San Francisco @ Washington
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but the Vegas oddsmakers have no confidence in either of these teams' offenses. The Niners-Skins' 37-point over/under is easily the lowest of Week 9. Here are some telling Redskins stats from John Keim of the Washington Examiner: In Mike Shanahan's 23 games as coach, the Skins have scored 20 or more points a pathetic eight times. They've reached 30 once. Through seven games this year, no Redskins wideout has topped 76 yards. The 49ers' defense is easily the best Washington has faced all season, so more tough sledding is likely. ... John Beck's target distribution since replacing Rex Grossman: Fred Davis 21, Jabar Gaffney 17, Terrence Austin 10, Anthony Armstrong 8. ... Davis remains an every-week starter, but there isn't a confident fantasy play beyond him. Gaffney offers no big-play ability and has a difficult matchup. Playing like a deer in headlights when blitzed last week, Beck was sacked an otherworldly 10 times by a Buffalo defense that entered Week 8 with four sacks, total, in six games. The Niners rank seventh in sacks (21). ... Waiver acquisition Tashard Choice (hamstring, shoulder) won't play this week. Ryan Torain presumably projects as the Redskins' lead back, but it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if he lost his job after averaging 1.55 YPC in the last three games. Rookie Roy Helu hasn't topped four touches in a game since Week 4. Against San Francisco's No. 1 run defense, it's an obvious situation to avoid.
During Tuesday's chat, a Rotoworld reader asked me if I thought Frank Gore's turnaround was legit. Remember, Gore averaged 2.51 yards per carry in Weeks 1-3, a number that has ballooned to 6.51 since, with at least 125 rushing yards and a touchdown in each of the last four games. The answer is a confident Yes. Not taking away anything from Gore, but San Francisco's offense is incredibly running back-friendly. Just as he did at Stanford when Toby Gerhart led the NCAA in rushing -- Gerhart was the featured player in the Cardinal offense, not Andrew Luck -- Harbaugh combines a moving wall of seven linemen in constant two-tight end sets with dynamic rookie lead blocker Bruce Miller clearing aside oncoming linebackers and safeties. From right to left tackle, four of the Niners' five starting offensive linemen are former top-40 draft picks, and center Jonathan Goodwin was a Pro Bowler in 2009. The offense ferociously mauls opponents in the trenches. I don't see Gore slowing down much barring injury, and this certainly isn't an imposing matchup. Washington ranks 21st against the run and allows 4.53 yards a carry. In Week 8, Fred Jackson racked up 194 total yards against the Redskins while averaging 6.69 yards per touch.
The Skins are far more effective in pass than run defense, allowing an NFC-low seven passing scores and racking up 23 sacks to rank fifth in the league. The 49ers' weakness is the passing game, and Harbaugh has conceded as much by engineering an offense producing the NFL's fewest pass attempts. Just once this season has Alex Smith exceeded 201 yards. He doesn't at all resemble a fantasy starter. ... Michael Crabtree has been San Francisco's most productive receiver in the last two games, but it's hard to envision how he'd maintain reliable numbers with all of the 49ers' pass catchers healthy. Vernon Davis is just as good a bet for weekly touchdowns and receptions, and Braylon Edwards has the most big-play ability in the wideout corps. Ride Crabtree while he's hot, but inconsistency seems inevitable. ... The Redskins have held enemy tight ends to an average of 37.7 yards per week over the last month and a half. I still couldn't bring myself to bench Davis after Bills tight end Scott Chandler scored twice against Washington in Week 8.
Score Prediction: 49ers 19, Redskins 13
Miami @ Kansas City
If 0-7 Miami has one thing going right this year, it's an ability to inhibit ground attacks. In their last three games, the Dolphins have allowed 278 yards on 78 carries (3.56 YPC) to enemy tailbacks, none of whom has scored. This is far from a pushover matchup for Jackie Battle, but his workload consistency (16-plus carries in three straight games) and newfound handle on goal-line duties (he scored from a yard out in Week 8, while Week 7 vulture Le'Ron McClain didn't carry the ball once) makes Battle a respectable RB2/flex option regardless of opponent. ... Over the past two games, Battle has played 81 snaps and received 35 touches. Dexter McCluster has 53 snaps and 20 touches, although he's generated a measly 63 yards (3.15 per-play average). Thomas Jones has 29 snaps and 14 touches. McCluster is an RB4 in PPR and off the radar in standard scoring. Jones remains a total non-factor. ... Matt Cassel has done well to "game manage" back-to-back Chiefs wins, but his 1:4 TD-to-INT ratio isn't going to cut it as a fantasy starter, even in the most favorable of matchups. Do use Cassel in a two-QB league. The Dolphins rank 27th against the pass, surrendering 14 passing scores compared to just two interceptions through seven games.
A matchup nightmare in the slot, first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin exploded for 82 yards and a touchdown on five Week 8 catches while Steve Breaston (3-42) took a backseat. Baldwin's playing time did not noticeably increase from Week 7, and it's hard to imagine the rookie emerging as a consistent scorer as a No. 3 receiver in the NFL's No. 28 passing offense. All that said, it's quite possible that Baldwin will unseat Steve Breaston as Cassel's No. 2 option, even if he's not a "starter." There's no question that Baldwin possesses superior physical tools. ... Working against both Breaston and Baldwin are the facts that the Chiefs rank 30th in throws per game and produce a weekly average of just 184.1 passing yards. The shortage of volume could easily lead to a situation where Breaston and Baldwin swap productive weeks back and forth. Neither is a threat to overtake Dwayne Bowe as Kansas City's most targeted receiver. ... Dolphins LCB Vontae Davis (hamstring) will likely miss another week, improving Bowe's Week 9 matchup. Bowe plays the majority of snaps at flanker, the position Davis almost always covers.
