Fantasy Football: Week 8 Start, Sit

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Wow. That was fun. Best week of the 2020 season so far? Without a doubt. Will D.K. Metcalf be running in the next Olympics? Hopefully.

In Week 7 we saw incredible defensive plays, offensive insanity, and numerous games coming down to the last play. It doesn’t get much better than that, or it at least it hadn’t so far in the 2020 season. However, it might be fair to assume that we might be finally returning to the high quality of play we had come to expect in the NFL.

The first six weeks of the season were mired by sloppy play all around. The cause was clear. The lack of rookie camp, OTAs, and pre-season had an impact. Rookies hadn’t had time to adjust to the NFL lifestyle. Free-agents hadn’t had enough time to acclimate to their new teams; and veterans didn’t have access to the trainers and equipment some need to get their bodies into shape for the games. Yes, some players were off and running from Week 1. Russell Wilson has been cooking, Joe Burrow is slinging it, and Aaron Donald is as dominant as ever, but the negative effects of the shortened offseason were visible all over.

Then Week 7 came along. Now, it seems, just about everyone is up to speed. Some teams are still struggling and will continue to struggle (how does Adam Gase still have a job?) but starting now the true contenders will separate themselves from the pack and we will be treated to football of the highest quality.

Perfect timing too, the World Series just ended. Plus, it looks like the NBA and NHL won’t return until late December at the earliest. That means in November and December our attention can be fully devoted to football. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

Of course NFL players hitting their stride is also a good sign for fantasy football. Now we’ll start to get a better handle on which players we can and can’t trust and who has the best chance of carrying our teams to the championship. So sit back, relax, and hope no one else on your team gets injured.

Start

QB: Teddy Bridgewater (vs ATL) – So far Bridgewater has struggled against the top defenses but capitalized on easy matchups, including when he passed for 313 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta in Week 5. If you already own Bridgewater, jump for joy, if you’re streaming your quarterback this week, put in a waiver claim right now because Teddy gets to do it all over again against the Falcons this week! Since that Week 5 matchup Atlanta allowed Kirk Cousins to air it out for 343 yards and three touchdowns, and Matthew Stafford got 340 and a touchdown just last week. Yeah, you should be excited to start Bridgewater this week. The Panthers signal-caller has completed over 70% of his passes in all but two games so far, has thrown two touchdowns in three games, and only has two games with no scores. The veteran is also showing a great rapport with both Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore which is a great sign for Carolina’s offense going forward. The Panthers do play on Thursday night this week so be sure to get Bridgewater in your lineup in time for kickoff.

Also consider: Joe Burrow (vs TEN) – He’s had some rookie struggles, his offensive line is pretty bad, but Burrow’s got plenty of weapons to throw to and the Titans have allowed two or more passing touchdowns in five of six games. Justin Herbert (@ DEN) – Surprisingly the better of the two star rookies so far, the matchup is just okay but Herbert is nearing must-start territory. 

RB: Jonathan Taylor (@ DET) – Starting in Week 2, Taylor has seen double digit carries in every game. Starting in Week 3, the rookie has averaged at least four yards per carry and at least 4.5 yards per carry in three of those four games. His totals might not amaze you, but it doesn’t get much more consistent than that, especially for a rookie. What’s holding Taylor back the most might be his usage in the passing game. In Week 1 the Wisconsin product had six catches for 67 yards. In Week 6 Taylor had four catches for 55 yards, but in the four games in between he had totaled just six catches for forty yards. Hopefully his Week 6 performance was a sign of things to come and the Colts will trust Taylor more as a pass catcher coming out of their bye week. Either way, Taylor has a good chance to have his best outing of the season this week against Detroit. The Lions have allowed multiple touchdowns to running backs in half of their games; Taylor has three rushing touchdowns in his first six career games. Taylor also has a good shot to set a new career high for rushing yards in a game. Detroit has a running back to rush for over 60 yards against them in every game this season, and have twice allowed teams to rush for over 150 yards against them. Let the rookie carry you to a win this week.

Also consider: Damien Harris (@ BUF) – You can’t trust the Patriots passing attack right now so how about the running game. Harris has a pretty low floor and his ceiling isn’t much better but every running back seems to do well against the Bills and Harris has averaged almost six yards per carry in two of his three games. Todd Gurley (@ CAR) – Whether he means to or not, Gurley keeps scoring touchdowns. The Panthers are among the worst at stopping the run and have two games this season in which they allowed three touchdowns to running backs. 

