1:00PM ET Games
Tampa Bay @ Cleveland
At one point the AFC's most dominant rushing team, Cleveland's ground game has taken several steps back since losing C Alex Mack to year-ending I.R. two games ago. Despite seemingly favorable matchups with the Jaguars and Raiders the past two weeks, Ben Tate managed 62 yards combined on 31 runs (2.0 YPC), just barely salvaging his Week 8 fantasy production with a late fourth-quarter five-yard touchdown. Tate gets yet another should-be mouth-watering draw against the Buccaneers in Week 9. In its last three games, Lovie Smith's defense has yielded 380 yards and three touchdowns on 76 carries (5.00 YPC) to Saints, Ravens, and Vikings running backs. The Bucs have already called it a season, trading away starting SS Mark Barron and reserve LB Jonathan Casillas at Tuesday's deadline. Tate's workload is secure and the Browns won't suddenly stop running the football, so Tate is still in play as an RB2. But he's fallen from borderline RB1 heights in a hurry. ... Terrance West has played ahead of Isaiah Crowell in each of Cleveland's last two games. On Monday, coach Mike Pettine acknowledged Crowell was demoted for "ball-security concerns" after he fumbled twice in Week 6, losing one. As West has been thoroughly ineffective in the primary change-up role, it's entirely possible Crowell leaps back ahead of him this week. That's just a guess, of course. Crowell is worth rostering in 12- and 14-team leagues, but only as an RB4. A clearly-inferior talent to Crowell, West is an RB5. ... Brian Hoyer bounced back from his Week 7 disaster against the Jaguars to engineer a 23-13 win over Oakland, protecting the ball and playing with more composure. He was held to 30 pass attempts or fewer for the fourth time in seven games, however, and lost playmaker TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) along the way. Hoyer doesn't offer enough upside for QB1 streamer discussion, but he should be plugged into two-quarterback-league lineups. The Buccaneers have 16:4 TD-to-INT ratio against, the third worst mark in football.
Hoyer's target distribution since the Browns' Week 4 bye: Andrew Hawkins 29; Cameron 23; Taylor Gabriel 20; Miles Austin 16; Travis Benjamin 11; Jim Dray 7; Tate 5; West and Crowell 3. ... Against a Tampa defense that ranks 30th versus the pass and is vulnerable throughout the secondary, Hawkins should be fired up as a WR3 in both standard and PPR leagues this week. When Cameron missed Week 2 versus New Orleans, Hawkins piled up a game-high 13 targets, catching six for 70 yards. Lightning-quick "Baby Hawk" has been getting open at will this year. ... Austin also stepped up in the game Cameron missed, dropping 6-44-1 on the Saints. Unfortunately, Austin has the most difficult matchup in Cleveland's pass-catching corps against Bucs LCB Alterraun Verner. Hawkins will do battle more often with burnable RCB Johnthan Banks and slot CB Isaiah Frey, whom the Bucs signed off the street less than three weeks ago. ... Gabriel and Benjamin have explosive speed, but are undersized rotational players with weak fantasy outlooks, even against bad defenses. Austin would be a better option if you're itching to play a Browns receiver beyond Hawkins. ... When Cameron missed the Week 2 game, Dray played 41 snaps, ran 13 pass routes, and caught 1-of-2 targets for five yards. Gary Barnidge played 43 downs, ran 26 routes, and secured 4-of-4 targets for 41 yards. The Bucs allow the fourth most receptions and sixth most yards to tight ends. The Browns' tight end situation is best avoided in fantasy leagues this week, but Barnidge will be the favorite for receiving production between him and Dray.
The Bucs' offense has become enough of a dumpster fire that the Browns' defense is in play as a Week 9 streamer. There is no running game to speak of in Tampa, and Mike Glennon has marginally improved the passing attack from the failed Josh McCown experiment. Productive only in garbage time and ranked a lowly 23rd in per-game quarterback scoring, Glennon would be a poor two-QB-league play at Cleveland. ... Glennon's targets in his three starts with Mike Evans in the lineup: Vincent Jackson 28; Evans and Louis Murphy 22; Austin Seferian-Jenkins 16; Bobby Rainey 11; Doug Martin 6; Brandon Myers 4; Robert Herron 2. ... V-Jax was a massive disappointment (1-13) in last Sunday's loss to Minnesota, but will have a much better matchup this week if the Browns leave Joe Haden at left cornerback, something they've done most of this year. In that scenario, Jackson would run most of his routes against inconsistent RCB Buster Skrine. Both V-Jax and Evans are shaky fantasy options, but I'd lean Jackson if forced to choose between the two. Finally healthy, Haden was dominant in last week's win over the Raiders. ... TE1 streamers should give Seferian-Jenkins a look. The Browns have allowed the ninth most receptions to tight ends, and ASJ played 93% of Tampa Bay's Week 8 snaps, coming off a Week 7 bye. He lost a game-ending fumble in overtime, but scored his first career TD. Seferian-Jenkins should see in the range of 4-7 targets. ... Rainey is shaping up as a sneaky flex play. Martin suffered a Week 8 ankle injury and spent most of the practice week in a walking boot, while rookie Charles Sims will likely be eased into his NFL debut. The Browns are dreadful in run defense, permitting 4.68 YPC to opposing running backs and ranking 30th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA, ahead of only the Panthers and Bengals. If Martin is inactive, expect Rainey to see at least 15 touches.
Friday Update: The Buccaneers will activate Sims from I.R./recall on Saturday. Martin (ankle) is listed as doubtful and will not play. Rainey should see anywhere from 14-19 touches in a plus matchup and is worth firing up as a legitimate RB2, particularly in PPR leagues. Sims' role is entirely unclear in his first NFL game, but it's hard to imagine the Bucs letting him play more than 40% or so of the snaps, even if Sims is running hot. Sims stashers should hope he shows enough to become usable as a flex in a Week 10 home date with Atlanta.
Score Prediction: Browns 23, Bucs 17
Arizona @ Dallas
Flying under the radar as one of the hottest quarterbacks in football, Palmer enters Sunday's date with Dallas having completed 94-of-154 passes (61.0%) for 1,136 yards (7.38 YPA), eight touchdowns, and just one interception through four starts. Palmer has thrown multiple touchdown passes in nine of his last 12 games in Bruce Arians' offense, with a combined 22:9 TD-to-INT ratio over that span. He's gone over 200 passing yards in all but one: Last Week 16 at Seattle. Although Dallas has played above-average pass defense this year -- they're 14th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA -- we now have a large sample size indicating Palmer is a high-floor play with some upside. He's a low-end to mid-range QB1 this week, and has another cupcake on deck against the Rams in Week 10. ... Palmer's target distribution on the year: Andre Ellington 29; John Brown 26; Larry Fitzgerald 25; Michael Floyd 21; John Carlson 17; Rob Housler 8; Stepfan Taylor 7; Ted Ginn 4. ... Floyd is sure to frustrate if his current usage holds -- he's running low-percentage routes and has been targeted just seven times in the past two games -- but he also has at least 100 yards or a touchdown in three of Palmer's four starts. Now coming off a goose egg, Floyd is a boom-or-bust WR3 I'd lean toward starting indoors against an average Cowboys secondary. As Floyd aligns on the perimeter, he will run almost all of his routes against burnable LCB Brandon Carr and RCB Sterling Moore, while stingy slot CB Orlando Scandrick handles Fitzgerald. This is a good matchup for Floyd and a not-so-good one for Fitz, although the same could have been said last week, and Fitzgerald went 7-160-1 while Floyd did nothing. I think non-PPR owners should start Floyd this week. He's a fringe starter in PPR.
Fitzgerald's stat lines in Palmer's four 2014 starts are 7-160-1, 5-21-0, 6-98-1, and 1-22-0. That's about as hit-or-miss as it gets, and on paper Fitzgerald has a tough draw versus Scandrick. Despite his Week 8 blowup, Fitzgerald is just a fantasy WR3. ... I mentioned Brown as a sleeper play in this space last week and he delivered with a 5-119-1 line on ten targets. Brown doesn't see as many snaps as Fitz or Floyd, but he does play in virtually every passing situation, which is what matters in fantasy. Brown moves around a lot, but mostly plays outside in Arians' vertical attack. So like Floyd, Brown will primarily match up with Moore and Carr. Like Floyd and Fitzgerald, however, Brown has been highly inconsistent in the Cardinals' consistently spread-the-wealth passing game. His four stat lines in Palmer's starts are 2-29-1, 4-43-0, 2-41-0, and 5-119-1. Much like Floyd and Fitzgerald, Brown is only a WR3 option, albeit with a better on-paper matchup than Fitz. ... Ellington keeps catching breaks that boost his odds of scoring touchdowns. After early-season goal-line back Jonathan Dwyer was suspended indefinitely, and Jalen Parmele was later cut, Stepfan Taylor suffered a multi-week calf injury in last Sunday's win over Philadelphia. Ellington now has the Cardinals' backfield all to himself, with only practice squadder Marion Grice behind him. Working to Ellington's Week 9 advantage is the Cowboys' loss of SLB Justin Durant (torn biceps), who was an every-down linebacker in Rod Marinelli's defense. Expect another heavy workload for Ellington against a Cowboys team allowing 5.24 YPC to running backs and now shorthanded at the second level.
