Fantasy Football: Week Eight Matchups

Ben and his owners are clapping about a matchup with the Bungles

We’re halfway through the campaign, which means you’re fighting for supremacy (Andrew) or hanging on for dear life (that would be Brian). Who to start, who to bench and who plug in for spot starts is crucial in either scenario. To aid your noble quest for a title, every week during the 2007 NFL season ETB continues to examine a few key fantasy matchups at all the positions that matter (sorry, kickers don’t qualify). For each roster spot we’ll give out our Five Strong Plays, a few players to Temper Your Expectations for, one Sneaky Play of the Week, and one Dud of the Week.

These are not always the guys we think will score the most points or score the least points: there will always be obvious situations and choices we ignore. These also aren’t all sneaky plays. These are just the matchups that we feel deserve mention*.

Make sure to check back on these matchups the following week to see how each one of our picks actually fared. That way you can either sing the praises of ETB (likely) or scoff at our incompetence (very unlikely).

Good luck, but with ETB at your side you probably won’t need it.

Sometimes clueless, sometimes on point

Five Strong Quarterback Plays

Derek Anderson, Cleveland @ STL: Derek Anderson has been a fantasy revelation this year, and with the talented duo of Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards making plays every week he’s unlikely to slow down. Cleveland draws the Rams on Sunday, a team that trots out one of the worst defenses in football and has already given up 9 passing TDs.

Actual: 18-25, 248 yards, 3 TDs

Eli Manning, New York Giants @ MIA: As long as he keeps his head in the game and that fragile self-esteem intact, Baby Eli is a solid fantasy option who is more than capable of shredding poor secondaries. He’ll face off against a Dolphins defense that gave up 5 passing touchdowns to New England last week… in the first half. They’ve allowed 15 TD receptions on the season. Miami is just too old and slow to keep up with Burress, Shockey and Co., and Manning should have a fine day at Wembley Stadium.

Actual: 8-22, 59 yards. That’s it.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh @ CIN: Last week Big Ben marched the new and improved Steeler passing attack into Denver, then the best pass defense in football, and threw 4 TDs in poor weather conditions. Santonio Holmes is developing as an elite playmaker, and Heath Miller is one of the best redzone options in football. This week Pittsburgh draws the Bungles D that has allowed 16 passing TDs, the second-most in the NFL, and gives up 250 yards passing a game. If Chad Pennington can put up 272 yards and 3 TDs, Big Ben is a safe play.

Actual: 19-26, 230 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia @ MIN: It may not be showing up on paper just yet, but McNabb’s passes are starting to look more crisp as his knee heals and he feels more comfortable stepping into passes. His stats should get healthy this week as well when the Eagles play the NFL’s worst pass defense, the Minnesota Viqueens. Antoine Winfield is a fine corner, but he doesn’t have the wheels to keep up with Kevin Curtis. We’re looking for at least 275 yards and 2 TDs.

Actual: 23-36, 333 yards, 1 TDs

Drew Brees, New Orleans @ SF: The Saints are finally starting to put points on the board, scoring 50 over the last two games, and their offensive players are slowly regaining their status as safe fantasy starts. After putting up a putrid 1 TD and 9 INTs through the first five weeks Brees has 4 TDs and just 1 INT over the last two. The San Francisco pass defense isn’t terrible, but they can be beat and it’s time to feel comfortable with your QB1 again in these situations.

Actual: 31-39, 336 yards, 4 TDs

Temper Your Expectations

Brett Favre, Green Bay @ DEN: Denver got lit up on national television this week, but their pass D is still as solid as any unit in the NFL. Favre isn’t a terrible option as the Broncos may not have enough talent to keep up with all three Green Bay wideouts, but we don’t feel comfortable starting him on the road against a team giving up just 164.7 yards passing a game, especially if Champ Bailey can take safety blanket Donald Driver out of the game.

Carson Palmer, Cincinnati vs. PIT: They’re the NFL’s third-best unit in terms of yards allowed (174.8 per), and the Pittsburgh secondary has only given up 6 TDs to go along with 6 INTs. They’re murder on opposing QBs right now, and Carson Palmer has played poorly this year. He leads the NFL in pass attempts, but over the last four games Carson has thrown only 5 TDs and 7 INTs. If you have another strong option it might be time to sit him for a week.

