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Flex Plays: Players to Watch for Week 8

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

I feel bad for Mark Ingram. And not just because he was in my lineup last week. He runs hard, is forced to share the ball with about 37 guys and has now gotten robbed of a touchdown from the one yard line three out of the past four weeks by fullback Jed Collins, including a Collins score this week that should have been reversed by a review that the booth seemed to view as pointless given the demolition that was in progress. And to top it all off the poor kid sustained a heel injury on his final carry, a beautiful 20-yard run, just when he was poised to have his first career 100-yard game. What a shame.

Nevertheless, Ingram posted the 8+ points needed to give me one of the few W’s I received on a brutal 7-19 week that again saw injuries, awful performances and Shanahanigans cost me on numerous recommendations. Only Tim Tebow saved my foursome of favorites, as Josh Freeman’s fourth pick docked him just below the 15-point mark while Damian Williams (head) left with an injury and Donald Brown couldn’t garner enough garbage points. On the bright side, I was right about DeMarco Murray, though I would’ve never guessed how right I’d be.

For a tough Week 8 with another six teams out (Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, Oakland, New York Jets, Tampa Bay), I’m preaching bold moves again. At the halfway point of your season, you either need them to get over the hump, can afford to take them because you’re in great position or
have nothing to lose at this point and, frankly, not many better options. So in the spirit of taking chances, I’m calling on a rookie’s second career start as my top pick of the week, with Christian Ponder leading my four favorites, and Joe Flacco, Jake Ballard and Knowshon Moreno rounding out the group.

Hopefully your brave start to the season’s second half brings more treats than tricks on the final scary weekend in October.

Sunday 10/30/11

Arizona @ Baltimore

Joe Flacco (QB) for Ravens – Arizona is one of the worst in the league in passing yards allowed per attempt, giving up 8.2 a throw. In this early east coast start time, Flacco should bounce back from his miserable performance in Jacksonville in a home-game blowout of the west
coast Cards.

Torrey Smith (WR) for Ravens – See Flacco, Joe. Also see the highlight of Mike Wallace blazing past the Cardinals defense last week for a 95-yard score. He’s just one of numerous deep-threat receivers to burn the Arizona secondary this year. Smith has a good shot to add his name
to that list.

Minnesota @ Carolina

Christian Ponder (QB) for Vikings – Consider me sold on Ponder as the future of the Minnesota franchise. He looked very much in control of the offense in his first career start and should post similar numbers against a below-average Carolina defense.

Visanthe Shiancoe (TE) for Vikings – Shiancoe is tied for the team-lead in targets and is the team’s best red zone option in the passing game. And with Adrian Peterson drawing defenders into the box like flies to light bulb, Shiancoe should thrive in the play-action passing game.

Jacksonville @ Houston

Jason Hill (WR) for Jaguars – Hill now has at least 60 yards or a touchdown in his past three games and is quickly becoming the favorite target of rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. The rapport those two are developing should translate into another strong outing for this quietly productive wideout.

Ben Tate (RB) for Texans – The Jags will come back down to earth when they travel to Houston and in what could be another blowout, Tate should shine late for the second straight week. The man has yet to average less than 4.3 yards per carry in a single game and Jacksonville won’t hold him to less.

Miami @ New York Giants

Jake Ballard (TE) for Giants – Two things to know about Ballard for this week: He has at least 80 yards or a touchdown in three straight games and even adding in the measly 161 yards Tim Tebow threw for on the Miami defense, they’re STILL giving up an average of nearly 260 yards passing
per game.

Mario Manningham (WR) for Giants – Because the Giants will pass it all over the Dolphins, because Manningham is back to the team’s No. 2 wideout after the Victor Cruz explosion and because the Giants will pass it all over the Dolphins. Yes, that bears repeating. Start Manningham with confidence.

New Orleans @ St. Louis

Pierre Thomas (RB) for Saints – Mark Ingram’s heel injury should at least relegate him to just a handful of carries, if that, so Thomas is likely to split the heavy lifting for the Saints’ backfield with Darren Sproles. And we all know what that could mean against the two-hand touch Rams defense.

Brandon Lloyd (WR) for Rams – Lloyd’s 12 targets in his first game as a Ram were twice as many as the next Rams receiver. Regardless of who’s at quarterback this week the Rams will be throwing a ton and Lloyd will benefit.

