Welcome to the Daily Fantasy Roundup where we'll cover every inch of what you need to set a great FanDuel lineup every week. If you've been following this column all year, you should be absolutely pumped for Week 8.
We're now in the portion of the season where the good players rise to the top. We have a strong foundation of process, and finally own a concrete understanding of what these teams are. We know how many snaps most players will get, and we don't have to guess on who will get the most targets. Quality of opponent is easier to predict now, as defensive efficiency numbers and metrics are much more solid with at least five games worth of data on all these teams. The NFL is always unpredictable, and football DFS carries such high-variance with the season being so short, but the ground we stand on is growing ever more firm.
With that being said, there are a number of plays, DFS theory concepts and matchups I'm excited to exploit this week. Let's get after it.
All ownership percentage numbers come via Footballguys' Justin Bonnema. Follow him for more great DFS information.
Top quarterback plays
Philip Rivers - The Chargers quarterback was the highest owned quarterback (10.2 percent) on the Thursday slate, and it's hard to expect any different for Sunday. He throws the ball more than any quarterback in the NFL, and the Ravens give up the second most passing yards. It's a clear unstoppable force meets movable object. However, his ownership percentage, and the fact that this team travels to the east coast for an early start time has me pivoting to other options. I'll have some of Rivers, but will be more cautious than others.
Andy Dalton - Not only has the Bengals signal caller been the most steady quarterback this side of Tom Brady this season, he's in a great spot for Week 8. The Steelers come into this game with the 29th ranked pass defense in terms of yards allowed and completion percentage, and rank 25th in yards per attempt. Going back to 2013, Dalton averages over 26 fantasy points when playing against bottom 12 pass defenses. He has too many weapons in 2015 to be denied. Dalton offers the perfect combination of safety and a high-ceiling among the top range quarterbacks. Trailing just behind Philip Rivers in Thursday ownership percentage, who I'm fading as the highest owned quarterback of the week and traveling across country, Dalton is a good anchor at quarterback.
Eli Manning - The Saints and Giants matchup should prove to be one of the highest scoring games of the week. As such, we'll look to pluck players from both sides for DFS. Eli Manning is a great target at quarterback, and a player that many are backing away from. Manning only scored a combined 17.16 FanDuel points over his last two games. However, before that Manning went over 19 points in three of his last four, and had one 29.74-point outburst. Eli still has a high-ceiling -- especially with Odell Beckham now three weeks removed from tweaking his hamstring. The Saints allow the fifth-most fantasy points per quarterback pass attempts. This type of shootout game script favors the Giants passing game.
Top running back plays
Chris Johnson - My brain still really can't comprehend this reliable, grind-it-out version of Chris Johnson, but it's a reality. Johnson is one of two backs with at least 100 rush attempts (Chris Ivory being the other) averaging over five yards per carry. He faces the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, who are by far the league's worst run defense. The Browns give up 5.29 yards per carry, and have 166 more rushing yards recorded against them than the next ranked team. The Browns give up most of their big runs when backs hit the outside lanes against them. Arizona ranks inside the top seven in average yards off the left end (sixth), right end (first), and at the second level (sixth) according to Football Outsiders' metrics. Chris Johnson could be set to party like its 2009 in Cleveland on Sunday.
Justin Forsett - The Baltimore starter is yet another total value pick relative to his workload. From Week 4 on, Forsett averages 22.75 touches per game. The offensive line is beginning to gel, and he's finally getting work in the red zone. He's also in a near perfect spot as a home favorite with the Chargers coming to town. San Diego gives up the most fantasy points per running back touch, and has the fifth-worst touchdown rate in the league. Forsett's last, and only, blowup game in 2015 came against the similarly deficient Browns in Week 5. It's hard to go against Forsett when looking for bankable production in the low mid-running back range this week.
Jonathan Stewart - Now that Stewart's volume of touches is secure (21-plus touches in back to back weeks), he's back in play in these favorable spots. Carolina has the defense to hang with, and beat the Colts in the Panthers' building. In these game scripts, the hammer running back becomes an excellent play, and that's what Stewart was for this team the last two weeks coming off the bye. Stewart didn't find the end zone last week, but rarely do backs with his volume suffer through too long of scoring droughts. Of course, Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton are always threats to siphon red zone looks, but the Colts have the fourth-worst touchdown allowed per carry rate in the NFL this season.
