It is easy to look at your lineup and say, “This guy is better than that guy, so he should start.” But that’s not the recipe for fantasy success. Fantasy champions carefully adjust their lineups each week based on several mitigating factors. It’s not easy to pull the trigger on the road less traveled, starting or sitting guys you normally might not. But sometimes, in fantasy, it is necessary. This column serves as a platform to put several players on your radar each week. Players I have a feeling might outperform your expectations (the “Highs”), and players I have a feeling might fall short of your expectations (the “Lows”).
Andy Dalton, Bengals (@ Dolphins)
No quarterback is playing better right now than Andy Dalton. He’s cruising up the QB ranks, looking more impressive each week than the last. Do I think he can top his 5-TD performance against the Jets? Unlikely. But he’s easily a viable starter this week against the Dolphins.
Cam Newton, Panthers (vs. Falcons)
I’ve been running the QB shuffle all year with Cam Newton and Tony Romo. It was something I feared almost immediately after my draft. Shuffling two boom-or-bust players can lead to great success or great misfortune. After a two week stretch that saw me sit Tony Romo scoring 47 and Cam Newton scoring 35, I decided I needed to pick a side. Folks, I’m all-in on Cam Newton. Some would argue Cam played the best football of his career these last three weeks. I don’t disagree. He’s certainly playing the smartest football of his career. Looking ahead to his match-up this week, Cam’s been very successful against the Falcons as of late, scoring 6 TDs in his last two appearances. As an owner, I’m hoping that string of success continues.
Alex Smith, Chiefs (@ Buffalo)
The Bills are having all kinds of trouble stopping opposing quarterbacks right now. They currently rank third-worst against fantasy passers. Smith doesn’t typically light up the fantasy box score, but he has put up 17 points or more in five of nine contests this year. He’s been a little more aggressive through the air these past few weeks too. I think he’s got another strong effort in him for Week 9.
Jake Locker, Titans (@ Rams)
Locker might be the most underrated fantasy player right now. He’s only played five games, but looking at weekly averages, he’s the 11th ranked fantasy quarterback this season. In a week that features Manning, Stafford and Kaepernick on a Bye, my guess is Locker versus the Rams is your best bet for a spot start.
Geno Smith, Jets (vs. Saints)
Last week Geno zagged, so this week he should zig. Every other week this guy has a fantasy day and a half. The Saints defense has been solid, but Geno is due. It’s science. Expect him to be throwing from behind a lot too. He may turn the ball over a few times, but he should pile up the yards and maybe even a few scores as well.
Click here to see our Quarterback rankings for Week 9.
Joe Flacco, Ravens (@ Browns)
In a typical week, you’re not starting any of these QB “Lows,” but with a loaded Bye week, these are the guys you might be considering. And you shouldn’t. Ravens/Browns always seems to be a low-scoring affair, especially in Cleveland. You can’t trust Flacco with his only trusty target on Haden Island. The Super Bowl MVP has looked anything but this season.
Case Keenum, Texans (vs. Colts)
I kind of like Case Keenum going forward, just not in this game. The Colts are actually a top-10 defense against fantasy quarterbacks. It’s also their first chance to take hold of the AFC South. Expect Luck, Mathis and company to leave no doubt as to which team is taking the division this year.
Thad Lewis, Bills (vs. Chiefs)
Hampered by an injury against the NFL’s best defense. No-brainer.
Mike Glennon, Buccaneers (@ Seahawks)
Nothing to like about a young quarterback on the road in the NFL’s second loudest stadium. If you’re looking for a QB spot start, please try to avoid these guys.
Chris Johnson, Titans (@ Rams)
For those of you still waiting patiently for Chris Johnson to arrive in 2013, congratulations!! You made it. Johnson survived a brutal first half schedule, featuring games against the Steelers, Texans, Chargers, Jets, Chiefs, Seahawks and Niners. As a reward for his hardships, he gets to face the Rams, Jaguars (twice), Colts (twice) and Raiders. There’s hope for him yet. Matched up this week against the horrid Rams run defense, I expect CJ to break out. With great patience, comes great reward Chris Johnson owners.
