Week 9 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em

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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes.

QUARTERBACK
(Notable QBs on bye: Tom Brady, Taylor Heinicke)

Start of the Week: Dak Prescott vs. Broncos -- Fantasy’s overall QB8 in points per game, Prescott is expected back this week after missing last Sunday night’s win over the Vikings with a calf strain. Prescott already said it’s “safe to say” he’ll be under center this weekend. The on-paper matchup looks tough for Prescott, facing a Denver defense that is No. 3 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and No. 4 in opponent plays per game, but the Broncos check-in at 21st in pass-defense DVOA and remain without OLB Bradley Chubb (ankle, I.R.) and just placed CB Bryce Callahan (knee) on I.R. after trading Von Miller to the Rams. This defense’s pass-rush talent has been stripped with Chubb and Miller out of the picture. Dallas’ implied team total of 29.25 points is the third-highest of the week, trailing only the Bills and Rams. Clicking on all cylinders, the Cowboys are No. 2 in the NFL in yards per play, only behind the Rams.

Starts
Justin Herbert at Eagles -- Herbert has posted back-to-back duds against the Ravens and Patriots in Weeks 6 and 8 sandwiched around the Chargers’ Week 7 bye. The overall QB25 over the last three weeks, Herbert’s MVP train has lost a whole lot of steam, and he’s now the QB9 on the season with three touchdowns and three picks in his last two starts. Philly’s pass defense is no pushover, coming in at No. 6 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but the Eagles are 12th in pass-defense DVOA, 19th in passing touchdowns surrendered, and 25th in opponent plays per game. This game’s 49.5-point total is the third-highest of the week while the two-point spread would suggest we could see a back-and-forth affair. The Eagles are very vulnerable in the middle of the field, setting Keenan Allen up for a potential ceiling week.

Joe Burrow vs. Browns -- Up to fantasy’s overall QB10 on the season, Burrow has tossed multiple touchdowns in all eight starts to open the year and is No. 3 in touchdowns, No. 3 in yards per attempt, and No. 6 in passing yards. He looks all the way over last season’s multi-ligament knee injury and has one of the more explosive supporting casts in football that is as healthy as it's been all year. After absorbing 10 sacks Weeks 1-2, Burrow has been sacked just 10 times over the last six weeks. Cleveland’s defense came into 2021 as one of the more feared units, but the Browns are 22nd in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and 25th in pass-defense DVOA despite coming in at No. 3 in opponent plays per game and No. 3 in run-defense DVOA. This is an extreme pass-funnel defense. Top CB Denzel Ward is coming off a pulled hamstring, and DE Jadeveon Clowney (ankle, knee, hip) hasn’t practiced this week. This will be Burrow’s first of two meetings with the division-rival Browns this season.

Tua Tagovailoa vs. Texans -- Throwing the ball as much as anybody since returning from I.R. in Week 6, Tagovailoa is averaging 42 pass attempts per game over the last three and is fantasy’s overall QB6 in that span. Miami is the NFL’s second-most pass-heavy team, trailing only the Bucs, calling a pass play 66.73% of the time. Tua is now dealing with a finger injury, but he’s tentatively expected to be out there against a Houston defense that is 16th in pass-defense DVOA, 27th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, and 29th in opponent time of possession. This is a potential ceiling game for Tagovailoa with the Dolphins installed as 5.5-point home favorites. Matthew Stafford (305 yards, 3 TDs), Kyler Murray (261/3), and Carson Wentz (223/2) have each had mostly-flawless games against this defense the last three weeks. After the Dolphins didn’t trade for Deshaun Watson, Tagovailoa should feel more comfortable and loosen up a bit as he auditions for the long-term job over the final 10 games of the season.

