1:00PM ET Games
NY Jets @ Buffalo
There's something inherently appealing about high-volume power backs coming off bye weeks, and it will be a recurring theme in this column with Shonn Greene, LeGarrette Blount, and Michael Turner all returning from Week 8 open dates. Greene was just beginning to heat up before the week off, largely because he's received at least 21 touches in three straight games. In his last meeting with Buffalo, Greene racked up 117 yards on 22 carries in one of the best performances of his career to date. Unlike the Redskins last week, the Jets will stick to the run even if they fall behind. The Bills rank 20th in run defense and give up 4.91 yards per carry, so this is a favorable matchup for a fresh-legged back who may finally be hitting his stride. ... In their last five games, the Bills have allowed 28 receptions for 380 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends, good for a 5.6-catch, 76-yard weekly average. From that perspective, Dustin Keller has a pretty encouraging matchup. Unfortunately, Keller hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 2 or exceeded 53 yards since Week 3. Keller would be a strong bye-week fallback option, but he isn't a top-10 player at his position.
Plaxico Burress created buzz with three Week 7 touchdowns, just before the bye. All three scores came inside the Chargers' five-yard line. Burress makes for an excellent red-zone target because he's 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, but the story hasn't changed. Averaging under three catches for 35 yards a game, Plax will hurt you if he doesn't find the end zone. ... Santonio Holmes is New York's top playmaker and the No. 1 option in the passing game, so it's reasonable to speculate that Jets coaches emphasized finding ways to get him the football during the bye. Holmes disappointingly ranks 32nd in fantasy receiver scoring. “He’s getting open,” one AFC scout told the New York Daily News this week. “He’s a game changer. But they’re not feeding him.” The Jets must change that. ... Buffalo's numerical pass defense ranking (No. 24) makes it seem weak on paper, but the Bills lead the league in interceptions (14) and only four defenses have lower passer ratings against. Buffalo has been sparked by the insertion of rookie Marcell Dareus at nose tackle, and OLB Shawne Merriman's year-ending Achilles' injury has been addition by subtraction because Arthur Moats is playing more. Ultimately, this isn't a good matchup for Mark Sanchez. He's just a QB2.
This is a game likely to be dominated by running game and defense. I'm taking the under on the projected 44 points. … The best bet for a score on either side is No. 3 overall fantasy back Fred Jackson. Since Week 1, opposing tailbacks have touched up the Jets for six touchdowns and 783 yards on 172 carries (4.55 YPC), while Jackson is averaging 159.5 total yards per game with six scores over the same span. No running back in football has more gains of 20-plus yards this season. ... The Jets' pass defense is a near-impenetrable force, making all Bills passing-game members dicey Week 9 fantasy propositions. The Darrelle Revis-led unit is allowing NFL lows in passer rating (60.5) and touchdown passes (4). In his last three games against the Jets, Ryan Fitzpatrick has completed just 41-of-83 throws (49.4%) for 378 yards (4.55 YPA). It's very hard to imagine starting Fitzpatrick in a standard fantasy league this week. He's more of a low-end QB2.
According to STATS INC., quarterbacks have a 2.9 rating when throwing at Darrelle Revis this season. Revis has allowed 10 catches and no touchdowns. Stevie Johnson posted serviceable lines of 5-72 and 3-31-1 in two 2010 matchups with the Jets, but Revis did not play in either game and Johnson, at the time, was not established as Buffalo's No. 1 receiver. Lee Evans (1-6, DNP) was widely held in higher regard, so the Jets assigned Antonio Cromartie to him. With deep threat Donald Jones returning from an ankle injury, David Nelson will likely man the slot again with Johnson as the top candidate for Revis' coverage. ... It is worth noting that Nelson caught a team-high four passes for 75 yards in his lone 2010 game against the Jets, despite playing under 20 snaps. He's a full-time player now. While Nelson has underwhelmed this season, he projects to have the most favorable matchup in the Bills' receiver corps. If Johnson draws Revis and Jones gets Antonio Cromartie, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Nelson will square off with a combo of slot CB Kyle Wilson (5'10/190), linebackers, and safeties. I like Nelson's chances of leading Buffalo in receiving in this game. ... As pointed out by Rotoworld targets maven Chet Gresham on Wednesday, 40% of Bills TE Scott Chandler's receptions are going for touchdowns this season. It's an unsustainable rate, but realistically there aren't a dozen better tight end plays in a TD-heavy fantasy league.
