It’s still BYEWEEK SZN – a critical time for average and below-average teams to sneak up on an unsuspecting juggernaut team weakened by a star player on bye. If you’re one of those middling teams, it’s time to take a few chances in hopes that one of these unknown guys will blow up for a week and put you back in the race.
As always, the primary function of this column is to help you secure the bottom half of your starting lineup.
Fantasy football is won and lost in WR2/RB2 and FLEX spots. The goal is to avoid being the person tweeting screenshots of a 30-point performance sitting on their bench.
Racks: Players that are in a good position to outperform their typical projections. If they’re on your squad, Rack them into your lineup and don’t look back.
Rests: These are players facing tough weeks, whether due to matchup or other circumstances. Rest them for this week.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo vs. Oakland: Taylor rewarded Flex On ‘Em readers with a solid showing against the league’s worst pass defense in Tampa Bay in Week 7. Week 8 brings an equally-bad Oakland pass defense cross-country to Buffalo for a 1:00 pm kickoff. If Taylor can duplicate his Week 7 1st half rushing effort and 2nd half passing, then he’s a viable Rack this week, particularly if Derek Carr keeps the pressure on the Bills to put points on the board.
Case Keenum, Minnesota vs. Cleveland (London): There are unsubstantiated rumors circulating that Teddy Bridgewater could start this game in London. I just don’t see that happening this week with a no-win situation in playing Cleveland. If Bridgewater comes back and has difficulty acclimating to playing pro football, the bangers and mash pre-game spread, and Minnesota drops to the Browns of all people, then it’ll be a serious confidence hit to a guy that had his knee implode in a mess of ripped tendons and bone protruding through the skin. No, it’s better to ease him into a game in the friendly confines of Minnesota early next month – maybe even with just a series or two. Back to Keenum: Cleveland is a bottom-six team against the pass but stops the run with surprising efficiency. It doesn’t take long to case this one out and project the Vikings’ game plan.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati vs. Indianapolis: Dalton and the Bengals continue to improve in new coordinator Bill Lazor’s imaginative offense. With Indianapolis and their 30th-ranked pass defense coming to town in Week 8, expect the only limit to Dalton’s fantasy prospects to be Dalton himself; a worrying expectation, yes, but it is BYEWEEK SZN. You have to turn to a man you may not fully understand.
Rob Kelley, Washington vs. Dallas: Backfield-mate Chris Thompson has stolen a majority of Kelley’s fantasy relevance so far in 2017, mostly due to superior ability and Kelley’s injury-riddled early season. But this Week 8 matchup with Dallas presents an intriguing opportunity. Even with Ph.D Sean Lee back in the fold, the Cowboys’ run defense ranks 2nd-to-last in the league. The Redskins will try to control the clock with their run game and keep Dak and Zeke off the field.
Bilal Powell, New York Jets vs. Atlanta: Similar thinking as with Rob Kelley, the Jets should try to control game flow by pounding on Atlanta’s 30th-ranked run defense with the intent of keeping the Falcons’ offense grounded. This is a must-win game for a Falcons team that hopes, like the Democratic party and Hollywood, the year 2017 somehow is wiped from the history books. Al Michaels thinks my Hollywood reference isn’t edgy enough. I’m so PC.
Mike Gillislee, New England vs. Los Angeles Chargers: Another week, another opportunity to close my eyes and throw darts at the Patriots’ backfield. This week, the logic is as follows: the Chargers rank at the bottom of the league in defending the run, but perform toward the top of the league in defending receiving backs and the passing game in general. How can we extrapolate those data further? Well, Gillislee is the rushing back in Boston so 27 (LAC rush rank) plus 8 (LAC pass rank) equals 35, which is Gillislee’s jersey number. See, math is fun and very telling!
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina @ Tampa Bay: Some owners may be wavering on McCaffrey as an every-week starter, given his production ranks outside the top 20 so far this season, but this isn’t the week to expect anything less than a top 10 overall finish. Tampa’s defense absolutely sucks, particularly in the passing game, the area in which McCaffrey obviously excels. Let the Panthers slam Jonathan Stewart into Gerald McCoy in a Thor: Ragnarok-type situation and profit off of McCaffrey exposing the Bucs on the edges while those two catch their breath.
Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia vs. San Francisco: You’ve got to wonder sometimes how a name originates, ya know? Listen, I get that Blount is the name-brand rusher in Philly, but this matchup likely ends with both backs as viable Racks. The 49ers’ defense is top-to-bottom bad and has been exposed by regular backs, pass-catching backs, and even nepotism-benefitting backs like Rod Smith. Smallwood is getting 10 opportunities per game and should only see that number go up this week.
Devin Funchess, Carolina @ Tampa Bay: Funchess has been surprisingly Rackable quite a few weeks this season and, with Tampa’s defense lined up opposite, he has a great opportunity to continue that success. Cam Newton’s bi-weekly impersonation of fellow 2011 1st-round draft selection Jake Locker was last week, so expect the real Cam Newton to stand up in Week 8.