Matt Moore has settled in as a bad quarterback, and there's really little else to say. His updated stats in his last ten games: 147-of-258 (57.0%) for 1,563 yards (6.06 YPA), six touchdowns, and 14 interceptions with 26 sacks taken. His teams are 1-9. ... The Dolphins move Brandon Marshall all around the formation, so he will see action against LCB Brandon Flowers, RCB Brandon Carr, and slot CB Javier Arenas. While Marshall has struggled to get behind defenses in recent games, he's maintained a weekly average of 77 yards on 5.4 catches for the season. ... Davone Bess is on pace to catch 62 passes for 739 yards this year, both lows since 2008. He hasn't scored a touchdown. You'd have to be in a deep league to consider him. ... Daniel Thomas (hamstring) will be a game-time decision for Week 9 after practicing on a limited basis all week. The Dolphins have made a consistent effort to get Thomas 20 or more touches when he's on the field. With Thomas out in Week 8, Reggie Bush stepped up for 120 total yards on 19 touches. Lex Hilliard only got the ball twice, and Steve Slaton was oddly the goal-line back. The Chiefs present a mediocre running back matchup, ranking 22nd versus the run but yielding only 4.07 yards a carry.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 21, Dolphins 10
Tampa Bay @ New Orleans
The Rams assembled a Week 8 blueprint for opponents to take down the mighty Saints, and it doesn't involve letting a quarterback go toe to toe with Drew Brees in a shootout. Steven Jackson either ran the football or was targeted in the passing game on 17 of St. Louis' initial 35 offensive snaps in the 31-21 upset of the year. While LeGarrette Blount doesn't offer nearly the receiving prowess of S-Jax, a healthy Blount is the key to victory for Tampa, and there's no doubt that the Bucs' coaching staff knows it. The Saints' defense is allowing a league-high 5.46 yards per carry. His legs fresh after a 28-day layoff, Blount needs to be the centerpiece of the Week 9 game plan, and there are indications that will be the case with Tampa Bay pledging to use Blount as a true every-down back. Blount has not played in passing situations to this point in his two-year career. ... Kellen Winslow hasn't scored or exceeded 43 receiving yards in any of his last three games against the Saints, and ranks a lowly 20th in fantasy tight end scoring, behind the likes of Ben Watson and Jared Cook. Winslow is little more than a desperation bye-week replacement option.
Josh Freeman hasn't played well enough for QB1 consideration, but two-QB leaguers should note his history against New Orleans. In their last three meetings, Freeman has gone 63-of-110 for 777 yards (7.06 YPA), five TDs, and no picks. It's quality QB2 production. ... Mike Williams had his year-best game just before the Week 8 bye, avoiding a drop for the first time since Week 2 and posting a season-high 75 yards on six receptions. During the open date, it's conceivable that the Bucs emphasized scheming to get their best playmaker the ball more. Williams primarily plays split end and in the slot, so he'll match up with RCB Patrick Robinson and slot CB Tracy Porter for most of this game. Porter has been New Orleans' weak link in coverage. ... In Week 7, Dezmon Briscoe played 52-of-72 snaps (72.2%) compared to Arrelious Benn's 21 (29.2%). Benn claims Briscoe played more based on in-game formations, but neither is a reliable fantasy contributor. ... With Sammie Stroughter returning, slot man Preston Parker's playing time may suffer. Stroughter is Tampa's top slot receiver, but has been out since Week 1 with a foot injury.
The Saints will be out for blood after last week's embarrassing loss to St. Louis. A major factor in the defeat was LE Chris Long's manhandling of RT Charles Brown, who suffered a season-ending hip injury in the game, and journeyman fill-in Pat McQuistan. Long bum rushed the duo for three sacks, causing melee whenever Drew Brees dropped back to pass. It's terrific news, then, that Saints starting RT Zach Strief is back from his sprained MCL this week. Brees has been lethal at home, compiling an 11:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 75.9 completion rate, and 322-yard average in three games at Superdome this season. The Saints have won all three. ... The Rams used a zone defense to keep Marques Colston and the Saints' deep threat receivers at bay last week, and Tampa typically employs a similar strategy. It just hasn't worked against Colston in the past. In his last five games against the Bucs, Colston has an 86-yard average and at least five receptions in all five. His best performance against Tampa came earlier this year, when Colston busted up the secondary for seven catches, 118 yards, and a touchdown. It's hard not to like Colston's chances at a bounce-back game.
Lance Moore is plenty capable of games like last week's (7-74-1), but the performance was very much affected by the Rams' coverage strategy discussed above. Brees peppered Moore with 10 targets, virtually all of them over the middle and near the line of scrimmage. While I'd take my chances with Moore long before Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson, Moore is hardly an "emerging" player. He played the fewest snaps in the Saints' receiver corps last week. Moore is inconsistent in fantasy because his usage is inconsistent in his team's offense, and there are many mouths to feed. ... Jimmy Graham is the No. 1 overall tight end in fantasy football and had 124 yards in his last matchup with the Bucs. Start 'em. ... Tampa Bay ranks 23rd against the run, serving up 4.55 yards per carry. This is a favorable matchup for the Saints' rushing attack. I'd want to start Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, shaking off last week's performances against the Rams. Thomas scored on a three-yard carry in the second quarter at St. Louis while Sproles led the backfield in yards. Though Mark Ingram (heel) will be out again, Chris Ivory needs to show he's a bigger part of the offense to be trusted in fantasy leagues. He played six Week 8 snaps.
Score Prediction: Saints 37, Bucs 23