Regardless of which quarterback gets the start for Dallas -- Tony Romo (back) or Brandon Weeden -- I'd anticipate a simple, straightforward approach from playcaller Scott Linehan. A high-volume rushing attack and passing game that treats Dez Bryant as the first read on almost every play, with designed shots sprinkled in to others. The Cowboys won't take chances with Romo's recurring injury, and they can’t afford to let Weeden get into a shootout with Palmer. Even against the NFL's No. 3 run defense, DeMarco Murray should eat on a virtually guaranteed 20-plus carries. On the off chance Murray doesn't top 100 rushing yards against Arizona, it'll be a first this season. ... The Cardinals allow the most passing yards per game in the NFL and coughed up a 12-187-2 receiving line to Jeremy Maclin last week. LCB Patrick Peterson is having an awful year in coverage, and RCB Antonio Cromartie isn't a shutdown corner. Other than the fact that he's more likely to see 7-10 targets than 12-14 this week, fantasy owners should have no hesitation in starting Dez Bryant. Despite an early-season bye, the Cardinals have allowed the third most pass plays of 20-plus yards in the league (31). ... Terrance Williams saw seven targets in last week's loss to Washington, his highest total since Week 4. Just 36th in receiver scoring over the past three weeks, Williams is a boom-or-bust WR3 as usual. ... Essentially Heath Miller South, Jason Witten's big Week 8 game (5-70-1) after a long stretch of clunkers isn't necessarily a sign of things to come. His touchdown was delivered by Weeden against the Redskins. Romo has thrown one TD pass to Witten in eight games. View Witten as a low-ceiling TE1 option against an Arizona defense allowing the 13th most fantasy points to tight ends. Throughout the season, Witten has been more of a factor in Dallas' run game than its passing attack.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 24, Cardinals 21
Philadelphia @ Houston
With his bye out of the way and matchups against Houston, Carolina, Green Bay, and Tennessee all in succession, LeSean McCoy's buy-low window is about to slam shut. RT Lane Johnson is locked back in at right tackle, while C Jason Kelce and LG Evan Mathis will both return within the next two weeks. Kelce (sports hernia) is expected to start against the Texans. Although his fantasy production didn't fully cooperate, McCoy's lateral agility and burst were back at full tilt in last Sunday's bout with Arizona's top-three run defense, as Shady created space for himself and was credited with six missed tackles forced by Pro Football Focus, McCoy's highest total since Week 1. McCoy's workloads were never a concern, and his supporting cast is improving rapidly. Over his last two games, McCoy has gained 232 yards on 43 carries (5.40 YPC). Acquiring McCoy right now is a potentially league-winning move. On the season, the Texans rank 16th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, permitting a crisp 4.23 yards per carry. ... Not an imposing pass defense, Houston has allowed Zach Mettenberger, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Tony Romo to combine to complete 103-of-159 passes (64.8%) for 1,258 yards (7.91 YPA) and a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio against them over the past month. Although Nick Foles’ on-field play has frustrated this season, he is a good bet for a productive Week 9. Foles has multiple TD passes in 5-of-7 weeks and is averaging over 291 passing yards per game. ... Jeremy Maclin continued to be a target monster coming off Philly's Week 7 bye, seeing a game-high 16 and repeatedly dusting Patrick Peterson in the loss to Arizona. Recent enemy No. 1 receiver stat lines against the Texans: 9-112-1 (James Jones); 5-107-1 (Victor Cruz); 4-30-1 (Sammy Watkins); 9-85-1 (Dez Bryant); 9-223-1 (T.Y. Hilton); 9-90-0 (Antonio Brown); 4-31-1 (Justin Hunter). Maclin is an every-week WR1.
Foles' target distribution on the season: Maclin 76; Jordan Matthews 48; Riley Cooper 46; Zach Ertz 39; Darren Sproles 25; McCoy 22; Brent Celek 19. ... Matthews played a season-high 70% of Philadelphia's snaps in Week 8, following the Eagles' bye, and saw a season-high 11 targets. It's worth noting that Maclin and Cooper both missed time over the course of the game, which surely contributed to Matthews' increased role and usage. A slot receiver in Kelly's offense, on Sunday Matthews will primarily tangle with Kareem Jackson, who covers the slot in Houston's sub-package defense. Jackson is having a good year, but isn't a shutdown corner by any means. With six teams on bye, Matthews is worth a look as a WR3 fill-in. ... Texans perimeter corners Johnathan Joseph and A.J. Bouye move around so much that it's hard to say for sure which cornerback will be on Maclin, and who will cover Cooper. Although Cooper has been relatively generously targeted of late, he is averaging under 44 yards per game and has one touchdown on the year. I'd rather play Matthews than Cooper in a PPR league. Cooper is a little more interesting in standard leagues. If the Texans stick Joseph on Maclin, Cooper would benefit from matching up with Bouye, a second-year undrafted free agent. ... Whereas Matthews' usage rose coming off the bye, Ertz only played 52% of the Eagles' snaps against the Cardinals. He did see eight targets, but keep in mind Foles threw a season-high 62 times. Rotational tight end Ertz is essentially a poor man's Travis Kelce at this point. His red-zone usage has severely disappointed, and Ertz hasn't helped his cause by blocking poorly. The Texans allow the ninth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Sproles (knee) is due back this week. I'd expect him to handle 5-8 touches at Houston, and wouldn't entertain starting Sproles in a fantasy league until the 31-year-old demonstrates on-field health. MCL sprains are tough injuries for running backs.
At home and facing an explosive offense, the Texans would do well to play time-of-possession football in this one, controlling the clock with Arian Foster. Foster is an obvious RB1 -- only DeMarco Murray has more fantasy points among running backs -- but his matchup is still worth examining, particularly from a daily-league standpoint. Through seven games, Eagles DC Billy Davis' defense has limited enemy running backs to 678 yards and just three touchdowns on 182 carries (3.73 YPC). I still think Foster is a good bet for a heavy workload and to hit pay dirt against Philadelphia. Foster has actually outscored Murray over the past five weeks. ... The over-under on Eagles-Texans is 48.5 points, tied for third highest of Week 9 behind only Broncos-Patriots (53.5) and Colts-Giants (50.5). Streaming Ryan Fitzpatrick as a QB1 would require a massive leap of faith, but I'm sure there are plenty of fantasy owners in desperate enough spots to at least consider it with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, and Matthew Stafford all on byes. Forced to manufacture pressure and weak at safety, Philly ranks 26th in pass defense with a 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio allowed, the fourth worst mark in football. Fitzpatrick should be in two-quarterback-league lineups.
FitzMagic's Weeks 1-8 target distribution: Andre Johnson 75; DeAndre Hopkins 53; Foster 36; Damaris Johnson 20; Garrett Graham 17; Alfred Blue 6. ... Light targeting was the only obstacle for Hopkins in Houston's initial six games. Over the past two, he's seen 9 and 11 targets respectively, parlaying them into stat lines of 6-108 against Pittsburgh and 5-95 at Tennessee. Teetering back toward the WR2 fringe, Hopkins is a strong fantasy start against the Eagles' sub-par secondary. He will run routes against RCB Cary Williams and LCB Bradley Fletcher on the perimeter. Both Eagles corners have earned decidedly negative coverage grades from Pro Football Focus this season, and both were beaten for touchdown passes in last week's loss to the Cardinals. Fletcher got burned on Larry Fitzgerald's 80-yard score. ... Johnson remained a target monster against the Titans, seeing a dozen and securing seven for 55 yards. Only eight NFL wide receivers have been targeted more than Johnson in 2014. Although Johnson's efficiency has not been ideal in his age-33 campaign, he's impossible to bench against the Eagles. ... Graham wasn't targeted once against Tennessee, and I'm guessing the Bill O'Brien regime is disappointed with him after inheriting Graham from the Gary Kubiak era. Look for the Texans to prioritize signing or drafting a true pass-catching tight end during the forthcoming offseason.
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Texans 20
NY Jets @ Kansas City
Alex Smith is back in play as a high-floor, arguably high-ceiling QB1 streamer in Week 9 against a Jets defense that has permitted a league-worst 22:1 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing passers and has easily the highest passer rating in football against (113.5). Shaking off a slow start, Smith has completed 71.5% of his passes over Kansas City's last five games for 1,039 yards (7.58 YPA), eight touchdowns, and one interception. Smith was a box-score disappointment in last week's drubbing of the Rams only because all he had to do was manage the 34-7 blowout. Don't be surprised if historically pass-happy coach Andy Reid attacks the run-tough Jets with the pass, providing more Week 9 opportunity for his quarterback. ... Smith's target distribution since Jamaal Charles got healthy four games ago: Dwayne Bowe 25; Travis Kelce 22; Charles 15; Anthony Fasano 13; Junior Hemingway 6; A.J. Jenkins, Knile Davis, and Anthony Sherman 5; Frankie Hammond 4. ... Here are the stat lines from the last three No. 1 wideouts to face the Jets: 3-157-1 (Sammy Watkins), 4-55 (Brandon LaFell), 10-124-1 (Demaryius Thomas). Bowe has been a weekly letdown to this point, but has topped 60 yards in three of his last four games and is a strong WR3 fill-in play with so many teams on bye. I'm not sure if "due" is a real thing, but Bowe seems "due" for a touchdown after failing to score in each of first six games.