Actual: 23-31, 205 yards, 1 TD

Sneaky Play of the Week

Brian Griese, Chicago vs. DET: Griese has averaged 300 yards and 2 TDs over the last four games. Detroit is allowing nearly 270 yards passing a game and has given up 12 passing scores–you do the math. We expect Griese to put up more than serviceable fantasy numbers at home in this divisional matchup.

Actual: 22-40, 208 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs

Dud of the Week

Jeff Garcia, Tampa Bay vs. JAC: The cracks in Garcia’s veneer as an unflappable, mistake-free QB are starting to show. Despite shredding the Lions in Week 7 for completions and yardage, he committed two key unforced turnovers that contributed to the Bucs’ 23-17 loss. With his QB counterpart David Garrard sidelined for a few weeks with a sprained ankle, expect the potent Jags’ rushing tandem of Maurice Jone-Drew and Fred Taylor to eat away clock and limit Garcia’s opportunities against a good defense.

Actual: 19-41, 267 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 43 yards rushing

KJ looking good as the Lions' starter

Five Strong Running Back Plays

Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo @ NYJ: Marshawn Lynch is performing admirably despite his circumstances and continues to impress on film every week. He’s tough as nails and the Jets are a bunch of overstuffed cream puffs. New York has given up around 160 total yards and 1.5 TDs to RBs the last few games, and we think this could be a breakout effort for the hard-nosed Lynch.

Actual: 21 carries for 80 yards, 1 catch for 7 yards

Kevin Jones, Detroit @ CHI: Kudos to all the savvy fantasy owners who snagged KJ late in their drafts and showed patience for the first half of the season. You now own a pretty decent RB2 for your efforts. Jones is clearly the featured back now and he looked very strong last week. Over the last month Chicago is allowing 152 yards, 1.25 TDs, 5 receptions and 35 receiving yards to starting RBs– that sounds about right for this week.

Actual: 23 carries for 105 yards, 2 catches for 10 yards, 1 TD, 1 Fumble Lost

Brandon Jacobs, New York Giants @ MIA: Assuming the big baby plays this week, Jacobs in in line for a monster game. Everybody runs on the ‘Fins, but they haven’t faced a combination of size and speed like this yet. Miami gives up the second-most rushing yards in the NFL, 156.4 per, and have given up an NFL-worst 10 rushing scores. This is it, Jacobs busts out this week for 140 and 2 TDs.

Actual: 23 carries for 131 yards, 2 catches for 6 yards

LenDale White, Tennessee vs. OAK: White wasn’t fantastic on Sunday, but he proved he can be the every-down back the Titans desperately want him to be. He figures to get a bulk of the carries again and Tennessee should be running for much of the second half on Oakland’s rush defense, which has been surprisingly bad: 141.7 yards per and 9 TDs allowed.

Actual: 25 carries for 133 yards, 1 catch for 8 yards

Willie Parker, Pittsburgh @ CIN: Fantasy owners love the yardage totals Fast Willie is posting, but just 1 TD on the season is more than disappointing. It changes in Cincinnati this week, as Parker shreds the weak-tackling, linebacker-depleted Bengals for 180 total yards, 1 rushing TD and 1 receiving TD.

Actual: 22 carries for 126 yards, 2 catches for 8 yards, 1 TD

Temper Your Expectations

Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia @ MIN: Westbrook will likely get his yards, but probably not on the ground against the Vikings’ beefy defensive line. Minnesota is fifth in the league against the run, yielding just 76.5/per, and since their secondary can be exploited we expect McNabb to throw with abandon. Westbrook is especially dangerous on swing passes and screens, and he’ll have to be to put up significant numbers today.

Actual: 21 carries for 46 yards, 4 catches for 46 yards, 2 TDs

Clinton Portis, Washington @ NE: The numbers don’t lie–Portis is wearing down. His mediocre offensive line isn’t helping, but the YPC have steadily decreased since his 5.8 in Week 1, bottoming out against the Cardinals last week at just 2.4. Don’t be fooled by those short touchdowns, Portis is no longer an elite NFL running back and his performance against the Pats will do nothing to disprove that.

