This is when it gets tricky.
In the next two weeks, a total of 12 teams—six per week—will go on bye, removing a significant chunk of the player pool for fantasy owners. These are the weeks where the men and women are separated from the boys and girls, when the deeper teams thrive, when the playoff picture in leagues starts to take shape.
Here, I've sifted through the thinned-out fantasy pool and found the players that will be the top stars for owners this week. If you find yourself without several of these studs, well, you might want to brace yourself for a tough week as the byes rear their ugly heads and take a bite out of your team.
Notes: All point totals for standard-scoring leagues. Points against stats via ESPN. The Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans on bye.
|Week 8 Quarterback Rankings|
|1||Peyton Manning||Denver Broncos||Washington Redskins||30|
|2||Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints||Buffalo Bills||26|
|3||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||25|
|4||Cam Newton||Carolina Panthers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||23|
|5||Matt Stafford||Detroit Lions||Dallas Cowboys||22|
|6||Robert Griffin III||Washington Redskins||Denver Broncos||20|
|7||Michael Vick||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Giants||19|
|8||Tony Romo||Dallas Cowboys||Detroit Lions||18|
|9||Colin Kaepernick||San Francisco 49ers||Jacksonville Jaguars||17|
|10||Russell Wilson||Seattle Seahawks||St. Louis Rams||17|
Last week, I dropped Peyton Manning to fourth on these rankings—the first time I haven't ranked him the top overall quarterback (heading into Monday night in standard-scoring leagues, he has the fourth-most points amongst quarterbacks—booyah!).
This week, with Washington's shoddy secondary awaiting Manning and the league's most dangerous passing game, he returns to No. 1. Just how good should Manning fare? Well, Washington gave up 15 fantasy points to Josh McCown in relief duty this Sunday.
It's gonna get ugly.
Of course, Robert Griffin III should fare pretty well against a Denver defense that has allowed opposing quarterbacks to score 18 or more fantasy points in five of seven weeks as well.
Assuming Michael Vick is healthy, he should once again make fantasy owners happy against the New York Giants, currently giving up 22 points to opposing quarterbacks. In one half against the Giants before leaving due to injury in Week 5, Vick registered 11 fantasy points.
The most notable name left off here is Matt Ryan, though he wasn't included mostly because players like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have better matchups. But even without Julio Jones and Roddy White, Ryan proved he's still a consistent fantasy quarterback, so look for him to put up 15 or so fantasy points against the Arizona Cardinals.
|Week 8 Running Back Rankings|
|1||Marshawn Lynch||Seattle Seahawks||St. Louis Rams||26|
|2||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings||Green Bay Packers||24|
|3||Reggie Bush||Detroit Lions||Dallas Cowboys||21|
|4||Alfred Morris||Washington Redskins||Denver Broncos||19|
|5||Knowshon Moreno||Denver Broncos||Washington Redskins||18|
|6||Eddie Lacy||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||17|
|7||LeSean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Giants||16|
|8||Frank Gore||San Francisco 49ers||Jacksonville Jaguars||15|
|9||Jamal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs||Cleveland Browns||15|
|10||Stevan Ridley||New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||14|
Running Back Notes
It has become absurd how consistent Jamaal Charles has been this season. After seven games, he has yet to score less than 15 fantasy points. Only Matt Forte comes close in the consistency department at running back—seven games of double-digit points—and only Ryan duplicates the feat at any other position.
Even Manning had a 14-point week. It's pretty astonishing how good Charles has been.
Yes, Stevan Ridley is back amongst the RB1s this week. He now has 33 fantasy points the past two weeks (compiling 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns). With Rob Gronkowski back in action, the New England offense should get a general bump in productivity.
The Dolphins have given up 16 or more fantasy points to opposing running backs in five straight games, so Ridley should get his.
Beyond that, in a week with six teams on bye—and running backs like Forte, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Trent Richardson, Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead unavailable—this is the week to trust your regulars at the position and avoid getting too cute when setting those lineups.
|Week 8 Wide Receiver Rankings|
|1||Calvin Johnson||Detroit Lions||Dallas Cowboys||24|
|2||Victor Cruz||New York Giants||Philadelphia Eagles||22|
|3||Vincent Jackson||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Carolina Panthers||20|
|4||Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys||Detroit Lions||19|
|5||Demaryius Thomas||Denver Broncos||Washington Redskins||17|
|6||Jordy Nelson||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||16|
|7||DeSean Jackson||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Giants||16|
|8||A.J. Green||Cincinnati Bengals||New York Jets||15|
|9||Wes Welker||Denver Broncos||Washington||14|
|10||Antonio Brown||Pittsburgh Steelers||Oakland Raiders||13|
Wide Receiver Notes
Any concerns about Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green can be put to rest. Megatron posted nine receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 15 targets in Week 7, while Green has totaled 37 fantasy points the past two weeks.
