Thumbs Up of the Week: Philip Rivers (@ NE)
Rivers was one of my favorite quarterback targets in fantasy drafts over the summer, but I was worried about the early part of his schedule. He’s through it though, and was able to come out averaging a respectable 15.0 fantasy points per game. The 35-year-old is going to throw a bunch after winning three in a row, and he has a loaded group of weapons with Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Antonio Gates, and of course Melvin Gordon. And he will most likely need to put up points against the Patriots in Week 8. Rivers is a top-five option for me.
Thumbs Up: Cam Newton (@ TB)
Outside of a three-game stretch where he averaged 26.0 points per game, Cam has been a disappointment for fantasy owners in 2017, but there are encouraging signs for the rest of the season. First of all, a handful of his turnovers shouldn’t have been on him—including four over the past two games. Also, he’s doing more as a runner with 71 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles and nine carries for 50 yards against Chicago. The schedule is what makes him a high-upside QB1 for the rest of the season, though, and that starts against a Tampa Bay defense that’s allowing over 300 passing yards per game and just allowed the next “Thumbs Up” to rush for 53 yards.
Thumbs Up: Tyrod Taylor (v OAK)
Taylor was a recommended start last week, and he paid off with 19 fantasy points. He’s a streaming option again this week, as Oakland has struggled against athletic quarterbacks so far (23.0 fantasy points per game to Marcus Mariota, Kirk Cousins, and Alex Smith). A lack of weapons isn’t a concern against the Raiders, and the underrated Taylor just turned Deonte Thompson into a 100-yard receiver after the 28-year-old signed less than a week before their game against the Bucs.
Thumbs Up: Andy Dalton (v IND)
If you can’t get Taylor as a streamer, Dalton is also a really solid option for Week 8. The Bengals struggled offensively against the Steelers last Sunday, but Pittsburgh is allowing just 5.6 yards per attempt through the air this season (best in the NFL), while the Colts are allowed 8.9 yards per attempt, which is by far the worst in the league. Back at home, the Cincinnati should be much better than they were a week ago.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Deshaun Watson (@ SEA)
I wouldn’t blame anyone for not benching the top fantasy scorer in points per game (despite not even starting in Week 1), but playing in Seattle will be Deshaun Watson’s biggest challenge yet. The Seahawks are allowing just over 200 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks, and they’ve only played two home games so far. Watson could very well be a matchup-proof QB1, but it might be safer to go elsewhere for just this week.
Thumbs Down: Alex Smith (v DEN)
Alex Smith has been sensational in 2017, and he was also great last year against Denver in a season sweep, but that said, Smith only averaged 232 passing yards per game with two touchdowns and one interception against the Broncos in 2016, and they are a desperate team that needs to quickly turn things around with Philadelphia and New England next on the schedule. Playing at home is a plus, but Smith isn’t a recommended QB1 option for Week 8.
Thumbs Down: Derek Carr (@ BUF)
Carr broke out of his career struggles against the Chiefs in last Thursday night’s win, but fantasy owners shouldn’t be fooled into thinking he’s suddenly the solid QB1 they might have believed they were drafting after one game. Including the 29-point performance on Thursday Night Football (where anything can seemingly happen) and excluding the game he was injured in against Denver, Carr is still just averaging just 15.6 fantasy points per game this season, which puts him outside QB1 territory without even considering the injuries to Marcus Mariota, Aaron Rodgers, or Carson Palmer. I doubt Buffalo gets torched two weeks in a row.
Thumbs Down: Jameis Winston (v CAR)
Jameis Winston was the one to get the better of the Bills last week, but I’m not expecting him to keep it up against Carolina on Sunday. Winston has thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions against the Panthers in four career matchups, and he threw for just 210.5 yards per game against them in 2016. No quarterback has scored more than 20 fantasy points when facing the Panthers this season.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Joe Mixon (v IND)
Indianapolis started off the season with some strong run defense, but they’ve fallen apart in recent weeks, as they’ve allowed a combined 64 carries for 348 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns over the past two games. Joe Mixon didn’t get the start in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, but he again looked like the team’s best runner, and Cincinnati needs to get him going in a good spot if they want to turn their season around. It should be noted that Mixon publicly complained about the running backs not getting enough touches earlier this week, so perhaps that could potentially impact his snaps in a negative way against the Colts, but I still have him as a borderline RB1 play.
Thumbs Up: Ameer Abdullah (v PIT)
The Lions started off 3-1 with their only loss being inches away from a win in Atlanta, and Ameer Abdullah handled between 17-23 touches in each game. After that, Detroit lost two in a row and only gave their starter touch totals of 11 and 14. Perhaps it had something to do with a minor ankle injury he suffered in Week 4, but I think the more likely explanation is that they fell behind and abandoned the run. Either way, the bye week should have allowed a good coaching staff to craft a game plan that involves Abdullah against Pittsburgh’s exploitable run defense, as teams are faring much better on the ground (4.7 yards per attempt) than through the air (5.6 yards per attempt). He’s a high-end RB2. Also, Theo Riddick is worth a look in PPR leagues with Golden Tate likely out.