Eddie Lacy, Packers (vs. Bears)
The Bears defense isn’t what it used to be. Chicago is allowing the sixth most points to fantasy running backs this year. Without Cutler, we could be seeing a lot plays from the Packers offense. Stud rookie running back, Eddie Lacy, will be a huge beneficiary. This guy is for real folks. Cut to all the fantasy owners that drafted Monte Ball and David Wilson in the third round instead, shamelessly nodding in agreement.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers (@ Redskins)
Washington is 29th in the NFL against the run. Opponents are averaging 123.4 yards on the ground against them. Since the Chargers transitioned to a more balanced attack on offense, it has really been paying dividends for them. Especially for Ryan Mathews, who is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games. (A sentence I didn’t think I would ever utter again in my lifetime). I think Mathews grinds out another strong effort again this week.
Danny Woodhead, Chargers (@ Redskins)
I also love Danny Woodhead in this match-up. The Skins showed some vulnerability in the screen game last week against Knowshon Moreno. He caught 6 balls for 89 yards and a score. Woodhead is as good as they come catching balls out of the back field. Him and Mathews could both have 10+ fantasy point efforts on Sunday.
Click here to see our Running Back rankings for Week 9.
Arian Foster, Texans (vs. Colts)
Not sure Arian even plays in this one, but if he does, he’s definitely not 100%. I could see him taking on more of a” decoy” role if he is a go. I also see the Texans playing from behind a lot. Not sure they’ll get much of a chance to establish the run. If you’ve got him and he’s playing, you have to start him. But I’d be worried about him. Especially knowing that hamstring could knock him out at any moment.
Mike James, Buccaneers (@ Seahawks)
I was pleasantly surprised with Mike James last Thursday. His 6.4-point fantasy effort was hardly anything to write home about, but he showed a lot of potential against a really strong Carolina run defense. Facing any other opponent I’d say he was worth the start, but on the road against a Seattle defense that just got embarrassed by Zac Stacy, I’d be hesitant to take a chance on James. The Seahawks defense is a prideful group. I think stopping the run will be a huge focus at home on Sunday.
Fred Jackson, Bills (vs. Chiefs)
Jackson is still nursing a sprained MCL and he sat out of practice on Wednesday. Against this defense, there’s much cause for concern for this week. Starting running backs are few and far between right now, but there’s got to be a better option than an injured Fred Jackson against the Chiefs.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys (vs. Vikings)
Safe to say we know who the best wide receiver in the NFL is. Calvin Johnson closed that debate pretty emphatically on Sunday. With that said, Dez Bryant still produced 2 TDs on 6 targets – displaying both acrobatics and speed on his two scores. The Vikings are giving up a ton of fantasy points to receivers each week. Dez should keep rolling with ease, as the Cowboys look to get back on track.
Andre Johnson, Texans (vs. Colts)
You wouldn’t think the Texans quarterback could be a “Low” with Andre Johnson listed as a “High,” but it’s more likely to happen than not. The young QB will likely rely on the veteran Johnson heavily. Andre will get his targets and put up big numbers through the air, only the odds of him scoring are typically pretty long. The result? A big fantasy day for Andre (especially in PPR formats) and a less than stellar effort from Keenum. Call me crazy, but I think Andre finally scores this week too. It won’t salvage Keenum’s day, but it will have Andre owners screaming, “Finally!”
Denarius Moore, Raiders (vs. Eagles)
The Eagles are giving up the second most fantasy points to wide receivers this year (most in the last five weeks). Denarius Moore has been sneaky-good this year. Inconsistency has marred him a bit, but him and Pryor seem to be developing a solid rapport together. As Pryor continues to improve, Moore will be a pretty reliable WR3 option. He’s not a sexy start, but he’s a worthy start.
Jarrett Boykin, Packers (vs. Bears)
Tillman is expected to play this week. Expect him and the Bears to put a lot of focus on stopping Jordy Nelson. Boykin has been great in place of James Jones and Randall Cobb. I think Rodgers relies on him a lot again this week.
Josh Gordon, Browns (vs. Ravens)
Well, looks like Josh Gordon remains a Cleveland Brown. While that may not be good for Josh Gordon, I still believe it’s great news for fantasy owners. Could Josh have taken his game to the next level with Colin Kaepernick or Andrew Luck? Yes. But on the other side of the coin, things could have gone sour for Josh fantasy wise as well. I take more comfort knowing exactly what I’m going to get out of Josh Gordon each week with Cleveland. A ton of targets, a lot of deep balls, and a strong possibility of 100+ yards and a score. Gordon ranks sixth among fantasy wide receivers looking at weekly averages. He’s got WR1 talent, and he’s showcasing it each week.
