OK folks, here we go. Baseball is officially over and Frankenstorm is already old news. It’s time to hit more pressing matters like Week 9 of the NFL and what the match-ups could mean for your fantasy team. Depending on your league’s playoff structure, you’re looking at roughly five games left in the fantasy regular season, so wins now are imperative and leaving points on your bench is a big no-no. So rather than continue telling you what you probably already know, let’s go through this week’s games…
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
The short turnaround here might be just what the Chiefs need as Matt Cassel takes over under center for this match-up. When these two teams squared off in Week 4, Cassel threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Granted, he also threw three picks, but that’s life as a Chiefs quarterback. Given the fact that the Chargers run defense only allows an average of 80 yards per game with just three TDs all year and that Jamaal Charles is coming off his worst week since injuring knee last year, expect Cassel to try and air it out some which should lead to a decent day for Dwayne Bowe.
On the other side, the Chargers offense is pretty difficult to trust what with Philip Rivers sucking eggs and the team only able to post six points last week against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Still, the Chiefs allow an average of 126.4 rushing yards per game, so Ryan Mathews is definitely worth the start. The Chiefs have also allowed 15 passing touchdowns, so while River could still find his way into a few picks on Thursday night, he is also likely to find Antonio Gates for a score or two.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Sure, there are injuries, but one of the more surprising things about this season has to be the ineptitude of the Ravens defense. They’ve gotten so bad, that I actually like Brandon Weeden this week if you’re stuck without help on a bye week. He should find Greg Little and Josh Gordon downfield enough for a decent day, but the real match-up is going to come down to Trent Richardson against a Ravens D that has allowed an average of 142.9 rushing yards per game with nine rushing touchdowns.
Owners of players like Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin should be licking their chops as the scoring should be abundant here. The last time they faced each other, Flacco threw for 356 yards with one touchdown and one INT and while Rice only rushed for 49 yards, the Browns run D didn’t have some of the holes it has now. Don’t think you’re going to see tight end Dennis Pitta get back into early season form. Their last meeting was when he first went into the tank and surprisingly, the Browns D does a great job containing the tight end.
Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers
While the Green Bay defense allows an average of 103.9 rushing yards per game, LaRod Stephens-Howling may not be the focal point of attack for the Cardinals. He did a solid job against the Vikings two weeks ago, but the 49ers made him look silly, holding him to just six yards on eight carries and while the Packers run D is soft, their pass D is softer. Look for John Skelton to attack with Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts, but also keep an eye on Rob Housler as the Pack give up an average of 51.7 yards to the tight end alone.
Talking about starting offensive weapons on Green Bay is a piece of cake, especially after seeing what Alex Smith and the 49ers did to the vaunted Cardinals pass defense on Monday night. I would like to see Alex Green take advantage of the Cards’ run D that allows 120 yards per game, but this could be another big night for Aaron Rodgers, James Jones and, if he plays, Jordy Nelson.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
Seriously? A well-rested Arian Foster going up against a Bills defense that allows an average of 176.9 rushing yards per game with 13 rushing touchdowns? Total no-brainer here. But if you’re looking for a sneaky play here for the week, then take a look at Texans back-up running back Justin Forsett. Foster could do some serious damage in the first half and the Texans could go up big. If that’s the case, then with Ben Tate still injured, Forsett could get some serious second half work. This is only in an emergency though. Don’t go benching a viable RB option just on the chance that Forsett sees some carries in this one.
As for the Bills, this could be all about playing catch-up. The Texans have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season and are holding the opposition to an average of just 83 yards per game. If Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller get stifled early, then it could be all up to Ryan Fitzpatrick against a pass D that may only be allowing 200 yards per game, but has given up 13 touchdowns through the air. They do a good job stifling teams’ number one receiver, so maybe look for Donald Jones and Scott Chandler to have better games than Steve Johnson.
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts
The Dolphins quarterback situation is murky at best as Ryan Tannehill hit the practice field on Wednesday, but Matt Moore was taking first-team reps. Not that either is a greta play against a surprisingly strong Colts pass defense, but if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with a bye week issue, then you probably won’t know here for sure until Friday. But the focus here should be the Fins running game as the Colts D gives up an average of 137.4 rushing yards per game. Reggie Bush should lead the way, but you may want to still keep an eye on Daniel Thomas who poached a number of carries last week.