Sits
Teddy Bridgewater at Cowboys -- Bridgewater was fantasy’s QB12 across Weeks 1-2. Since then, Bridgewater is the overall QB28 with a 9:5 TD:INT mark spanning six starts. The Broncos just aren’t scoring points, averaging 16.2 points per game over the last five. They’re now down LT Garret Boles (ankle) and placed TE Noah Fant on the COVID list this week. With a less-than-100% supporting cast and now going to Dallas, Bridgewater is barely even a two-QB league option and could soon lose his job to Drew Lock if he doesn’t pick it up. Dallas leads the NFL in interceptions and is No. 7 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 5 in opponent plays per game. Denver is playing at the league’s slowest pace while trying to hide Bridgewater. The Dallas defense is a more exciting play than Bridgewater with Denver implied to score just 20.25 points.

Matt Ryan at Saints -- Ryan is coming off arguably his worst game of the season last week against Carolina, throwing for just 146 yards, one touchdown, and a pair of picks while averaging a pitiful 5.41 yards per attempt. With Calvin Ridley (personal) now on indefinite leave to work on his mental health, Ryan’s wideout group consists of TE-turned-WR Kyle Pitts, Tajae Sharpe, Russell Gage, and Olamide Zaccheaus. Yikes. Cordarrelle Patterson and Pitts are Ryan’s lone weapons, and Carolina simply took Pitts away last week. The Saints can do the same and are as healthy as they’ve been all year on the defensive side. New Orleans is No. 9 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, No. 5 in pass-defense DVOA, and 12th in opponent time of possession. With Trevor Siemian starting for the Saints, this game has a gross 41-point total.

Justin Fields at Steelers -- Coach Matt Nagy was out last week due to COVID, and it’s no surprise Fields had his best game of his rookie campaign. He completed a season-high 70.37% of his throws at 6.48 yards per attempt while rushing for 10-103-1. His 10 carries were a season-best after Nagy had held Fields back as a runner. On the back of his rushing output, Fields was able to produce the overall QB5 fantasy week last Sunday. Nagy is back on the sideline this week. That coupled with a date with Pittsburgh’s defense in a game with a disgusting 39-point total puts Fields back in the fantasy QB cellar as a mere back-end QB2. The Steelers are No. 8 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, surrendering the fourth-fewest rushing yards to the position, and comes in at 15th in pass-defense DVOA. A turnover-prone and sack-taking machine, Fields is more of a target for the Steelers’ fantasy defense.

RUNNING BACK
(Notable RBs on bye: D’Andre Swift, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Gibson, Alex Collins)

Start of the Week: Zack Moss at Jaguars -- After scoring four touchdowns in his first three games of the season, Moss has gone scoreless over the last three contests and is the overall RB25 in half-PPR points per game on the year. Despite the scoreless drought, Moss has still significantly out-snapped Devin Singeltary 131-75 since Week 5. Moss leads the Bills with 20 red-zone carries and has actually out-targeted Singletary 21-19 on the season despite playing one fewer game. Moss has multiple catches in 5-of-6 games after catching just 14 balls all of last season. He’s evolved in that area of his game. Moss now draws a Jaguars unit that is 16th in fantasy points allowed to running backs and 14th in run-defense DVOA. The Bills are massive 14.5-point road favorites, and Moss is the Bills’ preferred back when they have a lead. Buffalo is implied to score a Week 9-high 31.5 points against an overmatched Jacksonville team.

Starts
Myles Gaskin vs. Texans -- With Malcolm Brown (quad, I.R.) missing his first of at least three games last week, Gaskin played 58% of the snaps and handled 15 touches while Salvon Ahmed (23%, 8) and Patrick Laird (14%, 1) spelled him against the Bills. The playing time clip and touch count were promising feathers in Gaskin’s cap, and he now draws a much easier Week 9 spot against a Houston run defense that is 31st in DVOA and 27th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, surrendering 5.24 yards per carry. Darrell Henderson just ripped his pitiful defense for 93 total yards and a pair of touchdowns at 6.4 YPC last weekend. Gaskin’s play hasn’t really been the issue this season; it’s more the Miami coaches wanting to rotate three backs. Gaskin’s control of the pass-game snaps and the team’s leader in carries puts him squarely on the RB2 map this week with upside for a top-12 finish. The Dolphins are implied to score 26.5 points as 5.5-point home favorites.

