1:00PM ET Games
Carolina @ Washington
Steve Smith whipped normally stout Bears RCB Tim Jennings up and down the field in Week 8, racking up 118 yards on seven receptions. It's scary to think what Smith might be capable of against the Redskins' last-ranked pass defense. Although he's scoreless through seven starts, Smith is on pace for 80 catches and 1,347 yards -- not far off last year's 79/1,394 line. As explosive a route runner as ever, Smith is a WR1 in the most favorable matchup he'll get all year. Look for Smith to rediscover pay dirt in this one. ... With nine games left, there is ample time for Cam Newton to break free from his sophomore slump. Washington's defense would be a sensible place to start. The Redskins have allowed league highs in touchdown passes (19) and 40-plus-yard completions (7) while averaging under two sacks per game. Even with Brandon LaFell (concussion) expected to miss Week 9, Newton should find Smith and Greg Olsen open frequently in the intermediate and deep sections of the field. Start Cam with confidence. ... The Redskins have permitted the most fantasy points in the NFC to tight ends. LaFell's absence means Olsen will be Newton's clear No. 2 pass catcher on Sunday, so shake off his three-game production lull and start Olsen as a mid-range TE1 in D.C.
David Gettis is due back from PUP this week, but Louis Murphy figures to replace LaFell in the starting lineup. Though he's managed just nine catches all year as Carolina's No. 3 receiver, the matchup makes Murphy worth a look for WR3 desperados. ... The Redskins played some of the NFL's stoutest run defense in the first five games, and they may still finish in the top half of the league. But Washington has sprung enough recent leaks that newly anointed feature runner Jonathan Stewart is well worth an RB2 play. Steelers, Giants, and Vikings backs have tagged the Redskins for 274 yards and two TDs on 60 carries (4.57 YPC) over the past three weeks. For Stewart, this matchup is a far cry from last week's date with Chicago's No. 1 run defense. ... As the guard changes in Carolina's backfield, Stewart has played 111-of-147 snaps (75.5 percent) and received 34 touches since the Week 6 bye. DeAngelo Williams has been reduced to a 12.2-percent player the Panthers tried to trade before Thursday's deadline. He's playing less now than Mike Tolbert. Williams is waiver-wire fodder. Tolbert is a lead blocker and short-yardage option.
The Washington Post charged Redskins would-be pass catchers with a whopping ten drops in last week's 27-12 loss to the Steelers, which may or may not have been attributable to wet Heinz Field conditions. Either way, it'd be unfair to hold the relatively slow game against Robert Griffin III for Week 9 fantasy lineup decisions. Still No. 4 in quarterback scoring on the season, Griffin will go from facing Pittsburgh's No. 2 defense to Carolina's 15th-ranked group. Improved recent performance indicates the Panthers are no cakewalk, but RG3 remains an every-week starter and simply halving the dropped passes from ten to five would go a long way toward restoring his elite fantasy production. ... Carolina's defense has been more vulnerable on the ground than in the air this year. The Panthers rank 20th against the run and will likely have trouble slowing down the Redskins' zone scheme. Alfred Morris struggled last week (13-59-0) primarily because Pittsburgh rendered Washington's offense one dimensional, grabbing a 10-0 first-quarter lead and forcing Griffin into pass-heavy comeback mode. This week's game figures to be more evenly matched. Morris is still the No. 5 overall fantasy running back and a legit RB1.
Leonard Hankerson was one of the culprits in Washington's Week 8 pass-catching inefficiency, dropping a ball for the second straight week. Hankerson also failed to get open against Steelers RCB Ike Taylor and has shown poor separation skills all season. He appears to have put on weight, costing him quickness and speed. The Redskins want to increase speedier Aldrick Robinson's role, quite possibly at Hankerson's expense. ... No Washington receiver performed more poorly than Santana Moss at Heinz Field. Moss had three drops and 21 yards on nine targets. Although he's flukily scored three touchdowns in his last two games, Moss remains a situational slot receiver playing about 30 percent of the offensive snaps. Look elsewhere for Week 9 WR3/flex plays. ... Possession receiver/blocker Josh Morgan has started seven of the Skins' eight games this season. He's averaging 33 yards per week and hasn't scored a touchdown. ... Logan Paulsen played the lead role in Washington's tight end committee at Pittsburgh, but spent much of the game blocking on the line and may gradually lose snaps to Chris Cooley. Niles Paul is also in the mix. No Redskins receiver or tight end is an attractive fantasy play versus Carolina.
