We almost escaped Week 9 without an injury to an NFL star, but that hope came crashing to the ground when Bucs QB Jameis Winston visited Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday. While nothing has been said about Winston and surgery, players don't often come away from a visit with Dr. Andrews without surgery.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will start for the Bucs this week, but it's not the juicy matchup you would hope for against his former team, the New York Jets. Fitzpatrick will be without Mike Evans, who will be serving a one-game suspension due to a late hit he dealt to Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore. That means DeSean Jackson slides into the WR1 slot, and Adam Humphries should see additional targets in a WR2 role. Fitzpatrick is more of a QB2 with a lower ceiling unless Jackson goes absolutely nuts. Jackson is a WR2, but will need to score to jump into the WR1 ranks.
The Vikings sent QB Sam Bradford to the I.R. after he had a clean-up procedure done on his knee on Tuesday. In a corresponding move, the team activated Teddy Bridgewater, and he is practicing in full ahead of Week 10. Bridgewater isn't an option outside of 2QB leagues as a bench stash, so don't pick him up unless you are in one of those formats.
On Wednesday, the Packers cut TE Martellus Bennett without disclosing a medical condition. For fantasy purposes, this allows the owners who owned Bennett, but refused to give up on him, to finally cut him as well. Look at someone like Tyler Kroft, Ed Dickson, or Charles Clay if you need a TE to replace him.
Tyrod Taylor – Bills:Taylor is hanging on to top-12 fantasy QB value over the last 4 weeks thanks to his 718 passing yards, 89 rushing yards, and 6 touchdowns over that span. The difference this week is he gets a WR1 in Kelvin Benjamin, and he gets Charles Clay back at TE.
New Orleans' defense has improved lately. But, improved as they may be, the Saints are an offensive team with a defense that just keeps them in the game. I don't think they can stop Taylor in both running and passing, and you can be sure the Bills are eager to use their new weapon at WR.
Consider Taylor as a low-end QB1 for this week.
Matthew Stafford – Lions:It's never a bad idea to play whoever plays the worst team in the NFL, and this week it is Stafford and the Lions who are hosting the 0-8 Cleveland Browns. Stafford is currently the #8-ranked fantasy QB this season, throwing for 276.5 yards per game, while piling up 14 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. He has the 6th-most passing yards with 2,212, and is tied for 2nd with 303 passing attempts. The numbers mean the Lions are throwing as much as anyone in the NFL, which is always good news for fantasy owners.
On the other side of the ball, you have a Browns defense that gives up 21.6 PPG to fantasy QBs this season, 10th-most in the NFL. The numbers would be higher, except for the fact that once teams get up on them, they take their foot off the gas. The Browns are doing all they can to run the table in reverse this season, and I am looking for Stafford and the Lions to help them keep the winless streak alive.
Adrian Peterson – Cardinals:Peterson set not only a career-high with 37 carries in Week 9, but an NFL record for most carries by a running back 30 years of age or older. He is a special talent that seems to blow past our expectations of him every single year.
This week Peterson should carry the load on offense, again, with the Cardinals forced to rely on Drew Stanton as their quarterback. I don't think his body will take 35-plus carries again, but his role is secure enough to pencil him in as a low-end RB1. Why RB1, you ask? Because the Seahawks 1) know he is the only offense the Cardinals have, and 2) the Seahawks give up the 7th-fewest fantasy points to RBs this season at 16.1 PPG.
Christian McCaffrey – Panthers:When the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills, they effectively gave up on the passing game this season. Cam Newton has been as inaccurate as a starting NFL QB can be, and has thrown more INTs (11) than TDs (10) this year.
Panthers GM Marty Hurney said Benjamin was traded in an effort to "clear out the box" and allow the "run game to flourish." With Jonathan Stewart averaging 2.9 YPC, and sporting a season-best game of 68 yards rushing, we have to assume by "run game" he meant Christian McCaffrey.
What fantasy owners need to understand about McCaffrey first off is he is much more of a Danny Woodhead than he is an every-down type of RB. He holds more value in PPR formats than standard, where he is becomes a 60-75 (ish) total yards RB who is heavily TD-dependent.
