In "Exploit or Avoid," we take a close look at some of the week's more favorable — and tough — matchups for skill-position players. Here's who we like on each side of the ledger in Week Eight:
Eagles QB Michael Vick (vs. Atlanta) — In the past two seasons, Eagles starting quarterbacks are a combined 49-of-66 passing for 640 yards with five TDs against Atlanta. Before leaving last season's game at the Georgia Dome with a concussion, Vick racked up 242 yards and a pair of TDs in a little less than three quarters of work. Also, note that one of Vick's best games of the 2011 season was the first after Philadelphia's bye, when he completed 21-of-28 passes for 279 yards and a pair of TDs against Dallas.
Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (vs. Atlanta) — There's a strong case to start Michael Vick. There's an open-and-shut case for Maclin. The Falcons haven't had any answers for him since he entered the NFL in 2009. In three career games against the Falcons, Maclin has caught 24 passes for 413 yards and four TDs. Only four passes thrown his way have fallen incomplete.
Buccaneers RBs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount (at Minnesota) — Martin is far and away the better starting option against Minnesota, which has allowed 309 rushing yards in the past two games. However, Blount's an intriguing bounce-back play as a "flex" in big leagues. He racked up 71 yards and a pair of TDs on 13 carries in the Buccaneers' comeback win at Minnesota a season ago. Blount can be hot and cold; he had only five carries for four yards in the first half vs. the Vikings before having a wonderful final 30 minutes and he's coming off a game in which he gained minus-two yards on five carries vs. the Saints' struggling defense. However, this might be a good week to take a chance on him.
Detroit defense (vs. Seattle) — The Lions' defense created considerable mayhem — and points — a season ago. That hasn't been the case thus far, leaving Detroit available on many waiver wires. However, if you are looking for a plug-and-play defense for Week Eight, the Lions are a very good option. For starters, the Seahawks' offense just does not have a lot of big-play ability, limiting risk for owners that penalize for yards surrendered. Also, the Lions notched a season-high five sacks on Monday night at Chicago. This is a defense that could be knocking on the door of a big game. With Detroit returning at home and in desperate need of a win, this is the time to give Gunther Cunningham's defense a long look.
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph (vs. Tampa Bay) — Fantasy owners are well-aware he didn't record a single catch in Week Eight. However, his overall body of work (25 catches, 225 yards, five TDs) is starter-caliber, and he faces a Tampa Bay defense on that's weak against the pass (31st in the league). He merits another chance.
Saints RBs Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram (at Denver) — The Broncos have allowed more than 100 rushing yards in only two of six games this season. In both instances, the Broncos were facing opponents committed to the run (Houston, New England) who attempted more than 30 rushes. The Saints don't fit that profile, and they have done quite well, on balance, throwing a lot, thank you very much. I'd expect plenty of passes from Drew Brees — bold prediction! — which makes Darren Sproles a strong play. Thomas and Ingram? Not so much.
Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (at Chicago) — The Bears have a very good run defense, ranked second in the league. They have surrendered only 71.3 rushing yards per contest, and they have allowed only one score on the ground. Moreover, Williams and Stewart just aren't getting the volume of opportunities that fantasy owners would like. The duo has a combined 22 carries the past two games. In fact, Williams had just two rushing attempts in Sunday's loss to Dallas. Overall, the Panthers' running game doesn't seem to be in top form, and facing the Bears in Chicago isn't going to help matters.
Lions WR Titus Young (vs. Seattle) — Young has some season-long upside potential; the Lions are pass-happy, and defenses will be more than willing to take their chances with Young, not Calvin Johnson, beating them. However, Young has a challenging matchup in Week Eight. The Seahawks are strong against the pass, allowing opponents to complete just 57.8 percent of their passes. Young is well worth picking up in fantasy leagues, but he's not a cinch start Sunday by any means.
Chargers WR Malcom Floyd (at Cleveland) — The Browns' secondary is far more formidable with CB Joe Haden back in the lineup, and the Chargers' pass-protection issues aren't a positive for any plans to stretch the field. Floyd has had a fine season (25 catches, 418 yards, one TD), and he's a reasonable play for owners with WR depth compromised because of bye-week issues, but I don't believe he has much upside this week.