Week 8 Recap: Treat/Trick/Apple

The selection of Andy Dalton for this week's title photo has nothing to do with his hair being orange like a pumpkin.

With All Hallows’ Eve less than a week away, I can’t think of a single reason we shouldn’t go with a (lame) Halloween theme this week. With that said, I will be changing Buy/Sell/Hold to Treat/Trick/Apple (told you it was lame). Why use apple for hold? Because while I would prefer candy, apples are still better than dental floss.

Panthers 31, Buccaneers 13

How does Greg Schiano have a job? I don’t just mean in Tampa Bay either; I am talking in wider terms. If I ran a business specializing in the bare handed shoveling of horse manure, I would not hire him for even a part-time entry-level horse poop removal position. As long as Schiano is in town, the atmosphere will be so toxic that the best you can hope for is garbage time fun for the Buc’s passing game options.

Not helping matters for the unanimously defeated Pewter Pirates is the mystery surrounding Doug Martin. The timeline for his return is reportedly two to eight weeks. If I didn’t know better I’d say the Tampa team doctor started his career as a cable TV repairman.

While we are piling on the Bucs, Mike Williams told a local paper that he tore his hamstring. Considering their record, I can’t see a scenario where Williams is hurried back. Pending reports to the contrary, he is droppable in all formats.

The Panthers are shaping up to be one of the more intriguing teams in the NFC for the second half. Their turnaround is on the back of Cam Newton being allowed to be Cam Newton. Sharp readers will remember that we initially called for this in the Week 3 recap, then kicked and screamed for it after their Week 5 loss to the Cardinals. It seems as though the coaching staff listened, loosening the reigns substantially on Newton. I personally would take only Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers ahead of him for the rest of the season (ROS).

Treat: Vincent Jackson figures to be even busier with Mike Williams likely done for the season. Tampa may be terrible, but they will continue to need to throw it 40-plus times per game. Jackson projects to end up as a top-10 option at wide receiver.

Trick: Panthers’ run game. Jonathan Stewart is almost back and DeAngelo Williams is already playing fewer snaps than Mike Tolbert. Due to the volume of carries, I loved Williams the first five weeks. I also advised bailing on him two weeks ago. Hopefully you listened. If not, see if you can sell him now before it gets worse.

Bonus Trick: Buccaneers’ run game. The offensive line has been putrid all season, ranking an embarrassing 28th in run blocking according to Pro Football Focus. They couldn’t create holes for Doug Martin, so why would you expect them to for Mike James?

Apple: Steve Smith. He has shown signs the last three weeks. If Carolina can find an opponent who will make them throw it a bit more, Smith has the chance to break out.

Lions 31, Cowboys 30

As jam packed as this game was, there really isn’t much to discuss in the way of fantasy. So let’s take a minute and discuss Jason Witten.

With a third straight stinker (2.7, 4.8, 1.5 fantasy points), Witten has not been all that helpful to fantasy teams recently. His targets have dropped precipitously, as he has had only 13 balls thrown his way over the past three games. That is more than four fewer targets per game than over the first six weeks of the season.

Now, the good news.

Tony Romo has posted two of his three lowest completion totals this season over the last three weeks. And without DeMarco Murray, Dallas has struggled to maintain drives. Both of these things have conspired against Witten, who, despite the tepid stats, is posting his second-best season in terms of Net Expected Points (NEP) per target. (NEP is a measure of how many real world points a player adds to their team’s bottom line.) With Murray likely to return next week, Witten’s metrics looking strong as ever, and with a matchup against the Vikings at home, we expect him to bounce back sooner rather than later.

Treat: Terrance Williams is numberFire’s 33rd-ranked wide receiver ROS. But after yet another TD grab, I think that will rise. Supporting this assertion is his high rank (12th) in NEP/target among WR’s with 20 or more targets. Williams is the clear number two guy in Dallas and a flex consideration in all leagues.

Trick: Ryan Broyles' luck. With two torn ACL’s and a ruptured Achilles in his career, this poor guy can’t catch a break. Here is to hoping we see him back on the field sometime in 2014.

Apple: Jason Witten

Chiefs 23, Browns 17

“Jason Campbell is the greatest quarterback of all time,” is what Josh Gordon owners are probably thinking. And with good reason, as Campbell and Gordon hooked up five times for 132 yards and a first half touchdown. The explosive Gordon is an every week play who will be quiet at times, but will have more games like this than ones similar to his two-catch letdown in Week 7.

