Week 8 Fantasy Football: Last-Minute Lineup Advice

CJ Spiller (broken collarbone) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, with designation to return later in the season. Fred Jackson injured his groin last week, and should miss about a month. Anthony Dixon led Buffalo’s backfield during practice this week, with Bryce Brown running for the second team. The Bills gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire Brown from Philadelphia last May. The former Eagle has yet to touch the ball this year, but ran 190 times for 878 yards and six touchdowns during his first two years in the league. The main strike on his record has been the four fumbles from his 2012 rookie campaign. This year, Dixon has rushed 27 times for 137 yards (5.1 yards per attempt). After taking over the running duties last week, the fifth-year pro got 16 touches for 66 yards.

You know ’em, you love ’em, it’s the “DeAngelo and J-Stew Show.” Since Jonathan Stewart joined the Panthers in 2008, he and DeAngelo Williams have played 66 of 105 possible games together. During his 15 games alone, Stewart averages 17.3 touches for 89.3 total yards and 0.3 scores. Williams (ankle) is going to miss week eight, but hope remains for a week nine return. Kelvin Benjamin was concussed in week six, but cleared all tests before playing week seven. The 6-foot-5 rookie receiver has the tenth most points among fantasy wideouts this year (75.7), and ranks 14th with 10.8 average points.

A.J. Green is doubtful for this week with the same turf toe injury that has plagued him since week one. It’s an issue of pain tolerance and the ability to cut on a nagging foot. “Each day of this week he’s looked better and better,” head coach Marvin Lewis said Friday. “Today looked like football for him. So it was good.” The perennial Pro Bowler has missed all or most of three games as a result of this injury. “We are trying to get over the hump and find the solution other than totally shutting him down for the rest of the season that gets him the rest of the season — as much of the season as we can get him,” Lewis said. “When he’s 100 percent ready in his mind to deal with that then I’ll be ready.” Mohamed Sanu is the team’s top target with Green sidelined and Marvin Jones out for the season. Against Carolina’s 22nd-ranked pass defense, Sanu caught 10 of 14 targets for 120 yards and a score. Lined up across from the Colts’ fourth-ranked pass defense last week, he managed just three scoreless receptions from nine targets, for a team-leading 54 yards. This weekend, Cincinnati hosts the Ravens and their 24th-ranked pass defense. Despite the leaky aerial coverage, Baltimore is the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL, allowing just 14.9 points per game. The 2002 Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers allowed 12.3 points per game, and last year’s champion Seahawks yielded 14.4.

In the 27-0 shutout loss, Giovani Bernard ran just seven times for 17 yards, and caught two balls for the loss of a yard. The Bengals earned just eight first downs, and two of those were by penalty. In contrast, the Colts saw their way to 27 first downs against Cincinnati’s defense who ranked third in the NFL a year ago. This year, the Bengals are ninth in overall defense, and 18th in points allowed. Bernard averages 18.8 touches for 96.3 total yards, compared with Jeremy Hill‘s 8.2 for 45.5. The red zone is a pretty even split, however. Within the opponents’ five-yard line, Bernard has five carries, Hill has four, and each back has three scores.

If last week was any indication of the season remaining, the Cleveland Browns are in trouble. Since 1999, this has been perhaps the most exciting season in the expansion team’s short history. Pro Bowl starting center Alex Mack was placed on season-ending injured reserve following week six. In week seven, starting rusher Ben Tate was able to run 16 times for only 36 yards. LeSean McCoy has experienced similar woes from missing interior linemen, and the results have not been spectacular. Hopefully Cleveland has a solution in mind. Oakland’s 29th rated run defense is in town this weekend. Tate has averaged 17.8 touches for 68.5 total yards in 2014.

