A couple of my fantasy teams are fairly sunk at this point. The common thread(s) between these teams are Pierre Garcon, Jonathan Stewart and Antonio Gates — a more miserable combination of mid-round draft picks you probably couldn't have made this past draft season. They might all still have their shining moment in '12 (if you don't count the first eight minutes of the season for Garcon), but it'll be too late for most anyone that heavily invested in them. It's pretty hard to be successful through the bye season when you miss on your RB3 and WR3, and also buy earlier than most on a tight end that hasn't panned out to this point. I'm guessing I'll probably diversify my portfolio a little more in next year's drafts. But at least I still have a few dogs in the hunt, and hopefully you do to.
With those dogs in mind, let's get the early jump on Week 9, Skinny-style:
Total Week 9 green-light plays by position: 8 QB; 11 RB; 14 WR; 7 TE; 8 DST
Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring
Least FPPG allowed (QB): SF; DAL; ARI; PIT; NYJ
• Cam Newton tossed a couple INTs and barely completed 50 percent of his passes last week against the Bears. But, c'mon, it was the Bears. He did throw for more than 300 yards against Chicago, in addition to tacking on 37 yards on the ground. And Carolina finally showed some offensive spark, scoring 22 points against, arguably, the toughest defense in the league. Cam will have a much easier go of it this week against a Washington defense that had allowed 299-plus passing yards to every QB it had faced before limiting Ben Roethlisberger to 233 yards in Week 8. But Big Ben threw for 3 TDs, and Washington still remains the worst fantasy pass defense on paper outside of New Orleans. I'm expecting a huge effort from Newton on Sunday.
• Peyton Manning is averaging 324 passing yards and has thrown 3 TDs in each of his past four games. A favorable schedule has certainly helped him out, and I'm expecting he'll get another kickback in that department in Week 9 against Cincy. The Bengals have allowed the fifth-highest QB Rating and eighth-most yards per pass attempt. Also, their 3 INTs ranks as the second-fewest in the league. The Bengals do get after the QB well, ranking at the top in the league with 3.3 sacks per game. But Peyton Manning rarely gets touched, as Denver has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks. Look for Manning's roll to continue.
• Michael Vick has the sweetest matchup on paper this week. But as we all know by now, there's a bit of a QB controversy going on in Philly this week. Vick's job security is in such a tenuous state that you can't feel overly confident about Vick's matchup. After all, if he were to throw a pick-6 or fumble in a crucial situation early on Monday night, there's a chance Nick Foles would be brought in to replace him. I still rank Vick fairly high this week because, well, the Saints are second-to-last in INTs (3) and haven't really come close to making a QB look bad yet — Matt Cassel doesn't count as not too much can make him look good these days, even the Saints defense.
• Andy Dalton ranks No. 11 in FAN PPG at the QB position, but he's coming off the third-worst fantasy effort of his career — 105 passing yards, 1 TD pass, 1 INT against Pittsburgh. This week, he faces another daunting foe, as Denver has allowed just 220 passing yards per game and a 5:5 TD-to-INT ratio over its past four games. And the QBs it has faced in that span include Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer — not exactly a motley crew. I'm harboring more bearish thoughts for Dalton this week.
• Only Aaron Rodgers has been a better fantasy QB than Josh Freeman over the past three weeks. But we shouldn't get too hung up on that considering he faced New Orleans, Kansas City and Minnesota in that span, all among the 10 most generous fantasy defenses to opposing QBs. True, Oakland, this week's opponent, hasn't been much better at defending the air. But the Raiders are trending in a positive direction and most the damage they sustained was by Big Ben and Peyton Manning in back-to-back weeks in Weeks 3-4. Sure, fans and pundits are no longer calling for Freeman's ouster like they were after three bad games to open the year. But I have a feeling that Freeman ends up a little short of expectations this week.
• Quick hitters: Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Washington are tied for the most pass plays of 40-plus yards allowed (7) … The Chiefs and Jacksonville (4.6) are trailing right behind New Orleans (4.7) for most red zone possessions allowed per game … It might surprise some that Baltimore allows a league-high 73.4 plays per game, with Cleveland trailing at 71.8 — Dallas and Pittsburgh are tied for the fewest plays per game allowed (56.1).
