Facing a cakewalk matchup versus the Buffalo Bills, who entering the week had allowed the most fantasy points per game (26.7), third-most receptions (38) and seventh-most receiving yards (303) to opposing running backs, Slaton received an early hook from Kubiak after fumbling a little under 10 minutes into Week 8. It was the seventh time this season that Slaton had fumbled and the fifth time he lost a fumble; it was also the third consecutive week in which he lost a fumble. Slaton didn't touch the football the rest of the day, replaced by Ryan Moats.
And what a relief performance Moats provided, running 23 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns, adding two receptions for 25 yards to boot. He set a Texans franchise record for touchdowns in a game, was stuffed only one time all day and was a goal-line beast, taking three of the team's four carries within 5 yards of the Bills' end zone (Matt Schaub scrambled for 1 yard on the other) and punching two of them home for scores. So much for Chris Brown as the goal-line back!
Now the question becomes: Where does Moats fit in this offense? No doubt his performance has earned him a larger share of the proverbial rushing pie, and in fantasy leagues, he's a must-add. We'll keep an ear out for Kubiak's announcement on his Week 9 starter in the early stages of the week, but it's hard to imagine Slaton's fumbling problems completely ruling him out of the starter's equation. He's the future of this franchise, at age 23, whereas Moats has been more journeyman than franchise-caliber back (he's 26 and with his third NFL team).
Still, Moats' emergence puts a taint on Slaton's fantasy value in the upcoming weeks. Slaton had exactly 18 fantasy points in three of his previous four games and faces favorable matchups versus the Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 9 and 12. With him potentially in Kubiak's doghouse, though, Slaton sure is shaping up as a shaky start even in those weeks. He'll have to earn his coach's trust back in order to regain ours.
Pure speculation on my part: Don't be shocked if Slaton is back as the "between-the-20s" back, as well as the one on passing downs, in Week 9 while Moats gets the goal-line touches. Ugh, just what we'd need, another touchdown vulture!
Well, it can't be Moats, who was owned in 0.2 percent and started in 0.1 percent of ESPN leagues entering the week, obviously. So I'll stay in his division and instead pick Chris Johnson, who set a Tennessee Titans franchise record with 228 rushing yards, not to mention two touchdowns and a 35-point fantasy day. Not that Vince Young's passing numbers were anything that special (15-of-18 passing for 125 yards and a touchdown), but his installation as starting quarterback did seem to keep the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense honest, allowing Johnson to rebound from what was a sluggish Weeks 4-6 (by his standards). He's now averaging 6.9 yards per carry despite playing for a team whose quarterbacks have averaged 5.4 passing yards per attempt. Even better: Johnson now battles the San Francisco 49ers, Bills and Texans, teams that ranked among the top 11 in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs entering Week 8, the next three weeks.
• Ray Rice: Though his touchdown came in garbage time, there was a lot to like about Rice's performance on Sunday. He ran 23 times for 84 yards and a score, shaping up as an every-down back while backups Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain had two and three carries, respectively. And while it was difficult to get an accurate read on McGahee's prospects of future goal-line work, as the Baltimore Ravens only three times ran plays within 10 yards of their opponent's end zone and only once did so within 5 yards, it seemed pretty clear watching that Rice is going to get an extended look as "the guy." He's quick, elusive and can catch passes, things that certainly paint the picture of an every-down option.
• Jeremy Maclin: I've got a ton of respect for DeSean Jackson as an explosive, big-play receiver, but Maclin's performance since entering the starting lineup cannot be ignored. In four games since the bye, he has 16 receptions for 248 yards and three touchdowns, for 15.5 yards per catch. To put that into perspective, Jackson's career average (thus far) is 16.4. Maclin has great hands and speed, and while he plays clear second fiddle to Jackson (and arguably to tight end Brent Celek, too), this is still a potent enough passing attack to keep him a No. 3/4 consideration facing most matchups.
