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This week's game between the Packers and Broncos would normally make fantasy football owners drool with excitement. Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning? A consensus first-round running back? Star receivers on both sides? Awesome, right?
The Broncos' defense is the story, having shut down most opponents all season long. Meanwhile, Manning has been a turnover machine, and the Denver offense has struggled, while the Packers' defense has kept opponents off the scoreboard better than any other team in the NFL this year.
Here's how we view the key fantasy players in this week's game.
Start with Confidence
In all honesty, Thomas is the only player who I genuinely think is a lock for a big game this week. The Packers' defense had been great against the pass until week six, when they gave up over 500 yards in the air to the Chargers. The biggest culprits there were Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates, who combined for 23 catches and 252 yards. I see Thomas as a hybrid of those two players - he has great height at 6'3", but he is remarkably fast as well. He'll get his - he has just one game with fewer than 11 targets and has averaged almost 90 yards per game - the question is whether the Packers can keep him out of the end zone, as he has found paydirt just once so far this year.
I have a hunch that the Packers will be able to contain Sanders, but that's a relative term, since he hasn't put up fewer than 65 receiving yards once this season. It would be foolish to assume that Green Bay will hold him under that number. Both of the Broncos' receivers should be even more valuable in PPR leagues this week too - Sanders averages 11 targets and over 6 catches per game, compared to Thomas' average of 12.5 and 8.
Denver's defense leads all defenses in scoring in most fantasy formats, and their pass rush is likely to get some sacks of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday Night. Start them even though the Packers allow the third-fewest points to opposing defenses.
The Packers' defense should have good pass rush and turnover numbers as well this week, and Denver gives up the seventh-most points to opposing defenses. Either one should be a good play this week.
Start with Caution/Avoid in Weekly Leagues
This is the first time Rodgers is in my "caution" category this year, and it has nothing to do with him. Rather, it's the fact that he will be facing the best pass defenses in the NFL (by DVOA), which takes into account both the secondary and the pass rush. Furthermore, they have allowed just five passing touchdowns all year, and only once did they allow two in a single game. In redraft leagues, start Rodgers because you must, and of course there's always high upside for Rodgers, but be warned that a 200-yard, one-touchdown game is just as likely as a three-score performance. Obviously, find value elsewhere in weekly leagues.
Randall Cobb, James Jones
See Rodgers, Aaron. I'm not sold that Davante Adams' return will open up room for Cobb, especially because the Broncos have a talented and deep secondary that ranks first in fewest fantasy points allowed to opposing receivers. It's possible, even likely that one of the Packers' receivers will have a useful fantasy performance, but I'm guessing that Rodgers will spread the ball around and I'm not confident in any of them to bet on which receiver will help you the most.
I'm throwing Lacy into the mix again this week for one main reason - James Starks has not yet practiced. If Lacy were likely to split carries with Starks, I'd say keep them both on your bench against this Broncos' defense. However, because Mike McCarthy says Lacy is no longer bothered by his ankle injury and because Alonzo Harris isn't likely to see a ton of snaps even with Starks sidelined, Lacy will be the Packers' sole option at running back and should get any goal-line carries (unless John Kuhn vultures him again).
Then again, if Starks is practicing by Friday and looks like he'll play, I'd suggest getting Lacy out of your lineup entirely.
Update: Starks was working in practice on Thursday (presumably on a limited basis). My suggestion would be to avoid Lacy at this point unless you have no other reasonable options.
Sneaky options with big upside
The Broncos just allowed a pair of touchdowns to this year's breakout tight end, Gary Barnidge before their bye week. If there's an area where the Packers can exploit this week, it should be the middle of the field with Rodgers. I'm guessing he finds the end zone this week.
While the Packers don't allow a ton of rushing yardage, that's more due to a lack of attempts by opponents, as they're allowing 4.7 yards per carry. Though B.J. Raji and Morgan Burnett should be back this week to help bolster that unit, there's still the possibility of a couple of big gains on the ground for the Broncos. Hillman's the best bet to rack those up, with C.J. Anderson being wholly unproductive this year.
Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis
The Packers' reserve wideouts are too shaky this week to consider. Adams should play, but how he's used and how productive he can be is a major question mark. Montgomery hasn't practiced yet. And Adams' return probably relegates Janis back to special teams, despite the calls to get him more involved in the offense after his two big plays against the Chargers.
See above. Starks hasn't practiced yet this week (though it's just Thursday), but even if he does play, he and Lacy will likely split carries and it won't be good for either back.
It's shocking to see this name here, but he's just the 29th-ranked quarterback in fantasy football this year, so even despite having two no-brainer starters at receiver, he has few options after them and has turned the ball over in spades. With a ferocious Packers pass rush ready to get in his face and his release looking slower this year, don't expect him to rack up Rivers-like numbers this week.
Daniels and Kubiak are apparently joined at the hip, as Daniels has followed his coach from Houston to Baltimore and now to Denver. He's only averaging about 3 points per game standard and 5 in PPR, so leave him on the waiver wire.