I have lowered my standards. My column, my rules. After eight weeks of grading my recommendations on a standard scoring scale of 8 points for RB/WR/TE and 15 points for QB to earn a W, I've decided to lower the baseline for a win to 7 and 14 respectively. And I've decided that's completely fair considering these are players that are not obvious starts, and at the halfway point of the fantasy season, bye weeks and injuries are making good flexes hard to come by. I know a lot of teams (mine included) that would be thrilled to get seven points out of a flex at this point in the season. BTW, the decision was not at all influenced by five guys going for between 72-78 yards and Alex Smith kneeling down twice at the end of the game to give him only nine rushing yards and consequently 14 points. I swear.
So with that little bit of business out of the way, onto last week's results. With my sweet new rule change, I managed to finish 16-12 for my first week over 0.500. For once rule changes in football serve a good purpose! Two of my four favorites - Shonn Greene and Brandon Lloyd - came through with solid efforts, while I set a personal best for big performances with six guys going for at least 18 points, highlighted by Philip Rivers, Tim Tebow and Matt Ryan. In very disappointing fashion, Jon Baldwin, Mark Sanchez and Chris Ogbonnaya all busted out despite good opportunities; on the bright side they all have good chances to bounce back this week (spoiler alert).
With a random full slate of games slapped between the final two bye weeks, the extra players should provide a soothing balm to any teams suffering the injury woes. So with that in mind, my three favorites (that's right it's a non-bye week so we're back to three) for injury replacement are Michael Bush, Ben Tate and Antonio Brown. Those guys are a harmonious combination of talent meeting opportunity and dining over a nice matchup. And so are the rest of these plays, so use 'em where you need 'em to patch up that lineup.
PS… Thursday football starts this week so make sure your team is in good working order when the Raiders and Chargers kickoff tonight. And to pay homage to the exciting start of the Thursday games, I would like to offer you a bonus play: Vincent Brown stepping in for Malcom Floyd makes for a savvy desperation start.
Oakland @ San Diego
Carson Palmer (QB) for Raiders - The So Cal kid is heading home for a crucial divisional matchup. After busting up Denver for a tremendous 9.5 yards per attempt and hitting six different targets for a catch over 20 yards, he looks like he's back to his best fantasy days in Cinci.
Michael Bush (RB) for Raiders - I said it last week (and was right) and will say it again: Bush is a must-start with McFadden out.
Arizona @ Philadelphia
Early Doucet (WR) for Cardinals - Doucet has had at least 78 yards receiving or a score in four straight games with 33 targets over that stretch. With so much defensive attention being afforded to Larry Fitzgerald, he's become a consistent flex play.
Brent Celek (TE) for Eagles - In the past three games, Celek has received nine targets in each and has racked up 196 yards and two scores. What more could you want from your starting tight end?
Tennessee @ Carolina
Chris Johnson (RB) for Titans - Sure, I gave up on Johnson after his pathetic showing versus Indy, but after averaging over 4.5 yards per attempt for the first time all year, I'm willing to give him one more shot. The Panthers are tied for last in rushing touchdowns allowed (11), making this CJ's best chance for his second score of the year.
Jonathan Stewart (RB) for Panthers - The Titans' dismal run defense has now given up 663 rushing yards in their last four contests, or 165 yards per game. Though he hasn't received more than 14 carries in any week, Stewart is too talented a back to be slowed by this defense. Expect his best output of the year.
Houston @ Tampa Bay
Ben Tate (RB) for Texans - Tate is tied for ninth in the league in rushing yards and is averaging almost 1.5 more yards per carry than his much more heralded teammate Arian Foster. Against a Tampa defense that's given up over 175 rushing yards each of their past two games, Tate has a good shot at his second straight 100-yard day.
Mike Williams (WR) for Buccaneers - Williams has been targeted 49 times in his last five games and has three straight weeks with six catches. Though he has yet to turn all that opportunity into a big game, I still believe one is in his near future. So despite the tough Texans pass D, I'm calling it.
Washington @ Miami
Reggie Bush (RB) for Dolphins - Bush is doing his best to dispel the belief that he can't be a feature back in the NFL, and after two impressive weeks running the ball, my bet is he makes it a third regardless of the health of Daniel Thomas.
Roy Helu (RB) for Redskins - Helu displayed a versatile skillset last week versus one of the league's best defenses, and he should have no problem churning up yards against one of the worst now that the job appears to be securely in his hands.
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
Jason Hill (WR) for Jaguars - The Colts defense has been making good starts out of most wide receivers this year as they've allowed a league-worst 18 touchdown passes. Hill, who's snagged three in his past four games, has become the clear favorite of rookie Blaine Gabbert, particularly in the red zone.
Donald Brown (RB) for Colts - Since stepping into the backfield in Week 5 with Joseph Addai hurt, Brown has averaged 4.6 an attempt and has scored in every other game, which makes him due for another end zone trip this week.
Denver @ Kansas City
Tim Tebow (QB) for Broncos - Tebow is built for fantasy. Bench him at your own risk.