• Braylon Edwards: I'll go out on a limb and say Jerricho Cotchery's return from a hamstring injury can only pay huge dividends for Edwards looking forward. Remember my comment from initially after his trade from the Cleveland Browns that Edwards might need a week or two to get to full speed in this offense? Well, boy was I wrong, but he now has four weeks' experience as a member of the New York Jets, and in those games he has 13 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns during a span in which quarterback Mark Sanchez has looked mostly awful. Plus, the Jets now hit their bye week, so any buzz surrounding the guy might be quelled by no news surrounding him for the next 13 days, not to mention talk of Cotchery's healthy return. I'd see if I could still scoop him up on the cheap.
• Steven Jackson: This performance bordered on the obvious, as it's not tough for any running back of Jackson's caliber to tally 21 fantasy points versus the Detroit Lions' defense. Still, I stand behind my previous comments from the chats, that Jackson is a fantasy player whose better performances are in his future. He's now averaging 4.8 yards per carry, challenging his career high of 5.0 from 2004, and is on pace for a healthy 48 receptions. The only knock on Jackson is that he's the victim of bad luck from playing on a bad team, having totaled only four touches in seven games all season from within 10 yards of his opponents' goal line. Last year he had 15 in 12 games, and that wasn't a great Rams team, either.
• New York Giants defense: Injuries are finally catching up with this unit, which through five games looked like it had the magic touch, and in the past three has begun instilling Titans-like fears in its fantasy owners. Injuries to Kenny Phillips and Aaron Ross have adversely affected its performance, but questionable play calling has been another detractor in the Giants' three-game slump. Here's the other problem: The Giants face the San Diego Chargers, who have a capable pass attack, in Week 9, then battle the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, three other potent pass offenses, coming out of the bye. This might be a prolonged slump.
• Matt Schaub: I'm less troubled by him than I am by his receivers right now. Schaub was picked off twice by Bills safety Jairus Byrd and didn't complete a touchdown pass, and now he's without Owen Daniels for the rest of the season (as you'll read below), not to mention missing Slaton, a quality pass-catcher, if Slaton is indeed dropped from the starting lineup. Schaub has the skills to make the most of even limited weapons, but the other problem is his schedule; he faces miserable matchups versus the Colts in Weeks 9 and 12 and the Texans are on a bye in Week 10.
• Jamal Lewis: Interesting how after he was held shy of 100 rushing yards for the 21st time in his past 22 games, Lewis announced his intention to retire following the season. "I mean what I say," claimed Lewis, who is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this year, the fourth time in the past five seasons his number in the category has been beneath 4.0. If the Cleveland Browns are to take his threat seriously, they might be more apt to give Jerome Harrison increased carries down the stretch, not to mention rumblings that return man Joshua Cribbs could get a look at running back might continue to pick up steam.
• David Garrard: What a miserable performance this one was, especially facing a Titans defense against which he passed for 323 yards and three touchdowns in Week 4. Garrard completed only 14 of his 27 pass attempts for 139 yards and was intercepted twice, seeming totally out of sync with his receivers. Sure, Cortland Finnegan was back in the lineup for the Titans, which boosted their defensive stock, but fantasy owners couldn't have seen an outing this bad coming. Garrard is sure shaping up as a matchups quarterback, i.e. start him at home (313.3 yards per game with five touchdowns passing), sit him on the road (165.8 and zero), but at least he'll be home versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Owen Daniels (knee): Devastating news for this red-hot fantasy tight end, as Adam Schefter reported late Sunday that Daniels is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered in the first quarter. With Daniels sidelined, Joel Dreessen and James Casey will see increased roles at tight end, though more likely Kevin Walter would get a boost in targets in the receiving game.
• Jake Delhomme (chest): He was in and out of Sunday's game after taking a hit from Arizona Cardinals defenders Chike Okeafor and Darnell Dockett, replaced by Matt Moore in the fourth quarter. It was Delhomme's first game since Week 17 of last season without an interception, but he nevertheless has five touchdowns compared to 13 picks this year. If he's even remotely limited during the week, don't be at all shocked if the Carolina Panthers entertain a changing of the guard at quarterback. Moore is now seemingly next in line.
