Well, we escaped one week of six teams on a bye. Now onto the next one.
Byes: (ARI, DEN, DET, JAC, NYG, SF)
Thumbs Up; Quarterbacks
Terrelle Pryor vs Philadelphia Eagles: A 93-yard touchdown? Are you kidding me? Pryor has been a popular on the Thumbs Up list this season, but the league’s most improved player is well deserving. Pryor provided fantasy owners with 15 points on the first play from scrimmage on Sunday, a 93-yard touchdown run from the read-option. It was awesome, but he only finished the game with 16.12 fantasy points, tossing two picks and zero scores. However, this week will be better for his arm, as the lowly Eagles come to town. This unit is allowing 22.28 fantasy points per contest (9th-most) this season. Pryor is going to be a serviceable fantasy signal caller with just his legs alone, averaging around 65 rushing yards per game. Anything he does with his arm is just icing on the cake. And considering the Eagles enter Week 9 as the 31st-ranked pass defense, allowing 14 passing touchdowns this season, Pryor is a QB1 this week.
Alex Smith @ Buffalo Bills: Don’t look now, but Smith actually showcased some arm strength during Sunday’s win against the Browns. Smith threw for 225 yards and two scores in this game in a pretty tough matchup. I’m excited to see what he can do against arguably the league’s worst pass defense. Buffalo may pick the ball off a lot, but they are currently allowing third-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks (24.36 per game), and have surrendered a league-high 20 touchdowns through the air this season. There’s been strong volume for Smith this season, averaging 35.7 passing attempts per game, along with six rushing attempts per contest as well. I think Buffalo keeps this game close, so Smith will have to throw a decent amount, and against this secondary, that should result in fantasy goodness.
Tom Brady vs Pittsburgh Steelers: I recently wrote a piece stating why Brady is no longer a must-start option, and he certainly isn’t one this week. Brady has been brutal this season, posting three games with less than 200 passing yards and five games with just one passing touchdown or fewer. Meanwhile, the Steelers have not allowed an opposing quarterback to throw multiple touchdowns against them at all this season, only surrendering five passing touchdowns all year. That’s the fewest in football. Don’t fall in love with name value, folks. Brady is not a good play this week.
Ryan Tannehill vs Cincinnati Bengals: Tannehill has been a very serviceable fantasy option for those who needed him the past two weeks, throwing five touchdowns over his last two games. However, he has been turning the ball over quite a bit, as he’s thrown four interceptions in that same span. However, the biggest concern is the protection, something that just hasn’t been there for the sophomore quarterback this year. Tannehill has currently been sacked 32 times, the most among all quarterbacks. The offensive line has been brutal, and at one point, was on pace to break David Carr’s sack record of 74. What do the Bengals excel at? Rushing the passer. Cincinnati has sacked opposing quarterbacks 22 times (12th) and are allowing just 18 fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers. Combined all that with a Thursday night game, and Tannehil is a risk this week.
Thumbs Up; Running Backs
Giovani Bernard @ Miami Dolphins: After a few straight weeks with double-digit carries, Bernard has failed to reach that total during his last two contests. However, that should change on Thursday night. As we all waited for, Gio is leading veteran plodder BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the snap count this season. Through eight games, Bernard is seeing 33.9 snaps per game, compared to the Law Firm’s 30.5. Bernard is obviously the main beneficiary in the passing game, seeing 12.7 percent of targets. Thursday night is a good matchup against the Dolphins, who are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per contest this season. Typically, the running backs are the main producers on Thursday nights, so if that trend continues, Bernard may be the best fantasy player in this contest.
Ryan Mathews @ Washington Redskins: After months of fantasy torment, Mathews has actually been very strong for fantasy owners as of late. While Danny Woodhead still plays a major role in this offense, Mathews has seen 21 and 22 carries over his past two contests, and he even scored a touchdown last week. Woodhead is still seeing 73 more snaps on the season than Mathews, but you can’t ignore his recent production. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry over his last two games, and it appears that the Chargers have been trying to establish more of a run game during that span. Coming off of a bye, Mathews gets the Redskins atrocious defense that is currently allowing 26.33 fantasy points per game to runners (2nd-most). This unit has allowed 10 rushing scores this season, so Mathews could very well find paydirt for the second straight week.