I'm high on him this week though because with the Panthers sitting at 6-3 this season, and the division very much still up for grabs, the offense will have to turn to McCaffrey to move the chains if they want any chance of winning with no real coverage threats at WR. Devin Funchess was already barely hanging on to the WR2 spot, and is now forced into a WR1 role, which he is clearly not suited for. With nobody to force the defense to respect the pass downfield, and the QB not accurate enough to execute it anyway, look for a lot of check-downs to the only RB producing for the team right now.
Marvin Jones – Lions:Did you know that over the past month, Marvin Jones is the 3rd-best fantasy WR, surpassing guys like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones? In 4 weeks Jones has racked up 36 targets, reeling in 19 receptions, and tallying 331 yards and 3 touchdowns.
As I said with Stafford above, the Lions matchup is just too good to not play Jones, Golden Tate, and Stafford in all formats. The Lions running game is much less clear than the passing game, and I expect a lot of passing early on.
JuJu Smith-Shuster – Steelers:Before the Steelers bye in Week 9, Smith-Shuster opened some eyes by reeling in 7 of 10 targets for 193 yards and a touchdown against the aforementioned Lions. He did it without Martavis Bryant active, something he will not have this week.
Smith-Shuster is an interesting guy to own because the 2nd half of the season could be where he separates himself from Bryant in the battle for WR2 duties. The Steelers are on the road, but the Colts are as terrible on defense as any team in the NFL this season. He's unlikely to repeat his Week 8 stats, but WR2 numbers are well within his grasp.
Evan Engram – Giants:It's hard to suggest anyone on the Giants as a fantasy starter, given their WRs and the news that broke on Wednesday when several Giants players told an ESPN reporter the team has given up on Coach Ben McAdoo.
However, Engram has been as good as any TE in the league the previous 3 games, totaling 29 targets, 15 receptions, 212 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns. The 49ers have allowed the 5th-fewest fantasy points to fantasy TEs this season at 6.1 PPG. But the 49ers give up 380.4 total YPG of offense, 6th-most in the NFL.
Engram is all the Giants have to lean on in the passing game, making him a solid TE1 this week.
New England Patriots defense:When looking at the first 9 games this season, the Patriots fantasy defense is just 2.0 points away from being the 5th-worst defense in all fantasy football. They simply give up way too many yards (417.0, most in NFL), without enough sacks (16.0, 7th-fewest), and haven't scored a single touchdown on defense or special teams.
However, this week they get a Denver Broncos team led by Brock Osweiler. The QB alone is enough to make even the worst defense a viable streaming option. But when you factor in Emmanuel Sanders and C.J. Anderson and both are dealing with ankle injuries, it only further stresses an offense already limited by its quarterback.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – Buccaneers:Fitzpatrick has all the motivation in the world to perform well this week, taking on his former team. However, Mike Evans is suspended and Doug Martin is coming off an 8-carry, 7-yard effort against the Saints last week. Evans and Martin are an important part of what makes Winston so effective as a QB, and without Evans the offense becomes one-dimensional.
Fitzpatrick still has Jackson at WR, and Cameron Brate at TE, but Jackson is a speed guy and Brate is a pure red zone threat. The question is, can the Bucs move the chains to get Brate involved, and will the Jets bring safety help over the top to take Jackson out of the gameplan? I'm just not a fan of Fitzpatrick this week given his limitations in the passing game.
Philip Rivers – Chargers:In his 8 games this season, Rivers has managed just 2 games with 300-plus passing yards. The good news for his owners is he is making up for it, somewhat, with 13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions on the year. If he can keep the INTs down, he will finish as a low-end QB1 with the numbers he is putting up now.
With that said, this week the Chargers are on the road to take on the Jaguars and their beastly defense. Rivers is the 25th-most sacked QB (11 sacks taken) in the league this year, but the Jaguars lead the NFL with 35 sacks. Factor in the Jaguars defensive line, linebackers, and secondary, and then the Chargers offense as a whole, and you have a problem for Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Keenan Allen this week.
Aaron Jones – Packers:Aaron Jones hit the scene like a madman, scoring 3 touchdowns in his first 4 games, and running for 100 yards in two of those games. But his successful run hit a snag in Week 9 when the Lions held him to just 12 yards on 5 carries and forced him to lose a yard (-1) on his 2 catches.