Josh Jacobs at Giants -- Jacobs exited Week 7 against the Eagles with a chest contusion after handling six carries, turning them into 29 yards and one touchdown. With the bye last week, Jacobs is now healthy and ready to roll against the G-Men. Jacobs is averaging a pitiful 3.4 yards per carry on the season but has scored five rushing touchdowns in five games. He also has multiple catches in three of the last four games, seeing an increased role in the pass game. After Henry Ruggs’ selfish drunk-driving incident that killed a girl earlier in the week leading to Ruggs’ release, the Raiders may devolve back into a risk-averse, short-throws-and-run-the-ball offense. Ruggs was the offense’s lone downfield playmaker. Jacobs has a chance to beat his season-high 16 carries in this one with the Giants on a short week. New York surrendered a combined 24-97-1 rushing line to Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore last Monday night. The Giants are 21st in fantasy points allowed to running backs, 21st in run-defense DVOA, and surrendering 4.53 yards per carry to Jacobs’ position. Jacobs is a legit borderline RB1 play.

Boston Scott vs. Chargers -- In the first game without Miles Sanders (ankle, I.R.), the Eagles went with a heavy Scott-Jordan Howard tandem against the Lions with Gainwell essentially not getting any of his work until the game was well out of reach in the fourth quarter. We knew Scott and Howard were going to get reps, but it was more drastic than many even imagined. Gainwell’s role appeared to almost be scaled back with Scott and Howard running so well with two touchdowns each. Scott made the start and paced the backfield in playing time (45%) while leading the team in rushing with a 12-60-2 line. Gainwell was in on 31% of the downs, and Howard was just behind him at 25% of the snaps. It was Howard and Scott at the goal line. With the Eagles annihilating the Lions 44-6, Scott was the only member of the backfield to draw a pass-game target. It’s pretty evident the coaching staff has no plans to up Gainwell’s usage. Scott is the preferred RB2 play of the group and now draws an L.A. defense that is 29th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, bleeding 5.0 YPC to the position, and dead last in run-defense DVOA. Coming in at No. 3 against the pass, this is a definite run-funnel unit, and that plays right into the hands of the Eagles. They want to run the ball as much as possible. This game’s 49.5-point total is the third-highest of Week 9 and sports a minuscule two-point spread.

Sits
Melvin Gordon at Cowboys -- Gordon wasn’t moved at the trade deadline this week and will continue to operate in a near-even split with rookie backfield mate Javonte Williams. Gordon has three touchdowns over the last two weeks but is averaging just 9.2 carries per game over the last five contests while playing in the league’s slowest-paced offense that runs the ninth-fewest plays per game. On the flip side, Dallas is No. 5 in opponent plays per game and No. 8 in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Splitting carries with Williams and seeing light volume in an offense that doesn’t score or call many plays makes Gordon an uninspiring RB3.

Mike Davis at Saints -- After seeing zero targets in Week 7, Davis popped back up for six targets against the Panthers last week. Davis has multiple catches in 6-of-7 games, but he’s averaging just 3.4 yards per carry on the ground and has topped 50 rushing yards just once and has yet to eclipse 25 yards through the air. Averaging 15 carries and targets per game, the volume is there for Davis to make an impact, but he’s just not doing anything with them. The Falcons now face a New Orleans defense that is No. 4 in fantasy points allowed to running backs and No. 2 in run-defense DVOA. Opposing running backs are averaging just 3.02 YPC and have recorded the sixth-fewest catches against the Saints. Davis is a ho-hum RB3 as the clear third option in the Atlanta offense behind Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Derrick Gore vs. Packers -- Clyde Edwards-Helaire (knee, I.R.) remains out of practice despite being eligible to return this week. That’s not going to happen, and it’ll again be Darrel Williams, Gore, and a sprinkling of Jerick McKinnon against Green Bay. Gore came out of nowhere last week against the Giants to see the first 11 carries of his career, turning them into 48 yards and one touchdown as the week’s overall RB21. However, Williams held a distinct playing time edge, out-snapping Gore 52-16 while seeing seven targets to Gore’s zero. Gore showed well enough to earn himself a role behind Williams, but no pass-game action as the No. 2 makes him extremely touchdown-dependent. We need to see Gore do it again before trusting him as a potential fantasy asset. And Edwards-Helaire should return soon. Williams is the preferred RB2.

