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Player Challenge strategies for Week 8

Senior Fantasy Writer
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This column is primarily designed to help strategize for our four-week Player Challenge games, but is essentially about great matchups and overlooked stats, offering deeper options for those in daily leagues.

Quarterback

My pick for the Player Challenge: Tony Romo, Cowboys

On paper, the Lions look like a solid defense against the pass -- allowing an average of 17.4 Fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks and giving up multiple passing touchdowns in just three of seven games. But a deeper look reveals some recent fissures: all three of the multi-touchdown games have come in the last four games. And while the Lions have still kept the average quarterback score against them below 20 points, Jay Cutler, Brandon Weeden, Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton have put up an average of 22 Fantasy points over the last four games. The Lions have also allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game, giving up 300 yards three times and 290 passing yards or more in four of the last five games. Romo is the second-best quarterback the Lions will face this year (behind Rodgers), which should end up with 300-plus yards, a couple touchdowns and a 20-plus point day.

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A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Carson Palmer, Cardinals

Opposing quarterbacks have scored 20 or more points in five of six games against the Falcons this year, for an average of 24.3 Fantasy points per game -- the worst in the league. All six opposing quarterbacks have thrown at least two touchdowns, and three have passed for more than 300 yards. Additionally, the Falcons have just three interceptions this season, the second-lowest total in the league. Arizona's offense looked predictably bad against a stellar Seahawks pass defense in Week 7. This Week 8 gift could prove to be a fruitful reversal of fortune.

Running Back

My picks for the Player Challenge: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; Frank Gore, 49ers

Marshawn Lynch is currently third in Fantasy points among all running backs. His 138 rushing attempts are second-most in the league and his 177 receiving yards have Lynch on pace to shatter his previous career high. In Week 8, Lynch gets a Monday night date with the Rams, who have allowed an average of 22.6 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs -- the most in the NFL. And while Rams apologists can point to the two sub-15 point outputs from opposing RBs in the last three weeks, they're overlooking the fact that those games were against the Jaguars (26th this season in rushing attempts) and Panthers (who gave 13 carries to backup Mike Tolbert). The Rams have given up eight touchdowns to running backs in seven games and have been hurt most by the top-level backs -- Frank Gore scored 19, Arian Foster scored 19 and DeMarco Murray scored 25.

Frank Gore also has a stellar matchup in Week 8, facing the Jaguars, who have given up 153.3 rushing yards per game, including a league-worst nine rushing touchdowns. In the last two weeks, they've given up three touchdowns to Knowshon Moreno and allowed Ryan Mathews to run for a season-high 110 yards (his most since December 2011). Gore currently ranks sixth among running backs with 89 Fantasy points this season and is one of seven backs with 500 or more rushing yards.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Joseph Randle, Cowboys

The Lions have given up 115.1 rushing yards per game, but just five rushing touchdowns, so it's not a given that Randle will have a big Sunday against Detroit. But the Lions are one of two teams giving up more than five yards per carry (New Orleans is the other) and Randle should be available for purchase in daily leagues at a discount, especially considering his somewhat disappointing Week 7. It's definitely a leap of faith, as the Lions haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, but some running back, at some point, will exploit Detroit's surprisingly permissive run defense.

Wide Receiver

My picks for the Player Challenge: Calvin Johnson, Lions; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

It's a shame Victor Cruz has become such an unreliable option lately, because his matchup against the Eagles would normally make him a must-start. But with just 15 points over his last three games, Cruz can't be counted on. So I'm going with Calvin Johnson. Balky knee and all. He gets to face off against the Cowboys in Week 8. Dallas has given up the third-most receiving yards per game this season (311.9), along with 14 receiving touchdowns -- second-most in the NFL. Johnson has played in three games against the Cowboys in his career and has three touchdowns. While the Cowboys haven't given up a touchdown to a wideout in the last two weeks, they were kind to receivers earlier in the season, allowing Victor Cruz to score three times in Week 1 and giving up a touchdown each to Wes Welker and Eric Decker in Week 5.