WR: Brandon Aiyuk (@ SEA) – It feels strange to recommend a 49ers wide receiver, and it probably feels stranger for you to consider trusting one. However, take a second to know Brandon Aiyuk, he might just change the way you feel about 49ers wide receivers. In six games so far, the rookie has seen five or more targets in four of them, most recently this past week when he caught six of seven for 115 yards. Aiyuk has already shown he fits into the San Francisco system well and at this point is the most dynamic and talented, healthy Niners wide receiver. With Deebo Samuel out Aiyuk should only trail George Kittle in terms of passing game opportunity. He only has one receiving touchdown so far but has scored twice as a runner. With Samuel, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson all sidelined there’s a good chance Aiyuk may be used more in the ground game which would elevate his floor. Trusting Aiyuk should be especially easy this week against the dreadful Seattle secondary. The Seahawks have allowed multiple touchdowns to wide receivers in four games this season. They have also only allowed fewer than 200 receiving yards to wide receivers once, and have given up over 300 receiving yards to wide receivers three times. Plus, games against Seattle are always shootouts. There will be plenty to go around and Aiyuk should be able to capitalize in this one.

Also consider: Jarvis Landry (vs LV) – With OBJ out, Landry has a very good chance to be the Browns leading receiver for the rest of the season. That isn’t the most glamorous title to have these days but against a porous Raiders secondary, it’ll be worth a start. Marquise Brown (vs PIT) – One of the most boom-or-bust players this season, against the Steelers Brown could boom for you. The secondary is the weakest part of Pittsburgh’s defense and they are vulnerable to the big play.

TE: Jimmy Graham (vs NO) – Can you really afford to bench a tight end who has seen five or more targets in six of seven games so far? Didn’t think so, and that one week was the only week he didn’t have at least 30 receiving yards or a touchdown. A floor of 30 receiving yards is definitely less than stellar but we’re dealing with tight ends here, it’s not pretty. Graham continues to see the field for at least 40 snaps every game and his consistent target share will keep that floor stable. However, the big game you’re looking for won’t come without a touchdown. So far Graham has four through seven weeks and is among the league leaders in red zone targets. The veteran has been one of the best red zone weapons throughout his career so betting on Graham scoring a touchdown this week isn’t the worst gamble you could make. The odds of Graham scoring are helped plenty by the Saints defense he’ll be facing this week. In Week 7, for the first time all season, the Saints didn’t allow a touchdown to a tight end. That’s right; in each of New Orleans first five games they had allowed at least one touchdown to tight ends. The Saints faced Carolina in Week 7, an offense that barely utilizes the tight end as a receiving threat, so it’s no surprise no tight end scored a touchdown. You could do a lot worse at tight end than Jimmy Graham, and this week there’s a chance only a few will do better.

Also consider: Noah Fant (vs LAC) – Travis Kelce, O.J. Howard (before his injury), and Jared Cook have all had big games against the Chargers. The other three teams LA has faced barely utilize the tight end. There is slight risk here with the ascension of Albert Okwuegbunam, but both could perform well in this matchup. Mike Gesicki (vs LAR) – It’s tough to say if Gesicki’s prospects will improve with rookie Tua Tagovailoa under center, but they certainly can’t get worse and some rookies have a penchant for using their tight end as safety net early on, plus the Rams have struggled against some good tight ends. You could do worse.

Sit

QB: Matt Ryan (@ CAR) – Bridgewater is a good start this week but on the opposite sideline for Thursday Night Football we find Ryan, who would probably like to forget his Week 5 performance against Carolina. With just 226 yards, one interception, and less than 60% of his passes completed, can you blame him? That was Ryan’s worst outing so far this season. Granted, Julio Jones didn’t play in Week 5 and Ryan has looked much better with Jones back in the lineup, but it’s still a less than ideal spot to play Ryan in fantasy. Only two quarterbacks have thrown for more than one touchdown against the Panthers this season, and only one quarterback has thrown for over 300 yards against them. It’s also a short week and Ryan and the Falcons are coming off what has to be a deflating last second loss to Detroit. With the talent surrounding him there’s a good chance Ryan can still get it done this week, but there’s too many factors going against him to trust the veteran this week.

Be wary about: Drew Brees (@ CHI) – You can’t continue to count on Brees getting rushing scores and it’s tough to say who will be available to catch his passes, plus the Bears have shut down almost every quarterback they’ve faced. Josh Allen (vs NE) – Well that was a quick fall from grace. His running ability gives him a solid floor but it’s tough to trust him against a defense that has at least one interception in four of their six games this season.