Time for a weekly update on DeMarco Murray‘s runaway dominance of the National Football League. He ranks first in the NFL with 187 carries, 920 yards, 536 yards after contact, seven touchdowns, 43 missed tackles, and 23 red zone carries. His lead over second place is staggering. Murray stands atop carries by 32.6-percent (Arian Foster, 126 attempts), yards by 33.2-percent (Foster, 615 yards), yards after contact by 35.3-percent (Foster, 347), and missed tackles by 32.6-percent (Foster, 29 missed tackles). It’s also impressive that Foster owns second place in so many stats after missing a game already. For all the newfound Dallas hype, don’t expect to find a single Cowboys fan unaware that Murray averages 10.3 starts per season.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Friday, “I’ve been told Jim Caldwell looking big picture” and both Calvin Johnson (high ankle sprain) and Reggie Bush (ankle) are likely to skip Sunday’s game at Wembley Stadium in London. Bush played through the injury last week, but saw only 18 snaps to Joique Bell‘s 54. Theo Riddick (hamstring) may return after missing one game. Bell will lead the backfield for the second straight game. Last week against New Orleans’ 11th-ranked run defense, Bell used 20 touches to create just 67 yards of offense, along with one touchdown. Golden Tate will be Matthew Stafford‘s top target once more. In the four games with Johnson either hobbled, playing as a decoy, or dressed in plain clothes, Tate has averaged 11.0 targets for 8.0 receptions, 112.0 yards and 0.5 scores.

Green Bay
On September 23, Aaron Rodgers told Packers fans to “R-E-L-A-X.” The comments came in the wake of a week three loss to Detroit that left Green Bay 1-2. Rodgers was completing 62.8-percent of his passes for 232.3 yards, 1.7 touchdowns, and 0.3 interceptions. Since evoking Title Town’s new mantra, the Super Bowl MVP has connected on 70.6-percent of his throws for 244.3 yards, 3.3 scores, and no interceptions. Over the first three weeks, Eddie Lacy averaged 14.0 touches for 50.3 total yards, while being held scoreless. Since, the second-year back has gotten 15.8 touches for 76.0 total yards and 1.0 score per game. The Packers have gone 4-0 since coming to peace with their inner selves.

Reggie Wayne (elbow) will not play this week, and that likely means another heavy dose of TY Hilton. Hilton leads his team with 47 receptions, 68 targets, and 711 yards. The 5-foot-10 receiver has only found the end zone once this year, and ranks seventh on the team with just two red zone receptions. Ahmad Bradshaw averages 13.4 touches for 78.3 total yards and 1.0 touchdowns, while Trent Richardson is on a clip of 16.9 touches for 74.7 total yards and 0.3 scores. Within the opponents’ five-yard line, Richardson has seven carries for two scores, and Bradshaw has three rushes for one trip to pay dirt.

Even with his shoelaces tied, Denard Robinson is capable of great things. Given his first full workload as a starting running back against the Browns, the former Michigan quarterback rushed 22 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland ranks 32nd against the run, and Jacksonville will host Miami’s tenth-ranked run defense this weekend. Toby Gerhart (2.6 yards per carry) and Storm Johnson (3.2) may be obsolete now, as only time can tell. Earlier this week, head coach Gus Bradley said of Robinson’s chances of maintaining the starting job, “Yeah, I think so. We’ll look at the film. he did a good job and we hope to get Toby (Gerhart) back.” ESPN Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco revealed that offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch may think otherwise. As DiRocco reported, “Jedd Fisch said he’s not yet sure how the carries will be split with the return of Toby Gerhart (foot). He said he’ll ride the hot hand, but one source inside the team said the coaches still aren’t sure if Robinson is capable of handling a heavy workload each week.”

Kansas City
Pro Football Focus has ranked all 122 players to line up as a running back, and no one has a worse rating than Knile Davis. The highly-touted Chiefs back stands alone in 122nd place. Davis is PFF’s 44th most elusive running back, and ranks 24th with 4.2 yards per carry. Jamaal Charles is back now, and in the last three games has 20.3 touches for 99.7 total yards and 1.3 touchdowns.