Hakeem Nicks, Giants (Bye)
Nicks owners should love Hakeem this week. They finally don’t have to worry about starting him and inevitably regretting it. He should perform exactly as expected on the bench for his Bye this week.
Check out our Wide Receiver rankings for Week 9.
Torrey Smith, Ravens (@ Browns)
See: Island, Haden.
Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers (@ Seahawks)
See Sherman, Richard. Browner, Brandon. Stadium, Deafening. Quarterback, Rookie.
Marques Colston, Saints (@ Jets)
Colston embarrassed me last week. I said he would step up while Jimmy Graham was down. Instead, he caught 3 balls for 18 yards, while Jimmy caught 3 balls for 2 touchdowns with a torn plantar fascia. Colston is averaging under 50 yards a game with only one score on the season. The lengthy Cromartie should keep his struggles going.
Antonio Gates, Chargers (@ Redskins)
Coming off a bye week, Gates draws a nice little match-up against the Redskins. The year fantasy owners finally write Gates off, he manages to stay healthy for the first time in years. Gates has been quiet the last few weeks. He’s due for a big game.
Kyle Rudolph w/ Christian Ponder, Vikings (@ Cowboys)
The Cowboys are surrendering the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends this year. I’ve been hard on Kyle Rudolph, but he seems due for a score. Christian Ponder loves looking his way in the red zone and the match-up is favorable. I think he’s on the board this week with a TD.
Jimmy Graham, Saints (@ Jets)
He’s got a partially torn plantar fascia. The only reason he scored twice last week is because I was playing against him. Big picture: He was very limited snap wise. He only caught three balls. And it took a Herculean effort to score one of those TDs. If he doesn’t get in the end zone, his numbers should be pretty low. I’m going out on a limb and saying he doesn’t score. A bad Jimmy Graham is still better than most TEs, but I don’t think we see the elite effort we’ve grown accustomed to from him this week.
Tony Gonzalez, Falcons (@ Panthers)
Doesn’t look like Tony’s leaving the NFL on a parade float, holding the Lombardi trophy like he envisioned. Instead, he’s riding out his last season in double and triple coverage on an underachieving Falcons squad that won’t even make the playoffs. Kind of sad to see him go out like this. Maybe he’ll change his mind again next year. Tough week for Tony against Carolina’s front seven. I imagine the Panthers defense will focus its attention on shutting him down.
Kyle Rudolph w/ Josh Freeman (@ Cowboys)
If Josh Freeman starts this week, forget everything I said about Kyle Rudolph before. I’m not convinced Josh Freeman could hit the Atlantic Ocean if he was standing in front of it right now. Abort! Abort! Abort!
Dallas Cowboys (vs. Minnesota)
You’re either getting Christian Ponder or Josh Freeman. If you own the Cowboys defense your fingers are crossed its Freeman, but would Ponder starting really be that devastating? Didn’t think so.
Cincinnati Bengals (@ Miami)
Is it just me or do Thursday night games have a 100% yield rate when it comes to defensive and/or special teams touchdowns? It seems like every Thursday game this season has featured a fantasy defense I should have spot-started. Odds are the Bengals are already owned in your league, so be happy if you’ve got them. Cincy’s defense took two to the house last weekend. If my Thursday game statistical calculations are correct, they should bring at least one back to the house again this week.
Tennessee Titans (@ St. Louis)
Underrated defense. Kellen Clemens. Kellen Clemens.
Houston Texans (vs. Indianapolis)
Like I said before. When this game is over, it will be very clear who the toast of the AFC South is. In two career games against Houston, Luck has thrown for 4 TDs and 0 INTs. That’s when Houston’s defense was good too.
Chicago Bears (@ Green Bay)
Chicago is facing a lot of problems on both sides of the ball. They’re also facing Aaron Rodgers. That’s a recipe for fantasy defense disaster.
Don’t forget to check out our customized rankings and projections before you finalize your lineups this weekend. Have a great week everybody.
Follow me on Twitter: @TalbotTalks