Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) talks with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) after the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos beat the Chargers 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Two of the top fantasy football quarterbacks will be on display when week eight of the NFL season gets underway in Denver. First place in the AFC West will be on the line when the San Diego Chargers (5-2) visit Sports Authority Field at Mile High to play the Denver Broncos (5-1). Both teams provide a number of highly ranked fantasy players, as well as some who have been slightly disappointing this year.
After an extremely hot start to the season, the Chargers struggled on both sides of the ball last week in a disappointing home loss to the Chiefs. Quarterback Philip Rivers shouldn’t need any extra motivation for a primetime game against a heated rival to get back on track. Dating back to week two, Rivers has thrown for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in every game. Playing at a MVP caliber level, Rivers should be considered an elite QB1 until further notice. Ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards through seven weeks, and with plenty of weapons at his disposal, I expect his success to continue against the Broncos 18th ranked pass defense. From a fantasy football perspective, 2nd year wide receiver Keenan Allen has been one of the biggest disappointments on 2014. Although leading the team in targets, Allen has yet to find the end-zone this year, and in a matchup where he figures to draw the coverage of top cornerback Aqib Talib for most of the night, Allen is no more than an average WR3 this week. The receivers scoring touchdowns for the Chargers have been deep threat Malcom Floyd and slot man Eddie Royal. Floyd has at least 50 receiving yards or a touchdown in five straight games, and is leading the NFL in yards per catch at 20.6. It is difficult to see Floyd as anything more than a WR3 option even with his recent string of consistency due to his overall reliance on the big play. Royal has slowed considerably since his hot start with a combined six catches for 109 yards over the last three games. He is no more than a touchdown dependent WR4/5 play this week and should only be considered for fantasy lineups in the deepest of leagues. At tight end, Antonio Gates has looked as strong as ever throughout the first half of the season, and has once again proven to be Philip Rivers most trusted target on a weekly basis. A threat all over the field, and especially in the red-zone, Gates is a clear top ten TE1 this week and going forward. The threat and hype of Ladarius Green during the preseason has essentially been wiped out; Green is off the fantasy tight end radar, barring a Gates injury. At the running back position, no team in the NFL has been bit harder by the injury bug than San Diego. In what seems to be an endless depth chart of capable backs, rookie Branden Oliver has filled in admirably after injuries to Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, and Donald Brown. Since seeing his first significant action in week five, Oliver has averaged just over 21 carries per game and has cracked 100 rushing yards in two of those contests. In what figures to be his toughest matchup to date against the Broncos 3rd ranked rushing defense, the University of Buffalo product is more of a RB3/Flex this week than a RB2. Going forward, I do like Oliver’s chances to maintain a piece, if not the majority, of the workload even when Mathews eventually returns.
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The Broncos are coming off an emotional (at least for one half) win on Sunday night against the 49ers. Peyton Manning didn’t even need two full quarters of football before he threw his third touchdown pass of the night and broke Brett Favre’s all-time TD passes mark. Able to rest their starters for a good majority of the fourth quarter, Denver will need every ounce of energy this week to ensure another victory against a quality opponent. Manning can be penciled in as the top fantasy quarterback play nearly every week even when faced with difficult matchups. San Diego ranks 3rd in the NFL at defending the pass, but could be without their top two cornerbacks for this game. Brandon Flowers has already been declared out with a concussion, and talented rookie Jason Verrett may also miss the game due to a shoulder injury. These injuries should enhance the matchups for the Broncos receiving corps. Since the Broncos week four bye, Demaryius Thomas has been one of the best, if not the best, receiver in football. He is my #1 ranked WR this week and is an obvious must start WR1 play in all formats. Thomas has averaged an unbelievable 173.6 yards receiving per game over the last three weeks (while also scoring 5 times) and it would not shock me in the least if he hit that yardage mark again this week. Having an excellent season in his own right, Emmanuel Sanders finally found the end-zone for the first time last week. After averaging eight catches a week through the first four games, Sanders only has six catches and 79 receiving yards combined over the last two. Expect Manning to look Sanders way often on Thursday night as the Chargers do everything in their power to slow down DT. Sanders is at worst a low end WR2 with a WR1 ceiling in Denver’s high-powered offense. Meanwhile, fellow wide receiver Wes Welker also scored his first touchdown of the year last week, but has yet to surpass 60 receiving yards in a game this year. As the fourth option in the passing game, Welker still possesses low-end WR3 potential in PPR formats given the efficiency of the offense, but is no longer the super-reliable weekly WR2 he once was. Tight end Julius Thomas had his first slow week of the year against the 49ers, but I expect a bounce back game from him on Thursday night. As a clear top three fantasy tight end, Thomas has already scored nine touchdowns this season and is Manning’s favorite target in the red-zone. Although the Chargers have only allowed one tight end touchdown in 2014, there is absolutely no way Thomas should be left on fantasy benches. Facing running back injuries of their own, Ronnie Hillman has done an excellent job filling in for the injured Montee Ball. Hillman has established himself as an every down back, and the timeshare that was once anticipated after Ball’s injury has not materialized. Hillman has averaged just under 18 carries a game over the last three weeks and has rushed for at least 64 yards in each of those contents. He showed good burst between the tackles and even received the goal line work last week on his way to two rushing scores. While he may eventually find himself in a true timeshare, Hillman is at least on the RB2 radar for the foreseeable future. He may keep that status regardless depending on how the backfield snaps shake out once Ball is healthy.
Score Prediction: Broncos 31, Chargers 24