On the opposite side, you’ve got an offense that needs to focus the other way as the Dolphins’ defensive holes reside in the pass defense. Andrew Luck should have no trouble finding Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery downfield and there may even be a few passes going T.Y. Hilton’s way. The ground game is going to be a tough one for fantasy owners as it looks like Donald Brown will still be sharing the workload with Vick Ballard. Neither should have a particularly exciting day, but if you’re desperate for a flex, then Brown would be the way to lean.
Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans
The Titans defense is so bad that the average quarterback rating for guys going against them is 105.4. That means even Jay Cutler can’t screw this one up. Or can he? Personally, I’d like to see the Bears lean on Matt Forte in this one as the Titans run D allows 139.3 yards per game, but you can probably bank on a big day for Brandon Marshall. You might even see a nice day out of Alshon Jeffery, but it’s too difficult to rely on him. Maybe if you’re super desperate and have no other available options…
For the Titans, you have to figure that it’s going to be a lot of aerial work as the Bears defense has allowed an average of just 77.9 yards per game with just one rushing touchdown allowed all year. It’s the perfect week if you’re facing a team starting Chris Johnson. But the day could be just as long for Matt Hasselbeck and company as the pass D is pretty damn good too. The one weakness for the Bears defense, if you can even really call it a weakness, is that they give up an average of 61.4 yards to the tight end position, so Jared Cook might make for a sneaky play this week.
Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars
After last week’s breakout, the hope is that Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Lions offense can continue that momentum against a mediocre Jags defense that allows 251 yards through the air and another 135.7 on the ground. Mikel Leshoure should have a decent day if he is truly not hurt as coach Jim Schwartz says, while Stafford then looks for his targets downfield. Hard to tell you to sit Calvin Johnson (knee) so I won’t, but I will say that Titus Young and Ryan Broyles are probably decent plays this week.
The Jags will look to establish the run early with Rashad Jennings, but with the Lions only allowing 112 rushing yards per game and just two rushing touchdowns, it could be another difficult week. That will leave things up to Blaine Gabbert and Cecil Shorts to keep pace. Shorts has posted double-digit fantasy points in back-to-back games, so he’ll be looking to build on that. We’ll also see how Justin Blackmon does with the criticism he’s taken in the media lately.
Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins
OK, so if Steve Smith can’t find the endzone this week, then I’m giving up all hope for him in standard leagues. In PPR play, he’s much more tolerable with the number of targets he sees, but if you’re not getting points for a catch, then he can be tough to leave in as a must-start option. Hopefully, a match-up with a Redskins defense that gives up an average of 314 passing yards per game with a league-high 19 touchdowns allowed through the air. The match-up alone keeps Smith and Cam Newton as must-starts and probably Greg Olsen as well.
For the Skins, look for a balanced attack with Alfred Morris getting some decent work against a defense that allows 114.4 yards per game on the ground while Robert Griffin III does his thing both with his feet and his arm. Santana Moss is looking like the preferred red zone target these days while Leonard Hankerson tries learning how to actually catch the ball. This guy would be a monster if he didn’t look like Clifford Franklin out there before the stick ‘em on his gloves.
Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals
The Broncos defense is riding high after stifling the Saints offense last week, so look for them to be eager to do the same against Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. You have to figure that Champ Bailey will be shadowing Green, so maybe things will open up a little more for Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham. Denver does give up almost 52 yards per game to opposing tight ends, so Gresham would be my choice of the two. Expect BenJarvis Green-Ellis to get a lot of work in early, but his effectiveness will likely be limited against a fairly stout Denver run defense.
With the Bengals run defense allowing an average of 124 yards per game, you can expect Willis McGahee to get a decent amount of work in again this week. But obviously you can’t dismiss the fact that Peyton Manning could take over at any time and just pick apart what looks to be a decent secondary for Cincinnati. So long as Peyton is at the helm, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are must-starts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Oakland Raiders
Josh Freeman gets yet another favorable match-up this week and should be able to put up solid numbers against a Raiders defense that is hurting in the secondary and allows an average of 246 yards per game with a total of 12 touchdowns through the air. Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams should find their way into the endzone this week. Running back Doug Martin should also fare well with Oakland allowing just over 102 rushing yards per game so make sure he’s active in your lineup.