Actual: 11 carries for 27 yards, 5 catches for 54 yards

Sneaky Play of the Week

Kenton Keith, Indianapolis @ CAR: Joseph Addai owners can’t be pleased hearing HC Tony Dungy effusing with praise for his backup and hinting at a possible timeshare. The two backs split carries Monday night against the Jaguars with successful results, and it’s looking more and more like that could become a trend for the Colts. Keith has scored three times in the past two games, is averaging 5.3 YPC, and had 17 touches in Week 7 even with Addai healthy.

Actual: 6 carries for 33 yards

Dud of the Week

Lamont Jordan, Oakland @ TEN: On the road versus the best rushing defense in the NFL is not a good place to be, especially with a bad back and a backup screaming for more touches. After starting the season on fire, Jordan’s numbers have cooled off as his achy back has flared up. It doesn’t help that he was only involved in four more plays than Dominic Rhodes this week. He’s in for a long day against a unit that gives up only 59.7 total rushing yards a contest and has let up just 3 rushing scores.

Actual: 12 carries for 16 yards

Smith should dance into the endzone this week

Five Strong Wide Receiver Plays

Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh @ CIN: Our take on Roethlisberger, above, pretty much sums it up for Holmes, who has averaged 6 catches, 91 yards, and 1.5 TDs over the past two games. The Bungles can’t possibly contain both Holmes and Hines Ward, and probably neither of them.

Actual: 6 catches, 87 yards

Stevonne Smith, Carolina vs. IND: They’re going to get down early and be throwing all game,and nobody can keep Smith bottled up for four quarters if he sees 15 looks. He’s also had a week to rest up.

Actual: 2 catches, 18 yards

Lee Evans, Buffalo @ NYJ: Showing signs of life, and keep in mind he only had one TD last season at this point before exploding. Trent Edwards has also gone to him often in two games so far, and you want him in your lineup when that monster game comes. If you’ve held onto him this long, you owe it to yourself to start him every week now.

Actual: 5 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD

Kevin Curtis, Philadelphia @ MIN: Like we said, Curtis’ game-breaking speed is going to be a problem for the Viqueens secondary, and as long as McNabb is sharp there’s no reason to expect less than 90-100 yards and a score.

Actual: 3 catches, 76 yards

Braylon Edwards, Cleveland @ STL: Someone will be catching the 3 expected TD passes from Anderson, and Edwards figures to get at least one of them. He has become an elite fantasy WR1, averaging 19 yards per catch and hauling in 7 touchdown catches already.

Actual: 8 catches, 117 yards, 2 TDs

Temper Your Expectations

Donald Driver, Green Bay @ DEN: Brett Favre has three legitimate WRs to spread the wealth to in Driver, Greg Jennings, and rookie James Jones, and this could be one of those days where the latter two outdo the Pro Bowler. Champ Bailey will be on Driver like Trent Dilfer on a cheesecake, and we know that most quarterbacks are wise enough to not tempt fate and throw at Bailey too often.

Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay vs. JAC: Galloway came up small in a favorable matchup against the Lions last week (5 catches for 46 yards), and opposing defenses know by now that if you can limit the Bucs’ lone big-play threat, you have a good shot at containing the whole offense. We’re seeing similar production against the Jags.

Actual: 6 catches, 115 yards, 1 TD

Sneaky Play of the Week

Reggie Brown, Philadelphia @ MIN: He’s not dead after all. Brown was held to just 8 catches over the first four games (including the shootout against Detroit where everybody got healthy), but has grabbed 9 receptions over the last two weeks and draws the worst secondary in football this week. Donovan McNabb is making a concerted effort to get Brown involved more, and it should pay off this week.

Actual: 8 catches, 105 yards

Dud of the Week

Ronald Curry, Oakland @ TEN: We just don’t think Daunte Culpepper is a very good quarterback anymore, and on the road against Tennessee he’s going to struggle to get it going against a team tied for most interceptions in the NFL (10). The Raiders will be lucky to score more than one touchdown.