Paul Richardson, Seattle vs. Houston: The Texans are not very often a team I recommend picking on, especially with a lottery ticket-type player in Richardson, but we’re going to the bottom of the barrel in the season’s toughest BYEWEEK SZN week. Richardson is getting almost 5 targets per game and is cashing them in at an electrifying rate of 1.62 points per. Houston ranks at the bottom of the league in efficiency against 2nd and 3rd wide receivers this season, and has a penchant for getting beat deep down the middle. Again, this is a lottery-ticket recommendation, but you could do worse.
Jordan Matthews, Buffalo vs. Oakland: I said we were going deep because it’s the toughest BYEWEEK SZN week, and nothing epitomizes that sentiment more than a broken-thumbed Jordan Matthews inevitably running wide open downfield, waiting for Tyrod Taylor to see over the top of his line and throw the ball. Deonte Thompson got all the publicity this week in Western New York, but that’s no feat when all you’ve got to do is catch a few passes in one game to lead the Bills’ receivers in season total yardage. It’s Matthews who plays the most snaps and will get the most opportunity against Oakland’s 31st-ranked pass defense in a matchup in which the Bills will need to throw to win.
Jeremy Kerley, New York Jets vs. Atlanta: Oh yeah, we’re going deeper. Kerley draws only four targets per game, but capitalizes to the tune of a little over a point per. The thought here is that the Falcons will try to get back on track against an overrated (can a team be considered overrated if it’s bottom-five bad as opposed to historically bad?) Jets team by scoring at will, thereby requiring the Jets to throw on the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense to either keep up or catch up.
Josh Doctson, Washington vs. Dallas: While teammate and Cover1 Draft Guide favorite Terrelle Pryor Jr. is playing like a quarterback-turned-receiver, Doctson has seized a starting role and should see his opportunities jump as a result. While he may not be able to continue his pace of 1.79 points per such opportunity, he’s a very Rackable guy in a matchup with the Cowboys’ well below average defense visiting Snyder-town, where there are plenty of cultural insensitivities, old peanuts, and repurposed beer, but few non-affiliated takes on the team.
BONUS TIGHT END SECTION: Grab any of Jesse James (gunslinger or pornstar?), Nick O’Leary (Jack Nicklaus’s Irish no-glove-wearing grandson), or Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (uh…Jamaican?) off your local waiver wire so you have something to brag about at the water cooler next week after they profit off of defenses that can’t cover the tight end. What a mouthful. I specialize in run-on sentences and whatever-you-call-it-where-you-put-the-dash-between-words-so-it-appears-to-flow-together-as-one-like-it-does-in-my-head.
Mailbag Questions? Need Rack/Rest advice? Hit me up on Twitter: @DJEN5EN
Matt Moore, Miami @ Baltimore: Jay Cutler is out for the foreseeable future. Enter Moore in the role he was born to play: the generic lab partner guy she thought about dating one time that she ultimately chose her smokin’, too-cool-for-school ex over instead. But now the bad-ass ex went away to rehab and she’s lab partnering with the Matt Moore guy again, so she figures they might as well see where it goes because it’s not like he’s ever going to not look like he’s making an effort or leave her for someone better. Baltimore’s 4th-ranked pass defense plays the role of the ex’s best friend who pulls down Matt Moore’s pants in the middle of the hallway and reminds everyone he’s a square, destined to never be the guy forever. In case you’re wondering what happens after graduation, Moore recruits his bestie Mike Glennon and they go on to design an app that tells you where your closest public recycling bin is so you can deposit your Coke Zero in a manner best for the environment. When he hears about the app, Jay Cutler grins, puts his cigarette out on one of the dolphins in the Hard Rock Stadium pool, and mutters “nerd” as he winks at every Dolphin cheerleader simultaneously.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago @ New Orleans: Speaking of Mike Glennon, Trubisky faces the 6th-ranked pass defense on the road at the Saints in Week 8. Sixth! Imagine if Rob Ryan had that much talent when he was in New Orleans. Hell, that defensive unit could have finished in the top 30 for sure. Bill Simmons wants to know: If Rob Ryan never came to Buffalo, would LeBron have never come back to Cleveland? Isn’t my inane hypothetical so interesting? I should start a TV show, too. These guys even got one by asking if Joe Flacco is elite. The good thing about the TV show path appears to be that it pays well for very little work. Back to the Rest: even without the tough matchup, Trubisky threw the ball a Tebow-esque seven times in Week 7’s victory over Carolina, as the Chicago defense shut down the Panthers. While I expect Drew Brees to put up more points, I don’t see Trubisky posting enough statistics to warrant Rack status.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota @ Cleveland: As shocking as it is to see New Orleans as a top pass defending unit, it is equally-noteworthy that Cleveland is the 2nd-best run defense in the NFL. There were some years they wouldn’t have been the 2nd-best run defense in the MAC, but this isn’t one of them. Not only is McKinnon in an awkward timeshare with Latavius Murray, whose hometown of Nedrow is paradise on Earth, but he’s also not really producing effectively in the opportunities he gets (0.62 points per). As mentioned in my glowing Keenum profile above, the Vikings should and will pass on one of the league’s worst pass defenses and leave McKinnon out of it.