The same logic that applied to Palmer (above) applies to Fitzgerald. The Falcons have allowed the third-most points to opposing wide receivers this season and the best wideout they've faced has been Vincent Jackson, who caught 10 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7. Wide receivers have scored nine touchdowns in six games against the Falcons and with Fitzgerald getting farther away from the hamstring issues every week, there's a good chance for a big game here -- better, at least, than any other matchup in the four-week challenge format.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Jarrett Boykin, Packers

The Vikings held the Giants receivers in check Monday night, but that may have been more a failure on the part of the Giants than a great success on the part of the Vikings. Minnesota has allowed opposing wideouts to rack up 20 or more points four times over six games. And Boykin showed he could step up for a decimated Packers receiving corps and handle a large workload, catching eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Browns in Week 7. As the de facto No. 1 receiver for Green Bay, Boykin should shine against a relatively weak Vikings pass defense.

Tight End

My pick for the Player Challenge: Tony Gonzalez, Falcons

The Cardinals have given up 16.6 Fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends -- the most in the NFL. Tight ends have scored eight touchdowns against the Cardinals over seven games and three opposing tight ends have gone over 100 yards. Enter Tony Gonzalez, who gets to face the Cardinals in Week 8. With Julio Jones out for the season and Roddy White likely missing another game (or at least still being hobbled with the ankle injury), Gonzalez moves up from your average offensive-minded tight end with a great matchup, to integral-part-of-the-offense tight end with a great matchup.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings

Rudolph was supposed to be a solid play for Week 7 against the Giants, but caught just three of nine targets for 27 yards in a Monday night debacle. The bright side here is that Rudolph has a week to get things right with Josh Freeman and has been targeted 20 times in the last two weeks (which equals his total over the first four games). Rudolph's Week 8 opponent, the Packers, have allowed the third-most Fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends (11.7), allowing touchdowns in two straight games. Things can't get much worse than they were on Monday night for Minnesota and Rudolph seems to have come out of the bye with an expanded role in the Vikings offense.

DST

My pick for the Player Challenge: 49ers

The 49ers have the sixth-most interceptions in the NFL. They've recovered six fumbles and scored two defensive touchdowns. And I could throw a hundred more stats your way, but this is all you need to know: the 49ers play the Jaguars in Week 8. Jacksonville has some talent, but has failed to put it all together this season in a manner that nearly guarantees defenses will have success against the team. The 49ers entered the season at near-elite levels, and have four straight weeks of 15 or more points -- seemingly improving once Aldon Smith left the team. Heading into a bye week, San Francisco should put up at least 12-15 points in a solid Week 8 matchup.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Ravens' Victor Hampton arrested for DWI
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4:57 pm ET) Ravens defensive back Victor Hampton was arrested for DWI, in Charlotte, Saturday night, according to WSOC TV

Hampton was pulled over after going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone. He faces DWI, speeding, reckless driving and open container charges. Passengers in the car were arrested on marijuana and concealed weapons charges. 

Hampton was on the Bengals offseason roster and Giants practice squad last year. He signed with the Ravens in January. 


Report: Raiders to release LaMarr Woodley
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3:02 pm ET) The Raiders will release DE LaMarr Woodley this week, according to a report by CSN Bay Area's Fallon Smith, citing an NFL source.

Woodley is entering the second year of a two-year contract. He's scheduled to make $3.85 million with a salary cap hit of $5.1875 million.  


Chiefs' De'Anthony Thomas working on being a receiver this offseason
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) De'Anthony Thomas was drafted out of Oregon by the Chiefs as a running back. Though he worked in a hybrid role as a rookie, he was listed by Kansas City as a running back. 

That could change in 2015.

According to the Kansas City Star, Thomas said he's worked this offseason on becoming more of a complete receiver.

“Yes, I have the ability to run the whole [route] tree,” Thomas said. “That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason. I’m running all those routes in the sand [during beach workouts]. And once the time comes to come on the grass, I feel like it’s going to be a lot easier because I’ve prepared myself.”