Actual: 3 catches, 45 yards

Winslow soldiers on against the Rams

Five Strong Tight End Plays

Greg Olsen, Chicago vs. DET: The rook was shut out against the Lions in Week 4, but he’s really come on since then, averaging 4.3 receptions and 56 yards receiving over the past three weeks. This is a statement game for the Bears–DT Tommie Harris said this week that “Detroit don’t come into Chicago and win”–and they should come out firing.

Actual: 6 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD

Tony Scheffler, Denver vs. GB: He has a nice rapport with Cutler, he’ll be used more and more in the absence of Javon Walker, and Green Bay is giving up big numbers to TEs this year. He’s no Chris Cooley, but just to give you an example, the Washington TE had a career day against the Packers in Week 6, catching 9 passes for 105 yards and a score. We don’t expect 9 or 105 from Scheffler, but we think he’ll find the endzone.

Kellen Winslow, Cleveland @ STL: The Rams are awful, okay? You got that? And even if their offense somehow experiences an epiphany this Sunday and puts up points, the Browns will be with them step for step. Winslow is catching at least four passes/per, averaging 17.4 yards for every one of those catches, and shouldn’t fall off that pace on Sunday.

Actual: 2 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD

Heath Miller, Pittsburgh @ CIN: Two touchdowns last week against the Broncos for the ’05 first-round pick, and now he gets a juicy matchup against the Bungles, who do their best to accommodate opposing offenses and their desire to score. Anything less than 5 catches and 60 yards would be a disappointment.

Actual: 2 catches, 42 yards

Jeremy Shockey, New York Giants @ MIA: He’s very overrated, and we’re a little amused how the normally sullen Shockey magically perks up and can be seen joking around on the sideline as soon as he does something, like last week when he scored for just the second time this season. He gets the Dolphins and should catch 4-6 passes, but we’re a little worried about him staying out late in a London pub and brawling with someone who doesn’t like his American flag tat.

Actual: 3 catches, 26 yards

Temper Your Expectations

Chris Cooley, Washington @ NE: He disappointed last week with just 1 catch for 3 yards, but that had as much to do with his quarterback being out of sorts as it did with Cooley himself. We don’t feel Cooley will flop two straight weeks, but also don’t think he’ll go off.

Actual: 3 catches, 31 yards, 1 Garbage TD

Owen Daniels, Houston @ SD: Matt Schaub loves throwing to Daniels, but he will be hobbled and may miss this game. With Schaub on the bench for much of Week 7, Daniels put up a measley 2 catches for 20 yards. SD has fast, physical linebackers to keep up with Daniels and while we expect him to be serviceable, we don’t anticipate a huge day.

Actual: 4 catches, 35 yards

Sneaky Play of the Week

Donald Lee, Green Bay @ DEN: Yes, the Broncos sport the second-best pass defense in football. But Champ Bailey will be neutralizing Favre’s favorite safety blankey Donald Driver, so he’ll be looking to the TEs often. We saw what Heath Miller did last week against Denver, scoring 2 TDs. Lee has actually been one of the top-12 TEs in fantasy football this year, and we think he scores on the road here.

Dud of the Week

Vernon Davis, San Francisco @ NO: Vernon Davis has been a tremendous disappointment this season, and it won’t get any easier on Sunday. Over the last month the Saints have limited opposing TEs to 2.33 receptions, 24 yards and 0 TDs. The San Fran QBs have been just terrible this season, and the big Davis simply isn’t seeing any red zone looks and isn’t getting the ball in a position to use his speed.

Actual: 6 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD

He eats men alive

Five Strong Team Defense Plays

Tennessee Titans vs. OAK: When Daunte Culpepper is forced to throw, things get ugly (unless, of course, Randy Moss is there to make him look good). The Raiders’ running game is going to get bottled up by the NFL’s best rush D, and Oakland has managed just 190.7 passing yards a game with 8 TDs and 8 INTs, while the Tennessee defense already has NFL-best 10 INTs. Look for the Titans to keep the score down and snag one or two picks.