Indianapolis @ Tennessee

Delone Carter (RB) for Colts – Tennessee has given up 396 rushing yards in their last two games, and three 100-yard rushers. Carter, stepping up last week when Joseph Addai (hamstring) stepped out again, should take advantage of the Titans struggles stopping the run.

Chris Johnson (RB) for Titans – That’s right. A name I never thought I’d be able to use in this column has been reduced to a questionable start most weeks. But this isn’t most weeks, and against a painfully porous Colts defense Johnson should have his best game of the season.

Detroit @ Denver

Tim Tebow (QB) for Broncos – It’s still Tebow Time! So keep Mr. Fourth Quarter in your lineup. He’s the only quarterback in football that can score 25 points without throwing a pass within five yards of a receiver.

Knowshon Moreno (RB) for Broncos – Moreno will step in for the injured Willis McGahee and should be productive against a Lions defense giving up 5.0 yards per attempt and nearly 130 yards a game on the ground, particularly when Denver leans on the run to compensate for Tebow’s inconsistent passing.

Washington @ Buffalo

John Beck (QB) for Redskins – The Bills are the third-worst passing defense in the league, giving up 285 yards a game. Even without Santana Moss (hand), Beck should post the numbers of a high-end bye-week replacement.

Fred Davis (TE) for Redskins – Davis is fast becoming a must-start when Chris Cooley is out, with at least 100 yards or a touchdown in three games as the feature tight end.

Cincinnati @ Seattle

Jermaine Gresham (TE) for Bengals – Gresham is second on the team in targets (tied), catches and touchdowns and should remain a favorite of Andy Dalton’s in the red zone. Expect a solid week as the Seahawks secondary focuses on slowing down A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson.

Bernard Scott (RB) for Bengals – Without suspended Cedric Benson in the lineup, Scott should get at least 15-20 touches. So despite the Seahawks stiff rush defense that is holding its opponents to a league-best 3.2 yards per carry, Scott should still post numbers worthy of a bye-week

Cleveland @ San Francisco

Alex Smith (QB) for 49ers – True, Smith is a game-manager, not a stat-stuffing, gunslinging signal caller. But he has tossed six touchdowns in his last three games with only one pick, making him a safe bye-week replacement, particularly if Braylon Edwards (knee) returns from injury.

Michael Crabtree (WR) for 49ers – Crabtree was targeted 15 times in the last Niners outing, nearly half of Smith’s 32 attempts. Though that number will likely go down, he is still a strong candidate to lead the team in receiving and after going five games without a score, he’s due.

New England @ Pittsburgh

Rashard Mendenhall (RB) for Steelers – The best way to beat the Patriots is to keep Tom Brady off the field. Look for Pitt to pound Mendenhall early and often in an effort to slow the game and avoid getting into a shootout with Brady.

Antonio Brown (WR) for Steelers – With Hines Ward tweaking his ankle against Arizona, Brown finally broke through with a big day, and looks poised to assume a larger role in the offense while Ward is dinged up. Against New England’s league-worst pass defense, expect another nice outing.

Dallas @ Philadelphia

Laurent Robinson (WR) for Cowboys – Robinson hasn’t been as involved in the offense since Miles Austin returned to action following the team’s bye, but in a matchup that will likely see either Austin or Dez Bryant get locked down by Nnamdi Asomugha, he could resurface with a sneaky good game.

Brent Celek (TE) for Eagles – The Cowboys defense has struggled all season against tight ends, giving up 484 yards and three scores to them in six games. Though Celek has done very little this year, he is coming off a game with a team-leading nine targets and his first touchdown. Call it a hunch, but I see back-to-back strong games coming.

Monday 10/31/11

San Diego @ Kansas City

Mike Tolbert (RB) for Chargers – The Round Mound of Touchdown struck again last week, and looked good in the process. Though his previous matchup with the Chiefs was his weakest game of the season, he is back to receiving goal line carries, which should come in handy against a
defense giving up a score a game on the ground.

Steve Breaston (WR) for Chiefs – The rapport between Breaston and Matt Cassel has been growing weekly, and Breaston is becoming a bigger part of the offense with every game. That should only continue this week in a crucial divisional matchup, which could mean a 100-yard game on the