Top wide receiver plays
Odell Beckham - Because there is always some wild narrative that needs to get floated whenever Odell Beckham has a quiet stretch, his ownership percentage his always in major flux. On the Thursday slate, only 4.4 percent of lineups featured Beckham, who is coming off a four-catch, 35-yard game. The Saints rank 19th in defending No. 1 wide receivers, according to Football Outsiders. Top cornerback Delvin Breaux is playing quite well, but is still prone to gaffes- -- he let up both long touchdowns to T.Y. Hilton after slipping last week, and lost a pass in the lights in Week 2 against the Bucs. Beckham can still make due against him, and if he gets matched up with Brandon Browner, or their slot corner, just forget about it. With the public off him again, Beckham is a threat to go nuclear this week.
Antonio Brown - This is elementary, you want to get back in on Antonio Brown now that Ben Roethlisberger is back. His value is still down after going through the ringer with Mike Vick, and he won't stay outside of the top two receiver spots for long. He proved for sure that it was the fault of Vick alone, as he went for over 100 yards last week with Landry Jones behind center. Brown averages over 10 targets per game when Roethlisberger plays. The Bengals are a sneakily exploitable matchup, ranking 19th in fantasy points allowed per target to wide receivers.
A.J. Green - For whatever reason, Green has long been a more productive player on the road than at home. Dating back to 2012, Green posts an average of 7.1 catches for 105.9 yards per game on the road compared to just 4.8 for 66.4 at home. He'll be a popular play this week, as most expect him to round back into stud form in this division rivalry game.
Mike Evans - He's back after beating up on a bad Washington secondary. Mike Evans played physical football in Week 7, and we needed to see him do so after fighting through inconsistencies and injuries early in the season. Better yet, he might be locked in to a DeAndre Hopkins-type target share this week. Third receiver Louis Murphy is on IR, and Vincent Jackson will not play in this game. Evans should legitimately push for 18 targets from Jameis Winston. The Falcons top cornerback, Desmond Trufant, is an excellent player, but does not shadow opposing No. 1 receivers. Evans will get over for a few big plays in this contests.
Eric Decker/Donte Moncrief - I'm putting these two together because they're nearly identical players to me this week. They are the exact same value on FanDuel for Week 8, and just can't break out of the lower end of the mid-tier receivers no matter what they do. Both players are two of the most locked-in touchdown threats this season. Decker (10.5 percent) and Moncrief (9.1 percent) rank inside the top-six in touchdown rate among receivers with 30-plus targets. In FanDuel, you want bankable touchdown upside for your second receiver spot, and these two are the safest bets. Decker has the better matchup against Oakland, although reports out of Carolina speculate that Josh Norman will spend most of his time covering T.Y. Hilton.
Steve Johnson - He's back in action as one of our favorite bargain plays at wide receiver. Steve Johnson has a great matchup with the Ravens, and is near the punt play range. He played 81 percent of the team's snaps last week, and saw eight targets in his first game back from a hamstring injury. The Chargers are the highest volume passing offense in the NFL, and ancillary players can have weekly value, and Johnson chief among them. I was a big fan of his after charting in his Reception Perception sample and wrote him up as one of my top-10 sleepers for this week.
Top tight end plays
Tyler Eifert - Emerging as the second-best tight end in the NFL, outside of a zero catch outlier in Week 3, Tyler Eifert hasn't scored lower than TE11 this year. His floor is relatively secure, which is much more than you can say for many at his position. Eifert also has a tremendous ceiling, as he carries the highest red zone targets-to-touchdowns conversion rate among pass catchers with at least eight targets inside the 20. The tight end landscape gets murkier by the week, making Eifert's appeal hard to turn away from.
Travis Kelce - With the early start to this game taking place in London, you'll need to play on an early slate to target Travis Kelce. However, this is a perfect sport for him to succeed. He ranks third among tight ends and wide receivers in terms of yards gained after the catch with 270. The Lions defense struggles to tackle, allowing 52.6 percent of the yards earned against them to come after the catch.
Benjamin Watson - With clear strong plays at wide receiver and running back, it makes sense to go after bargains at tight end. My top guy this week in that respect, is Ben Watson. With their weakness at safety, and love of slow linebackers, the Giants have been atrocious at defending tight ends this season. New York gives up 11 fantasy points per game to the position, and tight ends catch 70.6 percent of their targets against them. Both figures could look even worse had Kirk Cousins hit Jordan Reed on two end zone passes back in Week 3. While Week 6's 10-catch explosion is the clear outlier of not only Watson's season, but his entire career, he's settled back into a friendly five target per game role. That may be all he needs to give back value in this matchup. The Saints/Giants game will be one of the week's highest scoring, and Watson (two targets for two touchdowns inside the 10-yard line) has a great chance to score. Again, it's just a punt play to grab high-end players at other positions.
Top defense plays
Cardinals DEF - There's at least a chance that the Cardinals face Johnny Manziel this week, who turns the ball over at an alarming rate. Even so, Josh McCown is turning back into a pumpkin, and offers good turnover upside to a defense that snags an interception on 4.7 percent of the pass attempts against them.