Jon Baldwin (WR) for Chiefs - Denver's miserable pass defense has been very generous to opposing wide receivers, giving up six 100-yard games and 11 touchdowns in eight games. Look for Baldwin to bounce back from his weak showing versus Miami and add to the pile up of receivers torching the Broncs.
Buffalo @ Dallas
David Nelson (WR) for Bills - He's back in the slot. Donald Jones' return from injury has put Nelson back in the role that made him a hot early season pickup, and his targets, yards and scores will increase from here out.
Laurent Robinson (WR) for Cowboys - The last game that Miles Austin (hamstring) missed in Week 4 Robinson racked up 116 yards on seven grabs. Additionally, he's led the team in receiving yards from that point on and has scored in the last two weeks. What more do you need to know?
New Orleans @ Atlanta
Pierre Thomas (RB) for Saints - With Mark Ingram (heel) and Chris Ivory (hamstring) nicked up, it's likely the bulk of the rushing duties will fall on Thomas' shoulders. That should suit his owners just fine given that Thomas' last trip to Atlanta saw him post 102 total yards and a score.
Matt Ryan (QB) for Falcons - Ryan plays his best ball at home. He usually steps up under pressure. His new toy, Julio Jones, is officially healthy and awesome. In a matchup for the division lead, that should make for a tasty cocktail.
St. Louis @ Cleveland
Brandon Lloyd (WR) for Rams - In three weeks as a Ram, Lloyd has seen 38 targets and has posted at least 74 yards or a score in each game. Those kind of opportunities mean a big game could be right around the corner.
Chris Ogbonnaya (RB) for Browns - Prior to running into a stingy Houston defense, Ogbonnaya had at least 55 total yards the previous two weeks in a limited role. Now up against the team that first gave him an NFL shot, which still allows the most rushing yards per game, he should bounce-back well in his second start.
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Antonio Brown (WR) for Steelers - Brown is quickly becoming a no-brainer start as he grows into a crucial piece of the Steelers offense. With Emmanuel Sanders (knee) out a few weeks, the crazy target numbers, catches, yards and scores should keep coming for Brown.
Jerome Simpson (WR) for Bengals - Simpson has posted a 100 yards or a score in three straight. With rookie sensation A.J. Green drawing considerable attention, Andy Dalton's No. 2 should continue to put up strong numbers, especially against a Steelers team that will force Cinci into a lot of passing.
Baltimore @ Seattle
Torrey Smith (WR) for Ravens - Three young receivers-Julio Jones, Victor Cruz and A.J. Green-have combined to rack up 351 yards against the Seahawks inconsistent secondary. Smith will use his deep speed to add to that impressive total.
Marshawn Lynch (RB) for Seahawks - For as vaunted as the Baltimore D is, they've softened a bit recently against the run, having allowed 100 total yards or a touchdown to lead backs in four straight weeks. Coming off his torching of the formerly stout Dallas run defense, Lynch should fair fine against the Ravens.
New York Giants @ San Francisco
Jake Ballard (TE) for Giants - Ballard is hardly a secret now after catching the game-winner in New England, but something I'll bet you didn't know about him is that he leads all tight ends with an eye-opening 17.2 yards per catch. Look for him to continue stretching the middle of the field versus San Fran despite the great middle linebacker presence.
Michael Crabtree (WR) for 49ers - Crabtree has now led the Niners in receiving for three straight weeks. As a run-first team that's not saying much, but that does translate to a consistent floor and a trustworthy flex.
Detroit @ Chicago
Jay Cutler (QB) for Bears - Cutler was sharp in his previous rumble with Detroit and looked even better last week. If the Chicago line can keep his jersey clean for a second straight game expect Cutler's best showing yet in a pivotal divisional game.
Earl Bennett (WR) for Bears - Bennett returned to the lineup with a vengeance against the Eagles "elite" secondary and then proceeded to torch Asante Samuel for 95 yards and a touch, while not dropping a single target. In a grudge match with Detroit he should have even more in store.
New England @ New York Jets
Mark Sanchez (QB) for Jets - Sanchez didn't get the yards when he faced the Pats in Week 5, but he did toss two scores without throwing a pick. In a game for the division lead, he will be forced to throw more and will find success against what is still the league's most generous secondary.
Santonio Holmes (WR) for Jets - Holmes has very quietly scored a touchdown in three of his past four games, and has a score in each of his last two meetings with the Pats dating back to last year's playoff win. You can bet this big-game receiver will do everything within his power to make it three straight.
Minnesota @ Green Bay
Christian Ponder (QB) for Vikings - In his first primetime showing, Ponder will improve on the 40.6 completion percentage he had the last time he faced the Pack in Week 7 and continue the streak of quarterbacks that have taken advantage of the Green Bay defensive woes with yards, big plays and scores.
James Starks (RB) for Packers - Starks racked up 99 total yards the last time Green Bay squared off with the Vikes and he's played well in his limited opportunities over the past five games, with at least 12 carries and no less than 59 total yards in that stretch