Fantasy Football Week 8: Top Matchup Plays and Bye Week Fill-Ins
Week 7 was a disaster for fantasy football owners.
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts and running back Doug Martin were both felled by serious injuries. Wayne's season is definitely over. Martin may well follow.
Adding to the headache for fantasy owners this week, a whopping six teams are on a bye.
In other words, the pool of available talent is on the shallow side.
These circumstances have combined to leave fantasy owners considering a lot of players who normally wouldn't sniff the starting lineup.
With that in mind, here are some below-the-radar fantasy options capable of saving the day in Week 8.
Fantasy points allowed information courtesy of ESPN.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings (vs. GB)
You know things have gotten dicey in fantasy football when you're seriously considering starting a player who was warming the bench a few days ago.
And yet here we are with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.
In addition to setting televised football back 30 years on Monday night, Josh Freeman also got hurt in his first start for the Vikings.
As Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports reports, Freeman suffered a concussion in the loss to the New York Giants, making it highly unlikely that he'll be able to play Sunday.
That would put Ponder, who has 691 passing yards and two touchdowns this year, back under center for the Vikings.
Mind you, Ponder has been mostly horrible in 2013, but desperate owners can at least grasp at this straw:
The last time the Packers and Vikings met in the Metrodome (Week 17 of last year), Ponder played the best game of his career, tossing three touchdown passes in a Minnesota win.
Throw in that the Packers are a top-10 fantasy matchup for quarterbacks this year, and as desperation plays go, there's at least some room for hope.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Oakland Raiders (vs. PIT)
Historically speaking, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not been a strong matchup for opposing fantasy quarterbacks.
This year is no different. According to ESPN, only the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks have allowed fewer fantasy points to passers this year than the Steelers.
So why would Terrelle Pryor of the Oakland Raiders be a good fantasy start in Week 8?
Because he's not like other quarterbacks.
A large part of Pryor's fantasy appeal lies in his ability to hurt teams with his legs.
Against the run in 2013, the Steelers have scuffled. The team ranks 19th in run defense (109.3 yards per game), and the Steelers have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs this season.
Those legs should be enough to make Pryor a serviceable fantasy start this week.
Brandon Bolden, RB, New England Patriots (vs. MIA)
The New England ground game has been absolutely maddening for fantasy owners this year.
Injuries, inconsistent play and Bill Belichick being Bill Belichick have combined to make the Patriots backfield a carousel of players who have a big week here and there before disappearing.
With 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his past two games, Stevan Ridley appears to have reclaimed his lead spot.
There's still room for Brandon Bolden to be a productive fantasy asset.
Despite the fact that Bolden hasn't tallied double-digit touches since Week 5, the second-year pro still managed 43 yards and a score last week. Until Shane Vereen returns, Bolden remains the primary passing-down back.
This week, Bolden will fill that role against a Miami Dolphins squad that's been a very favorable fantasy matchup for running backs in 2013.
There's more than a little risk involved with starting Bolden, but there's enough upside to make him a risk worth taking for teams in a bind.
Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers (vs. JAX in London)
The second London game of this season is this Sunday, as the San Francisco 49ers travel to do battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Long way to travel for a game that should be over by halftime.
The 5-2 49ers should handle the winless Jaguars with ease, opening the door for lots of banging away on the ground in the second half.
Usually, that would mean a lot of tailback Frank Gore. Gore has been very effective in that role this year, ranking inside the top five in the NFL in rushing.
However, Gore is also a 30-year-old back heading for his heaviest workload since 2006. With the bye coming the next week, look for the 49ers to take it easy with their lead back.
That should mean plenty of carries for Kendall Hunter against a Jaguars team giving up the third-most fantasy points to running backs this season.
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys (at DET)
With the injury to starter DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle became a hot commodity on fantasy waiver wires last week.
Randle responded with 93 total yards against the Philadelphia Eagles. His 12-plus points in PPR leagues was a decent, if unspectacular outing.
Many fantasy owners would welcome such a showing from the rookie in Week 8.
They may just be in luck. This week, the Cowboys face a Detroit team that has had its share of troubles against the run this year.
The Lions rank 23rd in the NFL in run defense, and Detroit has been the 10th-friendliest fantasy matchup for running backs in 2013.
Murray is practicing, according to Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News, and may be back this week. Even if that's the case, Randle should at least see 10 to 12 touches. It's quite possible Murray will be out one more game, leaving Randle as the starter.
Either way, there's at least one fantasy start left in Randle in 2013.
Jarrett Boykin, WR, Green Bay Packers (at MIN)
A litany of injuries to the wide receivers for the Green Bay Packers thrust second-year pro Jarrett Boykin into the starting lineup last week against the Cleveland Browns.
Boykin played like he belonged there, reeling in eight catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in a Green Bay win.
James Jones has yet to make a return to a practice, so right now it looks like Boykin will get at least one more start for the Packers.
With tight end Jermichael Finley joining the walking wounded in Week 7 with a neck injury, Boykin could see even more targets this week in a favorable fantasy matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
Ride the hot hand while you can, because for now Boykin could be a godsend for fantasy owners who lost Reggie Wayne last week.
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys (at DET)
With Miles Austin hobbled by yet another hamstring injury, rookie Terrance Williams has had an opportunity to establish himself in the Dallas receiver corps.
The former Baylor star has made the most of his opportunity. Williams has hauled in scoring passes in each of his past three games. He has 12 catches for 249 yards and the three touchdowns over that stretch.
Now, with Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas passing along word that Dallas may shut Austin down until the hamstring heals, Williams looks locked in as the second wideout for the Cowboys.
Heading into a matchup with the Detroit Lions, who allow the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers, that's a good thing in Week 8.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings (vs. GB)
After a 2012 season in which he caught nine touchdown passes, Kyle Rudolph was considered an up-and-comer at tight end this year.
However, Rudolph's 2013 season, much like the Vikings', has been a train wreck, and now Rudolph is right back on the waiver wire in many leagues.
If ever there was a week for another game like Rudolph's Week 6 outburst against the Carolina Panthers, this would appear to be it.
In three games in 2012 against the Packers, who have surrendered the third-most fantasy points to tight ends this year, Rudolph reeled in 11 passes for 113 yards and a score.
Add in the presence of Christian "Checkdown" Ponder under center for Minnesota, and the table is set for Rudolph to fill in admirably in Week 8 for fantasy owners of Antonio Gates or Coby Fleener.
Philadelphia Eagles Defense/Special Teams (vs. NYG)
It may seem hard to wrap one's head around the idea that starting the Philadelphia Eagles defense in fantasy football could ever be a good thing.
After all, the Eagles rank 26th in scoring defense and dead last in yards allowed.
It's true. If you play in a fantasy league where points and yards allowed figure significantly into team defense scoring, then the Eagles may not be for you.
However, if turnovers, sacks and touchdowns are king, then it's a different story.
No team in the NFL has more giveaways than the New York Giants, who the Eagles play this week.
They have allowed 18 sacks to go with those 24 giveaways.
Most importantly, the Giants' kick and punt coverage teams are terrible. The G-Men have already allowed three punts to be returned for scores in seven games this year.
In short, the Eagles are a bad defense about to have a good fantasy day.