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Bills 17
Seattle @ Dallas
Back-to-back lopsided games, one in Dallas' favor and the other not, have adversely affected the Cowboys' passing-game production over the last two weeks. Jason Garrett's team shelled the Rams 34-7 in Week 7, finishing with a 34:24 run-to-pass ratio. In Week 8, the Cowboys were dismissed by the Eagles 34-7, losing the time-of-possession battle 42:09 to 17:51 -- the most decisive edge in Philly history since 1994. I'd be hard pressed to hold either game against Tony Romo when setting my Week 9 fantasy lineup. Seattle ranks last in time of possession and is the NFL's toughest team to run against on a per-play basis. It's a golden opportunity for Romo to attack with the pass. These are the only quarterbacks I'd play over Romo in Week 9: Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning. With Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford on a bye, Romo is a top-six option at his position. ... Jason Witten is the No. 3 overall fantasy tight end, behind only Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. The Seahawks don't present a difficult matchup, allowing an average of 62 weekly yards to Bengals, Giants, and Browns tight ends over the past three games. Witten should be locked into lineups.
Seahawks CBs Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman played an impressively physical Week 8 game against Bengals receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson, holding each under 65 yards. Both players still found pay dirt, and the step up to Miles Austin and Dez Bryant is considerable. This is a plus matchup for both Dallas wideouts. Pass attempts are sure to be up this week, and Garrett can't help but know his offense operates at peak performance only when Austin and Bryant are the featured players. ... Laurent Robinson is the Cowboys' flanker in three-receiver sets, moving Austin inside to the slot. While Robinson has earned fantasy consideration with 100 yards in two of his last four games, he's bound for inconsistency as the No. 4 option in the passing game. I wouldn't start him. ... We'll continue to learn more about rookie DeMarco Murray in Week 9. Another full workload is in store, but Seattle fields the stingiest run defense in football on a per-play basis. While Murray continues to excel when the Cowboys get him in space, he lacks wiggle and natural power inside the tackles. The Seahawks' defense penetrates backfields as consistently as any unit in the NFL.
Perhaps Marshawn Lynch is playing hurt? There wasn't a worse running back on an NFL football field last week, Chris Johnson included. On numerous occasions against the Bengals, Lynch stopped moving his feet, a fundamental no-no hammered into tailbacks in Pop Warner. Lynch averaged a season-low 1.5 YPC on 16 attempts. If the coaching staff takes the game tape seriously, Leon Washington will start this week. The Cowboys rank fourth in rush defense, so this was always going to be an impossible matchup for a talent-less runner. ... Another takeaway from watching Cincinnati-Seattle was Tarvaris Jackson's habitual locking onto Sidney Rice. It shows up in the target numbers, too. Jackson's pass target distribution after replacing Charlie Whitehurst in Week 8: Rice 10, Doug Baldwin 8, Zach Miller 4, Ben Obomanu 3. For this game, I'd feel good about Rice's matchup with Cowboys LCB Terence Newman. ... Big Mike Williams' return from a hamstring pull could render Obomanu a part-time player. Neither is start-able. ... Baldwin is an excellent young slot receiver and the second best fantasy bet on Seattle's roster, but he's been maddeningly inconsistent. Baldwin has 73-plus yards in 4-of-7 games. In the other three, he has 23, 4, and 0.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 24, Seahawks 13
Cleveland @ Houston
Averaging 29 weekly touches since retaking Houston's backfield from Ben Tate, Arian Foster has scored five TDs and averaged 162 total yards in five games. The Browns' defense has been competitive against the run this season, but was shredded for 160 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries (4.71 YPC) by 49ers backs last week. Cleveland ranks second in against the pass, so it's pretty clear which part of the defense the Texans should game plan to attack, particularly with Andre Johnson (hamstring) still out. With Adrian Peterson on a bye, Foster is the best fantasy running back play in the league this week. ... Matt Schaub has a difficult matchup with Cleveland's No. 2 run defense. While Schaub has done well to post a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 289-yard average in Johnson's four missed games, he's still only a borderline fantasy starter. Look for the Texans to go run-heavy in this one, limiting Schaub's pass attempts. I'd consider Schaub's Week 9 ceiling to be around 250 yards with two scores. In fantasy points per game, he's the No. 11 quarterback and not playing nearly as well as the numbers suggest.