Dexter McCluster had the best game of his career on Sunday, which pretty much sums up how I feel about his chances for a repeat performance. While he does have 20 targets the last three weeks, the diminutive receiver ranks 98th out of 119 players in NEP/target. I wouldn’t get too excited.

Treat: Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron will be just fine no matter who is throwing them the ball. And if Campbell can play this well going forward, both should be in for a nice second half of the season.

Trick: Every single Chiefs' receiving option. Do. Not. Want.

Apple: Jason Campbell being serviceable enough to keep Gordon and Cameron owners happy.

Patriots 27, Dolphins 17

I feel like I have started the Patriots’ game recap with Tom Brady discussion for approximately 23 consecutive weeks. Never one to break from tradition, let’s talk about Brady’s day. It stunk. His season? It has stunk. And with Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back, the excuses are starting to evaporate. You have to believe the breakout game is coming, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to allow it to happen on your bench. Brady has topped 16 points only once all season, a figure easily matched by any number of weekly streaming options. We usually recommend that you never sit your studs, but right now, Brady is a stud in name only. Don’t be scared to look elsewhere for Week 9.

Here comes Stevan Ridley! Patient owners are being rewarded with a third straight solid game from the oft-doghoused running back. He did sit the first quarter on Sunday, but once he came in, the Patriots quickly made up a two-touchdown deficit on their way to a sixth win on the season. Ridley now has 225 yards and four touchdowns on 45 carries over the last three games. He is a weekly RB2.

The Dolphins started 3-0 before losing four straight games. Fortunately, they are still producing some fantasy viability. Most notably, Lamar Miller out-touched Daniel Thomas 21 to 10 against New England. If this repeats next week in a tough matchup against the Bengals, there is ROS RB2 upside here.

Treat: Stevan Ridley

Trick: Kenbrell Thompkins has seen his usage evaporate the last month. He has 17 total targets the last four games versus Aaron Dobson’s 27. I wrote last week that Gronk’s return would crush his value and now it appears Dobson is eating into it as well. Thompkins is droppable in all 10- and 12-team leagues.

Apple: The Miami offense without Brandon Gibson (the Dolphins believe he tore his patellar tendon). I know it sounds preposterous, but Gibson was a big part of the passing game. Without a clear replacement at slot receiver, will Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline receive more targets and a slight uptick in value? How this will affect Ryan Tannehill, especially near the end zone? Might Charles Clay see more goal line targets? In any event, it is a situation (sorta) worth monitoring. (What do you want from me? The Dolphins are terrible.)

Saints 35, Bills 17

Marques Colston has killed fantasy teams with a line of 6-44-0 over the last three weeks (yes, that is his three-game total). With only 11 targets over that span, it isn’t like he has been a big part of the game plan either. Owners are panicking.

While it may not be overly reassuring, Colston’s NEP/target is right on par with his career rate. You would think that at some point his usage catches up with the metrics and he becomes a top-20 guy again. But until such a time, you have my permission to pound your fist angrily. (Great advice, right?)

Speaking of underperforming Saints, Darren Sproles continues to disappoint. With an average of 8.8 fantasy points per game in five of his last seven games, he has been a significant letdown to his PPR league owners (he is currently unplayable in standard leagues). As with Colston, it is hard to bench him unless you have an option that is clearly better. Unfortunately, it seems like the Saints are just going to test our patience.

The Bills are a scrappy team, but aside from Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson, there isn’t much in the way of fantasy relevance. Scott Chandler is providing some uninspiring but reasonable TE2 value, but that is about it. Maybe the time off will bring us the C.J. Spiller we all expected instead of the one who drags his foot around the field like an undead mummy.

Treat: The Saints D/ST. They are an underrated plug-and-play defense.

Trick: Kenny Stills. He has done great things the last two weeks but it has been on a paltry seven total targets. Low-volume, big-play wide receivers are awesome when they catch a long touchdown. But more often than not, they do little or nothing. Don’t get sucked into starting Stills when he is nothing more than bench stash.

Apple: Marques Colston and Darren Sproles.

Giants 15, Eagles 7

Q: Which is worse: This game or the Twilight movies?
A: Contracting MRSA (but it is closer than you think)

Treat: In this game?

