Strong Plays, Weak Plays - Week 8
Welcome to another edition of KFFL's "Strong Plays, Weak Plays" feature. Here, we'll identify strong matchups of interest that you can exploit as well as determine a few weak matchups in which you might want to consider benching your normal starter in favor of a backup. Our intention is not to tell you the obvious, such as "Start LaDainian Tomlinson!" or "Start Peyton Manning!" Instead, it is to point out some matchups involving players that aren't considered fantasy stars. Of course, we'll sometimes highlight a top fantasy player's matchup if it is an especially noteworthy strong or weak play.
Important, Please Read! Remember, just because a player has a strong-play matchup does not mean that it is an automatic endorsement as a starter. It does provide you with some valuable information to make decisions, though. As an example, some players with the "Strong Play" tag may still be a No. 4 fantasy wideout and shouldn't be started ahead of your normal starters. He just may have greater potential than normal but not enough to warrant a definite benching of someone else for him. Conversely, if a player is on the "Weak Play" list, he may not be an automatic bench, either. A stud won't have an easy matchup every week. However, he's a stud because he can overcome the weak-play situation.
Quarterback - Strong Play
The "opened-up" Steelers offense seems to finally be coming to fruition as last week Roethlisberger had 10 more pass attempts than his seasonal average. He had four touchdown passes against the Denver Broncos. He might have a bit more fun this week against the Bengals, who helped inflate the numbers of struggling New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington last week. Roethlisberger should be a bit more successful since he has more effective weapons. Since he's also riding a wave from his huge week against Denver, his numbers will skyrocket against the "Bungles." He's a strong play to start this week as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback.
Running Backs - Strong Plays
Jones emerged victorious in the three-ring circus of running backs and has become the focal point of the Detroit ground game. This week, Jones could become "King of the Jungle" as the Lions roll into Chicago, even with his formerly injured foot still hindering his maximum abilities. The Bears have allowed 152.0 yards and 5.00 receptions per game to running backs over their last four contests; you can figure the dual rushing-receiving threat Jones poses will rake in the yardage this week. Despite his poor history against Chicago, he should shine this coming week as your No. 1 or No. 2 back.
With the Bills' passing game in limbo before Trent Edwards took over as full-time quarterback, Lynch did his best to carry Buffalo's lacking offense. He's averaged 75.8 rushing yards over his last four games and has recorded three touchdowns in that span. He also has five catches for 46 yards in his last two games, and showing that two-way ability should ease the Bills' passing game back into the fold. The Jets' porous run defense will give him more time to shine this week, and he should continue to produce his recent yards-per-game average. He slides in as your No. 2 back this week.
Wide Receivers - Strong Plays
Typically an afterthought in most fantasy leagues, Toomer has been surprisingly consistent as the hidden gem of the Giants' offense. He just broke the Giants' all-time record for touchdown receptions and is averaging 0.50 touchdowns over the last four games. Against the Dolphins, he could especially dominate as the sneaky producer, since the Giants will boast wide receiver Plaxico Burress and tight end Jeremy Shockey. Toomer should be able to find himself open for some very deep plays. He makes a suitable No. 3 wide receiver for Week 8.
Battle has been one of the few frequent contributors to a floundering 49ers offense, as he has scored a touchdown in two of his last three contests, while becoming the favorite target for alternating quarterbacks Alex D. Smith and Trent Dilfer. His six catches and 57 yards didn't hurt much, either, and the Saints present a favorable matchup for this week. If you need the help, fight this battle with confidence as a lower No. 2 wideout or a strong No. 3 play.
Lee Evans resurfaced on the fantasy boards in Week 7, finally fulfilling the palates of his overly patient fantasy owners with a five-reception, 98-yard performance. His resurgence has finally given new Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards a comfort blanket as a target, and the role should continue the coming week against the Jets. The Bills earned their first win of the season against the Gang Green, whose pass defense has resembled the team's nickname. As Edwards' new toy, Evans is a steady No. 2 or No. 3 receiver.
Tight End - Strong Play
Lee's owners received some good news this week as Lee's partner in crime, tight end Bubba Franks (knee), will miss Monday night's game against the Broncos. This puts Lee alone at the top of Green Bay's tight end mountain. Lee has been averaging 3.33 receptions for 54.7 yards over the last four contests, and despite failing to reach the end zone in that time, he could do so this week against a Broncos team that doesn't like to face tight ends. Last week, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller rolled off five catches for 50 yards and two touchdowns against Denver, so expect Lee to produce a good fraction of that if quarterback Brett Favre features him in the action. Put him in as your No. 1 tight end.
Place Kicker - Strong Play
With the Chicago Bears offense improving under the helm of quarterback Brian Griese, Gould has received more opportunities for kicker points. He is coming off a Week 7 performance where he blasted 13 kicker points on the Philadelphia Eagles. He went 4-for-5 on the afternoon, including 2-for-2 field goals from within the 40-to-49-yard bracket. He's in line to drop some points on the Lions, who will either allow the Bears to frequently hit the end zone or push deep into scoring territory. Start him with confidence.