Score Prediction: Panthers 27, Redskins 24
Baltimore @ Cleveland
After re-watching Week 8 Chargers-Browns this week, I don't think we'll have to worry about Trent Richardson's ribs anymore. Cleveland stayed committed to its every-down workhorse in the ugly-but-satisfying 7-6 win, and Richardson rediscovered his dynamic running ability against a San Diego defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the AFC against the run. Pinballing off Bolts defenders ala Maurice Jones-Drew in his prime, T-Rich ran with violence inside and out en route to 134 yards and a touchdown. Richardson diced up the Ravens for 104 total yards and a score just over a month ago, and Baltimore has since lost MLB Ray Lewis. So this matchup isn't daunting. Richardson is an RB1 again. ... Cleveland's offensive line was particularly impressive against the Chargers. The Joe Thomas-led front five consistently generated push in the run game and kept Brandon Weeden's pocket clean, even if his receivers failed to separate on the muddy, rain-soaked field. Pro Football Focus has graded the Browns' O-Line as a top-nine unit in run blocking and top seven in pass protection. It's promising long-range news for Richardson & Co.
Terrell Suggs isn't all the way back from his Achilles' injury, but he made an instant impact in his 2012 debut two weeks ago at Houston. Suggs recorded four tackles, sacked Matt Schaub, batted down a pass, and forced three QB hurries despite playing just 55 percent of Baltimore's defensive snaps. Now coming off a bye to nurse closer to full health, Suggs can restore some order to the Ravens' pass defense. ... The sloppy conditions rendered both teams' pass offenses ineffective in last week's win over San Diego, and Brandon Weeden remains on the low-end QB2 radar in this matchup. ... Weeden just missed Josh Gordon on a pair of vertical strikes against the Chargers, and the Weeden-to-Gordon bomb continues to be a staple in Cleveland's passing attack. Week in and out, Gordon is the best bet for big plays and production in the Browns' pass-catching corps. ... Weeden's target distribution over his last four games: Gordon 27, Greg Little 19, Ben Watson 15, Richardson and Chris Ogbonnaya 13, Josh Cooper 12, Jordan Cameron 10. ... Watson and Cameron essentially split time at tight end, canceling each other out from a fantasy perspective. ... Little is typically good for 5-6 targets a game, which makes him pretty unappealing as a WR3 option when he's hovering around 11 yards per catch with four touchdowns in 24 career games.
Joe Flacco is being written off in fantasy circles after his Week 7 disaster game at Houston. It's understandable because the NFL is very what-you've-done-for-me-lately oriented. But dismissing Flacco due to that one game isn't giving the opponent enough credit. "The film showed that the Texans' defense was playing at 100 miles an hour, and the Ravens' offense was stuck at the stop sign," NFL Films' Greg Cosell observed on Adam Caplan's podcast this week. "I'm not gonna sit here and tell you Joe Flacco played well, but Joe Flacco didn't have a chance." Cleveland's No. 26 defense is a far cry from Houston's top-three unit, even if Flacco's recent production hasn't warranted more than QB2 value. He has a 3:4 TD-to-INT ratio over his last four games. ... Pro Football Focus has charted Browns CB Joe Haden with 16 completions on 30 throws into his coverage (53.3 percent) this season for 237 yards (7.9 YPA) and two TDs. So Haden hasn't quite been a shutdown corner. He's still likely to give Torrey Smith a hard time on Sunday. Consider Smith a WR3 as opposed to the WR2 he's flashed the capability of becoming at times this year.
The Browns and Ravens squared off in Week 4 this season. Anquan Boldin lit up Cleveland for 131 yards on nine receptions while Dennis Pitta was held catch-less on just two targets. Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged this week that defenses have been intent on taking away Pitta, and they seem content to let Boldin rack up short catches over the middle. Pitta lacks physical tools to overcome concentrated defensive attention, while Boldin's 32-year-old legs should be fresh coming off a Week 8 bye. Boldin is on the WR3 radar in Week 9. With no touchdowns and a 22-yard average dating back to that initial Browns game, Pitta is a TE2 until he resumes putting something -- anything -- worthwhile in the box score. ... Ray Rice has been dominating the Browns since he entered the league as a second-round steal out of Rutgers in 2008. Cleveland ranks 24th versus the run and surrenders a relatively generous 4.37 YPC average this season. There were also indications during Baltimore's bye week that the Ravens intend to lean more on Rice down the stretch, with the passing game sputtering. Expect a heavy workload from Ray Rice in Week 9.