Kelce's snap rates since Kansas City's Week 6 bye are 53% and 57%. The Chiefs won with a ball-control approach in Week 7, and blew out the Rams last week, which hasn't helped. But it's become clear that Kelce's playing time won't spike because the coaching staff won't allow it. At the same time, Kelce won't get many more favorable matchups than this one all year. The Jets allow the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends, including the most touchdowns (9) to the position. Bills no-name TEs Scott Chandler and Lee Smith both hit pay dirt against Rex Ryan's defense last week. The Jets have allowed the most passing touchdowns in the league, and Smith hasn't thrown a passing touchdown to a wide receiver all year. The stars have aligned for a Kelce Week. ... After springing leaks in their previous three games, the Jets' run defense stiffened back up in last week's loss to Buffalo, holding Bryce Brown and plodder Anthony Dixon to an anemic 59 yards on 29 runs (2.03 YPC). Although this is a tough matchup on paper, Charles is historically matchup proof when healthy and rolling, and right now he is healthy and rolling. Since coming back from his high ankle sprain in Week 4, Charles has piled up 340 yards and four touchdowns on 68 runs (5.00 YPC), and his passing-game production has incrementally increased. This probably isn't the week to start Charles on FanDuel, but he should get a full workload and be in season-long lineups as a surefire RB1. ... Last week's 34-7 shelling of St. Louis freed up Davis to get more late-game work. He rushed 16 times for 49 yards and a touchdown. Davis handled each of Kansas City's final two clock-killing drives to himself, where he amassed 12 of his rushing attempts, including his score. There is definitely a chance Kansas City will blow out the Jets, but blowouts aren’t easy to predict. Davis remains a dice-roll flex gamble for Week 9 and beyond.
The Kansas City defense is this week's top streamer play as it squares off with turnover-machine Michael Vick, who is 34 years old with increasingly poor ball security. Replacing Geno Smith in the first quarter of last week's loss to Buffalo, Vick absorbed four sacks, fumbled four times (losing two), threw one interception and had a would-be second pick overturned on replay. Across four appearances as a Jet this year, Vick has accounted for zero touchdowns compared to three turnovers with seven sacks taken among 63 dropbacks. He's completed just 46.4% of his throws. Vick has maintained some rushing ability, but his pocket presence is a disaster and Andy Reid knows all of his weaknesses. He'd be a terrifying two-quarterback-league start. ... Vick's target distribution against the Bills: Eric Decker 8; Percy Harvin 7; Jeremy Kerley and Jace Amaro 5; Jeff Cumberland 2; Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, T.J. Graham, and Chris Owusu 1. ... The Chiefs' secondary has plenty of exploitable holes, but Vick's passing performances in recent seasons and so far in New York suggest Sunday's game will be a roller-coaster ride for Jets pass catchers. Vick is still capable of delivering the big play, but he's a virtual lock for inefficiency and missed opportunities. Decker is the best bet for receptions against Kansas City, while Harvin is most capable of hitting a home run.
I like Harvin's ceiling the most in this game. The Jets used him four times on rushing plays in addition to targeting him nine times (two from Geno) against the Bills, resulting in seven offensive touches and 50 total yards. That's despite the fact that Harvin played only 53% of New York's offensive snaps. I'd expect him to be closer to 70% in his second game with the team. Harvin is an upside WR3 option with a sneaky-high floor because of his all-purpose usage. ... If the Jets are going to move the ball offensively at Arrowhead Stadium, it's still most likely to happen on the ground. Having clearly taken over as New York's feature back, Ivory played 40 snaps to Johnson's 16 in last week's defeat, with Bilal Powell handling the remaining 22. Game flow limited Ivory to 13 carries, but he scored twice on goal-line runs and was targeted twice in the passing game. Johnson got five touches, and Powell four. Because having Harvin and Vick on the field together can put a lot of stress on a defense, Ivory should have running lanes Sunday against a Chiefs defense that's allowed 729 yards on 143 carries (5.10 YPC) to opposing running backs. Kansas City is the only team in football yet to allow a single rushing touchdown on the season, but that is a statistic primed for regression considering the leakiness of DC Bob Sutton's defense. For as long as he stays healthy, Ivory is an every-week RB2/flex and good weekly bet to hit pay dirt.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 24, Jets 17
Jacksonville @ Cincinnati
The Jaguars are thought of as a weak run defense, but that hasn't been the case in recent weeks. Dating back to Week 4, Jacksonville has limited enemy running backs to 382 yards and just one touchdown on 111 carries (3.44 YPC) over their last five games. Lamar Miller did peel off a 5.6 yards-per-carry average against Jacksonville last week, but spiked it with a season-long 30-yard run. Even if Jeremy Hill gets the Bengals' Week 9 running back start, fantasy owners will have to hang their hats on anticipated volume and goal-line opportunities as opposed to a truly dominant rushing effort. Hill has shown an ability to be an every-down back, pass blocking in a functional manner and securing 13 of his 15 targets this season for 131 yards. If Giovani Bernard does not play, Hill will be a mid-range to high-end RB2 against Jacksonville. ... Bernard owners are on their own starting him this week, assuming he plays. He's battling a hip pointer and collarbone injury, and has emerged from each of Cincinnati's last three games with a malady of some sort. The Bengals used Hill more than usual at Bernard's expense in last Sunday's win over Baltimore, hinting they fear weardown for their lead back. If Bernard doesn't score at the goal line, he will probably not pay off as a fantasy start. ... With A.J. Green (toe) expected to give it a go on Sunday, Andy Dalton is in play as a QB1 streamer. Jacksonville is weaker versus the pass than run, as Gus Bradley's defense just lost top corner Alan Ball to a year-ending biceps tear and first-team slot CB Will Blackmon to a fractured finger. The Jaguars' stats allowed have improved incrementally, but they've still allowed the most pass completions of 20-plus yards in football (36). It isn't quite Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Mohamed Sanu, but Green, Sanu, and Jermaine Gresham give Dalton an above-average supporting cast at home against a depleted secondary.
Friday Update: Bernard has been ruled out for Week 9, locking in Hill as the Bengals' feature back. Coach Marvin Lewis also left the door open for Bernard (hip/shoulder) to miss Week 10 against the Browns. "We'll see," said Lewis. "We'll cross those bridges then." Hill is set up to handle in the range of 20 touches against the Jaguars. I own Hill in a ton of spots and will be using him everywhere, but as explained above this isn't quite as good a matchup as some might make it out to be. The Bengals are also expected to be without RG Kevin Zeitler (calf). I'm not quite viewing Hill as an RB1 for this particular week. If he performs well in a below-average matchup and handles the workload we anticipate, he could ascend to RB1 status next week versus Cleveland's legitimately poor run defense. This is also Hill's big shot to make the rest-of-season carry distribution more of a 50-50 proposition with Gio.
Dalton's target distribution in the three games where Green has been a factor this year: Green 25; Mohamed Sanu 22; Bernard 16; Jermaine Gresham 10; Brandon Tate 7; Hill 4. ... Green made it clear this week that he will play on a full-time basis, or not play at all. He's not going to be "limited" in the game, and he won't be a decoy. Green should be treated as a WR1 if/when he's announced as active on Sunday morning. ... Sanu has been a WR2 with Green out of the lineup, operating as OC Hue Jackson's No. 1 pass option. Sanu will move down the totem pole, but is still a solid WR3 in a good matchup. Jackson is willing to involve Sanu in the running game, adding to his touch totals, and Sanu has played well enough to warrant an increased role with Green back in the mix. ... The Jaguars have allowed the seventh most fantasy points in the league to tight ends, but a huge chunk of that production came early in the season. The Jags held Charles Clay to a 1-1-0 stat line in Week 8, Jordan Cameron to 1-5-0 in Week 7, Delanie Walker to 3-57-0 in Week 6, Heath Miller to 3-46-0 in Week 5, and Antonio Gates to 3-30-0 in Week 4. The last tight end to have a truly big game against Jacksonville was Niles Paul (8-99-1) in Week 2. Especially with Green back to dominate targets, don't get cute trying to stream Gresham.
Friday Update: Another plus to Hill's outlook is the expected return of Green, a "coverage-tilter" who frequently occupies one safety in addition to a cornerback. The Bengals' offense should be less condensed with Green on the field. Although Green (toe) is listed as questionable, he practiced for the third consecutive day on Friday, and afterwards Marvin Lewis said, "If everything stays the way it is, he'll play." Fire up Green as a WR1 against the Jaguars' undermanned secondary. Remember they're without top corner Alan Ball (bicep) and slot corner Will Blackmon (finger).