Thomas ran for 113 yards and totaled 156 receiving yards in a reserve role. He made a big impact in the return game, combinging for 833 punt and kickoff return yards with a touchdown. 
With Thomas transitioning into being more of a receiver first, he's modeling him game after Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Both are shorter targets, making the comparison fitting for Thomas. Thomas is listed at 5-feet-8, 176 pounds and Brown is 5-feet-10, 186 pounds. 
Brown had a career season in 2014, totaling 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

“I’m very impressed with Antonio Brown,” Thomas said. “He’s a great player, and I feel like I have the same ability to make the same plays like him and help the team and be that [kind of impact] player.”



 


Report: Dolphins eyeing CBs Brandon Flowers, Kareem Jackson
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:39 pm ET) Looking to upgrade at cornerback, the Dolphins are interested in bringing on Brandon Flowers or Kareem Jackson during free agency, according to a report from the Miami Herald

The Dolphins don't appear sold on cornerback Cortland Finnegan for future seasons with the organization discussing alternative options. 

In 2014, Flowers totaled 52 tackles and three interceptions after signing a one-year deal with the Chargers. Jackson recorded 57 tackles and three interceptions in his fifth season for the Texans. 


Report: Vincent Jackson to return to Buccaneers at full salary
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(2:23 pm ET) WR Vincent Jackson will return to the Buccaneers next season, at full salary, according to a report by Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times

Jackson had been considered a target for a lower salary, to help improve the Bucs' salary cap situation. He'd previously said that he wanted to stay with the team but didn't want a pay cut. 

Jackson will be paid $9.777 million in 2015, with a cap hit of $12 million. 


Report: Todd Herremans has no plans to retire
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:23 pm ET) Former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans is looking to continue his NFL career in 2015, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Herremans was cut by the Eagles on Friday. The Eagles are set to save $2.8 million against the salary cap. 

Herremans was a fourth-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft and spent his entire career up to this point with Philadelphia. 


Stephen Tulloch unsure of future with Lions
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) Lions LB Stephen Tulloch isn't sure whether he'll be back with the team next season. 

Tulloch is scheduled to make $4.8 million in 2015, and the Lions could save $3.2 million against the cap by releasing him. 

So far, this offsesason, the team has not communicated its plans to Tulloch. ""I haven't heard anything about what's going on, my agent hasn't heard anything," Tulloch told Sirius XM radio. "We're just preparing to report, April 20th, accordingly to the mail we've received for the offseason program. It's out of my control.

Tulloch has recovered from the ACL tear that ended his season three weeks in. "I'm way ahead of schedule and I feel great," Tulloch said. "I was telling a friend of mine yesterday, it's crazy how you feel stronger than you did previously, before the surgery." 


Jonas Gray hopes to return to Patriots' plans
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:44 pm ET) Jonas Gray burst on the scene for the Patriots last season, rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a Sunday night game. Just as quickly, he was gone. 

Gray overslept and was late for practice, and coach Bill Belichick didn't give him another chance to showcase his skills. Gray was inactive for the Super Bowl. 

Gray learned his lesson. "The tough part for me was to watch it, and not participate in a matter I thought I should," he told Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. "But it's motivation going into the offseason. I just know I need to work harder, so I'll never get myself in that position again." 

Still on the Patriots, Gray believes he'll get a clean slate next season, and he's spending the offseason preparing himself for the opportunity. 

I tell them, I'm going to have a Jerry Rice/Walter Payton mentality where whatever you do isn't enough," Gray said. "I'm going to have a work ethic where I know, in my heart of hearts, I'm going to outwork everybody. That's what I hope to achieve


Ravens' Justin Forsett wants to build on 2014
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) Ravens RB Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, nearly matching his career totals for his six previous seasons in the NFL. 

Forsett is scheduled to be a free agent on March 10, but he hopes to remain with the Ravens, saying he's "praying that everything works out." 

“I want to build upon it,” Forsett told the Baltimore Sun. “I want to be great. I didn’t come in this league to be a one-year wonder."


Lions' Stephen Tulloch progressing from ACL surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, reports FOXSports.com.

Tulloch said he was way ahead of schedule and feeling stronger since undergoing the surgery. Tulloch tore his ACL during a post-play celebration in September.


 
 
 
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