On Wednesday, Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said he plans to now use Jones and Ty Montgomery in a committee, with Montgomery handling passing-down duties. The insertion of Montgomery back into the mix limits Jones' upside, and puts him more in the RB3/flex rankings for me. Add to that the Bears' underrated defense, and playing in Chicago, and I am just going to sit Jones wherever I possibly can for my own teams.
Ameer Abdullah – Lions:Abdullah has been a serviceable RB2 this season, ranking 21st among fantasy RBs through the first 9 weeks of the season. His numbers aren't amazing, scoring just 2 touchdowns and averaging a modest 3.4 YPC on the ground.
As I mentioned with Stafford, the Lions throw more than any team in the league outside of the Patriots. Abdullah is the early-down back, with Theo Riddick coming in for passing-down duties. And last week Abdullah was benched after he fumbled twice, losing one of them.
There's no mention of the Lions considering a switch at RB, but you can be sure the leash is a bit shorter in Week 10 than it was in Week 1. Even with the Lions facing the Browns defense, I'm not expecting anything more than a TD-dependent, low-end, RB2 game from Abdullah this week. And if he fumbles again you can be sure he will get yanked and planted on the bench, again.
Marquise Goodwin – 49ers:When the 49ers put Pierre Garcon on injured reserve, I added Goodwin in a few of my deeper leagues just to see what kind of bump I could get from their new WR1. Well, Goodwin did manage to see 8 targets in Week 9, but he caught just 2 of them. C.J. Beathard completed just 24 of 51 passes in Week 9, which amounts to a 41 percent completion mark. That is TERRIBLE for NFL QBs.
Goodwin's only hope now is the coaching staff decides to see exactly what they traded for in Jimmy Garoppolo. Those in deeper formats looking for a WR off the waiver wire should just keep on looking because the 49ers are doing all they can to battle the Browns in the race to the #1 overall pick in 2018.
Will Fuller – Texans:Fuller hit the ground running when he came back from his broken collarbone, scoring 7 TDs over his first 4 games. But then the fantasy gods went crazy and Deshaun Watson tore his ACL in practice ahead of Week 9, forcing Tom Savage back into a starting gig for the Texans. Fuller's touchdown streak ended, and the Texans lost a game against the Colts they could have easily won, if Watson was healthy that is.
With Savage under center for the Texans, I honestly wouldn't even consider DeAndre Hopkins a lock to be in my fantasy lineup anymore. If I can't lock-and-load Hopkins, you can guess what that means for a touchdown-dependent WR like Fuller. It was fun while it lasted, but his run of fantasy stardom is over unless he scores, which is unlikely.
Julius Thomas – Dolphins:Orange Julius turned back the clock in Week 9, hauling in 6 of 8 passes for 84 receiving yards and a touchdown. It may have been a final-drive touchdown, but a touchdown, is a touchdown, is a touchdown!
This week Thomas and the Dolphins get a much tougher matchup in the Panthers, whose linebackers are good enough in coverage to hold fantasy TEs to just 6.7 PPG, 9th-fewest in the NFL. Jay Cutler is still a gunslinger, and the running game is not what it used to be with Jay Ajayi now in Philadelphia. But Thomas is tied for the 3rd-most targets (36) on the team, and he is certainly going to fall further down the latter with DeVante Parker healthy, and Damien Williams/Kenyon Drake more involved in the passing game now. Be aware, and beware.
Denver Broncos defense:The Broncos defense is starting to sputter, giving up 17-plus points in 4-straight games, and 51 points in Week 9 to the Eagles. Sure, the Eagles are the best team in the NFL this season, but the Broncos defense can only do so much when the offense is not moving the chains.
The simple reality is the Broncos defense is going to be hard pressed to be a quality fantasy option down the stretch given their offensive struggles at QB. Add to that the Patriots coming to town this week, after a bye, and you have the makings of another ugly game for the Broncos defense. I'm not sure the Patriots have a 51-point effort in their bag of tricks, but I know I don't want to roll the dice with the Broncos defense and find out!