Rams DEF - St. Louis is the best defense play this week, and the public knows it, as they were over 27 percent owned on the Thursday slate. However, their week-winning upside is too good to pass up. This unit plays faster and more aggressive at home, and the floundering 49ers could be walking right into a buzz saw. Colin Kaepernick throws more than five times more interceptions per game this season on the road than he does at home.
Stack of the week and best contrarian play (two for one special)
Joe Flacco/Steve Smith Sr. - We talked last week about looking for value stacks, as to not rely on the pairing to carry your lineup. My pick this week harkens back to that, and a misnomer on Joe Flacco's fantasy season thus far. Despite two performances (Week 1 and a Thursday night tilt with Pittsburgh) Flacco has been the same player as ever this year. He finished as the QB12 in Week 2, the QB7 in Week 3 and the QB6 in Week 5. The last two weeks, interceptions dragged down his performance to the QB15 to QB16 range. In reality, none of this should surprise us regarding Joe Flacco's fantasy performances, as they're all in line with his historical trends. Going back to 2012, Flacco averages .65 interceptions at home per game, as opposed to 1.21 on the road. He's a safer bet in his home stadium, and has always been a matchup-based fantasy starter. In that same timespan, Flacco averages 22.27 fantasy points per game against bottom-half NFL pass defenses, and only 16 against top-half opponents. Throughout his career, Flacco has consistently been the same player he is this year.
The Chargers and Ravens game should be a high-scoring one, as neither defense is playing up to their potential. The Chargers rank 16th in the NFL in passing yards against, and 25th in fantasy points allowed per pass attempts. San Diego ranks a damning 29th in touchdown percentage, allowing a score on 6.3 percent of the pass attempts against them. Flacco is second in the NFL in red zone pass attempts this season, while Steve Smith ranks inside the top-five among five among pass catchers. Both are prime touchdown regression to the mean candidates. Flacco was only owned in 1.3 percent of Thursday FanDuel lineups, making a stack with him and his best wide receiver a contrarian, unique and potentially week-winning strategy. So many statistics lead me to this pick, I just can't turn away.
Best obvious play
Todd Gurley- He's listed behind Freeman, Bell, Peterson, Lynch and Forte on FandDuel, but Todd Gurley has just as much of a locked-in workload as those high-end studs. Since Week 4, Gurley hasn't seen less than 21 touches in any game, and that was his low-mark during that three game stretch. Jeff Fisher doesn't care about game script, he just keeps feeding his top running back. It just so happens that this sets up as perfect spot for the Rams DEF and running back anyways, with the 49ers coming to town. Even though he was by far the most popular player on the Thursday slate (40.2 percent owned) you have to take the plunge with Gurley while he's still such a good value relative to his workload/performance.
My near 100 percent exposure player
Doug Martin - The Buccaneers finally wised up and started running their offense through their talented veteran running back, not their rookie quarterback. Doug Martin averaged 24.67 touches over his last three games. The Falcons bleed touchdowns to running backs, allowing a rushing score on 7.0 percent of the attempts against them, the highest rate in the NFL. Atlanta also gives up points in bunches to pass catching running backs, allowing season-high games to Darren Sproles, Shane Vereen and Lance Dunbar. The Falcons lap the field in receptions allowed to running backs with 64 in seven games. The next highest is 48 by the Raiders. The Atlanta linebackers are some of the worst coverage players in the NFL, with Paul Worrilow and his crew getting thumped by pass-catching running backs and move tight ends on a near weekly basis. While that could mean a useable game for Charles Sims, Doug Martin still gets work on passing downs. Martin caught every single one of his targets in his last three games, going for 107 yards and a score. He'll get his chances against the dreadful crew of coverage linebackers. He was sixth in terms of FanDuel ownership percentage on Thursday, and I'll have a tough time not using him across all formats for Week 8.
Cheat code of the week
Michael Floyd - Despite scoring in back to back games, FanDuel has not adjusted Floyd's value. Reports out of Arizona are that Bruce Arians may hold John Brown (hamstring) out of this game to give him an extra week's rest heading into the bye. That would make Floyd a near must-play at his bargain value. Either way, as we've said each of the last two weeks, Floyd has a 70-plus percent snap share player in one of the NFL's best offenses, and a talented touchdown threat. He's scored on two of his three targets inside the 10-yard line this year. Floyd and Brown are rising in stock in the Arizona offense, while Larry Fitzgerald, who is still playing really well, is regressing back to WR2 status. Follow that trend in a game where the Cardinals should be able to put up points.