RB: Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley (@ DEN) – Well that wasn’t the backfield split many expected. After Jackson outpaced Kelley in the Chargers first game without Austin Ekeler, Kelley took a slight lead, seeing the field for seven more snaps than his counterpart. Jackson was dealing with a knee injury but played through it and saw his five carries go for just 12 yards. Kelley carried the ball 12 times but for only 29 yards, so neither back was effective on the ground. However, Kelley caught all five of his targets for 24 yards, and Jackson caught five of six for 43 yards. If Jackson is fully healthy against Denver this week he could retake a majority share of the backfield work, but it wouldn’t be stunning if this is a 50-50 split going forward. If so, it could be a nightmare to predict. For this week Jackson and Kelley have to contend with a Broncos defense that has shut down the run this season. Just last week the combination of Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell combined for only 85 yards rushing, 17 yards receiving, and a touchdown. The Chargers Jackson-Kelley duo is definitely not as talented as CEH and Bell, so it’s probably best to stay away from both this week.

Be wary about: David Montgomery (vs NO) – Inefficiency is the name of the game. Montgomery hasn’t cleared 60 yards or 3.5 yards per carry since Week 2. No running back has cleared four yards per carry against the Saints this season. Carlos Hyde (vs SF) – If Hyde misses the game with his hamstring injury you still want to avoid whoever starts at running back for Seattle. No team has rushed for over 100 yards on the ground against the 49ers and Hyde and the other Seahawks backups aren’t anything special.

WR: New England Patriots Wide Receivers (@ BUF) – Whether it’s Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, or Damiere Byrd, keep the Patriots wide receivers out of your lineup this week. In general, frankly, they might be better off on waivers than on your bench. It looks like Belichick will be going back to Cam Newton as the starting quarterback, but these days he’s only marginally better than the alternatives. Edelman, Harry, and Byrd certainly aren’t helped by New England’s penchant for being a run-heavy offense when Cam is under center. Facing the Bills certainly doesn’t help matters. Harry and Byrd will likely see Tre’Davious White and Josh Norman most of the time and while Edelman might have the easier cornerback matchup, very few wide receivers have had success against Buffalo. Just two weeks ago the Bills held the Chiefs wide receivers to a combined ten catches for 135 yards and no touchdowns. This matchup would be less than ideal even if the Patriots wide receivers had someone throwing them the ball accurately. It’s really hard to justify playing any of these three right now.

Be wary about: Stefon Diggs (vs NE) – Diggs has been pretty matchup-proof this season but after some rough outings by Josh Allen and shadow coverage from Stephon Gilmore coming up, you should lower expectations for this week. DeVante Parker and Preston Williams (vs LAR) – Parker is nursing a groin injury so we can’t be sure he’ll suit up and either he or Williams will have to contend with Jalen Ramsey. Plus, it’s Tua’s first start so it might be best to wait and see how this offense looks with the rookie under center.

TE: Mark Andrews (vs PIT) – Of course you’re starting Andrews, but think about it for a second. In the Ravens last game before their bye week, Nick Boyle out-snapped Andrews 57 to 38. Most of that was having Boyle in as a blocker, but Andrews only had two catches on just four targets, while Boyle saw only three targets but caught all three of them. Boyle wound up with 33 yards and a touchdown, Andrews had just 21 yards. Andrews is still the Ravens tight end to own, and he is still one of the five best tight ends in the league, but his playing time is somewhat concerning. In half of Baltimore’s games this season Boyle has been on the field more than Andrews. Boyle averages 42 snaps per game to Andrews 40. That hasn’t resulted in offensive production for Boyle because he is mainly used as a blocker, but it’s tough for Andrews to put up elite production if he is sharing time on the field with Boyle. In fact, Andrews has three games where he hasn’t scored a touchdown and didn’t clear 30 yards receiving. He cleared 50 yards receiving and had at least one touchdown in each of the other three games. The snap counts don’t show much correlation with Andrews’ production but it seems like Andrews has become a bit more touchdown or bust than many realized. It’s a bit harder to trust him this week against a Steelers defense that has only allowed one touchdown to a tight end this year and only two tight ends have cleared 40 yards against them. Andrews is elite but unpredictable so you need to be careful when starting him.

Be wary about: T.J. Hockenson (vs IND) – Only one tight end has gone over 40 yards against the Colts and none have scored a touchdown. Hockenson has been incredibly reliable but this is a tough matchup for any tight end. Trey Burton (at DET) – Yeah tight ends in this game are risky. Burton has become the rare reliable Colts pass catcher but Mo Alie-Cox could return from injury and the Lions haven’t allowed a tight end to score a touchdown since Week 2.

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Follow Moshe Kravitz on Twitter @MosheKravitz