Chris Johnson is not dead yet. At least not when he plays against the worst run defense in the league.
Johnson may never return to the form that earned him the NFL’s rushing title in 2009, but CJ2K broke out with an 18-carry, 185-yard, 2-touchdown performance against the hapless Bills. The Colts’ run defense is not much better, so if you hung onto Johnson, plug him into your lineup and ride the streak… while it lasts.
Darren McFadden is another early-season bust, but matchups against the second, fourth and ninth-ranked rushing defenses have not helped his cause. The Raiders get the 22nd-ranked Chiefs run defense this week, so if McFadden cannot break out of his funk on Sunday, you have permission to panic.
The Bills, Ravens, Bengals and Texans are on the bye this week, so if you’ve got Ray Rice, Arian Foster or either half of the Buffalo running back committee, you may be looking for a backfield fill-in.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. Here are your must-starts and deep threats from every Week 8 game.
Thursday night game
Buccaneers at Vikings: Vikings WR Percy Harvin
Harvin is a regular starter every week in all formats, but this matchup is especially enticing considering the Buccaneers give up the fourth most fantasy points (29.1) to wide receivers and are second to last vs. the pass (323 ypg).
- Deep threat: Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman – The Vikings boast the 11th-ranked pass defense in the NFL, but Freeman is coming off consecutive 300-yard, three-touchdown games and could be a solid option if you need him.
The 1 p.m. games
Chargers at Browns: Browns WR Josh Gordon
Emerging from fantasy sleeper to a viable regular starter, Gordon faces a defense that has yielded the fourth most passing touchdowns (14) in the league and the fifth most fantasy points (27.7) to wide receivers.
- Deep threat: Chargers WR Malcom Floyd – He’s their No. 1 receiver, so you’re likely already playing him, but there’s not much too like in this receiving corps beyond him and Gates. Expect a nice day from Philip Rivers and Floyd should benefit.
Colts at Titans: Titans RB Chris Johnson
Following a dismal start that had fantasy owners cringing, the player formerly known as CJ2K is coming off 195 yards and two touchdowns and this week draws a defense that’s giving up the fifth most fantasy points (23.3) to running backs.
- Deep threat: Colts WR Donnie Avery – The Titans are not good against the pass and Avery is locked in as Andrew Luck’s second-favorite target. Tennessee will focus on stopping Reggie Wayne, which should translate to another nice day for Avery.
Dolphins at Jets: Jets TE Dustin Keller
After missing most of the season with a hamstring injury, Keller looked to be at full health a week ago with seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday he gets a defense giving up the third most fantasy points (11.3) to tight ends.
- Deep threat: Dolphins WR Davone Bess – Miami’s possession receiver had five catches and 86 yards in the first meeting between these two teams, and he’s bound to find the end zone one of these weeks. Right?
Falcons at Eagles: Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin
Maclin didn’t appear completely healthy until two weeks ago when he had six catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. He’s had another week off after the Eagles’ bye and should be featured again in the passing game.
- Deep threat: Falcons RB Jacquizz Rodgers – His touches are down over the last two weeks, but Rodgers remains a threat in the passing game, and if Atlanta goes up big, he could see some extra carries in the fourth quarter.
Jaguars at Packers: Packers WR Jordy Nelson
With Greg Jennings continuing to heal from a groin injury, Nelson has emerged over the last two weeks with 14 receptions, 243 yards and four touchdowns in the Packers’ rejuvenated passing attack.
- Deep threat: Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings – He should have been the top waiver wire pick-up in your league if he wasn’t already owned. The Packers are decent against the run — see their blowout win in Houston — but Jennings should get all the carries in MJD’s stead.
Panthers at Bears: Bears RB Matt Forte
Last week Forte ran for 96 yards against a Lions defense that gives up the fourth fewest fantasy points to running backs. This week he faces a defense that allows the eighth most (22.4) to the position.
- Deep threat: Panthers TE Greg Olsen – This team is in a serious rut, but G-Reg continues to get targets. With Chicago’s pass rush coming after Cam Newton, Olsen could see a bump in passes thrown his way.
Patriots at Rams: Rams WR Chris Givens
Against a defense that ranks 29th in the league against the pass, Givens has super sleeper potential in deeper leagues after averaging three catches for 79 yards over the last two games.
- Deep threat: Patriots RB Danny Woodhead – His carries are down over the last four weeks, but his receptions are up. St. Louis likes to bring pressure, which should lead to a number of screen passes and draw plays — to ways Bill Belichick likes to get Woodhead the ball.
Redskins at Steelers: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger has perhaps his best matchup of the season against a defense that’s permitted the most passing touchdowns (16) and yards (328.4) in the league and given up the fourth most fantasy points (25.9) to quarterbacks.
- Deep threat: Redskins TE Chris Cooley – Why not? The guy knows the playbook, claims to be in game shape and could give Robert Griffin III a nice safety valve as he attempts to avoid Pittsburgh’s pass rush.
Seahawks at Lions: Lions defense
The Lions are a solid starting defense this week given the Seahawks’ scoring difficulties on the road, where they are averaging 12.8 points per game and have only three touchdowns overall.
- Deep threat: Seahawks defense – This unit ranks fifth in the NFL in total yards allowed and has allowed 13 points or fewer in four of its last five games. They’re a strong play against the struggling Lions.
The 4 p.m. games
Raiders at Chiefs: Raiders RB Darren McFadden
McFadden has drawn three of the top 10 rush defenses over the first six games but catches a break against the Chiefs, who have given up at least 24 points five times and allowed the sixth most fantasy points (23.1) to running backs.
- Deep threat: Chiefs WR/RB Dexter McCluster – File this one under the “if you’re desperate” category. Frankly, if you’re starting any Chiefs other than Jamaal Charles or Dwayne Bowe, you’ve got to be desperate. But last week with Brady Quinn at the helm, McCluster had a team-high six catches on a season-high nine targets. So that’s something.
Giants at Cowboys: Cowboys WR Miles Austin
With No. 1 wide receiver Dez Bryant nursing a sore groin, Austin had five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown last week. Look for him to be heavily involved again after 73 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 vs. the Giants.
- Deep threat: Giants TE Martellus Bennett – He hasn’t caught a touchdown since Week 3, but the former Cowboy did have one in Week 1 against his old mates, and he should see a red zone target or two in the rematch.
Sunday night game
Saints at Broncos: Broncos QB Peyton Manning
With an extra week to study the Saints secondary, Manning figures to be in store for a monster performance considering New Orleans ranks 30th against the pass (305.2 ypg) and has given up the most fantasy points (27.2) to quarterbacks.
- Deep threat: Saints WR Devery Henderson – Drew Brees likes to spread it around, but with him at quarterback, there’s always plenty of “it.” If Jimmy Graham (ankle) can’t go again this week, Henderson should be a factor again. If Graham does go, he still makes a decent Hail Mary play.
Monday night game
49ers at Cardinals: 49ers RB Frank Gore
The 49ers’ workhorse has had at least 106 rushing yards in two of the last three games and has become more involved in the passing attack with nine catches for 71 yards combined over the last two weeks.
- Deep threat: Cardinals defense – The 49ers may have routed the Jets, but they’re no offensive juggernaut. Despite its three-game skid, Arizona’s defense still ranks seventh in the league. You could do much worse this week.
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