Actual: 9 points allowed, 5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 Fumble Recovery

Pittsburgh Steelers @ CIN: The Bengals defense puts them in a hole early nearly every game, and they’re forced to pass the rest of the way. So far that’s been good enough to get them 27.3 points a game, but the disciplined and opportunistic Steelers secondary will feast on Cincinnati if they get one-dimensional. Pittsburgh’s running game should also keep the Bengals off the field for much of the day.

Actual: 13 points allowed, 1 Fumble Recovery

New York Giants @ MIA: The Giants are generating quarterback pressure better than any other team in the NFL right now. They’re letting their athletic and aggressive quarter of Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck loose, and the results are an NFL-leading 27 sacks on the year. Cleo Lemon is in for a long day, and the loss of Ronnie Brown and Chris Chambers makes this offense far from frightening these days.

Actual: 10 points allowed, 1 sack, 2 Fumble Recoveries

Indianapolis Colts @ CAR: The Colts have surprisingly only give up 89 points so far, and have 13 takeaways. They aren’t generating many sacks, but the secondary has played well and Indy leads the NFL with just 162.2 passing yards allowed. It’s bad news for a Carolina offense that is going to start David Carr and/or Vinny Testaverde out there on Sunday and is maintaining stubborn allegiance for the thoroughly unimpressive DeShaun Foster.

Actual: 7 points allowed, 2 Fumble Recoveries

San Diego Chargers vs. HOU: The Houston Texans are putting up 24.1 points, eighth-most in the NFL, but they are going to be trotting out a hobbled Matt Schaub or Sage Rosenfels. They will also be playing without Jacoby Jones and Andre Johnson, their starting WRs from opening day. Playing at home, we expect the Chargers pass-rush specialists to bring plenty of pressure and force this team into a few turnovers. On the ground, San Diego should have little problem containing Ahman Green, so the Texans should not be putting up many points either.

Actual: 10 points allowed, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 2 Fumble Recoveries, 2 TDs

Temper Your Expectations

Chicago Bears vs. DET: Opposing RBs have absolutely torn up the depleted Chicago defense over the last month, especially in the passing game. Kevin Jones is finally coming on strong and will give them problems. Detroit can put points on the board, and they’re also starting to employ a more conservative offensive strategy, so there may not be as much opportunity for turnovers or sacks as usual.

Actual: 16 points allowed, 4 sacks, 1 Fumble Recovery

Oakland Raiders @ TEN: The Oakland offense is in a bad spot this week against a surprisingly strong Tennessee defense that has forced an NFL-best 10 INTs and has also forced 5 fumbles so far. With Culpepper under center, the Oakland defense is going to have to defend a lot of short fields, which should lead to points for the Titans. LenDale White is emerging as a legit starting RB, and the return of a rested and mostly recovered Vince Young against a Raiders rush D that’s been very mediocre will also present problems.

Actual: 13 points allowed, 2 sacks

Sneaky Play of the Week

Cleveland Browns @ STL: The Browns defense is our spot start of the week. St. Louis is completely lost on offense, giving up 4 sacks, 3 INTs and .75 fumbles with just 11.8 points a game over the last four contests. Marc Bulger looked terrible and accounted for 5 TOs and 7 sacks himself last week. In fact, playing behind this putrid line that’s missing three starters, he’s thrown just 2 TDs to 7 INTs on the season (one shy of his total from last year) for a QB rating of 58.7. In real life the Browns D obviously sucks, but they make for a solid fantasy play for one week only.

Actual: 20 points allowed, 1 sack, 1 INT

Dud of the Week

Washington Redskins @ NE: Do you really need us to tell you why?

Actual: 52 points allowed, 1 sack, 1 Fumble Recovery

More Free Fantasy Football Advice for Week 8

Week 8 Stock Report

*Disclaimer: There are some players who are always must starts, and you should know who they are. To make things easy, we’ve picked a few guys at each position who will never be listed in our Top Matchups because it just wouldn’t be fair– they’re studs, simple as that. They are: QB Peyton Manning, QB Carson Palmer, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, RB Steven Jackson, RB Larry Johnson, WR Chad Johnson, TE Antonio Gates, DEF Chicago and DEF Baltimore.

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