For the Raiders, this could be a big one for Carson Palmer and the aerial attack. He’s been finding both Denarius Moore and Darrrius Heyward-Bey for endzone strikes and has a solid pass-catching tight end in Brandon Myers to cover the middle of the field. Myers, though hasn’t had a touchdown all year, so he’s a better play in PPR leagues than he is in standard. On the ground, it could be a tough one for Darren McFadden as the Bucs D is strong against the run, allowing just 85.1 yards per game with six rushing touchdowns.
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Facing the Seahawks in Seattle can be a daunting task, and even more so when your quarterback is struggling as Christian Ponder is right now, passing for just 309 yards with two touchdowns and three INTs over his last two games. Seattle will look to take advantage of that by containing Adrian Peterson who will have to plow through a defense that allows just 84.9 rushing yards per game with just three rushing touchdowns allowed all year. Ponder will be forced to throw the ball and, again, Seattle looks tough here allowing just 227 yards per game. If ponder isn’t sharp, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph could suffer as well.
The Vikings D isn’t what it was at the start of the season, and while they only allow 224 passing yards per game, they have still given up 11 passing touchdowns. Russell Wilson could be in line for a decent day which means that Sidney Rice stands a good chance of finding the endzone with all the red zone looks he gets. But the real match-up will be between a surging Marshawn Lynch who is coming off back-to-back 100-plus yard games and a run defense that looks very vulnerable and allows just over 107 rushing yards per game.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
This should be a good test for the Giants as the Steelers defense is strong against both the run and the pass. They do have some injuries in the secondary so look for Eli Manning to take advantage of back-up Will Allen, who is replacing Troy Polamalu, as much as possible. Despite a tough match-up and poor showing last week, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks should both be starting this week. It could be a slow day for Ahmad Bradshaw this week, but he’s still a viable flex play.
For the Steelers, expect Ben Roethlisberger to try and take advantage of a weak Giants secondary. Both Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown should fare well while Heath Miller should find his way into the endzone yet again. Running back Jonathan Dwyer is coming off back-to-back 100-plus yard games, but is also dealing with a quad injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday. Coach Mike Tomlin seems confident that Dwyer should be back to practice on Thursday which puts him on pace to start against a Giants defense that has allowed an average of 113 rushing yards per game.
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons will look to stay perfect this week and face a very tough task as the Dallas pass defense is extremely formidable, allowing an average of just 188 passing yards per game. But this is Matty Ice we’re talking about here and with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez in the act, it’s an aerial attack that’s tough to beat. Matt Ryan may not have his best game of the year, but he isn’t getting shut down. However, look for him to try and lean on Michael Turner a little like last week, although the Dallas D only allows 104 rushing yards per game.
But the Falcons have a tough pass defense as well, so don’t expect Jason Witten to grab another 18 catches or for Miles Austin or Dez Bryant to have too easy a time. What the Cowboys need to do is expose the Atlanta run defense which gives up just over 136 rushing yards per game and have given up eight rushing touchdowns this year. Now it’s just a matter of whether Felix Jones is capable of carrying the load or if Phillip Tanner is going to be needed.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
There’s not much good you can say about the Saints defense, so expect LeSean McCoy to have an outstanding night in New Orleans. Michael Vick should also use his legs a little more as well, but let’s face it, the Saints’ pass D isn’t much better which means both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin should see plenty of work. The Saints also give up just over 50 yards per game to opposing tight ends, so make sure you’ve got Brent Celek active for the week.
For the Saints, it’s a very predictable offensive attack. The Eagles defense has allowed an average of 229 passing yards per game with 10 passing touchdowns on the year. With Marques Colston, Lance Moore and a healthy Jimmy Graham involved, the Saints won’t be so easily quieted. Their running game, on the other hand, is atrocious. Pierre Thomas is like a non-entity in fantasy and Darren Sproles plays more like a receiver/safety outlet than anything else. Still, if Philly isn’t careful, the Saints could be marching in and over them.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.