By Joe Sparacio
Week 9 is always one of the most difficult weeks of the fantasy football season. Why? Well, here are the teams that aren't playing this week:
- Chicago Bears
- Cleveland Browns
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Minnesota Vikings
- New England Patriots
- Pittsburgh Steelers
That means no Le'Veon Bell or Jordan Howard on the ground. No Antonio Brown, Steffon Diggs or Keenan Allen to rack up catches. You can also scratch off Rob Gronkowski and Kyle Rudolph off your tight end lists. Oh, and no one on the Browns is playing (but that doesn't really matter, let's be honest).
This week, as a fantasy owner, you'll likely have to bring in the reinforcements, and I am here to help. Here are the starts and sits for Week 9:
5 players to start
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers (TB @ NO)
Most people know that the Saints' passing defense is much better this season, but that sometimes hides the fact that their rushing defense hasn't improved much at all. Expect Tampa Bay to run the ball ... a lot. New Orleans is allowing nearly 4.50 yards per carry on the ground and also falls victim to pass-catching backs, both of which set up nicely for Martin. He has outsnapped Jacquizz Rodgers by a large margin in the backfield and if Jameis Winston can keep up with the Saints in the dome, this could be a breakout game for the Bucs' running back.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Colts (IND @ HOU)
he had some shaky moments but before his protection fell off late, Jacoby Brissett threw some dimes against tight coverages pic.twitter.com/xwMbJYRPAG- John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) October 30, 2017
Coach Chuck Pagano already mentioned that T.Y. Hilton should factor more heavily into the game plan this week, and Frank Gore looks like he's toast on the ground. The Texans' defensive line has been gashed by injuries and the Colts' defense is always an absolute mess, which means that even Tom Savage can probably run up the score against them. In a potential shootout, I like Brissett's versatility and could see him having a Tyrod Taylor-esque performance on Sunday.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks (WAS @ SEA)
For all intents and purposes, those in season-long leagues can probably treat Graham as a wide receiver this week and flex him while streaming another tight end. The big man is in a great position to gash the soft underbelly of Washington's pass defense which has allowed 568 yards up the seam in only seven games. Graham, meanwhile, is on a sizzling streak, having scored at least one touchdown in each of his last three weeks. With Josh Norman helping take away someone on the outside, I can easily see Russell Wilson feeding the ball to his tight end all afternoon.
Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers (DET @ CAR)
Kelvin Benjamin's departure opens up 19% of #Panthers targets, 22% of red-zone targets, and 27% of air yards. Huge spot for Devin Funchess.- Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) October 31, 2017
Most in the fantasy football community will agree that Funchess gets a huge boost in the rankings this week after the Panthers traded away top WR Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills. Benjamin's 36 targets over the last five games have to go somewhere, and with Greg Olsen still injured, they'll likely be funneled to either Christian McCaffrey or Funchess. The WR is still matched up against Desmond Trufant vs. the Falcons, which is no easy assignment, but the volume will be there, especially in the red zone. And coach Ron Rivera has alluded to the fact that McCaffrey is already being given all that he can handle right now. Fire up Funchess with confidence.
Golden Tate, WR, Lions (DET @ GB)
Tate is still flying under the radar of late because he only has only two total TDs on the season, but he is heating up and gets to play against an undrafted rookie corner starting for Green Bay in the slot. He still leads the Lions in targets, has averaged seven receptions for 91 yards over the past two weeks and has ample time to shake off the shoulder injury that was nagging him last Sunday night. The Lions will likely be looking for revenge in a Monday night matchup, so expect QB Matthew Stafford to feed his receivers early and often.
5 players to sit
Andy Dalton, QB, Jaguars (CIN @ JAX)
Dalton has had a rough go of it recently and I expect Week 9 to be no different. The Jags have the game's most lethal passing defense, led by A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, and Dalton will likely be their latest victim. Let me throw a pair of stats at you, courtesy of the great Evan Silva over at Rotoworld: Jacksonville leads the NFL in both sacks (33) and quarterback hits (62); Cincinnati has give up the league's tenth-most sacks (22). Jacksonville hasn't allowed a QB this season to finish better than 18th-best in any given week. Even in two-QB leagues, Dalton is a fade.
Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles (DEN @ PHI)
Despite his electric play over the last month, I think Wentz will have his hands full in Week 9. To start, the backfield is a bit of a mess after the acquisition of Jay Ajayi. And the Broncos are still also a force against the pass, while Zach Ertz, Wentz's favorite target, is clearly a little banged up this week despite a good matchup on paper. The impressive duo of Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby will most certainly keep Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor in check (more on this later), meaning that Wentz may be out of weapons -- I wouldn't expect much better than a QB12 finish from the dynamic youngster this week.
Devonta Freeman, RB Falcons, (ATL @ CAR)
Freeman will likely play on Sunday, but he will undoubtedly be nicked up after suffering a minor shoulder injury following a stinger in Week 8. It's never good for an RB to be a bit banged up heading into a game, especially when there is another capable back on the roster (in this case, Tevin Coleman). Couple this with the fact that Freeman will be rushing against a Panthers defense that has put up solid numbers against the run this season and that is also getting star linebacker Luke Kuechly back. If Freeman is effective this week, it will be as a pass-catcher, but thanks to a confluence of events, I'd knock him down a peg on Sunday.
Frank Gore, RB, Colts (IND @ HOU)
Colts final HB snap count:- Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 29, 2017
Marlon Mack 40
Frank Gore 35
Out of 74 plays
Well, Gore finally looks old. Marlon Mack, meanwhile, fast approaches to take over the backfield and actually out-snapped him for a second straight game last week. The Texans are certainly not as strong against the run as they were earlier in the season before a slew of injuries, but this has more to do with a changing of the guard rather than the Houston defense slowing down. He showed plenty of fight left in Week 8, but there is a large body of work earlier in the season before that as well, so I'd say not to fall victim to recency bias -- I'd rather take a shot on a young guy without a defined role like Coleman or one of the backs in Miami or Buck Allen.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Eagles (DEN @ PHI)
As I eluded to above, I think it's worth calling out how poor of a week Jeffery might have separate from Wentz's struggles. It's rather incredible that while his QB has out-performed expectations week in and week out, Jeffery has consistently fallen short. The former top WR has yet to even approach 100 yards in a game and has caught all of three touchdowns all season -- I'm not quite sure why he's often ranked in the 20s or even teens among receivers in weekly rankings by others in the industry. In Week 9, he has to face off against arguably the top cornerback duo in the league. Some WR's that I would rank ahead of him this week: Sterling Shepard, Emmanuel Sanders, Will Fuller, Jeremy Maclin, Paul Richardson.
Joe Sparacio is an associate producer for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @joetsparacio.