How was that for another crazy group of games and fantasy plot lines in Week 9? Ben Roethlisberger gets knocked out of another game, Sam Bradford returns from the dead, and Marcus Mariota makes it look easy in tossing four touchdown passes for the second time this season. And that was just the quarterbacks. So many other positional players came through for fantasy teams that took a chance on them, like Jeremy Langford (he helped me out big time), and Michael Crabtree (having a renaissance of sorts).
It’s that point in the fantasy season where you know exactly what you need to do to put yourself into playoff position, but can you trust the guys who got you to this point, or should you take chances to get over the hump? Yes, do both. Keep a close eye on the matchups (which is why I’m not playing Langford this week), but don’t leave your studs on the bench. By studs, I mean those players who have earned a place in your starting lineup this season (Diggs, Bernard) and not players who you “wasted” a high pick on in the draft (Lacy).
Here’s to Setting Your Lineup…
QBs to PLAY
JAMEIS WINSTON vs. Dallas – I don’t care what you say about the Cowboys, but their defense is regressing, and even though the Giants made Winston look relatively normal last week don’t count on that Dallas D to do the same. They let Sam Bradford dominate them last week when it mattered most, and Winston has been quality when he has a good matchup. This counts as one.
SAM BRADFORD vs. Miami – Sure, it might have been a fluke, but those last two drives looked pretty good, and Bradford didn’t throw an interception. That’s huge. And now he gets to face a defense that is in bits and pieces right now playing on fumes. I like Bradford to carve them up at home.
BLAKE BORTLES @ Baltimore – The Ravens secondary is a mess, and the Allens (Robinson and Hurns) are playing as good a receiver position as any tandem in football. I don’t think they drop off at all after some time off for the bye, and that means strong numbers for the guy throwing the ball to them. I’ve got him active in two leagues this week, and I like the Allens as WR1 and WR2 respectively for the matchup.
QB to AVOID
JAY CUTLER @ St. Louis – Don’t get me wrong. I liked Cutler’s performance against the Chargers last week, but it was the Chargers. This is a whole other weight class working against the Rams, and it doesn’t bode well for Cutler, even if he hasn’t been turning the ball over at a historic clip lately. He’s due, and the Rams know it too. Keep him on your bench this week.
RBs to PLAY
DARREN McFADDEN @ Tampa Bay – I’m going to ride the train until it stops with McFadden, and notice how I said “until it stops,” not “in case it stops.” I still think McFadden is way too fragile to handle the full load the way the Cowboys have been leaning on him lately, so watch out. Be careful. But he has a good matchup this week against the Buccaneers, so ride the hot hand.
JONATHAN STEWART @ Tennessee – Stewart runs hard and well when faced with a defense that doesn’t have a solid line, and Tennessee fits into that category. The Panthers will have to keep the pass rushers honest with the read-option, and on some of those Stewart will have the opportunity to keep it for huge gains. Get him active.
JAMES WHITE @ NY Giants – The Giants are susceptible to the pass-catching back, and with Dion Lewis out for the rest of the season that job will most likely go to James White, who filled the role when Lewis was hurt earlier in the season. It’s not easy to figure out which RB to use for the Patriots from week to week, but the last time Lewis was out for a full game, Blount wasn’t used often. I see something similar here. White fits the game plan.
RB to AVOID
CHRIS JOHNSON @ Seattle – I know. Chris Johnson has evoked memories of CJ2K this season, but there are challenges, and there are CHALLENGES. This is the latter. Playing on the road in Seattle is tough sledding for anyone, and the Cardinals are still playing three running backs. Not the best matchup to expect points from Johnson.
WRs to PLAY
TAVON AUSTIN vs. Chicago – The Bears did a fairly good job against the Chargers wide receivers, but San Diego doesn’t have someone as versatile as Tavon Austin has proven to be this year. He is flexible and can play in the backfield as well as downfield, and I think against Chicago that will prove to be the difference.