Zac Stacy vs Tennessee Titans: I would take this time to shamelessly pat myself on the back with my offseason Stacy call, but then again, look at what C.J. Spiller is doing this year. Anyway, I was super high on Stacy this year, stating that he would be the Rams running back to own. He reminded everyone on Monday night, gashing a very tough Seattle defense for 134 yards. The rookie averaged a stellar 5.2 yards per carry, but exited the game late with an ankle sprain. Luckily, it’s not a serious one, and as long as he plays this week, he’s a must-start option. Since being declared the starting back, Stacy has averaged a healthy 18.75 carries per game. With Kellen Clemens under center, the Rams should continue to pound the rock with Stacy first, and his matchup this week is favorable, as the Titans are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game. I love this kid.
Steven Jackson @ Carolina Panthers: In Jackson’s return to the lineup, he posted a beautiful stat line of 11 carries for six yards. Absolutely stellar. S-Jax just couldn’t seem to get it going, whether it was rust or just a bad game. The encouraging news for fantasy owners is that he dominated the carries (or lack there of), but he has another tough matchup this week. Atlanta travels to Carolina to face their division rival, and a very stout front seven could pose a problem for Jackson. The Panthers are only allowing running backs to average 3.7 yards per contest (6th-fewest), and have only surrendered two rushing touchdowns on the year (second-lowest). This defense is for real, so Jackson is a risky option, especially if he isn’t 100 percent.
Trent Richardson @ Houston Texans: To say Richardson has been ineffective since joining the Colts would be an understatement. So much, in fact, that many tend to sarcastically play a guessing game of what his weekly YPC will be. Over his last five games, Richardson has only posted a yards per carry higher than 3.1 once. He’s been so bad that backup running back Donald Brown has received a significant amount of playing time as of late. While T-Rich is still seeing a healthy 40.7 snaps per game, Brown is cutting into his work a bit, seeing 27.7. I’m not comfortable starting him in a tough matchup like this until I see something productive out of him.
Thumbs Up; Wide Receivers
Keenan Allen @ Washington Redskins: I’m sorry, who’s Tavon Austin? Because the most productive rookie wideout has clearly been Allen this year. Fantasy owners should continue to ride his hot hand this week. Over his last four games, Allen has been targeted 34 times by Philip Rivers, and outside of maybe Antonio Gates, he is clearly the go-to guy in this passing offense. He’s hauled in at least five balls in three of his last four games, and gets an enticing matchup with the Redskins this week. Washington is allowing the third-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts (35.83 per game), and have surrendered 15 scores through the air, which is tied for third-most in football. Allen should be considered a top-15 option this week.
Denarius Moore vs Philadelphia Eagles: Moore has been the main beneficiary (outside of Darren McFadden) of Pryor’s strong play this season. He’s been Pryor’s favorite target in the passing game, seeing a strong 48 targets through seven weeks. He’ll only need a couple of targets to make fantasy owners happy this week, as the Eagles own one of the worst secondaries in all of football. They are currently allowing more fantasy points per game to wide receivers (42.03) than any other team in the league. Six wideouts have posted multiple-touchdown games against this bunch, and while Moore isn’t a big touchdown guy, he is a big play guy. Look for a few deep shots to Denarius in this one.
Kendall Wright @ St. Louis Rams: Wright, one of the most overlooked receiving commodities in fantasy, continues to be an absolute stud in PPR formats. With at least five catches in every game since Week 2, Wright will continue to get the job done for fantasy owners. Jake Locker loves him, as he’s targeted him 58 times thus far, which is good for top-30 among all receivers. He is clearly the number one receiving option in Tennessee, and that’s a good thing since he’s playing St. Louis this week. Opposing number one wideouts have scored a touchdown a touchdown in all but one game against the Rams this year (Andre Johnson failed to score), so Wright is looking strong. He isn’t a touchdown guy, so if he can find the end zone on top of the catches he’ll give you, he’ll be an awesome play. According to Pro Football Focus, cornerback Cortland Finnegan is the worst-ranked corner in football this year, so Wright should be able to handle him.