Jacoby Jones has a better matchup than Kevin Walter, who is likely to see more of Joe Haden in coverage. Jones, though, is far from a trustworthy WR3. His four lines starting in place of Johnson this year: 1-9, 4-76-1, 2-27, 3-59. Jones isn't a terrible fantasy start, but it would probably be an upset if he exceeded four catches. ... Walter most often lines up at RWR, so he projects to face off with LCB Haden on the majority of plays. According to Pro Football Focus, Haden has allowed just 15-of-37 pass attempts (40.5%) against him to be complete this season for 212 yards (5.73 YPA) and one touchdown. The lone score occurred in Week 1, when Bengals fill-in QB Bruce Gradkowski called a quick snap with Cleveland's defense still in its huddle. Rookie A.J. Green was unguarded for the 41-yard TD. ... Schaub's target distribution over the last month (with no Andre Johnson): Walter 27, Jones 27, Owen Daniels 25, Derrick Mason 8. ... The Browns have allowed five touchdowns to tight ends with a weekly average of four catches for 49 yards, despite having faced a weak slate of players at the position. I like Daniels' chances of scoring in this one.
With Montario Hardesty out indefinitely, the Browns need Peyton Hillis back desperately. Chris Ogbonnaya was brutal in relief last week, managing 37 yards on 11 carries (3.36 YPC) with a fumble and was consistently stopped dead in his tracks. Ogbonnaya also dropped a pass and contributed to two Colt McCoy sacks with blown blitz pickups. Hillis may have a tough matchup with Houston's top-six run defense, but he should get large amounts of touches and snaps because players like Ogbonnaya lose games for their teams. ... McCoy's weak arm is killing Greg Little's fantasy value. Little makes virtually all of his catches on obvious passing downs in the slot, a high-traffic area where his after-catch skills go to waste with more defenders in the vicinity. McCoy can't connect outside the numbers, where Little sees one-on-one coverage and could go the distance after a broken tackle. Little is being force-fed with 30 targets over the past three weeks, so he's worthy of a WR3 start in 12-team leagues. But teammates are curbing his upside.
UPDATE: Hillis appeared to aggravate his hamstring injury in Friday’s practice, heaving away his helmet in frustration after a running drill. He’s unlikely to play in Week 9. Ogbonnaya should be grabbed in all leagues because he projects to receive 14-17 touches in Houston, and probably has a realistic chance to start against the Rams in Week 10.
Evan Moore's playing time went back in the gutter with Ben Watson playing a full game in Week 8. Jordan Norwood got more action in four-receiver sets, and it's now clear that Moore's usage depends heavily on Watson's availability. Moore was targeted twice, gaining 17 yards. ... Watson is scoreless since Week 4 and hasn't topped 64 yards all year. He's 18th in weekly fantasy points among tight ends. ... Here is McCoy's target distribution since the Browns' Week 5 bye: Little 30, Watson 15, Joshua Cribbs 14, Moore 11, Mohamed Massaquoi 9, Norwood 6. Massaquoi and Watson's targets have been affected by concussions, but I'd still have rouble trusting any Cleveland pass catcher behind Little in a fantasy league. ... The Texans rank fifth in the league against the pass. McCoy is the No. 15 fantasy quarterback and a clear-cut QB2. Long term, it's not a good sign for McCoy that he ranks second in the league in attempts per game, but 19th in passing yards. Cleveland will be in the hunt for a true franchise passer this offseason.
Score Prediction: Texans 23, Browns 16