In general, the top wide receivers have really promising matchups.
A tussle between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions should end up being a shootout that bodes well for both teams' fantasy studs. All three of the Denver Broncos' wide receivers should have a nice afternoon against a porous Washington secondary. DeSean Jackson should get back on track against a Giants defense that allows 24.5 fantasy points to opposing wide receivers per week.
Any concerns about Vincent Jackson's productivity dropping with Mike Glennon at quarterback can be thrown down the garbage disposal. Since the Week 5 bye, Jackson has 19 receptions for 252 yards and four touchdowns.
Don't expect the Panthers to end the good times.
|Week 8 Tight End Rankings|
|1||Jimmy Graham||New Orleans Saints||Buffalo Bills||20|
|2||Rob Gronkowski||New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||18|
|3||Julius Thomas||Denver Broncos||Washington Redskins||16|
|4||Vernon Davis||San Francisco 49ers||Jacksonville Jaguars||16|
|5||Jason Witten||Dallas Cowboys||Detroit Lions||14|
|6||Jordan Cameron||Cleveland Browns||Kansas City Chiefs||13|
|7||Jordan Reed||Washington Redskins||Denver Broncos||11|
|8||Tony Gonzalez||Atlanta Falcons||Arizona Cardinals||11|
|9||Heath Miller||Pittsburgh Steelers||Oakland Raiders||10|
|10||Greg Olsen||Carolina Panthers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||9|
Tight End Notes
While one bad week doesn't warrant Jimmy Graham losing his place atop these rankings, the return of Rob Gronkowski could make things interesting. Gronk came back in style, with eight receptions for 114 yards on 17 targets.
Considering he's been a touchdown-monster in his career, that usage should seem him post huge numbers once he gets into the end zone.
Julius Thomas continues to produce, with eight touchdowns on the year and six weeks with eight or more fantasy points. He's clearly became a vital target in the red zone for Manning, and he's now firmly in the elite group of fantasy producers at the position alongside Graham and Gronk.
It's time to start seriously considering Jordan Reed as a regular starter in deeper leagues. In the past two weeks he's notched 14 receptions for 192 yards and a touchdown, providing a consistent weapon for RG3 in Washington's improving offense.
|Defense/Special Teams Rankings|
|1||Kansas City Chiefs||Cleveland Browns||17|
|2||Seattle Seahawks||St. Louis Rams||16|
|3||New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||15|
|4||San Francisco 49ers||Jacksonville Jaguars||15|
|5||Cincinnati Bengals||New York Jets||13|
|6||Pittsburgh Steelers||Oakland Raiders||12|
|7||Carolina Panthers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||11|
|8||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||10|
|9||New York Jets||Cincinnati Bengals||10|
|10||Dallas Cowboys||Detroit Lions||9|
Defense/Special Team Notes
Death, taxes, the defenses of the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks providing double-digit fantasy points for owners and people overusing the "death and taxes" cliche—these are life's certainties.
Both defenses have only dipped below double-digit fantasy points once this season, and neither team has scored less than eight points. That level of consistency makes both units extremely valuable to fantasy owners.
The San Francisco 49ers are a great start against the Jacksonville Jaguars—plus, the Niners have registered eight or more fantasy points in five of the last six weeks—while both the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets are a strong start in a game that should be a defensive battle.
And yes, with six teams on bye this week, the Dallas Cowboys are worth considering as a spot start. They've posted 26 total points the past two weeks against Washington and Philadelphia, so something is clicking in Dallas.
|Week 8 Kicker Rankings|
|1||Matt Prater||Denver Broncos||Washington Redskins||16|
|2||Steven Hauschka||Seattle Seahawks||St. Louis Rams||16|
|3||Garrett Hartley||New Orleans Saints||Buffalo Bills||15|
|4||Stephen Gostkowski||New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||14|
|5||Shaun Suisham||Pittsburgh Steelers||Oakland Raiders||13|
|6||Alex Henery||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Giants||12|
|7||Dan Carpenter||Buffalo Bills||New Orleans Saints||11|
|8||Phil Dawson||San Francisco 49ers||Jacksonville Jaguars||10|
|9||Mason Crosby||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||10|
|10||Blair Walsh||Minnesota Vikings||Green Bay Packers||9|
At this point, consistent kickers like Matt Prater, Steven Hauschka and Garrett Hartley should be started every week. If you don't have a top-10 kicker, go get one—don't be the guy giving up double-digit points per week because you think kickers are lame.
Hit me up on Twitter—I'll answer your fantasy lineup questions and commiserate with you over underachieving players. It's all the fun of the NFL, but without the concussions.