BRANDIN COOKS @ Washington – Cooks is a great downfield weapon, but he can also move the chains, and he should have a productive afternoon in the nation’s capital. His ability to gain yardage after the catch, and after contact, gives him a leg up against a poor tackling defense.
RUEBEN RANDLE vs. New England – You know as well as I do that the Patriots will scheme to take away Odell Beckham, which means someone else for the Giants will have to step up. When Eli needs someone else to step up he likes to look in Randle’s direction. If you’re desperate and you want to take a flier I also suggest Dwayne Harris in the FLEX spot this week against a Patriots secondary that can be beat down the field.
WR to AVOID
ALSHON JEFFERY @ St. Louis – There probably aren’t better options with better matchups with less of a questionable tag sitting on your bench, but if there is at least one play him instead of Jeffery this week. You already know I don’t like Cutler against the Rams, and that extends to his top target. This sets up as a Martellus Bennett game, and I’m leaving Jeffery on the bench in one league. If you do play him temper your expectations.
TEs to PLAY
JIMMY GRAHAM vs. Arizona – There was a time not long ago when Graham was seen as a stud, and an obvious start so why bother? But those times are gone, at least for now, and Graham has been hit or miss in his new offense in Seattle. But against a tough Arizona defense he will be needed to move the chains. And move the chains he will. Look for over a hundred yards from the big guy.
ERIC EBRON @ Green Bay – Everything but the kitchen sink will be needed for the Lions to actually compete with the Packers in Green Bay, and I think Matthew Stafford will do his best to find all his weapons. In a thin tight end market, Ebron is still available on many waiver wires and could be the difference in your fantasy matchup this week.
JULIUS THOMAS @ Baltimore – The Ravens have been vulnerable through the air, and while I love the Allens in this one I also think Julius Thomas will prove fruitful in the red zone. This is the game when he finally integrates himself into the offense, and he will pay dividends to fantasy owners who have stuck with him.
TE to AVOID
OWEN DANIELS vs. Kansas City – Last week I told you to avoid Vernon Davis, and it was a smart call. Now this week I’m telling you to avoid another one of those Denver tight ends, even though he caught two touchdowns last week. That’s because it’s like catching lightning in a bottle, figuring out who will score from week to week, and Manning isn’t throwing as many touchdowns as he used to. Leave Daniels alone.
FLEX to PLAY
JAMES STARKS vs. Detroit – Green Bay would be smart to lean on their running game early and often to keep the Detroit defense honest, and finally the right man is on top of their RB depth chart. Count on Starks right away as a solid FLEX play this week against a suspect Lions D.
CHRIS SIMS vs. Dallas – Sims is a great pass-catching back, and against Dallas pass-catching backs thrive. Look no further than the great duo of Murray and Mathews, who took care of business last week on the ground and through the air. Doug Martin is a RB1 for this matchup, but I would play Sims in the FLEX across the board.
STEFON DIGGS @ Oakland – So he had a down game, but I expect Bridgewater back in this one. If Teddy Football plays then Diggs has a big game, especially against a suspect secondary like the one sported by the Raiders. He’s the perfect FLEX play in a week without many great FLEX plays.
FLEX to AVOID
ANTONIO ANDREWS vs. Carolina – If the Titans want to win this game they will have to throw the ball, and often. And I expect them to get down early, which will also limit Andrews’ workload. Don’t count on any of the RBs from Tennessee getting any solid action or scoring any solid fantasy points in this matchup.
K to PLAY
GREG ZUERLEIN vs. Chicago
CHRIS BOSWELL vs. Cleveland
CONNOR BARTH vs. Dallas
K to AVOID
JOSH BROWN vs. New England
D/ST to PLAY
GREEN BAY vs. Detroit
PITTSBURGH vs. Cleveland
OAKLAND vs. Minnesota
D/ST to AVOID
TENNESSEE vs. Carolina