Thumbs Up: Dion Lewis (v LAC)
Despite being listed at a generous five-foot-eight, Dion Lewis has taken over as New England’s lead between-the-tackles runner over the past three weeks, and he’s getting more playing time by the game. The touch totals have gone from nine to 11 to 14, and I could see him pushing for 18-20 touches on Sunday against a run defense for Los Angeles that’s allowing the second-most yards per game (140.6) and yards per rush (4.9) this season. Lewis is a great plug-and-play with six teams on a bye.
Thumbs Up: Latavius Murray (@ CLE)
Cleveland has surprisingly been excellent versus the run in 2017, as despite an 0-7 record, they are allowing fewer than 3.0 yards per carry (best in the NFL). They won’t have first-overall pick Myles Garrett, though, and Latavius Murray’s confidence is soaring after his breakout game last week; his snaps and touches have gone up in each game as the starter, and the former Raider is finally looking healthy after offseason ankle surgery. Also, the game flow should be favorable with DeShone Kizer back under center for the Browns.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Lamar Miller (@ SEA)
The Seahawks’ run defense is probably a little overrated based on reputation, but they also aren’t as bad as the 4.7 yards per carry they’ve allowed in 2017, as they’ve tightened up in recent weeks. Lamar Miller is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and had his worst game of the year heading into the Texans’ bye, and I don’t see him having much success in Seattle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see rookie backup D’Onta Foreman get more playing time and have the better game based on his physical style of play.
Thumbs Down: C.J. Anderson (@ KC)
I had more misses than I would have liked in Week 7, but Anderson as a “Thumbs Down” wasn’t one of them. Kansas City is another good matchup, but so were the Chargers last week, and Denver’s starter just isn’t getting a consistent enough workload to be trusted right now. He rushed for a combined 36 yards on 14 carries against the Chiefs last season, and Monday night is a homecoming for Jamaal Charles, which could mean more work for the veteran. Anderson remains a FLEX option in a bad week for running backs, but he’s barely hanging on to that.
Thumbs Down: Isaiah Crowell (v MIN)
Hopefully no one is starting Crowell at this point, but after an ever-so-small glimmer of hope for a turnaround when Cody Kessler replaced DeShone Kizer last week, the Browns decided to re-name Kizer the starting quarterback once again. That should inevitably lead to more stacked boxes and playing from behind for Cleveland, and Crowell isn’t nearly talented enough to overcome that and the loss of future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas at left tackle. You can drop him if you haven’t already.
Thumbs Down: DeAndre Washington (@ BUF)
After an impressive rookie year where he averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 87 attempts, DeAndre Washington has rushed for just 53 yards on 23 attempts this season. Marshawn Lynch is suspended for Sunday’s game, so a lot of fantasy owners are turning to Washington, but I think Jalen Richard is the better player and fantasy option. Neither is more than a weak FLEX option behind an overrated run-blocking offensive line and facing an elite run defense, though. Washington had just 32.5 rushing yards per game and no scores in his two starts as a rookie.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Kelvin Benjamin (@ TB)
Benjamin has owned Tampa Bay so far in his young career, as his worst game was five receptions for 70 yards in last year’s Week 5 meeting (when he was working the rust off from a torn ACL). In Week 16, he caught six-of-seven targets for 93 yards and a touchdown, and he had lines of 6/92/1 and 8/104 against them in 2014. The small cornerbacks for the Bucs will have problems again with KB. Get him in lineups as a low-end WR1, and Devin Funchess also should be a solid WR2.
Thumbs Up: Demaryius Thomas (@ KC)
Demaryius was a “Thumbs Up” last week with the expectation that he would get targeted a bunch despite a matchup with Casey Hayward, but Denver completely fell apart offensively, as Trevor Siemian had no chance with Los Angeles getting after him all day. It also didn’t help that a huge 81-yard catch-and-run was called back on an eyebrow-raising offensive pass interference call. DT remains on the WR1/WR2 borderline in a primetime matchup, and the Broncos will keep him away from Marcus Peters for much of the game as he looks for his first touchdown of the year.
Thumbs Up: Josh Doctson (v DAL)
Washington signing Terrelle Pryor in the offseason wasn’t a good sign for Josh Doctson, but it only took six games for the Redskins to realize it was a bad move, as Josh Doctson got the start over Pryor in Week 7, and it’s going to be a permanent move if he stays healthy. The former first-round pick is the best receiver on the team, and Kirk Cousins should only gain more trust in him as the season progresses. Doctson is a FLEX when they matchup is right, and that includes this week against Dallas. Pick him up if you can.
