The name of the game this week is injury management. Three members of the top tier of wide receivers (Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Wayne) are all dinged up heading into Week 8. Chris Cooley is out for at least a month, possibly the entire season. Jermichael Finley won’t be back for at least a couple of weeks. You may even be struggling with the loss of Trent Edwards.
If you’ve built some depth into your roster, and find yourself near the middle of the pack in your league, don’t panic. You don’t want to toss away future strength just to give yourself a marginally better chance at winning this week. If, however, you find yourself near the bottom of the standings, you can’t afford to give away any games and still expect to have a shot at the playoffs. Fortunately, this is a fantastic week for waiver pickups. Injuries to top-flight players results in more looks for lower ranked players. Additionally, four of the worst teams (and worst defenses) are facing off on Sunday, meaning you can grab some of the overlooked players from those normally undesirable offenses.
Just lost Jermichael Finley? Take a shot with Marcedes Lewis (@TEN) or Brandon Pettigrew (STL). Wondering how you’re going to fill in for Reggie Wayne or Andre Johnson? Try Donnie Avery (@DET) or Torry Holt (@TEN). If Wayne and Calvin Johnson can’t play on Sunday, don’t overlook Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie (both SF), or Dennis Northcutt (STL). You’ll get more detailed injury information and last minute waiver savers from Razzball as we approach the weekend, so make your plans and be ready to take advantage of the matchups.
As a sidenote, I’d like to mention that when I was writing last week’s article, I agonized over what QB to suggest as a low-risk, reliable, commonly-available example. I settled on Shaun Hill. Full apologies if you lost your matchup based on that comment, but if nothing else, it drives home the point — crappy waiver QB’s are risky by nature. Pick the one you think offers the least risk, but don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s not dangerous.
Let’s recap how the system works here: start with your basic ranking of players, and then consider -1 and +1 ratings to move the player to the bottom or top of their current tier. A -2 and +2 rating bumps them into the tier below or above their normal position. The team’s pass defense ranking (in passing yards allowed per game) is in parentheses.
1 PM games
Denver (8th) @ Baltimore (23rd)
Great matchup for the Denver passing offense. They should be rested after their Week 7 bye, and the Ravens are about as bad defending the pass as they are good at stuffing the run. Orton and Marshall are easy starts. Royal’s been inconsistent but is playable somewhere between a WR2 and WR3 (and return yards make him a solid WR2). Tony Scheffler had a great game in Week 6, so if you need a TE and if he’s available he’s a high-upside option.
DEN: Orton +2, Marshall +2, Royal +1, Scheffler +1
Remember seeing all those notes about selling high on Flacco? This game is an example of why it’s going to get more difficult to rely on him. The Broncos have yet to really be burned by anyone. It’s tough to recommend Derrick Mason very highly with Champ Bailey’s imposing presence. Todd Heap should make for safe, low-upside TE option if Flacco has to throw underneath coverage. Don’t bother with Mark Clayton.
BAL: Flacco -1, Mason -1, Heap 0, Clayton -2
San Francisco (21st) @ Indianapolis (6th)
Reign in that excitement over Alex Smith’s 3 TD’s in a partial game last week. Unless you’ve painted yourself into a quarterback corner, this is not the game to pin your hopes on a unproven option. On the other hand, his apparent chemisty with Vernon Davis (who was already having a nice season after years of disappointment) bodes well for the TE. Play Davis unless you have a comparable option with a better matchup, but bench everybody else until we see a little more of Smith and Crabtree (I love their soaps).
SF: Smith -2, Davis 0, Crabtree -2, Morgan -1
And the hits just keep coming. Peyton couldn’t keep his streak of 300 yards alive, but that was because of how embarassing lopsided last week’s game was. Reggie Wayne injured his groin in the 2nd quarter, so monitor his status and be ready to put Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon into your WR2 and WR3 slots. Owen Daniels demonstrated that talented TE’s can produce against the 49ers, and I’m expecting a similarly big game from Dallas Clark. Don’t play Anthony Gonzalez but keep an eye on his involvement.