Lamar Miller has looked good this season, touching the ball 16.3 times a game, for 84.7 total yards and 0.8 scores. With teammate Knowshon Moreno gone for the season, Miller is the only remaining Dolphin with any carries inside the opponents’ five-yard line. In that space, Miller has eight attempts and three touchdowns.

Since week four, Jerick McKinnon has averaged 22.3 touches for 127.0 yards and no scores, while Matt Asiata has used 16.0 touches to create 74.0 yards and 1.0 touchdown each week. During the same span, Asiata has eight red zone carries for three touchdowns, where McKinnon has four scoreless attempts. Within the opponent’s five-yard line this season, Asiata has Minnesota’s only three carries, for two touchdowns.

New England
Shane Vereen has not rushed for 100 yards since week one of 2013. Twice this season, though, he has surpassed 100 total yards, in weeks five and seven. Last week, Vereen rushed 11 times for 43 yards and added five catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Last year, the Patriot scat back ranked 16th among all running backs with 47 receptions. Vereen actually led the team with his 71 yards a week ago. Chicago brings their 19th-ranked pass defense to Gillette Stadium this Sunday, where the Patriots have not lost in the regular season since week 15 of 2012. San Francisco won 41-34 that day, en route to a Super Bowl appearance a few weeks later.

New Orleans
Khiry Robinson (arm) and Pierre Thomas (shoulder) are both out for this week’s game, and Mark Ingram will command the carries for New Orleans. Robinson was sporting a wrist brace when he told reporters Wednesday that he “had a boo boo.” NFL’s Ian Rapoport reported that Thomas may miss two to three weeks. Ingram rushed 10 times for 16 yards last week, and is averaging 13.3 touches for 64.7 total yards and 1.0 touchdown in each of his three games this season. The Packers will bring their 31st-ranked run defense to the Superdome Sunday.

St. Louis
Tre Mason rushed 18 times for 85 yards and a touchdown last week, but head coach Jeff Fisher said, “It’ll be a week-to-week thing. Zac [Stacy] could get 25 carries this week.” Stacy’s career average is 3.9 yards per carry, while Mason is shredding defenses for 5.4 yards per attempt. The rookie also got all six red zone carries for the Rams in their 28-26 win over Seattle.

Texas Longhorns legend Colt McCoy may lead Washington into Cowboys Stadium for Monday Night Football. McCoy graduated with the NCAA record of 45 career wins for a starting quarterback, which was since surpassed by Boise State’s Kellen Moore. Who thought the most threatening McCoy to challenge Dallas in the NFC East would be wearing burgundy? Last week, the backup quarterback came in to complete 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. The score came on his first pass of the game, a 70-yard score to Pierre Garcon in the third quarter. Washington’s NBC4 anchor, Dianna Marie Russini reported “there is NO chance RG3 plays on Monday night against Dallas.” Starting quarterback Robert Griffin (ankle) may return in another week, after being sidelined since week two. Jay Gruden appeared Wednesday on SiriusXM Radio with Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon. The head coach said of Griffin’s availability, “I would think — I would guarantee Tampa, most likely, unless something happens between now and then.”

Alfred Morris bears the fifth-largest workload in the NFL with 115 carries, but ranks 35th with 3.9 yards per attempt. Much was made in the offseason of Roy Helu‘s receiving ability, and how it fits better in Gruden’s pass-happy scheme. Cincinnati ranked eighth in passing last year, when Gruden was offensive coordinator. Among all 2013 running backs, Giovani Bernard ranked eighth with 56 receptions, while Helu was Washington’s best passing back with just 31 catches (31st among backs). In his three-year career, Morris has caught 25 balls. The coach already made one tough lineup decision recently, moving on from an unproductive Kirk Cousins. Morris has not eclipsed 100 yards since week nine of last year, having started 14 games since hitting that mark. As Chad Parsons of Under the Helmet asked last week, “Isn’t volume dependent a euphemism for not that great?”

Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, espn, footballguys.com, and profootballfocus.com.

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