Thumbs Up: JuJu Smitch-Schuster (@ DET)
Despite not turning 21 until late November, JuJu Smith-Schuster already has the skills to backup his touchdown celebrations and elite Twitter game. On the field, the USC product has been a solid contributor for Pittsburgh, and he’s the third option behind Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell on an offense that should fully breakout at any moment. I think it might come against Detroit on Sunday night, and JuJu has a chance to do a lot of damage from the slot. Plus, Martavis Bryant will be inactive after complaining about his role and basically requesting a trade this week, so that will lead to more looks for the rookie.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Tyreek Hill (v DEN)
Tyreek Hill completely dominated against the Broncos in 2016, as he scored four touchdowns in two games, including the memorable November game where he caught a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and returned a kick for a touchdown. But while the 23-year-old has certainly made strides as a true wide receiver, Denver is sure to pay plenty of attention to him this week. Even last year, they did well against him as a pass-catcher by limiting him to 3.47 yards per target, and they were clearly better in the Christmas Day rematch by holding him without a reception on five targets. “Cheetah” always has a chance make a game-breaking play, but I think the floor in pretty low on Monday night, limiting to high-upside FLEX value.
Thumbs Down: T.Y. Hilton (@ CIN)
Hilton, too, could make a huge play that makes him worth a start, but it’s less likely away from home, as he’s barely averaging 35 yards per game with no touchdowns in road games this season. The Bengals are towards the top of the league in most pass defense statistics, so I don’t expect T.Y. to put up lofty numbers against them on Sunday.
Thumbs Down: Kenny Stills (@ BAL)
The Ravens are uncharacteristically allowing the most yards per game on the ground this season, but the pass defense is still elite, as they have allowed just 55.2% of passes to be completed for 6.7 yards per attempt and a 9:10 touchdown-interception ratio. Also, they haven’t allowed a 50-yard reception, so Kenny Stills will find it difficult to get behind Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson in the back end. If DeVante Parker (ankle) returns, Stills should probably head back to waivers, especially with Matt Moore at quarterback (and I say that knowing Stills has five touchdowns in five games with Moore).
Thumbs Down: DeAndre Hopkins (@ SEA)
Hopkins can get the better of Richard Sherman and the Seattle defense, but he should still be downgraded from solid WR1 to WR2 status. The Seahawks have allowed just five touchdowns this season, and they’re right behind Pittsburgh for the lowest yards per attempt allowed in the league. Hopkins has six touchdowns but only one game with more than 76 yards in 2017.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Hunter Henry (@ NE)
Somehow still available in nearly 30% of ESPN Fantasy leagues and not started in over 50% of leagues, Hunter Henry should be a top-five option at tight end for the rest of the season. This week, he gets a good matchup with the Patriots, as they’ve allowed five receptions and a touchdown in five-of-seven games, and he might benefit from Bill Belichick focusing on Melvin Gordon or Keenan Allen in what expects to be a high-scoring game.
Thumbs Up: Tyler Kroft (v IND)
With three touchdowns over the past three games, Tyler Kroft has become a reliable target for Andy Dalton in scoring territory. He will look to keep it up against a Colts team that is teetering on collapse and doesn’t defend opposing tight ends well. Kroft is the top streaming option for Week 8.
Thumbs Up: Nick O’Leary (v OAK)
Another quality streamer is Nick O’Leary, as he’s averaged 56 yards per game since Charles Clay went down, and Tyrod Taylor will go back to him again with a lack of perimeter weapons at his disposal. The former Florida State Seminole should be able to take advantage of a good matchup against the Raiders.
Thumbs Up: Vance McDonald (@ DET)
A trade right before the season sent Vance McDonald from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are starting to get the 27-year-old more involved as he gets more acclimated with the offense. McDonald has a reception over 25 yards in each of the past two weeks, and I think Ben Roethlisberger will give him a couple play-action shots on Sunday Night Football.
Thumbs Down of the Week: O.J. Howard (v CAR)
Don’t be fooled by a huge game where the Bills busted a couple coverages, as O.J. Howard’s other big game this season was followed by a zero-catch performance just a few days later. The rookie is probably going to have a couple more TE1 weeks, but they will be difficult to predict. Even if Luke Kuechly is out again for Carolina, Howard has more than one reception in just two games this year. Keep him on the waiver wire in redraft leagues.
Thumbs Down: Jack Doyle (@ CIN)
Doyle is still treated like a TE1 option by some fantasy owners, but with Andrew Luck out, I think that’s a mistake. Indy’s tight end has scored just once this season, and the Bengals have only allowed one touchdown to the position. The widely-available Tyler Kroft or Nick’Oleary are better options.
Thumbs Down: Antonio Gates (@ NE)
Gates is going to connect with Philip Rivers once in a while based on their decade-long chemistry, but Hunter Henry is the clear top option for the Chargers after they split time to start the year. Unless something happens to Henry, the future Hall-of-Famer should be on waivers.
Thumbs Down: A.J. Derby (@ KC)
A.J. Derby has had lines of 4/75/1 and 6/66 in two of the past three weeks, but that’s sandwiched by a 10-yard effort against a Giants team that is bleeding fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Derby isn’t a recommended fantasy option on a crowded depth chart.
For defense and kicker advice—and all your start/sit decisions—check out our full Week 8 rankings.