Team Defense - Strong Play
This is more of a case of the opponent than the defense. The Rams have barely put up any sign of being able to move the ball and win a game. Their offensive unit is speckled with injuries: Starting quarterback Marc Bulger rushed back to take control of the offense with two broken ribs, and stud running back Steven Jackson (groin) will return this week but can't be trusted just yet. The Rams barely have an offensive line and have allowed an average of four sacks for an already vulnerable Bulger. Through all their faults, the Browns should be able to contain the Rams enough to be a valuable matchup play this week, so start them.
Quarterback - Weak Play
Lemon is an inspiring story for the Dolphins, mainly due to the uninspiring play of his predecessor quarterback Trent Green. The New York Giants, however, will be in line to ruin his storybook performance. "Big Blue" has allowed less than 200 passing yards and less than one touchdown per game to quarterbacks. His ability to run usually gives him a slight advantage, but he hasn't developed enough to be a rock-solid option. This is one of those weeks where he might experience some growing pains, especially with the Giants' overwhelming pass rush. Lemon should only be played if you have nowhere else to go.
Running Backs - Weak Plays
Jordan has combined for just 71 rushing yards in his last two weeks and hasn't found the end zone since Week 3 (in three games played). He will try to improve against a Tennessee Titans defense that's allowing just 56 yards per game against running backs over the last month. A saving grace for Jordan is that the Titans have allowed 6.67 receptions per game against running backs over the same time span, so he could be a remotely better play in points-per-reception leagues. Jordan's contribution will still be limited, however, if he can't break through the defensive line. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper could see more passing attempts while stripping away carries from Jordan. You should still start Jordan as a No. 2 or No. 3 back, but don't expect the world from him against the stalwart Titans' front seven.
Gore has not hit the century mark in rushing yards during a game this season, and his three touchdowns are far from his expected output his general managers had slated for him. Gore is fighting reports that his ankle is bothering him, but you need to be concerned when a stud running back is playing through and injury. The Saints come into San Francisco boasting a stout run defense, and Gore could continue his slide in production this week. He's still your No. 2 back for the coming week because of what you invested in him, but he needs to show signs of the qualities that made him a high-end pick.
Wide Receivers - Weak Plays
Stallworth came around for a few big games recently, but has averaged just over four receptions over his last four games. His seven-catch, 136-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6 seems to have been an aberration as quarterback Tom Brady has favored wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Furthermore, Brady has even preferred to go to tight end Kyle Brady in red zone situations in tight end Benjamin Watson's (ankle) stead. The Redskins' pass defense is one of the steadiest in the league, and Tom Brady's sharing of the passing game has not given Stallworth much fantasy product. He will have a down week, but has the big-play ability to burst off one good play, which makes him a No. 2 wideout.
Marshall has not lived up to expectations during his two-game stint as the team's No. 1 receiver after the injury and subsequent surgery to wide receiver Javon Walker (knee). Walker will miss four to six weeks with his injury, but Marshall has not been the go-to guy for quarterback Jay Cutler. Despite his 13 catches over the past two games, he hasn't found the end zone since Week 4. He found a jail cell for the night, however, as he was arrested Monday for suspicion of driving under the influence. He should still be in your lineup as a No. 2 receiver, but shore up a possible replacement just in case NFL commissioner Roger Goodell throws the hammer down in the coming weeks.
Back-to-back Broncos on this list says something about the passing game without Walker. However, Stokley has never fit in this league as a No. 1 wideout, as he has excelled as a slot guy who happens to be uncovered most of the time. He's a follower, not a leader, when it comes to a receiving corps. He works off the coverage of other receivers, and despite his solid numbers recently, he will have an off-week against a good Packers secondary. He should only be a No. 3 receiver or Bye week replacement.
Tight End - Weak Play
Davis (knee) is expected to play in Week 8, but that hardly instills much confidence in his fantasy production. He had four catches for just 22 yards in his return last week against the New York Giants, and felt the effects of trying to hurry back from his injury. Even against the Saints' weak pass defense, Davis makes for a gamble this week as his health continues to lurk over his potential for production. He's good for a Bye week replacement because of his potential, but don't count on much from him if you have to put him into your lineup as your only option.
Place Kicker - Weak Play
An offense that lost its two biggest weapons - running back Ronnie Brown (knee) for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament tear and wide receiver Chris Chambers to a trade - doesn't provide many opportunities to score points. Lemon is trying his hardest to do the job at quarterback but has little to offer in offensive weapons and targets. The Giants defense has stomped over its last five opponents, allowing only punters to represent the opposition's special teams. The Dolphins won't likely have many chances to penetrate the red zone, meaning Feely probably won't shatter the stat sheets against his former team. Keep him on your fantasy sideline.
Team Defense - Weak Play
Despite Denver's elite cornerbacks Champ Bailey (quadriceps) and Dre' Bly (shoulder), the Broncos defense should be overwhelmed by Packers quarterback Brett Favre this week. His ability to spread the field should provide little comfort for a Denver defense that has allowed disastrous yardage output over the last month. If the Packers can receive some semblance of a running game to add to it, the Broncos won't have much of a chance to put up a steady defensive week. Find another option by playing other matchups this week, and keep the Broncos on your bench.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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