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WIDE RECEIVER
(Notable WRs on bye: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Terry McLaurin, Kalif Raymond)

Start of the Week: Marquise Brown vs. Vikings -- The overall WR7 in half-PPR points per game this season, Brown is enjoying a third-year breakout in a Baltimore offense that is throwing the ball more and putting more trust in Lamar Jackson’s arm. Brown has touchdowns in 5-of-7 games and is averaging a career-best 15.3 yards per catch as the Ravens’ lid-lifter. Brown is an obvious fantasy start coming off a 14-target outing against the Bengals with the Ravens playing catch-up in a game they lost by 24 points. Off the bye, Brown now gets a Minnesota defense that is 26th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers and just got waxed by Cowboys backup QB Cooper Rush for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns last Sunday. Vikings No. 1 CB Patrick Peterson missed last week and is on I.R. Amari Cooper (8-122-1), CeeDee Lamb (6-112), and Cedrick Wilson (3-84-1) all took advantage against this slow-footed secondary sans Peterson last Sunday night. And now fill-in CB Cameron Dantzler is questionable this week with an ankle injury. Baltimore is implied to score 28.25 points.

Starts
Brandin Cooks at Dolphins -- Cooks has somehow posted the overall WR25 numbers through eight weeks despite being saddled with Davis Mills at quarterback the last 6.5 weeks. Tyrod Taylor is now back from his hamstring injury and will make the start this week against Miami. In one full game with Taylor, back in Week 1, Cooks posted a 5-132 line on seven targets. He’s the lone usable fantasy asset in Houston and now draws a Dolphins secondary that is 30th in fantasy points allowed to wideouts and 26th in pass-defense DVOA. Stefon Diggs (5-40-1), Cole Beasley (10-110), Russell Gage (4-67-1), Calvin Ridley (4-26-1), Marvin Jones (7-100-1), Jamal Agnew (5-78), and Laviska Shenault (6-54) have all posted useful fantasy weeks against the Dolphins over the last three weeks. Cooks should flirt with double-digit targets this weekend.

Chase Claypool vs. Bears -- In two games since JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered his season-ending injury, Claypool has played 84% and 97% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps. However, his 12 targets have resulted in six catches for 62 scoreless yards while rushing twice for 16 yards. The Steelers are manufacturing touches for the second-year wideout, and a breakout game is on the horizon. The Bears present a ripe opportunity. Chicago is 28th in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers and is dealing with injuries to arguably its two best defensive players in Khalil Mack (foot) and Eddie Jackson (hamstring) after both missed practice Thursday. Claypool should be stapled to season-long lineups as an upside WR2/3.

Emmanuel Sanders at Jaguars -- One of my favorite starts of the week last Sunday, Sanders posted an absolute dud against the Dolphins, failing to catch any of his four targets. His snap rate, however, was right in line with his season average at 77%, so we’re just going to chalk it up as a hiccup game. Sanders’ 34-year-old legs are a concern, no doubt, but another easy matchup is on the schedule against a Jacksonville defense that is 23rd in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers and dead last in pass-defense DVOA. Tyler Lockett (12-142) and DK Metcalf (6-43-2) both went bonkers against this secondary last week, and that was with Geno Smith at quarterback. It’s going to be silly what Josh Allen can do to this defense.