IND: Manning +1, Wayne -1, Collie +1, Garcon +1, Clark +2, Gonzalez 0
New York Giants (2nd) @ Philadelphia (9th)
The last two weeks have demonstrated that pressuring Eli limits the damage he can do, and that lesson will not be lost on the blitz-happy Eagles. After his brief ascension in the elite, I think Eli’s is clearly a second-tier option now, at least against decent defenses. Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, and Hakeem Nicks are all converging in value though Smith remains #1 for now.
NYG: Manning -1, Smith -1, Manningham -1, Nicks -1
The Eagles soothed their bruised egoes by pummelling the Redskins, but in between the big plays, the offense was inconsistent and had a hard time churning out first downs. I don’t love McNabb here but he’s playable as we’ve seen that good pass offenses can touch the Giants D for some yardage. DeSean Jackson is a must start every week. Maclin isn’t generating enough yardage to be a strong WR2 but is playable in PPR leagues. Celek had another mediocre game so you may want to sit him if you’ve got other options. DeSean Jackson missed Wednesday’s practice with a strained foot; if he’s limited on Sunday, upgrade Maclin and Celek a bit.
PHI: McNabb -2, Jackson -1, Maclin -2, Celek -2
St. Louis (25th) @ Detroit (30th)
Waiver wire matchup special #1! Here’s your opportunity to move those dusty Rams off your shelf into the starting lineup. If you need a QB or WR fill-in, this should be a great matchup for Bulger and Avery. Not a fan of McMichael as a TE, even last-ditch, as I’m not sure STL will need to throw underneath much (besides designed screens to S-Jax). Avery is still dinged up, but they throw them out there every week, so just keep an eye on his status.
STL: Bulger +2, Avery +2, McMichael -1
Normally this would be a nice week for the Lions, but the status of Stafford and Calvin Johnson mucks things up. Stafford has been practicing, but Megatron was only getting “side-work” as of Tuesday. If both play, +1 upgrade for both. If only Stafford or CJ play, then a -1 downgrade for that player. If neither play, +1 upgrade for Northcutt (and don’t bother with Culpepper).
DET: Stafford +/-1, Calvin Johnson +/-1, Northcutt +1, Pettigrew +1
Seattle (16th) @ Dallas (22nd)
Dallas is still ranked pretty low in pass defense, but they are trending upwards. Before Week 5, I said, “Dallas might be a bit better than they’ve shown; the more they can pressure the quarterback, the better their secondary will look.” And that’s me quoting me! (And that’s me plagiarizing Grey!) Seattle has been kind of schizophrenic on offense, and I would feel uneasy about starting Hasselbeck here. Mild downgrades to the WR’s and Carlson. The numbers don’t support it fully, but I’d avoid this matchup.
SEA: Hasselbeck -2, Burleson -1, Houshmadzadeh -1, Carlson -1
Good thing Dallas traded for Roy Williams to negate the loss of TO, right? Miles Austin is a must start — has any NFL WR produced a better first 2 start total? Roy Williams is great if you’re a fan of 46 yards a game. As defenses shift attentio to Austin, look for Jason Witten to get a few more looks.
DAL: Romo +1, Austin +1, Williams -1, Crayton -1, Witten +1
Cleveland (24th) @ Chicago (17th)
The Bears’ D was shredded by Carson Palmer, but Derek Anderson isn’t Carson Palmer and Mohamed Massaquoi isn’t Ochocinco. Still, if you’re stuck with some Browns, it’s not a terrible matchup. Just temper your expections by looking over Anderson’s game log. Realistically, the big games just aren’t there, and aren’t likely to happen with the weapons at his disposal.