• Anquan Boldin (ankle): He aggravated his ankle injury during Sunday's game and exited for good in the third quarter. It's unclear to what degree Boldin suffered any setback, but if he's limited or sidelined in future weeks, Steve Breaston would benefit. Breaston caught six passes for 57 yards on Sunday and has been getting more promising health reports himself in recent weeks.
One play makes your day
Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver got in on the scoring action versus the Giants, finding the end zone on a 41-yard cutback run to put his team on the board on its first drive. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, it was the longest run by an Eagles fullback since Anthony Toney had a 44-yarder in 1989, and without it nobody would even be mentioning the name Leonard Weaver today. Instead, it helps people catch on that he's the de facto No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy while Brian Westbrook nurses his concussion, just a tidbit to take note of in the event future Westbrook injuries or Eagles matchups make it relevant from a flex-play-in-deep-leagues perspective.
It's safe to say that
• Miles Austin is the Cowboys' No. 1 target in the passing game. What's that, you say? I said that a week ago? Fair enough, but Austin did have seven targets, second-most on the team to Jason Witten (eight), and was the team's leader in both receptions (five) and receiving yards (61) for the day. My point stands.
• Ted Ginn Jr. is suited more for returns than receiver duties. He brought back two kicks for touchdowns in a key division affair, almost assuring that he'll remain focused on that role while Brian Hartline probably stays in the starting lineup at wide receiver. Ginn is actually an underrated return talent; he's now averaging 34.6 yards per kick return for the season, and 23.6 for his career. Of course, only a small handful of leagues actually reward return yardage, so Ginn's value takes a hit in standard scoring formats, but his new role might better utilize his skill set.
• The Bills' official Web site reports that the aforementioned Jairus Byrd, the son of Gill Byrd, is the first NFL rookie with an interception in four consecutive games since Orlando Thomas did it in 1995. Byrd also has seven interceptions in his past four contests. Heads up to those of you in IDP leagues!
• The 49ers' official Web site reports that Frank Gore is the first player since 2003 to have three rushing scores of 60-plus yards in a season.
• The Jaguars-Titans game was the first since at least 1950 to feature four rushing touchdowns of 50-plus yards, reports Stats Inc.
Go get 'em!
As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:
• Michael Crabtree: Wake up, people, at least those of you in the 61.1 percent of ESPN leagues in which Crabtree remains available. He's an explosive talent and he's clearly a huge cog in the 49ers' offense despite only two games' NFL experience. In Game No. 2, he was targeted nine times and caught six passes for 81 yards, and remember, the matchup wasn't at all an easy one.
• Vince Young: Yes, I actually would, at least in leagues deep enough to justify digging deep at quarterback. For a guy who hadn't started a game since Week 1 of last season and had only 15 passing and 10 rushing attempts since that game, Young sure looked every bit as mobile as in his breakout rookie season, running 12 times for 30 yards, not getting sacked and averaging a respectable 6.9 yards per pass attempt. Sure, the Jaguars presented a light matchup for Young, but there are other useful ones for him in the weeks ahead, too (at Texans, Week 11; versus Cardinals, Week 12; versus Rams, Week 14).
• Malcom Floyd: His two receptions for 64 yards might not paint the picture of an instant fantasy sensation, but Floyd is the kind of big-play talent who warrants a look in deeper leagues. Philip Rivers targeted him four times on deep throws after he was tabbed the new starter ahead of Chris Chambers, a role he's likely to retain looking forward. The Chargers battle the ice-cold Giants next; those thin at wide receiver might want to use him as a No. 3/4 option.
The matchups did the talking
• Eli Manning (20-of-39 passing for 222 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions): We hinted at this in our projection comments this week ("We'd say that Philadelphia has been a house of horrors for Manning over the years ") and forecasted a two-interception day for him, but apparently there was no need for any hedging (again from the comments: " but that's not entirely true.") Manning was awful, sent scurrying by the Eagles' defensive front all day. His three runs for 34 yards offer hope that his foot injury is a thing of the past, but it has to be troubling to his fantasy owners that he has completed just 49.5 percent of his pass attempts and thrown for three touchdowns compared to six interceptions in his past three games.