Javorius Allen, Baltimore @ Miami: I made a “the buck stops here” joke last week, and I regretted it the second I saw it on the first of my thrice-weekly narcissistic read-throughs of Flex On ‘Em (“I do it for the clicks!”, I lie). Anyway, against a Miami defense that hasn’t given up more than 70 yards to anyone yet this season, well, the buck never even started here.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay @ Carolina: Like Allen, Martin is making his second consecutive appearance in the Rest section of Flex On ‘Em. And like Allen, Martin’s matchup is with a run defense that has dominated every back they’ve faced this season. I’d Rack Jacquizz Rodgers over Martin this week. At least he has a chance of getting lucky on a screen pass, as opposed to Martin’s game plan of testing the “rock and a hard place” theory.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis @ Cincinnati: Gore is a ship whose old coal-powered engine is plodding so slowly and heavily that it’s just sinking slowly into the ocean deep, while Chuck Pagano refuses to fire up the sleek, new turbo-charged electric engine (Marlon Mack) that could save the entire crew. Cincinnati’s 6th-ranked run defense is far from a lifeboat at this stage. Here’s hoping that, unlike Jack, Mack climbs up onto the door first and gets the hell out of the water and onto the field for the next Indianapolis coaching crew.
Marvin Jones, Detroit vs. Pittsburgh: Even with fellow Lions receiver Golden Tate likely sidelined, it’s hard to recommend any receiver facing Pittsburgh’s 2nd-best NFL defense from an efficiency standpoint. The opportunities will be there, but I think that, despite both sides’ great offenses, it’s the defenses who reign supreme in this Week 8 matchup.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh @ Detroit: You don’t have to avoid a stiff-arm and burst into the exclusive club that is Smith-Schuster’s DMs to know he’s primed to overtake Martavis Bryant (who should probably consider DMs over outright posts) as Ben Roethlisberger’s 2nd-favorite target. That being said, like Marvin Jones, his increase in opportunities likely won’t equate to increased production this week. Get him signed up if he’s available, but leave him on your bench for now.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh @ Detroit: I don’t see the Steelers making any effort to give in to Bryant’s demands, if he’s even active. He and Sammy Watkins should spend Sunday tuned into Shark Tank, listening to Mark Cuban go on and on about CyberDust.
Ted Ginn, New Orleans vs. Chicago: Ginn was a shifty little devil last week in Green Bay, catching all seven of his targets and racking up double-digit fantasy points for the third time in four weeks. He’s a boom-or-bust player regardless, and without a couple TDs in that stretch he’d be well below Rackable status. Chicago defends the pass with an efficiency in the top third of the league, and is only getting better. Rest Ginn this week and play the odds.
Adam Thielen, Minnesota vs. Cleveland (London): The Cleveland defense, as I sort of touched on above, is statistically unbalanced. They rank near the very top in run defense, but at the bottom in pass defense. Part of making up that bottom-ranked pass defense is 32nd, 29th, and 30th-ranked coverage against WR1s, receiving backs, and tight ends, respectively. So why Rest Thielen, and where am I going with this? Here: Cleveland shuts down WR2s better than anyone else in the league. If you’re Minnesota, you’re likely going to have Thielen run routes against the Browns’ only viable corner in Jason McCourty and let Diggs get loose on the rest of them.
(Future) Fantasy Ghost Of The Week
Each week, I’ll highlight a typical fantasy star that will likely under-produce. This doesn’t mean they’re automatic “Rests” – but be prepared to be disappointed.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston @ Seattle: While the Seahawks’ offensive line continues to make Doug Baldwin angry, their secondary is slowly climbing the ranks back into the top 5. That leaves us Hopkins and his rookie quarterback as borderline Rests this week on the road in Seattle. Fellow Texans receiver Will Fuller is actually the better Rack option, given that embattled Seattle CB Jeremy Lane’s play (and maybe future lack thereof) has resulted in him taking a page out of the Watkins/Bryant playbook and standing up to The Man via social media. Millenials, amirite!? The silver lining in this for Lane is that Pete Carroll still envisions himself as super-chill Cali surfer that will likely empathize with his fellow (in spirit) bro. Hang loose, man.
Tweets Of The Week
As always, a pair of tweets to sum up the week that was in the NFL world and out.
*Pick In BOLD
Last Week (2-1)
Baltimore -3 vs. Miami
Detroit +3 vs. Pittsburgh
Denver +7.5 @ Kansas City
Have a good weekend, everybody.
*ALL DEFENSIVE RANKING REFERENCES PER FOOTBALLOUTSIDERS.COM
**PLAYER STATISTICS VIA PROFOOTBALLREFERENCE.COM