in the NFL. And while Rams apologists can point to the two sub-15 point outputs from opposing RBs in the last three weeks, they're overlooking the fact that those games were against the Jaguars (26th this season in rushing attempts) and Panthers (who gave 13 carries to backup Mike Tolbert). The Rams have given up eight touchdowns to running backs in seven games and have been hurt most by the top-level backs -- Frank Gore scored 19, Arian Foster scored 19 and DeMarco Murray scored 25.

Frank Gore also has a stellar matchup in Week 8, facing the Jaguars, who have given up 153.3 rushing yards per game, including a league-worst nine rushing touchdowns. In the last two weeks, they've given up three touchdowns to Knowshon Moreno and allowed Ryan Mathews to run for a season-high 110 yards (his most since December 2011). Gore currently ranks sixth among running backs with 89 Fantasy points this season and is one of seven backs with 500 or more rushing yards.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Joseph Randle, Cowboys

The Lions have given up 115.1 rushing yards per game, but just five rushing touchdowns, so it's not a given that Randle will have a big Sunday against Detroit. But the Lions are one of two teams giving up more than five yards per carry (New Orleans is the other) and Randle should be available for purchase in daily leagues at a discount, especially considering his somewhat disappointing Week 7. It's definitely a leap of faith, as the Lions haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, but some running back, at some point, will exploit Detroit's surprisingly permissive run defense.

Wide Receiver

My picks for the Player Challenge: Calvin Johnson, Lions; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

It's a shame Victor Cruz has become such an unreliable option lately, because his matchup against the Eagles would normally make him a must-start. But with just 15 points over his last three games, Cruz can't be counted on. So I'm going with Calvin Johnson. Balky knee and all. He gets to face off against the Cowboys in Week 8. Dallas has given up the third-most receiving yards per game this season (311.9), along with 14 receiving touchdowns -- second-most in the NFL. Johnson has played in three games against the Cowboys in his career and has three touchdowns. While the Cowboys haven't given up a touchdown to a wideout in the last two weeks, they were kind to receivers earlier in the season, allowing Victor Cruz to score three times in Week 1 and giving up a touchdown each to Wes Welker and Eric Decker in Week 5.

The same logic that applied to Palmer (above) applies to Fitzgerald. The Falcons have allowed the third-most points to opposing wide receivers this season and the best wideout they've faced has been Vincent Jackson, who caught 10 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7. Wide receivers have scored nine touchdowns in six games against the Falcons and with Fitzgerald getting farther away from the hamstring issues every week, there's a good chance for a big game here -- better, at least, than any other matchup in the four-week challenge format.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Jarrett Boykin, Packers

The Vikings held the Giants receivers in check Monday night, but that may have been more a failure on the part of the Giants than a great success on the part of the Vikings. Minnesota has allowed opposing wideouts to rack up 20 or more points four times over six games. And Boykin showed he could step up for a decimated Packers receiving corps and handle a large workload, catching eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Browns in Week 7. As the de facto No. 1 receiver for Green Bay, Boykin should shine against a relatively weak Vikings pass defense.

Tight End

My pick for the Player Challenge: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons

The Cardinals have given up 16.6 Fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends -- the most in the NFL. Tight ends have scored eight touchdowns against the Cardinals over seven games and three opposing tight ends have gone over 100 yards. Enter Tony Gonzalez, who gets to face the Cardinals in Week 8. With Julio Jones out for the season and Roddy White likely missing another game (or at least still being hobbled with the ankle injury), Gonzalez moves up from your average offensive-minded tight end with a great matchup, to integral-part-of-the-offense tight end with a great matchup.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

Rudolph was supposed to be a solid play for Week 7 against the Giants, but caught just three of nine targets for 27 yards in a Monday night debacle. The bright side here is that Rudolph has a week to get things right with Josh Freeman and has been targeted 20 times in the last two weeks (which equals his total over the first four games). Rudolph's Week 8 opponent, the Packers, have allowed the third-most Fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends (11.7), allowing touchdowns in two straight games. Things can't get much worse than they were on Monday night for Minnesota and Rudolph seems to have come out of the bye with an expanded role in the Vikings offense.


My pick for the Player Challenge: 49ers

The 49ers have the sixth-most interceptions in the NFL. They've recovered six fumbles and scored two defensive touchdowns. And I could throw a hundred more stats your way, but this is all you need to know: the 49ers play the Jaguars in Week 8. Jacksonville has some talent, but has failed to put it all together this season in a manner that nearly guarantees defenses will have success against the team. The 49ers entered the season at near-elite levels, and have four straight weeks of 15 or more points -- seemingly improving once Aldon Smith left the team. Heading into a bye week, San Francisco should put up at least 12-15 points in a solid Week 8 matchup.

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