The Bengals have allowed a lot of passing yards this season, but their back end has been stout. Cincinnati's TD-to-INT ratio allowed is 8:9, and Football Outsiders has DC Paul Guenther's unit No. 2 in the NFL in pass-defense DVOA, behind only Detroit. On the road in a tough matchup and regularly giving the ball to the other team multiple times per game, scuffling rookie Blake Bortles would be a poor two-quarterback-league start. The Bengals' fantasy defense, on the other hand, is a recommended streamer. ... Bortles' target distribution since Cecil Shorts got healthy three weeks back: Shorts 33; Allen Robinson 26; Clay Harbor 14; Allen Hurns 10; Marqise Lee 7; Denard Robinson and Jordan Todman 6; Ace Sanders 2; Storm Johnson 1. ... The Jaguars' top playmaking receiver, Robinson is averaging just over nine targets per game over the last month. He's turned in stat lines of 4-60-1 and 5-82-1 the past two weeks, making good on his enormous promise. Robinson has a difficult Week 9 matchup with Bengals RCB Pacman Jones, who currently sits 17th among 107 qualifiers in PFF's cornerback coverage grades. Pacman isn't a shutdown corner, but he makes Robinson more of a WR3 than WR2 option this week. ... Harbor has let us down before, but he gets back-to-back favorable matchups against Cincinnati and Dallas in Weeks 9-10. The Bengals are missing LBs Vontaze Burfict (knee scope) and Rey Maualuga (hamstring), and have allowed the third most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Harbor is worth a look as a TE1 streamer in each of the next two weeks. As New England has a Week 10 bye, Harbor would be a sensible forward-thinking stash for Rob Gronkowski owners.
Expect Shorts to run most of his routes at seemingly ageless Bengals LCB Terence Newman, who isn't far behind Jones at 22nd in PFF's coverage grades. Strictly a possession receiver in OC Jedd Fisch's offense, Shorts is averaging a career-worst 9.4 yards per catch with one touchdown through five 2014 appearances. Shorts is a low-upside WR3 in PPR leagues. He's done next to nothing to warrant a fantasy start in standard-scoring leagues. ... Hurns and Lee continue to rotate sub-package wideout snaps and have no fantasy value. ... 29th in the NFL in run defense and permitting 4.68 yards per carry to opposing running backs, Cincinnati will also feel Maualuga and Burfict's absences on the ground. Having clearly taken over as Jacksonville's lead back, Shoelace Robinson has earned RB2 treatment by piling up 235 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries (5.88 YPC) over the past two weeks. Toby Gerhart returned from his foot injury in last week's loss to Miami, but only touched the football five times while playing 16 snaps. Robinson played 40, handling 19 touches. Dangerous on the edge and tough enough to run competently inside, Shoelace is fast developing into a quality NFL running back. His upside is limited by a likely loss of short-yardage and goal-line carries to Gerhart, as well as limited passing-game usage. But Robinson is a good bet for a third straight productive box score against the beat-up Bengals. Football Outsiders' DVOA metric rates Cincinnati as having the worst run defense in football. Robinson has established a rhythm in the Jags' zone-blocking scheme.
Score Prediction: Bengals 23, Jaguars 17
San Diego @ Miami
Recommitted to the running game following a worrisome first month of the season, the Dolphins currently rank 14th in the NFL in rushing attempts per game, and 23rd in pass attempts. A quietly-top-seven defense has allowed OC Bill Lazor to maintain balance on offense even in the absence of Knowshon Moreno. Lamar Miller has 17 or more touches in three straight weeks and four out of his last five. He's averaging a cool 4.94 yards per carry despite not having a single run over 30 yards to skew it. Traveling cross country for a 1PM ET game, San Diego has served up 368 yards and three rushing TDs on 79 carries (4.66 YPC) to opposing tailbacks over its last three games. The Chargers also allow the third most receptions in the league to running backs. In both PPR and non-PPR leagues, consider Miller a high-floor, borderline RB1 in this matchup. The return of Mike Pouncey from an early-season hip injury has begun to make a big difference for Miami's run blocking. With usual center Pouncey now playing right guard, Pro Football Focus charted the Dolphins with 62 yards on ten carries on runs right of center during last week's win over Jacksonville. ... Charles Clay was the biggest disappointment from Miami's Week 8 game. Limited to one catch for one yard on three targets, Clay sunk fantasy owners who streamed him versus a Jaguars defense allowing the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends. The Chargers allow the fewest fantasy points in the league to the position.
Ryan Tannehill is ranked 17th among quarterbacks in per-game fantasy scoring, but has QB1 streamer appeal against the banged-up San Diego pass defense. Over their last three games, the Chargers have been heated up by Derek Carr, Alex Smith, and Peyton Manning for a combined 62-of-97 passing (63.9%), 789 yards (8.13 YPA), eight touchdowns, and just one interception. Keep in mind Carr threw four of those scores, so it wasn't all Peyton. San Diego has a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio against, the fifth worst clip in the league, and will be without stud rookie RCB Jason Verrett (shoulder) in this game. ... Tannehill's target distribution since the Dolphins' Week 5 bye: Mike Wallace 24; Jarvis Landry 16; Clay 13; Brian Hartline and Miller 9; Dion Sims 6; Daniel Thomas 5; Brandon Gibson 3. ... With Gibson returning to the game-day 46 in last week's win over the Jaguars, Miami's third-receiver job devolved back into a timeshare between Gibson and Landry, with Rishard Matthews mixing in. Including Hartline, the Dolphins' complementary pass catchers have shown nothing that suggests they're viable fantasy options, even in a week with six NFL teams on bye. ... Target dominator Wallace turned in his slowest game of the season against Jacksonville, finishing with a 2-59 receiving line on seven targets. He did reel in a 50-yard bomb from Tannehill, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The duo has consistently failed to connect on downfield passing plays, despite Wallace's scintillating vertical speed. Wallace remains an every-week WR1/2 in fantasy with Week 9 blowup potential. Although he is not as quick in a short area, Wallace plays a similar role in Miami's offense to Emmanuel Sanders in Denver's. Sanders rinsed San Diego's secondary for 9-120-3 two Thursday nights ago.
This game has a modest over-under (45 points) with Miami favored by two. Philip Rivers is an every-week fantasy starter, but his Week 9 ceiling appears a bit more capped than usual. Not only are the Chargers making a cross-country trek for an early game, but the Dolphins rank No. 3 in pass defense, seventh in sacks per game, and No. 5 in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA metric. Rivers owners should be happy to come out of Week 9 with 250-plus passing yards and a pair of scores. ... Rivers' Weeks 1-8 target distribution: Keenan Allen 52; Antonio Gates 42; Eddie Royal 39; Malcom Floyd 32; Donald Brown 18; Branden Oliver 15; Ladarius Green 14. ... Fantasy leaguers who only watch the teams they cheer for and prime-time games got to see with certainty last Thursday night that there's nothing wrong with Keenan Allen's health. Dominating the short to intermediate regions against Denver's standout secondary, Allen parlayed a team-high 13 targets into a 9-73-1 stat line, scoring his first touchdown of the season on a well-designed wide receiver rub. Despite an overall stingy pass defense, Miami has shown vulnerability to opposing top receivers, permitting stat lines of 5-71-1 (Andre Holmes), 9-107-1 (Jordy Nelson), 6-48 (Brandon Marshall), and 5-82-1 (Allen Robinson) over its last four games. ... Chargers third receiver Royal has seen five or fewer targets in each of his last four games. He's a poor WR3 option, even for owners in bye-week binds. ... Look for deep-threat Floyd to run most of his Week 9 routes against stationary Fins LCB Brent Grimes, who is Pro Football Focus' No. 23 cover corner among 107 qualifiers. On pace for a 78-970-6 stat line through eight weeks, Floyd is a fringe WR3/4 I'd shy away from in this projected low-scoring affair.
Still a scoring machine at age 34, Gates has hit pay dirt six times in the last month and remains Rivers' No. 1 red-zone option. The Dolphins are 19th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, but Gates is always a good bet to score. Only Rob Gronkowski has more fantasy points among tight ends. While the fantasy community drooled over Zach Ertz, Kyle Rudolph, teammate Green, and Tim Wright this summer, Gates easily proved the premier tight end value pick in drafts. ... Green showed up on tape in San Diego's Week 7 loss to Denver. Unfortunately, it was on special teams. Simply not a big part of OC Frank Reich's offense, Green has handled under 25% of the Chargers' offensive snaps the past two weeks. ... With Ryan Mathews (knee) expected to miss one more game prior to San Diego's Week 10 bye, Oliver will serve as feature back for one more game. The Broncos snuffed out everything the Chargers tried to do on the ground two Thursday nights ago, but Oliver still came away with 20 touches, including seven receptions. He played 81% of the snaps. This is another tough matchup against a Miami defense that's held enemy running backs to 3.96 yards per carry, but did spring leaks in last week's win over Jacksonville as Denard Robinson dropped an 18-108 rushing line on the Dolphins. Oliver has proven more RB2 than RB1, but is worth starting everywhere. I expect Oliver to remain involved when Mathews returns, likely as a change-of-pace and passing-down back. He should hover around 20 touches against Miami, and 8-12 per week after the bye. ... Finally cleared from his four-week concussion, Donald Brown figures to assume the role Ronnie Brown has played, good for about 15 snaps per game. Ineffective and thoroughly outplayed by Oliver, Brown's role could be especially minimal once Mathews returns.
