Fantasy Football Forecast: Under Fire in Week 8

Rashad Jennings

Every week we break down the movers, shakers, winners and losers in fantasy football, and keep an eye out for the players you should be eyeing for your fantasy rosters.

It's hard to believe, but we're already halfway through the NFL season, which means that we're only a few weeks away from most fantasy football league playoffs. Usually by this point of the season the haves have separated themselves from the have-nots in fantasy, and teams are locking themselves into seedings -- but thanks to the real rough-and-tumble world of the NFL, an injury or a bad streak can mean the difference between having a fantasy stud for the postseason and having a key player flame out at just the wrong time. Keeping that in mind, let's break down the comings and goings of week 7, and then shine the spotlight on eight players who could rise or fall in the weeks ahead.

The Week 7 Debrief:

1. MFFF's picks last week = a mixed bag, as usual. As we anticipated, the Jets' offensive players actually came to play last Sunday, and TE Dustin Keller owners had to be pleased with his 93 yards and 1 TD. We would have looked like sheer geniuses if WR Stephen Hill held onto a sure TD late in the game. On the other hand, in that same game, we predicted big things for New England QB Tom Brady (who had a middling performance) and WR Wes Welker (who didn't get involved until late, gathering up only 66 receiving yards and 0 TDs to TE Rob Gronkowski's 78 yards and 2 TDs). We also predicted increased production for Baltimore offensive players last week, and you can kinda say the opposite happened as the Ravens were crushed 43-13 by the Texans, but we still like QB Joe Flacco (who can hit good streaks as easily as bad streaks) and company to put up better numbers in the weeks ahead against weaker competition -- nowhere to go but up, right?

2. QBs = Kings again. By most fantasy measures, currently six of the top ten scorers are QBs:

Robert Griffin III Aaron Rodgers Drew Brees Tom Brady Matt Ryan Peyton Manning

RBs get decent representation in the top 15, with Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Alfred Morris, C.J. Spiller and Adrian Peterson leading the way. The big losers in the top rankings? WRs, as only Victor Cruz and A.J. Green show up in the top 15 (and we won't even get into the decline of superstar TEs). This indicates that after a few years of RB committees, teams are moving back towards having a primary ball carrier, while "WR by committee" seems to be on the way up. It also helps (or hurts, depending on your point of view) that fantasy juggernaut WRs from years past like Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson are suffering due to spotty QB play on their teams. The advice moving forward? You may get more bang for your buck picking up hot QBs or RBs over WRs for your big playoff push (see the next observation for a few RB recommendations).

3. RBs wrecked = RB opportunities. Not surprisingly, we're getting to the point in the season where RBs are getting dinged up, which means that if you need an extra boost to make your fantasy playoff push, you have some attractive options. In Jacksonville, leading RB Maurice Jones-Drew is out indefinitely, and with QB Blaine Gabbert also injured, the stage is set for RB Rashad Jennings to finally step out of the shadows. The same goes for Cowboys RB Philip Tanner (at least for this week) as he replaces injured DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones against a suspect Giants run defense. With a 100-yard game against the Bengals, Steeler RB Jonathan Dwyer also established himself as a go-to guy. On a more risky note, San Francisco RB Kendall Hunter is firmly behind Frank Gore on the depth chart but should see his fair share of action as Gore deals with his usual aches and pains, and Colts RB Donald Brown is a starting RB as long as he can come back from injury (probably next week).

4. Blood feuds = unexpected stats. Last week New England was coming off a devastating loss to Seattle, and MFFF figured they'd take out their frustations on their AFC East rival Jets with a display of offensive fireworks, but we forgot one of the cardinal rules of the NFL: all bets are off when it comes to inter-division games. New England somehow survived a 26-23 victory, but fantasy teams (apart from proud Rob Gronkowski owners) didn't get much performance from Pats players. Likewise, we figured San Francisco would breeze to victory at home over NFC West foe Seattle, who was coming off an emotional victory only four days before, but the Seattle defense continued to play as advertised, and without injured WR Mario Manningham and with ineffective TE Vernon Davis, the Niners struggled, although RB Frank Gore owners had to be happy with his 182 total yards.

Under Fire: Eight Players (and Eight Predictions)

Now it's time to put the microscope on eight players who might be sneaking under the radar in your fantasy league, but could earn you critical points down the stretch.

1. Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman

The skinny: Remember back at the beginning of 2011 when Freeman was judged to be the best up-and-coming QB in the NFL? Well, after a disastrous 2011 campaign, Freeman was forgotten once again, but with two straight stellar performances the last two weeks (nearly 800 yards and 6 TDs), he seems to be getting comfortable with Mike Sullivan's new offense.

Why we like him moving forward: The Bucs' schedule the rest of the year includes a bevy of defenses who can't defend the pass (Chargers, Panthers, Broncos, Saints), which means Mr. Freeman should be able to build on his recent momentum.

The fly in the ointment: As WR Vincent Jackson (213 yards last week) goes, so goes the Bucs' pass offense, but Jackson has struggled with injuries in the past. His health will be key to Freeman's success.

2. Tennessee RB Chris Johnson

The skinny: A few weeks ago we were comparing him with Cougar from Top Gun, and then last week he erupted for 195 yards and 2 TDs. A flash in the pan or the harbinger of good things?

Why we don't like him moving forward: The next three weeks should tell us a lot about Mr. Johnson, as he goes against a mediocre Colt run defense, and two stout Ds in Miami and Chicago. If he continues to put up decent numbers in those circumstances, he's good for the playoffs -- but only if he performs. We're not counting on it.

The fly in the ointment: With Tennessee QB Jake Locker coming back to duty this week, Johnson's success may hinge on Locker's ability to keep defenses honest with a respectable pass attack.

