Six Week 8 Storylines: Bye Weeks Galore

It's time to panic, fantasy football owners. There are a lot of teams taking a break over the next three weeks.

We’ve hit the three-week stretch that Jesse Brosten warned us about over a week ago, and it’s got fantasy teams scrambling. We don’t have Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, San Diego and Tennessee this week. Next week we’ll be without Arizona, Denver (!!!), Detroit, Jacksonville (???), New York (Giants) and San Francisco. And in Week 10, Cleveland, Kansas City, New England and the New York Jets are all getting the week off.

Has depth in fantasy football ever been more important?

Half of the league is taking a break over this three-week period, so it’s time to dig deep, fantasy owners. Instead of stating the more obvious storylines in this week’s column, I’ll do my best to pinpoint the not-so-noticeable ones. We’ll look at miserable offenses with favorable matchups, garbage time potential and some deeper sleepers you may want to target.

Let’s get at it.

Can the Oakland offense function against the Steelers?

Terrelle Pryor goes up against a defense that ranks third against quarterbacks in terms of fantasy points against this season, but one that hasn’t faced a whole lot of good passers. In fact, Jay Cutler’s been the best signal-caller that’s played against the Steelers this year, and the Bears jumped ahead so early in the contest that Cutler was simply a hand-off machine.

When you adjust the Steelers’ pass defense for strength of schedule, they actually rank 18th in the entire NFL. And, on a per attempt basis, the rank drops even further, down to 23rd. In other words, the Steelers aren’t nearly as good in the secondary as some may think, leading to a potential nice day for Terrelle Pryor.

To play along with the bye week theme, a deep sleeper in this contest is Rod Streater. As I noted in my start/sit column yesterday, the Steelers tend to take away number one threats, and the opposition ends up targeting cornerbacks William Gay and Cortez Allen as a result. Streater is available in almost every league, so if you’re completely desperate, don’t think he’s unusable.

Will the Cardinals put up points against the Falcons?

Our metrics say that the Falcons have the worst pass defense – and total defense – in the entire NFL, creating a nice matchup for a rather miserable Cardinals offense.

The numbers tell us that Carson Palmer has been the third-worst quarterback in the league this year, ranking only behind Blaine Gabbert and Josh Freeman in our passing net expected points metric. Palmer’s score is an atrocious -38.94, meaning an average quarterback – one like a healthy Sam Bradford – would have created a 39-point swing in the Cardinals favor over the course of this 2013 season. That surely would have added a win or two for Arizona.

But against the Falcons, a team that’s given up at least two passing touchdowns in every game this year, Palmer could be a sneaky start, something I’ve mentioned often this week. Larry Fitzgerald should turn things around too, but also don’t neglect Michael Floyd. The second-year wideout has been a bit of a disappointment given his potential in August, but he’s actually been consistent, catching exactly five passes in each of his last four games. He could end up snagging a deep ball in this one.

How many scores will the Washington versus Denver game see?

The high scoring affairs in the NFL can often lead us to finding deep fantasy football potential. In Week 8, look no further than the Broncos and Redskins game.

The over/under line is set at 58.5 points, showing that Vegas thinks this is going to get crazy. Clearly Peyton Manning and his four main amigos are going to get theirs, but what about on the Redskins side of the ball?

If Roy Helu is available in your league – somehow, after last week, he’s still available in over half of leagues – get him. The Broncos have been good at stopping the run, but because their games are so high scoring, opposing running backs do a lot of work through the air. They’ve allowed four receiving touchdowns to backs this season (the most in the league), and 306 receiving yards to them (seventh most in the league).

This game could reach that 58-point mark. Quite easily, actually, given the way the Redskins have been playing offensively. What do the numbers say? Go become a Premium subscriber and find out!

Will Jason Campbell provide anything for the Browns offense?

Jason Campbell’s passing net expected points (PNEP) total is typically in the 10-20 range in a given season, meaning he’s been a very average quarterback contributor for his teams throughout his career. His most recent experience, 2012, saw his worse passing totals though, scoring a -11.18 PNEP score on just 57 drop backs.

Brandon Weeden’s efficiency during his rookie year was worse than Campbell’s a season ago though, and in 2013, Weeden’s actually been even more horrendous. His passing NEP is at -21.62, good for eighth-worst in the league.

Despite this, Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron have been very fantasy relevant. Though Campbell may be a more conservative passer, there’s a chance that he provides more upside for his pass-catchers than Weeden did. Weeden’s a little more fearless with the ball, sure, but as we saw last week against Green Bay, he’s also a really bad quarterback.

Can the Cowboys offense get things going again?

They're winning, yes, but after Tony Romo’s big game against Denver, he’s posted just two touchdowns and 487 yards over his last two favorable-matchup games. This week he’ll face Detroit, a team that ranks 22nd against the pass according to our metrics.

This could be a high scoring game, like the Denver one, and with Miles Austin still Band-Aiding his hamstring, there could be opportunity for someone like Cole Beasley to step in as a fantasy sleeper this weekend.

Who is Cole Beasley, you ask? Well, he’s one of those players who looks like he’s 12 (Hey there, Nate Kaeding), and he’s silently provided the Cowboys with some offense over the last three weeks. Including that Denver game, Beasley has 14 receptions for 144 yards and a score since Week 5. Aside from the obvious in Terrance Williams, if Austin is hindered again, Beasley offers a decent PPR play.

Is there garbage time potential for any teams?

When looking for garbage time prospects – the time in a game when a team clearly is going to win, and the losing squad is just posting ridiculous numbers against prevent defenses – it’s good to look at the largest point spreads from Vegas. This week, we’ve got the Rams (vs. Seahawks), Jaguars (vs. 49ers), Redskins (vs. Broncos), and Bills (vs. Saints) as double-digit underdogs. I already talked about Roy Helu and the 'Skins, so let’s dig a little deeper into the other matchups and find a player that could be worthy of a start in deeper leagues:

Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers

I wrote about Hunter in my start/sit column this week, and think there’s a chance for him to get double-digit carries in a game that will surely be a blowout. The 49ers are running well, coming in as our seventh-best rushing offense on a per attempt basis in the league.

Perhaps Hunter is the guy they plug in during the fourth quarter to run some clock, similar to how they handled their game against St. Louis on Thursday night a few weeks ago. Keep in mind: Hunter does have three touchdowns this year.

Scott Chandler, TE, Buffalo Bills

The Saints have surrendered 15 receptions and a touchdown to tight ends over the last three weeks, with one of those matchups being a Gronk-less New England Patriots. Chandler has been underrated this season, and although he’s coming off of a bad game against the Dolphins, he could provide some tight end production if you’re in a deep league with long rosters.

Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints

Robinson has 22 rushing attempts over his last three games, including seven for 53 yards and a touchdown against New England in Week 6. The Saints are coming off their bye and will face Buffalo, a team that, when adjusted for strength of opponent, ranks as a bottom-10 rush defense. There’s a chance Robinson takes over for Pierre Thomas if this game gets out of hand, and the matchup is favorable enough for him to see a tired, mediocre defense.