CLE: Anderson 0, Massaquoi 0, Cribbs +1 (in return yardage leagues)
Cutler remains an overly-aggressive QB that is just as likely to give the game away as he is win it, but Cleveland’s pass defense rating has dropped precipitously since the Buffalo game, so I’d expect a nice bounce-back game. Even when Cutler is having a rough game, Chicago throws enough to not to damage the value of the receivers (see 8 catches, 101 yards, and a TD from Hester last week). Hester seems to be stepping into the #1 role, and Knox and Bennett remain viable options. Olsen has yet to break out but is a reliable TE.
CHI: Cutler +1, Hester +2, Knox +1, Bennett 0, Olsen +1
Houston (18th) @ Buffalo (10th)
The Texans’ pass offense will get a test against Buffalo’s secondary, but they are too good to bench. The only question is Andre Johnson’s health after he suffered a lung contusion last week. If AJ can’t play, upgrade Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones. Latest news is that AJ isn’t practicing but is healthy enough to start. Owen Daniels is the best fantasy TE in the league right now, so it’s hard to upgrade him over his current value, but make no mistake, you should start him.
Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over at QB is apparently all that Lee Evans needed. The Harvard QB is at best a bye week fill-in (and there are probably better options available), but Evans is quickly regaining his lost value. Sadly, the switch seems to have done nothing for Terrell Owens. I know some are starting him weekly so as not to miss out on the “break out” game, but you’ll lose games waiting on him — make him to prove he can do it first.
BUF: Fitzpatrick +1, Evans +1, Owens 0
Miami (19th) @ New York Jets (7th)
I know Henne burned the Jets the last time these teams met; the smart money is against him replicating that performance. Ginn’s horrible hands and horrible route-running (he’s pretty good at running straight down the field) have him moving down the depth chart. Watch Hartline to see if he and Henne can continue their chemistry from last week. Bess and Camarillo seem to rotate good weeks so it’s hard to rely completely on either one.
MIA: Henne -1, Ginn -2, Bess 0, Camarillo 0, Hartline +1, Fasano 0
Dirty Sanchez and the Insane Clowney Posse. Sanchez has improved since the 6 interception game (it’d be hard not to), but I wouldn’t rely on him if someone like Bulger is available. WR is a bit of a mess with health issues for Cotchery and assault charges for Braylon, with Clowney stepping forward to take the (still-modest) lion’s share of the yardage last week. Assuming Cotchery plays, Clowney will probably take a backseat again. As of Wednesday, Cotchery was practicing and Clowney wasn’t. Lukewarm on this whole situation.
NYJ: Sanchez 0, Cotchery 0, Braylon 0, Clowney -1, Keller -1
4 PM games
Jacksonville (31st) @ Tennessee (32nd)
Waiver wire matchup special #2! This is a fantastic matchup for Garrard and Sims-Walker, and if you are short on WR’s or a TE, feel free to toss Torry Holt or Marcedes Lewis in there. Not much analysis needed — the Titans are league worst at pass defense, so take advantage of it.
JAC: Garrard +2, Sims-Walker +2, Holt +2, Lewis +1
Expecting a bunch of +2’s here, aren’t you? Well, normally it’d be a slam dunk against the second-worst pass defense in the league, but there are questions. After the Titans’ owner publicly stated that Vince Young should be the starter, Collins was benched by Jeff Fisher on Wednesday. Are you willing to risk your fantasy matchup on Vince Young’s ability to distribute the ball to receivers? It’s not a smart risk. If you’ve got no other options, you may be forgiven for starting Britt or Washington, but I’d avoid it at all costs.
TEN: Young 0, Britt -1, Gage -2, Washington -1, Scaife -1
Oakland (12th) @ San Diego (11th)
Russell got yanked for Gradkdkowdksi — further evidence that you want to steer clear of this pass offense. If the QB switch is permanent, the Raider’s WR’s may actually have some value in the future, but this is not the week to risk it. Zach Miller is playable — San Diego has athletic, talented corners, but their interior defense is soft. Watch Louis Murphy for future value.