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Dolphins 20
Washington @ Minnesota
Experiencing predictable rookie-year growing pains and generally struggling to move Minnesota's offense, Teddy Bridgewater is 62-of-105 passing (59.1%) for 586 yards (5.6 YPA) with a 2:5 TD-to-INT ratio and only 21 combined rushing yards over his last three games. Although Bridgewater has an impressively quick release, delivers the ball with adequate velocity, and is an accurate passer, neither his arm strength nor his athleticism jumps off the screen and sub-par line play has further hampered him. He's absorbed 14 sacks the past three weeks, although Bridgewater only took one in last week's overtime win over Tampa Bay. Despite the Redskins' NFC-worst 17:3 TD-to-INT ratio allowed, Bridgewater has not shown enough to be trusted as more than a low-end two-quarterback-league play. ... Teddy's target distribution dating back to Week 6: Cordarrelle Patterson 24; Greg Jennings 19; Chase Ford 14; Jarius Wright 13; Jerick McKinnon 11; Matt Asiata 9; Charles Johnson 8. ... Finally doing something noteworthy, Patterson totaled 96 yards on seven touches in last week's win over the Bucs, seeing a game-high 12 targets and hauling in two sideline catches on intermediate routes on the drive that sent the game to overtime. Patterson still looks unnatural at times running routes, but it was good to see the Vikings make a decided effort to feed him, and Patterson respond. In Week 9, Patterson will run most of his patterns at Redskins RCB David Amerson, whom Patterson took to school for most of a 6-93-1 receiving line on Opening Day of the 2012 college season, facing N.C. State. Patterson added 2-72-1 on the ground in that matchup. Patterson remains a feast-or-famine WR3 in season-long leagues, but I like him as a FanDuel tournament punt.
Expect 31-year-old possession receiver Jennings to primarily take on Redskins rookie LCB Bashaud Breeland this Sunday. Breeland is coming off a season-best game where he played a major role in holding Dez Bryant to 3-30-1 last Monday night, making three clean pass breakups and preventing two Dez touchdowns. Jennings is a low-ceiling WR4. ... A factor in only one game all year, Wright has begun losing playing time to bigger, more talented Charles Johnson and can be safely dropped in 16-team leagues. ... Lumbering Ford converted all six of his passing-game targets against the Bucs for 61 yards, making a number of chain-moving grabs over the middle. Continuing to fill in for injured Kyle Rudolph, Ford is currently playing over 70% of the Vikings' snaps. There should still be better bye-week fill-in TE1s out there. Ford has never scored a touchdown in 14 career NFL games. Washington is 14th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Clay Harbor, and Coby Fleener would be better streamers this week. ... The Redskins' defense has been stout for the most part this season, but is now playing on a short week, traveling halfway across the country, and coming off a game where DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle, and Lance Dunbar eviscerated them for 170 yards on 23 carries (7.39 YPC) in a Monday nighter that went to overtime. Although McKinnon didn't blow up from a fantasy perspective against the Bucs, he was efficient with his carries (16-83) and only lost eight touches to breather back Asiata. McKinnon remains in play as a daily-league start and is an upside RB2 in standard leagues.
Robert Griffin III will make his first start since dislocating his ankle in Week 2. Although RG3 is worth grabbing by quarterback-needy fantasy owners, starting him right away would require quite a leap of faith. Griffin struggled mightily in the preseason and looked uncomfortable in first-year coach Jay Gruden's offense before going down. I'd want to see Griffin actually play good football for at least one full game before leaning on him in fantasy. Prior to the RG3 injury, Gruden had effectively eliminated read-option from the Redskins' playbook and turned Griffin into a checkdown machine. ... Griffin's target distribution pre-injury: Pierre Garcon 12; DeSean Jackson 11; Niles Paul 5; Andre Roberts and Helu 3; Logan Paulsen 2; Jordan Reed 1. ... Keep in mind Reed tore his hamstring early in Week 1, skewing those target numbers in Paul's favor. The tight end has proven to be a huge part of Gruden's offense regardless of which quarterback is under center. Minnesota is 26th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, but Reed should be in fantasy lineups because he's going to get a boatload of targets.
Much stronger armed and more accurate down the field than either Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy, Griffin's return bodes particularly well for speedster Jackson, who additionally has the most favorable matchup in Washington's pass-catcher corps. D-Jax is running most of his routes against left corners this season and will square off with Vikings LCB Josh Robinson, while Garcon takes on more talented RCB Xavier Rhodes. After whipping Cowboys LCB Brandon Carr last Monday night, Jackson has gone over 100 yards in half of his games this season. ... Rhodes is a tough draw, but some hope is restored for maddeningly inconsistent Garcon, whom RG3 peppered with a team-high 12 targets in the Redskins' Week 1 loss to Houston, connecting ten times for 77 yards. Gruden figures to keep things simple in Griffin's first game back, utilizing his receivers on high-percentage routes. Garcon is the Skins' best post-catch playmaker. He's a reasonable WR3 option against the Vikings, with room for rest-of-season growth. ... As Bridgewater seems unlikely to light up Washington's defense -- he couldn't do it to Tampa Bay last week, and the Bucs have been worse than the Redskins -- this figures to be a close game with flow working in Alfred Morris' favor. The Vegas sharps essentially see it as a tossup, installing Minnesota as a one-point favorite. On the season, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s defense has allowed the tenth most fantasy points to running backs and a robust 4.52 YPC average. With RG3's dual threat back to add stress to the defense, this is a good week to start Morris.
Score Prediction: Vikings 23, Redskins 20
4:05PM ET Game
St. Louis @ San Francisco
Colin Kaepernick had his best game of the season when the 49ers traveled to St. Louis in Week 6, dumping 380 all-purpose yards and three passing touchdowns on the Rams in a 31-17 victory. This game will be played on Kaepernick's home turf against a soft opponent with San Francisco coming off a bye during which Kap's previously banged-up supporting cast got healthy. Over their last five games, the Rams have allowed enemy quarterbacks to combine to complete 111-of-159 throws (69.8%) for 1,306 yards (8.21 YPA) with a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio. St. Louis remains injured at several defensive back positions, and so desperate at safety that GM Les Snead just traded for Buccaneers draft bust Mark Barron. Kaepernick will probably always be a hit-or-miss QB1, but there are a lot of reasons to believe he's a strong Week 9 fantasy investment. ... Kaepernick's target distribution in the five weeks this season where Vernon Davis has played all or most of the game: Anquan Boldin 40; Michael Crabtree 37; Davis 24; Stevie Johnson 20; Brandon Lloyd 8; Derek Carrier, Vance McDonald, and Frank Gore 6; Carlos Hyde 5. ... The most stable option in Kaepernick's pass-catching corps, Boldin has stat lines of 7-94-1, 9-98, and 5-90-1 in the 49ers' last three games against the Rams. St. Louis' secondary is in worse shape than ever, setting up Boldin for a WR2-caliber Week 9. ... The 49ers have treated Crabtree with kid gloves this season, limiting his snaps perhaps in anticipation of a post-bye unleashing. Crabtree has only played 72.8% of the Niners' offensive downs this year, compared to Boldin's 88%. Crabtree went 3-49-1 on eight targets in these clubs' Week 6 meeting. He's someone no one is talking about, but could be a stretch-run difference maker.
One of fantasy football's biggest disappointments so far, Davis should be fully recovered from the myriad early-season injuries that torpedoed his first-half production. He's 26th in per-game tight end scoring, behind the likes of Lance Kendricks, Clay Harbor, and Daniel Fells. Assuming Davis is back to full health, he'll return as San Francisco's best red-zone weapon and a solid bet to hit pay dirt week to week. Expect Davis to be a bit of a boom-or-bust TE1 the rest of the way, however. Even during last year's 13-TD campaign, Davis ranked a lowly 14th in targets among tight ends. He is a seam runner and scoring-position weapon, not a high-volume chain-moving tight end. ... In the 49ers' last game before their Week 8 bye, they used a true RBBC between Gore and Hyde. Gore handled six touches among 28 snaps, while Hyde played 23 downs and touched the football five times. The awkward playing-time and usage distribution may have resulted from game flow -- the Niners fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and wound up losing 42-17 -- but Gore was noticeably on the sideline in many critical situations. Have the 49ers' transitioned to a full-blown timeshare in the backfield? I expect to find out this week. The Rams have a defense the Niners should be able to successfully attack on the ground, as St. Louis ranks 31st against the run with eight rushing TDs allowed in seven games. Gore is a solid flex option, but Hyde should be stashed in all leagues. 31 years old, Gore has been held under 2.5 yards per carry in back-to-back games.