Score Prediction: Ravens 24, Browns 17
Arizona @ Green Bay
San Francisco picked apart Arizona in Week 8 with dink-and-dunk passing. Alex Smith completed 18-of-19 throws for 232 yards and three touchdowns, providing a blueprint of sorts for Green Bay to expose the Cardinals' No. 4 pass defense. Aaron Rodgers isn't known as a "dink and dunker," but he does it more often than you might think and with great success. The Packers are less of a downfield, shot-play team this year than last. They're 19th in the NFL in 20-plus-yard completions, and 23rd in 40-yarders. Rodgers can dismantle defenses without pouring on vertical bombs. ... If Green Bay does copy San Francisco and attack with a Bill Walshian brand of offense, Randall Cobb stands to be the primary passing-game beneficiary as a slot receiver who does his damage in the short to intermediate areas. Staying highly efficient, Cobb hauled in 5-of-7 targets in Week 8 against the Jags and scored his fourth touchdown in the last month. Cobb has at least 100-plus yards and/or a TD in four consecutive games. He's a top-seven overall fantasy receiver over the past five weeks, and has a favorable Week 9 matchup with oft-burned Cardinals slot CB William Gay. ... Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is expected to miss one more game and come away with three weeks of downtime ahead of a Week 10 bye. James Jones figures to match up often with Patrick Peterson on Sunday, although Michael Crabtree (5-72-2) showed last Monday night that Peterson hasn't reached shutdown-corner status yet. Jones remains locked in as an every-week WR2.
As for Green Bay's third receiver with Nelson and Greg Jennings (groin) out, Donald Driver and undrafted rookie Jarrett Boykin formed an even timeshare against the Jaguars. Boykin played 22 snaps, finishing with nine yards on one target. Driver was targeted twice on 23 snaps and gained ten yards with a red-zone score. This is a situation to avoid in fantasy leagues. ... The Jags held Alex Green to 22 carries for 54 yards in Week 8, and Green now has 132 yards on his last 60 attempts (2.20 YPC). Green's paltry production was especially discouraging because Jacksonville consistently dropped seven defenders into coverage. Green Bay should have been able to run all over that front. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported this week that Green will last one more game as the lead back, but patience is wearing thin and he could be yanked at any moment. ... James Starks played single-digit snaps for the second straight game in Week 8, receiving two touches. He’s not a fantasy option yet, but his shot at an increased role is drawing near. ... Jermichael Finley topped five targets for the first time in seven games last week, but still barely cracked the 50-percent snaps plateau and came away with two catches for 24 scoreless yards. The Cards have allowed the second-fewest receptions and third-fewest yards to tight ends this season, so there's little reason to believe Finley will bust his slump in Week 9.
49ers OLB Aldon Smith was the latest to tee off on Cardinals LT D'Anthony Batiste in last Monday night's blowout win over Arizona. Smith worked Batiste for two sacks and six solo tackles, laying four hits on John Skelton. Up next is Packers OLB Clay Matthews, who's a half-sack off the NFL lead. Statuesque Skelton is in for another long day. ... Green Bay's run defense is not quite back at full strength, but showed what it can do with a healthy B.J. Raji on the nose. The Packers held Jacksonville's ground game to 62 scoreless yards on 20 carries (3.10 YPC) and shouldn't struggle to shut down Arizona's putrid running offense. La'Rod Stephens-Howling was a one-week wonder against the Vikings two games ago. William Powell is a factor no longer. ... Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts are the two Cardinals pass catchers worth Week 9 fantasy consideration. While Skelton getting him the rock is always an adventure, Fitz has a favorable on-paper matchup with a Green Bay defense getting burned up by No. 1 receivers. Here are the last five stat lines against them: Marques Colston 9-153-1; Reggie Wayne 13-212-1; Andre Johnson 8-75; Chris Givens 3-73; Cecil Shorts 8-116. ... Roberts is a WR4 who could perhaps post WR3-caliber stats if Arizona abandons the run and becomes pass happy. ... Michael Floyd played a season-most 44-of-72 snaps (61.1 percent) against the Niners as the Cardinals used more four-receiver sets than ever in game-long comeback mode. Floyd still hasn't hit 40 receiving yards in any game this season.
Score Prediction: Packers 31, Cardinals 16