Another week, another injury. The foot epidemic claimed a third running back and the pattern seems to be a bigger name each week. Cedric Benson went down with a Lisfranc injury in Week 5 followed by DeMarco Murray and now the littlest big man in fantasy, Maurice Jones-Drew. In leagues all across America the likes of Alex Green, Felix Jones and Rashad Jennings will now be scrapping to secure the points their superior teammates could have gotten their owners.
Week 8's byes - Bengals, Bills, Ravens and Texans - will deprive the fantasy landscape of some top talent at the running back position, so grabbing an injury replacement back to rotate with a star out is extremely crucial this time of year. And with that said, it's also wise to continue targeting those backs that could become strong starting options should yet another starter go down - names like Kendall Hunter, Mike Goodson and Joique Bell come to mind.
The quarterback position isn't too badly impacted by the bye schedule this week. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton are the best of the four men out, and even they're coming off poor performances as borderline No. 1 options. Fortunately for any owners who rely on one of these names weekly, there are some promising upstarts to choose from among lower-tier passers. Since scores can be so unpredictable, the best method of sorting through the reserve passers is to follow the trail of yards, which is how we get to this week's top QB2.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Brandon Weeden vs. San Diego - Weeden has turned in at least 230 yards and two touchdowns three straight weeks. He's found a great playmaker in Josh Gordon who could score in any game from anywhere on the field with his combination of elite size and speed. Weeden can make all the throws, and with the Chargers' shaky pass defense coming to town he should continue to prove it.
2. Carson Palmer at Kansas City - The Chiefs are tied for tops in the league with 8.9 yards per attempt allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Palmer is eighth in the league with 289 passing yards per game. A visit to Arrowhead will help Palmer stay in that top-10 for yardage, as the Chiefs' leaky defense combined with their ineffective offense will lead to many opportunities for him to burn them deep to Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
3. Philip Rivers at Cleveland - Aside from two games in which Rivers has picked on awful defenses (Tennessee and New Orleans), he has averaged a paltry 213 yards and just over one score per game. That makes him a QB2, at best. Fortunately, he gets a Cleveland defense that's allowing 277 yards and two touchdowns a game. Unfortunately, the Browns rank third in the league with 10 picks, and Rivers is among he most-intercepted quarterbacks with nine in just six games. That makes him something of a high-risk/high-reward option. Given his pedigree, however, he's worth the risk for at least one more week.
4. Josh Freeman at Minnesota - With nearly 1,050 yards the last three games and seven scores, Freeman is approaching top-12 status, and thus could be considered a QB1 in many leagues. However, going on the road, on a short week and facing the Vikings' 11th-ranked pass defense, Freeman remains a No. 2 option for at least one more week. With the shocking exception of Blaine Gabbert (260 yards, two TD), Minnesota has limited every opposing quarterback through the air (Robert Griffin III torched them with his legs). Freeman, though, boasts the best receiver combo of anyone the Vikings have faced with the big and athletic Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams helping him put points on the board.
5. Sam Bradford vs. New England (in London) - The Patriots are right back where they left off last year against the pass. Their 16 touchdowns allowed through the air are tied for the most in the league, and they've given up 338 yards per game over the last five, including a combined 621 yards and four scores to Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez. Furthermore, their sacks and interceptions rates are lower than last year's - they've actually regressed from what was one of the worst pass defenses in history. Bradford is far from a gunslinger, but he's done well with little the last two weeks, totaling 570 yards passing. Expect at least 250 and a score in this prime matchup.
6. Matt Hasselbeck vs. Indianapolis - Alhough Hasselbeck has plenty of weapons to target, with Chris Johnson doing his best CJ2K impression once again, the Titans offense figures to lean on the speedy legs of its tailback against a run defense that has been beaten like a drum a few times this year. Nevertheless, the Colts have allowed 12 passing scores in six games while picking off just two balls. So if you're looking for a couple cheap scores, this is as good an option as any of the lower-tier quarterbacks.
1. Brandon Gibson vs. New England (at London) - The NFL is about to find out that the Patriots cannot cover in any country. Their porous secondary is going to give up many yards, at the least, and Gibson who remains Sam Bradford's feature target is a good bet to nab the most of them.
2. Vick Ballard at Tennessee - The unheralded rookie back flashed some solid skill in just his second career start last week, totaling 101 yards on 21 touches. With Donald Brown (knee) out another week and the softest D he's yet to face on the menu, expect another nice day yardage-wise for the former SEC back.
3. Alex Green vs. Jacksonville - For two weeks now Green has done very little with his many opportunities (just 100 yards on 42 carries), but those chances don't figure to go away anytime soon as there are no legitimate threats on the roster to steal them. In a game that has blow out written all over it, expect some solid garbage stats out of Green against a defense that averages nearly 150 yards allowed per game on the ground.
4. Darrius Heyward-Bey at Kansas City - The combination of the Chiefs allowing a league worst 8.9 yards per pass attempt and Heyward-Bey's speed opposite perpetual deep threat Denarius Moore is going to equal some big plays for both receivers. Being a full four weeks removed from a scary concussion, DHB finally appeared to have his legs under him in Week 7 and it showed in his 85 yards receiving. Expect him to steadily improve as the season goes on, and that progress has a good shot to continue in Arrowhead.
5. Ryan Broyles vs. Seattle - It was only a matter of time before the NCAA FBS record holder for career catches got healthy after tearing his ACL last fall and asserted himself as the second best receiver in the Motor City. With Nate Burleson out for the year with a broken leg and Calvin Johnson drawing so much attention, someone has to catch the many, many throws Matthew Stafford will attempt (44 a game on average). Broyles will become that guy as he is an exceptional route runner with a natural feel for finding the soft spots in coverage and boasts excellent hands to make tough catches when he is in traffic - think poor man's Victor Cruz with Megatron opposite him and Titus Young playing the part of Mario Manningham.
6. LaRod Stephens-Howling vs. San Francisco - The tough Vikings defense had not allowed a single running back to hit 100 yards before Stephens-Howling burned it for 145 total yards and a score (104 on the ground). The diminutive scatback with blazing quickness poses a much different threat than the hard-charging tackle-breakers San Francisco has struggled with of late in Ahmad Bradshaw and Marshawn Lynch, but LSH could still hurt the 49ers through the air and provide good total yardage.