Least FPPG allowed (RB): SF; CHI; HOU; SEA; PIT
• Romeo Crennel's answer of "I'm not exactly sure" to the question of why Jamaal Charles' workload was so light in Week 8 (five carries) is dumbfounding considering that he's the team's best offensive weapon, by far. At least offensive coordinator Brian Daboll explained it away as game flow and adjusting to Oakland's scheme. But it does fantasy owners no good to reason why Charles isn't getting the rock. They need to decide what to do with their RB commodity this week against San Diego. The good news is that Charles touched the pigskin 20 times for 111 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs when the teams met in Week 4. And Charles' light load on Sunday gives him a bit of a leg up in a short week (Thursday night game). I have a feeling Charles will bounce back strong, but you have to be at least a little conservative with his ranking given the reality of his past two games — combined 22 touches for 57 yards and 0 TDs.
• Chris Johnson has passed the test of being able to take advantage of a soft run defense, rushing for a combined 294 yards in his past two games against the cheese cloth units of Buffalo and Indianapolis. Now he can put our worries to bed for good with a strong outing this week against a Bears defense that has allowed just 1 TD to an RB and has held all backs save Cedric Benson (81) to 63 rushing yards or less. If Johnson reaches double-digit fantasy points this weekend, his fantasy owners should be ecstatic.
• Only the Bills (6.0) allow more rushing yards per attempt than Atlanta (5.1). It's a matchup that DeMarco Murray owners would relish, if only the RB were healthy enough to play this week. Right now Murray is probably a little on the wrong side of questionable, but if he does end up getting a surprise green light this weekend, fantasy owners should hitch a ride. In Murray's favor is that Dallas is surely champing at the bit to get Felix Jones out of a leading role.
• Did you happen to notice in the previous note that Buffalo allows nearly a full yard more per rush than any other team? That's crazy. And it's crazy good for Arian Foster owners. He's No. 1 with a bullet this week. But those looking for some help in deeper leagues should also consider Justin Forsett. Ben Tate can't shake the injury bug this season and it looks like he'll sit this week. That means Forsett should be in line for 8-10 touches, and possibly even more if Houston blows out Buffalo like the 49ers, Patriots and Jets did earlier this season.
• The Bills' hope for staying competitive against Houston revolves around major workloads for both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They have pretty much become the team's entire offense the past two weeks, combining for 49 carries and 23 receptions (on 28 targets). Houston has been one of the best defenses in the league at limiting big plays (only team in the league to not allow a rush of 20-plus yards). But the constant nickel and dime approach by the Bills with Spiller and Jackson make both viable RB2 options this week.
• The script seems pretty evident for Rashad Jennings. He has 37 rushing yards in the second half this season compared to 63 yards receiving. Such is the life of a RB playing for a team that is constantly trailing. Luckily Jennings is an adept receiver, having hauled in at least 50 receiving yards in each of the past two games. Figure that most weeks, including this one, he's a good bet to compile 100 yards from scrimmage one way or another. Of course, this only applies until Maurice Jones-Drew returns, which could be in another week or two.
• Bump up Jonathan Dwyer (quad) if his health gets a thumbs up this week and head coach Mike Tomlin keeps him in the starting lineup. If that ends up being the case, consider him in a chartreuse light somewhere between Ahmad Bradshaw and Fred Jackson. The Giants allow a robust 4.6 yards per carry, sixth-highest in the NFL.
• Only Darren Sproles has more receiving yards at RB than Ronnie Brown, who has at least 20 receiving yards in every game this season and led RBs with 85 receiving yards in Week 8. Brown faces a KC defense this week that has allowed the fourth-most receiving yards per game to RBs (52.8), including 50 to Brown in Week 4. As far as deep league flex options go, you can make a pretty strong case for Brown this week.
Least FPPG allowed (WR): NYJ; SF; DAL; MIN; CAR
• I'm likely to have Julio Jones lower than most this week. Yes, the home/road discrepancy has become too big to ignore — averaging 35.8 yards per game at home vs. 103.3 yards on the road for his career. But you also have to factor in the Dallas pass defense, which has been the third-toughest for WRs to score against in fantasy. Brandon Marshall is the only WR to hang 100 yards on the Cowboys this season, and Brandon Lafell is the only other receiver to score double-digit fantasy points against them. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks know what I'm talking about. They just got shutdown by the 'Boys for the second time this season in Week 8.