3. Green Bay WR Randall Cobb

The skinny: It took him a little bit to get going (after we predicted success for him starting in Week 2), but with each passing week Cobb has become a more integral part of Green Bay's passing offense. With WR Jordy Nelson taking the top off defenses with his deep routes, Cobb has had plenty of room underneath to work his magic, and he also provides a threat out of the backfield on reverses.

Why we like him moving forward: Aaron Rodgers has reverted to form these last few weeks, and with only Chicago looming as a defensively formidable opponent the rest of the way, the runway is clear for Cobb's continued takeoff in the ranks of fantasy WRs.

The fly in the ointment: Once upon a time (like seven weeks ago) WR Greg Jennings was considered to be Green Bay's best WR, before he was sidelined with hamstring issues. Will he cut into Cobb's touches when/if he returns?

4. New York Jets RB Shonn Greene

The skinny: Up until two weeks ago Greene was considered to be a bust in New York's "ground and pound" offense, but in the last two games he's grounded and pounded defenses to the tune of over 200 yards and 4 TDs.

Why we don't like him moving forward: Greene has been affected by minor injuries in past seasons and after taking a shot against the Patriots last week that reduced his effectiveness the rest of the game, he may be on the verge of another breakdown. It doesn't help that he's playing three above-average defenses (Seattle, St. Louis, Miami) these next three games.

The fly in the ointment: These are big ifs, but if QB Mark Sanchez can ramp up the Jets' passing game, or if back-up QB Tim Tebow assumes a more prominent role and gives defenses another runner to key on, Greene may have the chance to carry the load without wearing a huge bull's-eye on his back.

5. Oakland WR Denarius Moore

The skinny: A field-stretching vertical threat, Moore has been miscast in Oakland's West Coast precision passing offense, but has become a favorite target for QB Carson Palmer and has caught TDs in each of the last two weeks.

Why we like him moving forward: Oakland's passing offense has been sneaky good this year, and the schedule offers some soft pass defenses over the next month (Kansas City, New Orleans, Tampa Bay) for Moore to exploit.

The fly in the ointment: Palmer and RB Darren McFadden are not known for their consistency -- Palmer is always a candidate to have a meltdown every week, and McFadden has yet to play a full season -- and if either of them are off their game, it will negatively affect Moore's game.

6. New Orleans WR Lance Moore

The skinny: The sneaky slot receiver has had a feast-or-famine type season, with two 100-yard plus efforts in week 1 and 7, and little else otherwise.

Why we don't like him going forward: Drew Brees is having another banner year, and with WR Marques Colston still rounding into shape it would seem that Moore will continue to get looks -- but he can't be depended on week-in, week-out, and you can't afford to start him on one of his off-weeks.

The fly in the ointment: Much will depend on the health of TE Jimmy Graham -- in Graham's absence last week, Moore went to town on the Bucs on the short routes that Graham specializes in, but if Graham returns soon it will cut into Moore's output.

7. Jacksonville RB Rashad Jennings

The skinny: Jennings has a paltry 2.6 average per rush this year, but with Maurice Jones-Drew injured, he's the starting RB for the Jaguars for the foreseeable future.

Why we like him going forward: The Jaguars should stick with a run-oriented attack, and Jennings only faces one rugged defense over the next month (Houston). After getting a whopping 28 touches against Oakland last week, it looks like Jacksonville will ride this horse.

The fly in the ointment: With Jacksonville struggling at 1-5 and with QB Blaine Gabbert injured, Jennings may wilt under the burden of carrying the team's offense.

8. Detroit RB Mikel LeShoure

The skinny: He hasn't set the world on fire after being elevated to a starter, but LeShoure continues to see the bulk of Detroit's carries week after week.

Why we don't like him going forward: Detroit is coming up against some tough defenses in the weeks ahead, and with the team struggling at 2-4, foes will continue to focus on LeShoure and dare ineffective QB Matthew Stafford to win through the air.

The fly in the ointment: Will the Lions stay committed to the ground game in the weeks ahead, especially given that they don't even have a blocking FB on the roster to help LeShoure out?

Fantasy pickups for this week:

New York Jets WR Jeremy Kerley: With 15 catches for 238 yards in last three weeks, he's establishing himself as Mark Sanchez's favorite target at WR, and he also adds yards on kick returns for certain fantasy leagues. One sticking point: he's had a hard time finding the end zone thus far.

St. Louis WR Chris Givens: Stepping up in absence of WR Danny Amendola, Givens has steadily improved, and has shown a knack for the big play. This Sunday he goes up against a New England defense that is getting torched through the air.

Washington WR Leonard Hankerson: With TE Fred Davis out, Hankerson is now RG3's top target, and coming off a game in which he caught 6 passes for 70 yards, he should have opportunities against a Steeler secondary that will still miss S Troy Polomalu.

Miami TE Anthony Fasano: Sometimes slow and steady can win the race -- Fasano is usually good for a handful of catches per game, and is a good fill-in player for this week as the Jets go up against a Jets D that was burned repeatedly by New England TEs last week.

Best Offensive Matchup of the Week:

New Orleans at Denver: Historically, the Saints' offensive numbers take a hit on the road, but they should put up points given Denver's shaky pass defense. However, the real story of this game is that Peyton Manning and his offense is on a hot streak, and the Saints have yet to prove that they can stop anyone on defense.

Best Defensive Matchup of the Week:

San Francisco at Arizona: It's another NFC West bloodbath, and with the Cardinals struggling to generate offense behind a sub-par offensive line and backups RB William Powell and QB John Skelton, look for the Niners to pad their already impressive season stats on defense.

Got a specific question or need advice on fantasy football this week? Sound off in the comments section below.

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