Peyton Manning carved up an incredibly banged-up version of San Francisco's defense before the bye, but otherwise DC Vic Fangio's unit has played stout pass defense. No. 8 versus the pass, the 49ers rank top three in completion rate allowed (58.7), fourth in YPA against (6.6), ninth in QB rating permitted (84.0), and No. 8 in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA metric. In the Week 6 game, Austin Davis went 21-of-42 passing for just 236 yards with one pick, one touchdown pass, one fumble, and five sacks taken. Now facing San Francisco on the road, Davis should be avoided in two-quarterback leagues. The 49ers' fantasy defense should be fired up. ... Davis' target distribution through seven games (six starts): Jared Cook 46; injured Brian Quick 34; Kenny Britt 29; Lance Kendricks and Benny Cunningham 21; Zac Stacy 19; Tavon Austin 15; Chris Givens 9; Stedman Bailey 6. ... Quick left the Rams' Week 8 loss to Kansas City after 11 snaps. Britt took over as the No. 1 wideout, playing a season-high 81% of the downs and turning five targets into two catches for 52 yards. St. Louis' passing game will likely be dysfunctional for the rest of the season, but Britt is the wide receiver to grab if you're desperate. I just wouldn’t use him against a full-strength 49ers defense that has RCB Tramaine Brock (toe), LCB Chris Culliver (hamstring), and nickel corner Jimmie Ward (quad) all back healthy. Perhaps Britt will merit WR3 consideration in Week 10 at Arizona if he capitalizes on his increased opportunity.
Here were the other snap rates among Rams wide receivers in last week's loss: Austin 60%, Bailey 42%, Givens 42%. It's a situation to avoid in fantasy. ... Also tentatively expected back for San Francisco is high-impact ILB Patrick Willis, who missed Week 7 with a toe injury. As Willis is arguably the NFL's top coverage linebacker and the Niners often use him to chase opposing tight ends, his return is a concern for Cook. Cook's last three stat lines in 49ers games are and 4-45-0, 3-49-0, and 4-74-0. San Francisco is 22nd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. ... The Rams followed through with their promised "hot-hand" approach in last Sunday's loss to Kansas City. Problem was, no one ever showed it. Tre Mason played 36% of the snaps, handled eight touches, and continued to struggle in pass protection. Benny Cunningham got the nominal start, but only had five touches while playing 32% of the downs. Stacy played 30% of the time, finishing with eight touches. If none of the Rams' running backs could exploit Kansas City's 18th-ranked run defense, what should we expect against the 49ers' top-four unit? In my opinion, Stacy should be the Rams' bellcow runner with Mason mixing in as an explosive change of pace. The Rams don't see it that way. Until things change -- and they may not -- there isn't so much as a flex option in the group.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Rams 14
4:25PM ET Games
Denver @ New England
Despite high winds in the forecast, Sunday afternoon's Broncos-Patriots game has the highest over-under of Week 9 at 53.5 points. Visiting Denver is only a three-point favorite, so Vegas anticipates a healthy dose of scoring on both sides. Fire up your players. ... Pats coach Bill Belichick's historical tendency against Peyton Manning is to drop more defenders than usual into coverage and dare Peyton's team to work underneath and/or lean heavily on its running game. The approach worked in last November's regular season clash, as Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball combined to go 44-264-1 on the ground but the Patriots still won 34-31. The Broncos emerged victorious in the playoffs, 26-16, as Ball and a gassed Moreno were held to 102 yards on 26 runs. Either way, this game sets up favorably for Ronnie Hillman to get a ton of work. In the two games since ILB Jerod Mayo went on I.R., New England has been pounded for 322 yards on 60 carries (5.37 YPC) by opposing tailbacks. Only four teams have given up more fantasy points to RBs than the Patriots. View Hillman as a legitimate RB1. The weather could also work to Hillman's advantage. ... Although Juwan Thompson vultured two red-zone scores from Hillman in Denver's Week 8 win over San Diego, Thompson was only in on 13 snaps compared to Hillman's 55, seeing just seven touches. Thompson isn't a flex option, and I don't think he's necessarily the Broncos' designated goal-line back, either. Both of Thompson's TDs against the Chargers occurred on fullback dives, with Hillman also in the backfield. The week before against San Francisco, Hillman scored a touchdown from one yard out. I like Hillman's chances of rediscovering pay dirt in this game, and would strongly consider starting him on FanDuel.
Friday Update: We had a great conversation on Broncos-Pats during this week's Fantasy Insiders show, which you can view at this link. We discussed Hillman's fantasy prospects and how we envision each Denver skill-position player behind guarded by the Patriots' defense. We also talked about our favorite daily league plays for Week 9.
Manning's target distribution since Wes Welker returned from suspension five games ago: Demaryius Thomas 58; Emmanuel Sanders 42; Julius Thomas 28; Welker 24; Hillman 17; Jacob Tamme 5. ... Demaryius has 34 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns in four games since Denver's Week 4 bye. That's a 136-2,504-20 pace. The assumption will be that Darrelle Revis shadows Demaryius, but I wouldn't be surprised if Revis took Sanders on the majority of Sunday's snaps, with Thomas working against RCB Brandon Browner and a safety. In a game with the highest over-under of the week and in what's so far been an unstoppable passing offense, fantasy owners need not get cute. Thomas is the No. 1 overall fantasy wideout, and Sanders has produced like a legitimate every-week WR1. Start 'em. ... Orange Julius missed last year's regular season meeting with the Pats due to a knee injury. In the playoffs, Thomas went 8-85 on a team-high 11 targets against New England. Julius is the best bet for a red-zone score in Denver's pass-catching corps against a New England defense allowing the fifth most receptions and fourth most yards in the league to tight ends. ... Could this be a "revenge game" for Welker? That narrative didn't work out so well last season, as Welker managed stat lines of 4-31-0 and 4-38-0 in these clubs' two meetings. A smaller part of the Broncos' offense this season, Welker is just a fantasy WR4/5.
Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning are playing great, but neither is the hottest quarterback in football. That title goes to Tom Brady, who over the past four weeks has completed 100-of-144 passes (69.4%) for 1,268 yards (8.81 YPA) and a 14:0 TD-to-INT ratio. He doesn't have a single turnover during that span. Although the Broncos have played stellar pass defense all year, they did allow over 250 yards and three touchdown passes to Philip Rivers in a home game last week, and are now on the road to face a suddenly dominant passing attack. Look for a quick-hitting approach from OC Josh McDaniels that feeds usual suspects Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Shane Vereen on high-percentage routes. Don't overthink this one: Start Brady in the highest over-under game of the week. ... Brady's target distribution during this four-week stretch: Gronkowski 39; Edelman 33; Brandon LaFell 26; Vereen 19; Tim Wright 13; Danny Amendola 6; James Develin 3; Brian Tyms and Aaron Dobson 2. ... Despite an early-season bye, the Broncos have allowed the ninth most receptions and 11th most fantasy points to tight ends. Antonio Gates beat them twice for red-zone scores in Week 8. Might want to start Gronk. ... Wright turned in a 7-61-1 stat line in last week's drubbing of the Bears, but continued to play under 30% of New England's offensive snaps and saw more targets than usual because Gronkowski missed time due to dehydration. Wright is a dicey Week 9 streamer, but Gronkowski owners afraid of an injury might be savvy to "handcuff" him with Wright. I think Wright would immediately become a huge part of McDaniels' offense if something happened to Gronk.
Edelman was the odd man out of New England's Week 8 offensive explosion, managing 1-14 on four targets. In standard scoring leagues, Edelman ranks a lowly 65th among fantasy wide receivers over the last five weeks. He's the overall WR49 in PPR. Fantasy owners expecting Edelman to maintain his early-season pace were always going to be disappointed, but he's still a strong WR3 against Denver. In last year's two Broncos-Pats games, Edelman notched stat lines of 9-110-2 and 10-89-1, and I'd anticipate him matching up frequently Sunday with rookie slot corner Bradley Roby. This is a game where the Patriots are going to have to throw the football with volume to generate movement offensively. … Primary outside receiver LaFell will be hard pressed to get open against stingy perimeter CBs Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Expect an increase in usage for Edelman, and LaFell to have one of his inevitable down weeks. Fantasy owners in need of tiebreakers can look to the windy forecast to decide against starting LaFell. Keep in mind LaFell registered most of last week's 11-124-1 stat line against Bears CB Al Louis-Jean, a recent practice-squad callup filling in for injured Kyle Fuller. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are a much tougher test. ... Jonas Gray deserves credit for giving New England a true foundation running game in last week's win over Chicago. But I wouldn't bet on Gray seeing more than 5-8 carries against a Broncos defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL in run defense and No. 3 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. On the season, DC Jack Del Rio's unit has limited enemy running backs to a league-low 354 yards on 121 runs (2.93 YPC). Keep Gray stashed on your bench for softer future opponents. Fire up Vereen as an RB2 in PPR leagues and solid flex play in standard formats. Vereen is another Patriot who had success in the two 2013 meetings with Denver, turning 18 touches into 91 yards in the first game and nine touches into 93 yards in the second.