• Matt Forte (90 yards and 2 TDs rushing): This had to be one of the more expected outputs of the day, seeing as the Browns entered the day having allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (23.4), and it does at least offer a glimmer of hope to Forte's owners who spent such a high pick on the sophomore. Still, here's the worry about Forte, and a reason he might warrant shopping (if at mid-to-late first-round value, of course): He draws the Cardinals, 49ers, Eagles and Vikings the next four weeks, and three of those teams (49ers excluded) ranked among the 10 best defenses at shutting down their opponents' running backs entering play Sunday.
• Brett Favre (17-of-28 passing for 244 yards and 4 TDs): Big surprise; Favre stepped up and dominated in his old stomping grounds. Not that the matchup itself suggested a big day was coming, but if there's ever a motivational play, this was it. By the way, kudos to Favre's opponent (and Green Bay Packers successor) Aaron Rodgers (287 yards and 3 TDs passing), as the two of them seemed destined to lock up in a shootout that played out every bit as advertised.
And the flip side, so much for the matchups!
This so clearly belongs to the Panthers' running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who combined to total 40 carries for 245 yards and two touchdowns versus the Cardinals, who coming into the day boasted the game's best run defense. Just goes to show you how elite talent often can overcome the stiff matchup; just ask Adrian Peterson about that in his past Ravens matchup!
A quick preview of what's in store for Week 9
• Six more teams are on bye: The Bills, Browns, Vikings, Jets, Raiders and Rams. Yes, Adrian Peterson is off, but considering the dearth of fantasy talent on four of those teams, I'll ask: If bad teams' byes fall in the same week, does it make a sound?
• The Colts host the Texans, which is fantastic news for Peyton Manning. He's 13-1 in his career versus the Texans, has passed for at least 250 yards and two touchdowns in eight career meetings and has averaged 275.6 passing yards while totaling 33 touchdowns compared to five interceptions in those 14 games. However, while Colts-Texans battles in the Manning era have been one-sided, they've also been high-scoring. The Texans totaled 54 points in their two losses to the Colts in 2008, and the two teams have combined for 225 points in their past four meetings. From the Texans' side, Steve Slaton rushed for 249 yards and three touchdowns in two games versus the Colts in 2008, which at least offers Slaton owners a bit of hope if he's given back his starting job next week.
• You might not remember it because it happened in Week 5, but Cedric Benson was "the guy" who snapped the Ravens' streak of 39 consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher, totaling 120 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Oh, he also has five 100-yard rushing efforts and six touchdowns in his past nine regular-season games. The Ravens, by comparison, have now surrendered 375 yards and two touchdowns on 84 rushing attempts (for a healthy 4.5 average) in three games since (and including) the Benson game. In no way should the matchup terrify you.
• For only the second time since the 2004 NFL draft-day trade of Eli Manning for Philip Rivers, the Giants and Chargers will battle, and it's the first time in the two quarterbacks' reigns as starters that they'll square off. Rivers is the one in the midst of the far more impressive streak, though, having averaged 263.7 passing yards and totaled five touchdowns compared to one interception in three weeks since the bye.
• Considering his Week 8 matchup at the Colts was about as tough as they come, Alex Smith's stat line (19-of-32 passing for 198 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception) was actually somewhat promising. Now he battles the Titans' miserable pass defense, making him an early sleeper pick of mine in Week 9. The only hope for the Titans might be if Nick Harper can join Cortland Finnegan in the starting lineup, and even then, I'll probably still be pro-Smith.
• Randy Moss has been a one-man wrecking crew in games versus the division rival Miami Dolphins; in his four games against them as a New England Patriot, he has three multi-touchdown performances and has totaled 21 receptions for 322 yards and seven touchdowns. Tom Brady also had nine passing touchdowns in two games against the Dolphins in 2007, while ex-Dolphin Wes Welker has 28 catches for 362 yards and two touchdowns in four career games versus his former team.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.