Trick: Michael Vick reinjured his hamstring, saving him from himself but frustrating those who started him. Do not consider playing Vick until he is 100% healthy.

Apple: Rueben Randle was a ghost, racking up only one target. Considering his recent use, I am hopeful this an aberration.

49ers 42, Jaguars 10

I figured this game would end up an uninteresting blowout, so I thought it would be fun to write the recap before the game actually took place. Saturday afternoon I sat down and did just that.

The Jags didn’t exactly have a jolly time in jolly old England against the 49ers as they were outscored 371 to -12. Chad Henne struggled mightily in the first three quarters, throwing for 13 yards and 19 interceptions, breaking his own record from a game of Madden I played last week. Once the fourth quarter came along, things really picked up with Cecil Shorts posting all nine of his receptions. Justin Blackmon dropped three sure touchdowns on the day before being arrested on the sideline for breaking his own nose with a nasty left hook (apparently he passed by a mirror and didn’t like the way he was looking at himself).

Colin Kaepernick led the charge for the 49ers, rushing for 46 touchdowns and throwing for one more. His passing line (11 of 13 for 101 yards and the TD) has fantasy owners concerned about his usage. I’d recommend a wait-and-see approach as you just can’t count on 40+ rushing touchdowns every week.

The real story for San Francisco happened during halftime when Geraldo Rivera (who wasn’t wearing a shirt for some reason) revealed that Frank Gore was actually born in Cuba in 1968. The ageless wonder (Gore, not Rivera) went on to rush for 124 yards and two touchdowns. According to every fantasy owner who doesn’t have Gore on their roster, he is merely a flex play.

Anquan Boldin continues to place as a WR1 after his breakout Week 1 where he posted 26.8 fantasy points. And while he has scored barely more than 40 points since, his 5-catch, 61-yard game in Week 8 is further proof you should be starting him every week regardless of opponent or the fact that he has barely performed as a WR6 the last two months.

Treat: Colin Kaepernick is heating up. As long as he is running the ball, he is a top-10 play. numberFire is much lower on him, but after a second straight great game, I’d expect that to change with this week’s rankings. (I was joking above when I said take a wait-and-see approach. Play him. He is really good, you guys.)

Trick: The game recap you just read. Sure there was some heavy sarcasm meant to make a point (Gore is better than people give him credit for, Boldin should be benched in most leagues, etc.), but aside from that, this game writeup is for entertainment only.

Apple: Maurice Jones-Drew. He looked a bit more spry to me this week than he had earlier in the season. If nothing else, the volume of touches MJD is getting should make him a low end RB2/high end flex.

Bengals 49, Jets 9

Andy Dalton continues to prove he can be a very good, if incredibly streaky, quarterback. Considering the weapons at his disposal, it shouldn’t be surprising when he goes off like he has the last three weeks. What is surprising is how he is posting .12 net expected points per pass attempt this year after averaging .20 per attempt each of the last two seasons. Coming into Week 8, he ranked 12th in total passing NEP among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts, which is also a career best. I feel like numberFire is a bit behind on their ROS ranking of 23 for Dalton, but I do expect that also to change following this knockout performance. I believe he is a high-end QB2 the rest of the season and matchup permitting, I would be willing to consider playing him over the likes of Tom Brady as early as right now.

Treat: Andy Dalton

Trick: Our ROS ranking of Marvin Jones. He has a touchdown in three consecutive games, seen his targets increase in four straight, is playing ahead of Mohamed Sanu, and has the highest NEP/target in the NFL among wide receivers. With the sparkling NEP metrics, his usage increasing, and a massive four touchdown performance in week 8, Jones should skyrocket up our ranks once they come out on Tuesday.

Bonus Trick: The Jets offense. Nobody on this team is playable (or perhaps ownable) in all but the deepest of leagues.

Apple: Giovani Bernard. If you are a loyal reader you know how much I like Bernard. numberFire has caught up to my love, ranking him in the top-20 ROS. This was an odd game where they had immense success through the air. Ignore his lack of usage and get ready for a nice matchup on Thursday night against the reeling Dolphins.

Raiders 21, Steelers 18

A cesspool of badness in our never-ending series of awful football games, this contest featured approximately 29 combined punts and turnovers. And aside from a 93-yard run from Terrelle Pryor on the first play from scrimmage, had exactly zero noteworthy events.