Score Prediction: Broncos 30, Patriots 28
Oakland @ Seattle
The Vegas sharps expect Seattle to paste Oakland at home, assigning this game an anemic 43-point over-under but installing the Seahawks as a whopping 14.5-point favorite. Translated, they expect this game's score to be something in the 29-14 range. Seattle's defense has been among fantasy's biggest disappointments, but should be streamed aggressively versus the Raiders. Correspondingly, Oakland skill-position players are all pretty much hands off. ... Although Darren McFadden averaged just under five yards a carry in last week's cupcake matchup with the Browns, he didn't quite pay fantasy dividends, managing 85 scoreless yards on 16 touches. The Raiders oddly tried to play four- and five-wide spread offense, ignoring their run game and wasting seven touches on washed-up Maurice Jones-Drew. Fantasy owners should definitely ignore Oakland's run game against Seattle's top-six run defense. ... Although Derek Carr has arguably played better independently than any rookie quarterback this season, a poor performance at Seattle should be expected. He isn't a two-QB-league play against a Seahawks defense that shut down Cam Newton last week. ... Carr's target distribution over the past four games: James Jones 33; Andre Holmes 32; McFadden 23; Mychal Rivera 12; Brice Butler and Marcel Reece 11; Kenbrell Thompkins 9; MJD 5; Denarius Moore 3. ... Holmes is the only Raiders pass catcher worthy of Week 9 fantasy consideration, and that's not saying much. Holmes tends to make most of his catches against right cornerbacks, meaning he should avoid LCB Richard Sherman's stingy coverage for over half of this game. (Jones and Thompkins will likely run more patterns at Sherman.) Holmes is a desperate option in a week with six teams on bye, but makes more sense than Jones as a hail-mary WR3. ... Rivera led the Raiders in Week 8 receiving, turning nine targets into seven catches for 83 yards. Rivera had not topped 31 yards in any of Oakland's previous six games. Avoid chasing last week's points.
Russell Wilson is coming off his slowest game of the season in a sloppy 13-9 slugfest versus Carolina. Neither offense had success in the game, particularly in the red zone. Fantasy owners need to shake it off and start Wilson with confidence at home against the lowly Raiders. Still fifth among all quarterbacks in per-game fantasy scoring, Wilson takes on an Oakland defense allowing a 70.3% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks with a combined 12:3 TD-to-INT ratio. The Raiders are 29th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA. In a game where Seattle is expected to score in the range of 30 points, Wilson is a top-shelf QB1. ... Wilson's target distribution through two games of the post-Percy Harvin era: Doug Baldwin 19; Cooper Helfet 10; Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson 8; Robert Turbin 7; Luke Willson 4; Marshawn Lynch 6; Kevin Norwood 3. ... Baldwin has been Seattle's clear target leader in each of the past two weeks and in Week 9 will contend with someone named Neiko Thorpe after usual Raiders slot corner Carlos Rogers missed the entire practice week with a knee injury. Baldwin is a strong WR3 in this matchup. ... Although Kearse's usage disappointed in last week's cake matchup with Carolina, he has played 93% of Seattle's offensive snaps since Harvin left and will do battle Sunday with T.J. Carrie when the Seahawks go three wide. Carrie has been the Raiders' best cornerback this season, but is a seventh-round rookie out of Ohio. Admittedly, I liked Kearse last week and he didn't pay off. I like him again this week. Kearse is Seattle's best red-zone receiver and will be on the field a ton against a poor pass defense in a game where the Seahawks are expected to score a lot of points.
Second-round pick Richardson has taken over as Seattle's No. 3 receiver. His Weeks 7 and 8 snap rates were 60% and 70%, managing stat lines of 4-33-0 and 2-20-0. A lightly targeted deep threat who runs low-percentage routes, Richardson is worth bye-week WR3 consideration in 14- and 16-team leagues. He'll likely have to connect with Wilson on a bomb to pay off. ... Back healthy after missing Week 7 with a groin injury, Willson retook Seattle's lead tight end job and played 46 snaps to Helfet's 14 in last week's win over Carolina. Both Seattle tight ends finished with four targets. Wilson spreads it around and throws to the open man, rather than forcing balls in one particular pass catcher's direction. Facing a Raiders defense that ranks 17th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, neither Willson nor Helfet is a compelling Week 9 streamer play. ... Amid rumors of locker-room discord, the Seahawks' best approach to re-ignite team unity would be to appease team leader Lynch by getting him back rolling after a rough three-week stretch. The Seahawks have Super Bowl aspirations this year, and need Lynch on board. We're diving deep into narrative territory here, but it would make a lot of sense for Lynch to get fed the football voluminously in a matchup where game flow should allow them to. On the season, the Raiders rank 26th in run defense and have allowed the second most fantasy points to running backs. Don't hesitate to start Lynch, and give him a long look on FanDuel.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 27, Raiders 13
Sunday Night Football
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
Since the Steelers started giving 6-foot-4, 211-pound rookie wideout Martavis Bryant significant playing time two weeks ago, Ben Roethlisberger has completed 76.8% of his passes with a 9.60 YPA and an 8:0 TD-to-INT ratio against Houston and Indianapolis. Pittsburgh has scored 81 points in that two-game span. Big Ben begged Steelers management to give him a big receiver for years, and they finally cooperated. Suddenly playing the best football of his life, Roethlisberger ranks sixth among all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring and will face a Baltimore defense minus top corner Jimmy Smith (foot) on Sunday Night Football. Big Ben has more than earned QB1 treatment. ... Ben's target distribution during the two-week hot stretch: Antonio Brown 26; Le'Veon Bell 15; Bryant 12; Heath Miller 9; Markus Wheaton 7; Lance Moore 5; LeGarrette Blount 3. ... Bryant's emergence has affected Brown in no way, as Pittsburgh's clear-No. 1 wideout has 13 targets in each of Bryant's two games played. Tied with Demaryius Thomas for No. 1 in per-game fantasy scoring among wide receivers, Brown is an easy top-5 WR1 against Smith-less Baltimore. ... Bryant played 36% of Pittsburgh's Week 7 offensive snaps, and 39% in Week 8. His stat lines are 2-40-1 and 5-83-2. Despite A.J. Green-ish physical tools, Bryant's capped playing time keeps him in the risky fantasy WR3 realm. He's in a No. 2-receiver timeshare with Wheaton. ... A full-time wideout in each of Pittsburgh's first six games, Wheaton's snap rates have fallen to 46% and 40% the past two games. Wheaton had his best game of the year in Week 8 (5-56-1 on five targets), but is now a part-time player competing for snaps with a superior talent. If Wheaton pays off as a Week 9 fantasy start, it's not because he was a good bet going in.
Miller went 10-85-1 in Week 4 against Tampa Bay, and 7-112-1 in last week's offensive explosion against the Colts. In his other six games, Miller has averaged 3.8 targets for 31.7 yards without a touchdown. The Ravens have allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends, and held Miller to 4-35-0 when these clubs met in Week 2. Miller is just a TE1 streamer option with a tough matchup. ... Bell topped 100 total yards for the eighth consecutive game against Indianapolis and is now on pace for 84 receptions. Bell's upside may be a bit lower than usual versus Baltimore's top-seven run defense, but Le'Veon always offers a comfortable floor due to his all-purpose usage. This is a good week to avoid Bell in daily leagues, but fire him up as an RB1 in season-long formats. ... Blount has handled between 8 and 11 touches in each of Pittsburgh's last four games, but nearly cost the Steelers last week’s game with a fourth-quarter fumble. OC Todd Haley went right back to Blount, giving him two carries on Pittsburgh's following possession. Just a breather back behind Bell, Blount is safe to ignore in Week 9 flex decisions. The matchup isn't favorable and Blount doesn't get the ball enough for serious consideration.
Pittsburgh's defense is coughing up 4.61 yards per carry to opposing running backs and has been especially vulnerable to offenses that run zone. When these clubs met on Thursday Night Football in Week 2, Justin Forsett and since-benched Bernard Pierce combined for 152 yards on 30 carries (5.07 YPC). The pecking order in Baltimore's backfield has since shifted, but the offensive line is at full strength again, and the rushing attack has continued to function at an efficient clip. Although Forsett is losing short-yardage and goal-line work to Lorenzo Taliaferro, the veteran remains a solid RB2/flex play after handling 20-plus touches in back-to-back games. He's just not particularly likely to find the end zone because of Taliaferro's increased role. ... In a close game against the Bengals last week, Taliaferro played only 17 snaps to Forsett's 47. The box-score results were more favorable for "Zo" because he scored twice on red-zone carries and made an impact as a receiver for the first time all year, ripping off gains of 29 and 13 on two catches. Taliaferro should be rostered in all leagues, but until he begins playing more, can't be considered more than an RB3 or desperate flex option in touchdown-heavy leagues. I own Taliaferro in three re-draft leagues and won't be starting him against the Steelers, although I admittedly did consider it in all three. ... In his last five games against Steelers DC Dick LeBeau's defense, Joe Flacco has completed 105-of-164 throws (64.0%) for 984 yards (6.00 YPA) and a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Flacco has played smart football for the most part in those games, but hasn't been very good in fantasy, topping 250 yards just once. Flacco is a low-ceiling Week 9 QB1 streamer option against Pittsburgh's No. 19 pass defense.