• Denarius Moore may not be a PPR machine, but he's a highly productive receiver nonetheless. In fact, since Week 3, Moore ranks No. 12 at WR in FAN PPG (11.8), ahead of both Roddy White and Julio Jones. His matchup this week against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed the third-most pass plays of 20-plus yards (32) is too juicy to pass up. He's WR1 material this week. Don't sell him short for those name brand wideouts falling outside the top 20 on my rankings this week.
• You look at those receivers that have had the most consistent success against the Seattle secondary this season and it's the guys that can work across the middle and underneath like Wes Welker, Miles Austin, Danny Amendola … getting caught up in the bump-and-run traffic on the outside against corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner is no picnic. That Percy Harvin works so well inside gives me hope that he can deliver top 10 returns at the position despite the brutal matchup.
• I have to believe that, physically, all is not right with Hakeem Nicks. He's played in three straight games since missing three games with a sore knee. And he says he's much healthier now. But the numbers tell a different story as he's averaged just 48 yards and hasn't scored in the past three games. I've dropped him out of WR2 territory this week against a Pittsburgh defense that is looking more and more its vintage self with each passing week. In fact, no team has allowed fewer receiving yards to WRs this season than the Steelers.
• I like Andre Roberts this week as I expect Arizona to be chasing the scoreboard on Sunday at Lambeau. Roberts has seen a healthy 20 targets combined the past two weeks, and the Packers have allowed the 11th-most FAN PPG to the WR position.
• Sidney Rice has made strides over the past three weeks, scoring the 18th-most fantasy points at the WR position in that span. But I already fear I've given him too much credit this week (No. 37 ranking at WR) considering he'll face Minnesota's Antoine Winfield, the No. 1 overall corner in the league according to ProFootballFocus's advanced metrics. Just look at what No. 1 wideouts have done against Minnesota this season. It hasn't been pretty. Do yourself a favor and look for other options than Rice this week.
• Time to recognize Cecil Shorts, who is top 5 among receivers in total targets over the past two weeks. He's also No. 14 among WRs in fantasy scoring in that span, with 195 receiving yards and a TD. And only Chris Givens, Josh Gordon and Vincent Jackson average more yards per catch (20.0) among those with an average of at least one catch per game. Detroit is not a great matchup for Shorts this week, but the Lions have allowed double-digit fantasy points to a WR in three consecutive games, and their QB Rating allowed of 92.6 is 10th-highest in the league, offering some hope for the Jacksonville passing game. Shorts is a defensible WR3 this week.
Least FPPG allowed (TE): IND; JAX; ARI; CLE; PHI
• It sounds like there's a good chance rookie Coby Fleener could sit this week because of a shoulder injury. If that's the case, look for big things from teammate and fellow rookie Dwayne Allen. He was drawing comparisons to Aaron Hernandez in the preseason, and last week that talent started to surface in regular season action as he hauled in 4 catches for 56 yards. Fleener and Allen have combined for 59 targets through seven games, so Allen could see plenty of looks while flying (mostly) solo at the position for the Colts on Sunday.
• Expect Greg Olsen to play a big part in Cam Newton's fantasy success in Week 9. The Redskins have allowed more than 7.0 fantasy points to a tight end in all but one game and have yielded 80.8 percent more fantasy points to the tight end position than the league average over the past three weeks. It's a great time for Olsen to break out of his mini-slump.
• Denver is allowing the 3rd-most FAN PPG to the TE position, including 6 TDs. It's a soft landing for Jermaine Gresham after he crashed hard against Pittsburgh in Week 7 with a 3/19/0 effort.
• Only Carolina's Steve Smith (589) and Davone Bess (416) have more receiving yards among those currently without a TD than Brandon Myers (380). But as an agile, sure-handed big target, there's no reason to think the TDs won't come soon. But, even without a score, Myers has been enough of a yardage machine to rank top 20 among TEs in FAN PPG. And if he'd have scored at least one TD, his FAN PPG would rank No. 11 overall. So there's definitely the makings of a TE1 here with a just a little more red zone work.
• There's nothing to say about Jason Witten other than, "Wow." His 18 catch, 167 yard performance was the ultimate lunch pail effort. Sure, a few of those grabs were with the Giants in a soft prevent defense. But you got the feeling in that game that Tony Romo could have completed the ball to Witten whenever he wanted to — well, I guess that's exactly what he did. Witten has now caught 43 of 51 targets (84 percent) over the past four games.
Least FPPG allowed (DST): NE; NYG; TB; WAS; PIT
WEEK 9 GAME PREDICTIONS
San Diego 24, Kansas City 17