Sits
Marvin Jones vs. Bills -- Jones has been held to 35 yards or fewer in three of the last four games, but he still does lead the team in targets, seeing over 7.8 per contest. But Jones is 31 years old and has just one touchdown since Week 2 while the Jaguars seem intent on manufacturing more touches for Jamal Agnew and Tavon Austin. Look for Jones to see a whole lot of Bills top CB Tre’Davious White in this one, and the Bills are No. 1 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 2 in fantasy points allowed to wideouts. The Jaguars are implied to score a Week 9-low 17 points in a game they’re viewed as 14.5-point underdogs.

DeVonta Smith vs. Chargers -- After going 6-71-1 in his NFL debut back in Week 1 against the Falcons, Smith is averaging just 3.85 catches and 50 scoreless yards per game. He’s fantasy’s overall WR48 since the start of Week 2 and now catches a Chargers secondary that is No. 3 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to opposing wideouts. Coach Brandon Staley’s defense has been elite in coverage, but they can’t stop the run. The Eagles want to run the ball as much as anybody, so this sets up perfectly for them to hammer it on the ground as long as Philly can keep it close on the scoreboard. Smith is a boom-or-bust WR4 proposition.

Brandon Aiyuk vs. Cardinals -- Aiyuk is coming off season-highs in playing time (88%), targets (seven), catches (four), and yards (45) last week against the Bears. That’s just how bad of a season it’s been for the sophomore wideout who is trying to claw his way out of coach Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse. Signs are pointing to that happening, but we need to see more from Aiyuk before trotting him out there in fantasy. The Cardinals are No. 2 in pass-defense DVOA, 10th in opponent plays per game, and 16th in fantasy points allowed to wideouts. San Francisco is implied to score just 21.5 points as two-point home favorites in what will be a run-heavy approach.

TIGHT END
(Notable TEs on bye: T.J. Hockenson, Rob Gronkowski, Ricky Seals-Jones, Gerald Everett)

Start of the Week: Dallas Goedert vs. Chargers -- In two games since Zach Ertz’s trade to the Cardinals, Goedert has played 108 snaps and turned in 3-70-0 and 6-72-0 receiving lines against the Raiders and Lions. He’s the overall TE9 over the last two weeks and now draws a matchup against a Chargers unit that has surrendered the third-most fantasy points to tight ends. Virtually an every-down player now and Jalen Hurts’ safety blanket in the passing game, Goedert should be treated as an every-week fantasy starter. Chargers-Eagles has the third-highest total of the week at 49.5 points with a two-point spread. There’s shootout appeal.

Starts
Mike Gesicki vs. Texans -- Gesicki is third among all tight ends in routes run, trailing only Travis Kelce and T.J. Hockenson in that department. In three games since Tua Tagovailoa has returned to the lineup, Gesicki is averaging seven targets and is fantasy’s TE1 in that span. He now gets another easy matchup against a Houston defense that is 29th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and 19th in opponent plays per game. The Dolphins throw the ball at the second-highest rate in the league. With DeVante Parker (shoulder, hamstring) suffering a setback this week, Gesicki should be one of Tagovailoa’s top targets in the red zone.

C.J. Uzomah vs. Browns -- The overall TE13 on the season, Uzomah has done almost all of his damage in two separate games with 5-95-2 against the Jaguars and 3-91-2 against the Ravens. In six other contests, Uzomah has a combined 13-103-1 line. The Browns are 12th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends but just got decked by Steelers TEs Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry for a combined 7-83-1 last week, and Cleveland is missing stud LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle, I.R.). Uzomah is ninth among tight ends in routes run and is on the TE1 streaming map this Sunday.

Jared Cook at Eagles -- Tied for ninth among tight ends in routes run, Cook has been held to 29 yards or less in 5-of-7 games but is playing over 60% of the offensive snaps and is second on the Chargers with five red-zone targets. He now gets a date with an Eagles defense that has surrendered the most catches and fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends. T.J. Hockenson just went 10-89 against Philly last week after Foster Moreau led the Raiders with 6-60-1 the previous week. Cook isn’t an exciting play, but the middle of the defense is where the Eagles are vulnerable. Both Cook and Keenan Allen should see soft coverage Sunday.