1. Randall Cobb — The multitalented second-year receiver is starting to become a consistent fantasy performer as his role in the Green Bay offense continues to expand. Cobb caught eight passes for 89 yards and two TDs last week and also had a 19-yard run. Last week’s strong showing against the Rams came on the heels of a seven-catch, 102-yard outing against the Texans. Cobb, whom Aaron Rodgers called “a star in the making,” has 26 receptions (on 30 targets) in his last four games and is on pace to finish the season with more than 80 catches. He has an attractive home matchup this week against the Jaguars and their 24th-ranked pass defense. The eventual return of Greg Jennings from a groin injury could complicate things for Cobb owners, but at this point the genie is out of the bottle: Cobb is simply too good not to play a significant role in Green Bay offense.
2. Peyton Manning — With the spectacular run Manning is on, it’s probably safe to lay all those overblown concerns about his arm strength to rest. He has had four consecutive games of more than 300 passing yards and three games in a row with three TD passes. Think we’re going to see some points put up when the Saints visit the Broncos on Sunday night? A duel between Manning and Drew Brees should be a fabulous way to cap off a long day of football. Manning gets to face a New Orleans defense that’s allowing 305.2 passing yards per game. And consider this: Manning’s passer rating is 105.0, second in the league behind Aaron Rodgers. The Saints’ opponent QB rating is 106.6. You do not want to be going against Peyton Manning in fantasy football this week.
3. Rashad Jennings — With Maurice Jones-Drew out for Week Eight and possibly much longer with a foot injury, Jennings inherits the featured role in the Jacksonville backfield. After MJD went down against Oakland early in last week’s game, Jennings could only squeeze out 44 yards on 21 carries, though he did have a rushing touchdown and was also productive in the passing game, catching seven balls for 58 yards. The Jaguars’ downfield passing game is toothless, and whether it’s Blaine Gabbert (who was also injured against Oakland) or Chad Henne at quarterback when the Jaguars visit Green Bay this weekend, the absence of aerial menace will make it easier for the Packers to concentrate on Jennings. But Green Bay’s linebackers are iffy in coverage, so Jennings might be able to do more damage as a receiver than as a runner.
4. Ben Roethlisberger — A Roethlisberger-Todd Haley coupling is like a pair of skinny jeans on an overweight man: Friction is inevitable. The first sign of a rift between these two strong-willed individuals surfaced last week, when Roethlisberger said Haley’s offense “is not a big-play offense,” that it’s “kind of dink-and-dunk.” Interesting that Big Ben would slip in that subtle jab now, considering that he’s dink-and-dunked his way to an average of 294.2 passing yards per game and has the fifth-best passer rating in the league. One of the four quarterbacks with a higher rating than Roethlisberger is Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III, who visits Pittsburgh this weekend. Roethlisberger has a distinct advantage in this showdown in that he will get to face the worst pass defense in the league. Washington is giving up 328.4 passing yards per game and has allowed 16 TD passes.
5. Adrian Peterson — The Vikings managed to knock off the Cardinals last week, 21-14, despite passing numbers from the leather-helmet era: eight completions for 58 yards. Credit goes largely to Peterson, who carried the Minnesota offense on his shoulders, running 23 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. As solid as Peterson has been this season while making a miraculously quick return from a devastating knee injury, it was only his second 100-yard rushing day of the season, and the touchdown was his first since Week One. Peterson now faces an arduous matchup against the Buccaneers, who are much tougher against the run than they are against the pass. The Bucs rank third against the run and are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry.
6. Larry Fitzgerald — Fitz’s outing against the Vikings last week was so disappointing that Gordon Lightfoot should have written a song about it. (Get it? “The Wreck of the Larry Fitzgerald”? OK, let’s just move on.) Fitzgerald had only four catches for 29 yards in a disappointing trip back to his home state. But obviously, it’s not his fault. The Arizona quarterbacks are terrible, and John Skelton doesn’t represent a significant upgrade over the injured Kevin Kolb. Fitz is still managing to eke out respectable numbers despite the lack of cooperation from his quarterbacks: 40 catches for 459 yards and three TDs so far this season. He faces a difficult Monday-night home matchup against the top-ranked San Francisco pass defense, but Fitzgerald managed to produce a line of 7-149-1 in a home game against the Niners last December.
7. Jeremy Kerley — The undersized Kerley is emerging as the Jets’ No. 1 receiver in the absence of Santonio Holmes, who’s out for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Kerley, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 188 pounds, had seven catches for 120 yards against the Patriots last week and has 15 catches for 238 yards in his last three games. But the second-year man from TCU hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week Three, and TD catches can be few and far between when your quarterback is Mark Sanchez. Kerley has a potentially lucrative matchup this weekend against the Dolphins, who are stout against the run but leaky against the pass.
8. Josh Freeman — After a rocky start, Freeman has lit it up in consecutive games, throwing for 328 yards and three TDs against the Chiefs in Week Six, and then torching the Saints for 420 yards and three TDs last weekend. Freeman was also pretty productive back in Week Four, with 299 yards and a TD against the Redskins. But those were all home games, all against mediocre pass defenses. (The Chiefs rank 13th against the pass but 30th in opponent passer rating.) Freeman has a much tougher task this week with a Thursday-night road game against the Vikings. Minnesota ranks 11th against the pass and is tied for third in sacks, led by relentless DE Jared Allen. This game should give us an indication of whether Freeman has truly turned a corner or if his recent hot streak has been a mirage.
9. Kenny Britt — Britt owners had hoped that with the unpredictable receiver’s knee and ankle injuries mostly behind him, he’d be churning out star-caliber numbers by now. But Britt hasn’t been able to get the engines going yet. After a mildly promising 4-62-1 line against the Steelers in Week Six, Britt laid a 4-30-0 egg in Tennessee’s 35-34 win over Buffalo last week. He now has 17-175-1 in five games and has become a tricky week-to-week call for many of his fantasy owners. With rookie WR Kendall Wright coming on, Nate Washington still in the picture and RB Chris Johnson suddenly springing back to life, is there still a decent-sized slice of pie left for Britt? The Titans are at home this week against the Colts, who rank seventh against the pass but 29th in opponent QB rating,
10. Dwayne Bowe — Rumors of a trade to the Dolphins came and went while Bowe idled during a Week Six bye. Alas, the gifted receiver, due to become a free agent in the offseason after signing a franchise tender in mid-August, remains in Kansas City for now. It’s unfortunate the rumors weren’t true, since a pairing with talented young QB Ryan Tannehill might have pumped up Bowe’s fantasy value. He has caught 34 passes for 427 yards and three TDs despite the struggles of the Chiefs’ quarterbacks, though his most recent game was a 3-25-0 dud against the Buccaneers in Week Six, with Brady Quinn starting at QB for the Chiefs in place of the injured Matt Cassel. Quinn is starting again this week, but Bowe owners are nonetheless hoping their man can do damage against Oakland’s 22nd-ranked pass defense.