Darren McFadden had a high volume, low yards per carry day that was bolstered considerably by two touchdown runs. Because I don’t hate my eyeballs, I didn’t watch much of this game, but McFadden is reported to have looked completely recovered from the hamstring pull that sidelined him multiple weeks before the bye (he did return to limited carries in Week 6). Plan on him having a big stretch as he faces the Eagles and Giants the next two weeks, but don’t plan on him not getting hurt again. McFadden is a solid RB2 when healthy.

Treat: Antonio Brown is on pace to catch approximately one million passes. This is not a fluke. He is a borderline WR1 in standard leagues and a legit WR1 in PPR.

Trick: What people have been saying about the Raiders rush defense. It isn’t exactly the 1985 Bears, but they are mid-pack in rush defense metrics and have held nearly every number one running back they have faced to below their season average fantasy points ( Jamaal Charles being the lone exception). I am not suggesting you pick them up, but I would recommend adjusting expectations when your running back faces them.

Apple: Le’Veon Bell will have better games. We see him as a top-15 running back ROS.

Broncos 45, Redskins 21

If you remember me saying Robert Griffin III was back, you must be mistaken. There is no way I said that in this exact column one week ago, after he decimated the Bears defense. Nope. That wasn’t me…

In all seriousness, RG3 took a thumping against Denver. He lacked confidence as a passer, often taking way too long to make a decision, and didn’t run the ball with any effectiveness behind a struggling offensive line. The real RG3 is in there somewhere. It should come out sooner or later.

Julius Thomas left the game in the third quarter with an apparent ankle issue. There was no update during or after the game, so as of press time we are unsure of his status. Fortunately, Denver has a bye upcoming. Keep an eye on his status ahead of week 10.

Treat: The Denver offense is the gift that keeps on giving.

Trick: Alfred Morris reminded us all that he is the number one guy in Washington, as Roy Helu had only six touches for 25 yards. A perfect example of why we shouldn’t overreact to one game, Helu is a standard league handcuff only (and a risky flex play in PPR).

Apple: I don’t know what to do with this information, but Peyton Manning’s passes are showing noticeably less zip than even a couple of weeks ago. Maybe he is having trouble driving with the sprained ankles (yes, both of them) or maybe he is wearing down. I am not saying you should trade him for pennies on the dollar or anything like that, but even if he plays well despite the lack of drive on his passes, Manning’s value likely won’t be any higher than it is right now (it isn’t like his second half will be better than the first).

Cardinals 27, Falcons 13

Atlanta is the biggest disappointment in the NFL both in terms of their record and fantasy results. Roddy White, Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, and Tony Gonzalez have all been more bad than good. Their Week 8 opponent hasn’t been much better, as the Cardinals poor play has buried the value of Larry Fitzgerald.

This isn’t to say there isn’t hope.

For Atlanta, White will hopefully return soon. When he does, that should open up the field a bit for Gonzalez. Harry Douglas will see his stunning results wane some, but the Falcons offense is designed to support two receivers, so don’t expect him to return to oblivion.

Arizona has a cake schedule after their perfectly timed bye (Fitzgerald’s hamstrings could use a break). Just as vital to Fitzgerald’s value, the Cards may have found a run game in the form of rookie Andre Ellington. If he approaches 15 touches a week, he could post RB2 numbers and, more importantly, open things up for Fitzgerald and the passing offense.

Treat: Larry Fitzgerald as an attractive buy-low candidate for all the reasons listed above.

Trick: Steven Jackson looked truly awful. I watched a fair bit of the first half and he was slow, had no explosion, and lacked power. But here is the really bad news: The Falcons face the Panthers and Seahawks after the bye. An aging, likely injured running back behind a brutal offensive line against two of the best defenses in the NFL? No thanks. Jackson should be on your bench.

Apple: Harry Douglas. The Falcons will continue to throw the ball a ton, so based on volume alone, he will have value even if Roddy White returns in Week 10.

Packers 44, Vikings 31

It seems fitting that we would end the week with such a bad game. Let’s just get it over with, shall we?

Treat: The Packers offense. All of it. Buy, buy, buy.

Trick: The Minnesota offense. Save for Adrian Peterson, all of it. Sell, sell, sell.

Apple: Hold onto your hats! You get to see the Vikings in primetime yet again, as they face the Redskins on Thursday night in two short weeks. Oh happy day…