These Thursday night games have been maddening to fantasy footballers, but have given us a few surprising gems in fake football the past few weeks, particularly at the running back position. Tonight, we get to see if Mike James of Tampa Bay can be the latest unlikely running back to go crazy on the Thursday night stage.
Two weeks ago, Brandon Jacobs started for the Giants and turned back the clock for a 106-yard, two touchdown performance. Willis McGahee, the week prior, ran for 72 yards and a score for the Browns.
While Carolina has been a Top 5 defense this season, it was just this past Sunday that St. Louis rookie runner Zac Stacy was able to rack up double-digit fantasy points against them. While he didn't do especially well on the ground, he caught a few passes and scored a receiving touchdown to salvage his day.
James is supposedly a versatile back, so he might be able to do damage catching passes, making him an employable fantasy back this week. And let's be honest, with six teams on the bye, you need to get RB points where you can.
If you were able to pick up James off waivers, I'd rather start him than any New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals or Cleveland Browns running back this week. Those are all ugly committees at this point, whereas Jame is probably going to be "the guy" for Tampa.
Other players in this game you're definitely going to start are Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Tampa Bay wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Newton has been playing much better as of late after a shaky start and Tampa's defense has allowed Nick Foles and Matt Ryan (sans Julio Jones and Roddy White) throw for 270-plus and 3 scores each of the past two weeks. Avoid Tampa's defense.
Jackson has exploded with Mike Glennon at quarterback and is the best WR in fantasy the last two weeks. The Panthers defense is pretty stout against WRs however, so maybe scale back expectations a little bit. Still, V-Jax is locked in as a top 10, every week starter at the position. You can definitely do better than Glennon at QB though.
Mike Williams might not play (and even if he does, his value is dependent on touchdowns) and WR-TE Tim Wright was disappointing, with just 2 catches for 15 yards last week after blowing up with 7 for 91 in Week 6. I'm avoiding them both.
Steve Smith is a low-end WR2 play at best and Carolina's other receivers -- Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn -- are too hit or miss to start with confidence. If Greg Olsen is your tight end, you're probably playing him. He doesn't score a lot, but gets enough looks to be a top end TE2 and a low-end TE1 this week.
Carolina's defense should finish in the top 12 this week, but I've been hesitant to recommend defenses on a Thursday night. Again, your options are limited by six teams on the bye, so take that into account.