Flacco's target distribution with Owen Daniels (knee) out of the lineup last week: Steve Smith Sr. 9; Kamar Aiken 6; Forsett 5; Taliaferro and Michael Campanaro 3; Torrey Smith and Crockett Gillmore 2; Marlon Brown and Kyle Juszczyk 1. ... Steve Sr. posted a solid 6-71 stat line on ten targets in these clubs' Week 2 meeting, and continues to lead Baltimore in targets on a regular basis despite slowing-down production. The Steelers have allowed the second most pass plays of 20-plus yards (33) in the league. The weekly expectations on Smith have diminished since early in the season, but his usage still points to WR2 value, particularly against Pittsburgh's porous cornerbacks. Steve Sr. moves around the formation a ton, but fantasy owners should hope he matches up frequently with LCB Cortez Allen, who has allowed five touchdown passes over his last six games. ... As suspected, Torrey remains a boom-or-bust WR3 despite his surprise Weeks 4-7 touchdown binge. He primarily runs low-percentage routes in Gary Kubiak's offense, and has seen five or fewer targets in 5-of-8 games this season. Both of Torrey's Week 8 targets were intercepted. He went 1-10-0 on two targets when the Ravens and Steelers played in Week 2. ... Making his first career start with Daniels (knee scope) on the shelf last week, rookie TE Gillmore played 79% of the Ravens' offensive snaps. He was only targeted twice, but secured both for 23 yards. Flacco figures to get more comfortable with Gillmore the more they play together, but he's tough to support as a strong streamer because he's primarily blocking. Whereas Daniels was consistently running 25-30 pass routes per game, Gillmore ran only 19 last week. The Steelers do allow the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends, so I suppose you could do worse than Gillmore. He's 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds with 33 3/4-inch arms, and players that big tend to be effective in the red zone.
Friday Update: Owen Daniels (knee) returned to practice Friday and will be a "game-time decision" for Sunday night's clash with Pittsburgh. Daniels is likely to be limited if he's active -- and isn't a standalone fantasy option -- but his potential return takes the air out of Crockett Gillmore's Week 9 streamer balloon.
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Ravens 20
Monday Night Football
Indianapolis @ NY Giants
The Giants have played stout pass defense for the most part this season, but sprung leaks in two games before a Week 8 bye. In Weeks 6-7, Nick Foles and Tony Romo combined to complete 38-of-57 throws (66.7%) against the G-Men for 527 yards (9.24 YPA) with five touchdown passes and only three sacks taken. Keep in mind top corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played at significantly less than 100% in each of those games and is supposedly healthier after the open date, but I'd still view this as an average to above-average matchup for Andrew Luck. As Luck is this year's top-scoring quarterback, you shouldn't need convincing that he's worth a fantasy start. He leads the NFL in completions, pass attempts, touchdown passes, and passing yards. ... The Giants are especially vulnerable in run defense with MLB Jon Beason (toe) on year-ending I.R. DC Perry Fewell's defense was gashed by Eagles and Cowboys running backs for 339 yards and two scores on 62 carries (5.47 YPC) in two games before the bye, losing both Beason and DT Cullen Jenkins (calf) in the process. Although Trent Richardson is due back from his hamstring injury this week, Colts-Giants sets up as an Ahmad Bradshaw game. Indianapolis' best and most versatile tailback, Bradshaw tends to get more snaps and touches when the score is close, and in this one the Colts are only favored by three. Plug in Bradshaw as an upside RB2. Running backs with any kind of hamstring concerns should be avoided in fantasy lineup decisions until they show one full game of 100% health. Downgrade T-Rich from flex option to risky RB3. ... Although Rodgers-Cromartie is tentatively expected to play on Monday night, he continued to miss practice time this week with back and hamstring injuries. T.Y. Hilton is fourth in the NFL in receptions (53) and first in receiving yards (886). The G-Men don't have a realistic means of slowing him down.
Friday Update: Rodgers-Cromartie (hamstring, back) was able to do very little on the practice field Friday, and afterwards coach Tom Coughlin literally laughed when asked if the Giants were in a position to game plan against the Colts with DRC as a major part of it. When 100%, the G-Men have sometimes used Rodgers-Cromartie to shadow opposing top receivers. He seems like a long shot to perform those duties on Monday night. This is a great spot for Hilton, and perhaps to stack Luck with T.Y. in a FanDuel tournament.
Luck's Weeks 1-8 target distribution: Hilton 77; Reggie Wayne 62; Hakeem Nicks 38; Dwayne Allen 35; Bradshaw 37; Coby Fleener 34; Richardson 24; Donte Moncrief 23; Jack Doyle 9. ... The question isn't whether Week 8 breakout star Moncrief is better than washed-up veteran Nicks. It's whether the Colts will start acting like it. In the absence of Wayne last Sunday versus Pittsburgh, Moncrief severely outproduced Nicks but still played 20 fewer snaps. On the season, Moncrief has only 23 targets compared to Nicks' 39. But Moncrief has 216 yards to Nicks' 168, and has caught 70% of the passes thrown his way, dwarfing Nicks' 46% catch rate. The third-round rookie is a much better option, and it isn't even close. Moncrief offers a ton of upside as a WR3 play in Week 9, but Moncrief starters need to know they're to a large extent trusting the Colts' coaching staff will make smart playing-time decisions. Hopefully they don't continue to give Nicks a ton of snaps at the expense of Moncrief in this game just because Nicks used to play for the Giants. ... Wayne is tentatively scheduled to return from his elbow injury on Monday night. Before going down, Wayne had one touchdown on the season and three over his last 16 games, including playoffs. Wayne has settled in as a low-ceiling WR3 in PPR, and a desperation start in standard leagues. Throw in Wayne's injury situation and I'd try to avoid starting him in his first game back. ... The Giants are allowing the ninth most fantasy points to tight ends, giving Allen a quality matchup. Although Allen is lightly targeted between the twenties, his heavy red-zone usage has so far resulted in a top-seven fantasy ranking among tight ends. Only Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski have scored more TDs. Although he is touchdown dependent, Allen is a mid-range TE1 start against the G-Men. ... Fleener has cleared 50 yards in 1-of-8 games this year. He would almost certainly need a red-zone TD to pay off as a streamer on Monday night. So far, Fleener has scored in 37.5% of the Colts' games. Allen has scored in 75%, and 78% dating back to last season.
Eli Manning is my favorite QB1 streamer this week taking on an Indianapolis defense that was shredded by Ben Roethlisberger in Week 8 and has allowed 28 points per game on the road this season, compared to 15 points per game at home. Colts-Giants has a 50.5-point over-under, the second highest of Week 9. Still a prime candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year, Eli is completing a career-high 64.9% of his passes with a 14:5 TD-to-INT ratio through seven starts. His passer rating of 96.8 would represent another career best. Indianapolis lacks pass rushers capable of consistently winning one-on-one battles, and top corner Vontae Davis may be short of 100% after leaving last week's loss to Pittsburgh with a knee injury. Big Ben dusted Chuck Pagano's defense for a Steelers franchise record 522 yards and six touchdowns on 40-of-49 passing (81.6%) in Week 8. ... Eli's target distribution since the Giants lost Victor Cruz to a year-ending patellar tendon tear in Week 6: Rueben Randle 12; Larry Donnell and Odell Beckham 7; Peyton Hillis 6; Preston Parker 4; Andre Williams 3; Daniel Fells 2. ... I would've viewed Randle as a legitimate WR2 had Davis missed this game. Instead, Davis is practicing and on track to play. Randle is targeted frequently enough to be a steady WR3, particularly in PPR, but his chances of breaking off big plays are diminished. The good news is OC Ben McAdoo has hinted at moving Randle inside to the slot more, where he would run higher-percentage routes and avoid Davis' stingy coverage. Randle is a good bet to top five catches on Monday night.
The Giants are coming off a bye and desperately need to get Donnell rolling after losing Cruz. Donnell now becomes the Giants' best threat down the seam. Indianapolis allows the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends, struggling mightily in linebacker coverage. Donnell has slowed down in recent weeks, but I like him as a TE1 against the Colts and as a cost-friendly FanDuel tournament punt. ... Locked in as a full-time player after the Cruz injury, Beckham is a respectable WR3 play on Monday night. He will run routes against Davis, but also LCB Greg Toler, who is PFF’s No. 104 corner among 107 qualifiers. … The Colts are softest in run defense, where they lost edge-setting OLB Erik Walden to a multi-week hip injury in the loss to Pittsburgh, and will turn to some combination of journeyman Andy Studebaker and fifth-round rookie Jonathan Newsome to replace him. Over the past seven weeks, Indianapolis has coughed up 591 yards and six touchdowns on 132 carries (4.48 YPC) to opposing running backs. It's now or never time for Giants rookie power back Andre Williams, who disappointed in his previous two spot starts. The matchup positions Williams for a bounce-back game, and if he capitalizes perhaps a bigger role than usual in the second half of the season. Before Rashad Jennings (MCL) went down in Week 5 against Atlanta, I noticed Williams playing ahead of Jennings in red-zone situations. I like Williams as an RB2/flex and good bet for a touchdown against Indianapolis, but there are two concerns of which fantasy owners should be aware: 1) Williams is pass-game deficient and will lose considerable volume if the Colts take an early lead and keep it. 2) Indianapolis leads the NFL in time of possession, which is a field-time concern for all of the Giants' skill-position players.
Score Prediction: Colts 27, Giants 23