Marques Colston @ New York Jets: I wouldn’t recommend dropping Colston just yet, but as of right now, there is no way you can feel comfortable with this guy in your lineup. Just 27 grabs for 342 yards and once score, Colston has been one of the bigger disappointments in fantasy this season. He’s only posted two double-digit fantasy outings, and quarterback Drew Brees is simply spreading the ball around too much. The matchup isn’t terrible, as Andy Dalton tossed five touchdown passes against this Jets secondary on Sunday. But a matchup against Antonio Cromartie isn’t something I’d take a chance on.
Vincent Jackson @ Seattle Seahawks: Jackson couldn’t do much on Thursday night against a very good Carolina defense. You think he will rebound against the best secondary in football? I’m not sold. In Seattle, this defense is even better, and I think rookie quarterback Mike Glennon will struggle to get going in this contest. Seattle is allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points opposing receivers, and they have only allowed six touchdowns through the air this season. You may not have a choice but to play Jackson, but temper expectations.
Thumbs Up; Tight Ends
Martellus Bennett @ Green Bay Packers: He’s dealt with minor knee issues the entire season, but Bennett still only trails Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Vernon Davis among fantasy points at the tight end position. He’s been strong for the Bears, and while the loss of Jay Cutler hurts, I think Bennett can still post strong numbers with Josh McCown under center. Two weeks ago, Bennett did haul in a touchdown pass from McCown, and the matchup is favorable. Green Bay is currently allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, and Bennett should see plenty of looks.
Jared Cook vs Tennessee Titans: Cook has been a fantasy tease after his Week 1 performance, but for the first time all year, I’m recommending starting him. Six teams are on a bye, and now that he has a strong matchup, he’s worth a shot. With Kellen Clemens under center on Monday night, Cook saw a team-leading six targets, catching three of them for 31 yards. However, the Titans are allowing the ninth-most points to tight ends, and whether you believe in it or not, he is facing his old team, which could be some extra incentive. Also, for what it’s worth, three of Clemens’ seven career touchdown passes have been to tight ends.
Andrew Quarless vs Chicago Bears: You may be thinking Quarless is a good start this week, continuing to fill in for Jermichael Finley. This Bears defense isn’t the same, allowing 13.17 fantasy points per game to tight ends (6th-most). However, despite starting at tight end, Quarless did what we all expected him to do on Sunday night; block. He only caught two passes, and was primarily used for blocking. Don’t get cute, folks.
Kyle Rudolph @ Dallas Cowboys: Again, another intriguing matchup, as Dallas is allowing the 4th-most fantasy points to tight ends, but I just don’t trust Rudolph, but more importantly, I don’t trust his quarterback(s). Whether it’s Christan Ponder or Josh “Overthrow” Freeman under center, I don’t see how either could revive Rudolph from a fantasy perspective. Rudolph is a red zone guy, and if he doesn’t score, he’ll leave you with nothing. This Vikings offense can’t sustain drives lately, so his chances of scoring are slim right now. There are better options out there.
Thumbs Up; D/ST
Raiders defense vs Philadelphia Eagles: The Raiders? Yes, the Raiders. Believe it or not, but Oakland has been playing much better defense than most people realize. They currently rank as the number 10 defense in all of football right now, allowing 330 total yards of offense per game. Oakland, for whatever reason, also play much better at home, and with the struggling Eagles offense coming to town, I like their chances. The Eagles have scored three offensive points in their last two games, and are letting opposing defense score 10.75 fantasy points per game. That’s a strong number to shoot for if you are planning on streaming the Raiders this week.
Chargers defense @ Washington Redskins: The Chargers are coming off of a strong 15-point fantasy outing, but that was against Jacksonville. I think after a weak performance on Sunday, Robert Griffin III and the offense get back on track, and a shootout ensues in Washington.
*Stats provided by Yahoo! Fantasy and FantasyData.com
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.