OAK: Russell/Gradkowski -2, Murphy -1, Heyward-Bey -1, Miller +1
Don’t be scared by Oakland’s pass defense ranking. They are limiting completion percentage somewhat (58.5%), but mostly it’s just too easy to run on them. The Chargers are not built to give Tomlinson 25+ carries these days, so expect plenty of value out of Rivers. Vincent Jackson may draw Asomugha’s coverage but it’s not worth sitting V-Jax. Malcolm Floyd is getting a lot of buzz and seems to be passing Chris Chambers on the depth chart — he could emerge as a nice third weapon after Jackson and Gates.
SD: Rivers +1, Jackson 0, Gates +1, Floyd +1, Chambers -1
Minnesota (20th) @ Green Bay (4th)
The Packers are a legitimately good pass defense, but since we’ve seen Favre succeed against them once, it’s hard to downgrade him too far. Still, things aren’t quite as rosy in Asgard as they were before last week, and the Packers are at home, so temper expectations. Berrian is a little dinged up and is a risky play. Sidney Rice continues his excellent play and is a strong WR2, approaching WR1 value.
MIN: Favre -1, Berrian -2, Rice 0, Harvin 0, Shiancoe 0
This should be a good matchup for Rodgers et al, but as the pass protection issues mount, one has to be concerned about Jared Allen rushing Aaron Rodgers all game. For that reason, I don’t like this matchup for Jennings as much as the rest of the team, and as mentioned yesterday, it’s unclear if Jennings will realize his full value while the O-line issues persist. Driver remains a solid play. With the loss of Jermichael Finley, it will be interesting to see if Donald Lee takes over the majority of receiving duties or if Spencer Havnar steps into Finley’s role. Lee is the safer play this week. Havnar hasn’t been added to Yahoo! leagues yet but keep an eye on him.
GB: Rodgers +1, Jennings 0, Driver +1, Lee +1, Havnar 0
Carolina (1st) @ Arizona (29th)
Don’t assume that the Cardinal’s low pass defense ranking necessarily portends a productive day for Delhomme. There will be yardage available, but Arizona used pressure to disrupt the Giants pass offense, and it’s not a secret that Delhomme can be hurried into mistakes. Should still be a nice day for Steve Smith (CAR), however — it doesn’t matter if Delhomme throws 2 or 3 picks, he’ll still get plenty of targets.
CAR: Delhomme 0, Smith +1, Rosario 0
Carolina ascended to the #1 pass defense ranking courtesy of the Cards’ offensive output against the Giants — and I expect Warner to knock the Panthers right back out of the top spot. Downgrade Breaston a little just out of respect for Carolina’s ability to limit overall yardage (while giving up gobs of rushing yardage, it’s worth pointing out), but otherwise consider last week’s performance by Arizona to be a bellwether for this matchup.
ARI: Warner 0, Fitzgerald 0, Boldin 0, Breaston -1
Atlanta (26th) @ New Orleans (14th)
Like Flacco, Matt Ryan’s potential as a fantasy QB this year is severely limited by his schedule. New Orleans continues to look like a legitimate defense, and the fact that they so often are playing defense with a 2 or 3 TD lead means they can “pin their ears back” as Jaworski would say. If Ryan is option 1A on your team, I’d take a long look at option 1B. White and Gonzalez remain must starts, though I think Gonzalez has the better day.
ATL: Ryan -1, White -1, Gonzalez 0
The Falcon’s pass defense ranks right between the Rams and the Chiefs, and that should tell you something. About the only positive statistic is only 8 passing TD’s allowed through 6 games, but that’s about to change. +1’s across the board, if only because the Saints’ value is so high currently it’d be hard to expect them to improve on their current pace enough to warrant a +2 upgrade. Colston and Shockey are obvious — after that it’s a little harder to say, though Henderson and Moore are safe-ish bets.
NO: Brees +1, Colston +1, Henderson +1, Moore +1, Meachem 0, Shockey +1