Miami @ Indianapolis
The Dolphins emerged from their Week 7 bye employing a legit 50:50 backfield timeshare in last Sunday's 30-9 rout of the Jets. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas traded off possessions while the game was in doubt, and Thomas operated as the second-half clock-killer as Miami ran away with the win. Bush played 20 snaps compared to Thomas' 43. This isn't a running back changing of the guard, but it was very much designed, likely to keep Bush healthy for the stretch run after first-half hip and knee injuries. The unfortunate reality for Bush's fantasy owners is that, barring a change, he won't match his early-season workloads the rest of the way. The good news is Bush should still receive 13-17 touches against Indy's No. 27 run defense in Week 9. He's a quality RB2/flex, but probably isn't rediscovering RB1 value anytime soon. ... Thomas' running skills do not stand out in any way, but he's the favorite for goal-line carries in Miami's backfield, has a growing role, and this is a favorable matchup. While Thomas offers scant upside, you could do far worse for a flex play.
Indy's defense has served up a 13:2 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy passers and the third highest QB rating in the league (103.4). This defense can be thrown on. Which Miami signal caller will do the majority of that throwing remains to be seen. Matt Moore is a veteran backup trusted by the coaches, and the Palm Beach Post reported Thursday that Ryan Tannehill (knee, quad) will be on a short leash if he starts. Tannehill is the Dolphins' franchise quarterback, and they won't leave him in there long if he's not 100 percent. This is an obvious fantasy situation to avoid. ... Remember when Brian Hartline had 253 yards? Me neither. Hartline hasn't cleared 60 in three games since, and went catch-less in one of them. He's a mid-range to low-end WR3 option with quarterback uncertainty. ... Davone Bess gets open in the slot, but does little after the catch and hasn't scored a touchdown since December 2011. He's a weak PPR option and not even in the standard-league mix. ... Anthony Fasano has no fantasy upside, and he doesn't have a favorable matchup, either. The Colts have allowed the fewest yards and receptions in the NFL to tight ends.
The Dolphins' No. 22 defensive ranking looks lowly on paper, but this group is way better than that. "They're fast. I think their pass rush has been outstanding," observed NFL Films' Greg Cosell this week. "Their secondary has played better than I thought they would. The safety (Reshad) Jones has been a good player for them. And they've been pretty consistent week to week." I was surprised to see a 43-point over-under on Fins-Colts because I think both teams will struggle to score. And I think Indy will have the toughest time. ... Rookie running back Vick Ballard has strung together back-to-back impressive performances and put his body on the line for the sake of his team on last week's game-winning touchdown. Despite the healthy return of Donald Brown, Ballard isn't going away. Coach Bruce Arians this week promised an "equal" carry distribution, and it's fair to wonder if either Colts back will do much of anything on Sunday. The Dolphins rank third in the NFL against the run, and only the Patriots allow fewer yards per carry. This is a brutal matchup for both Brown and Ballard.
Sunday Update: Brown suffered an apparent setback with his knee in practice this week, and is not expected to play against the Dolphins. The run-defense matchup remains among the most difficult for all of Week 9's games, but Brown's absence improves Ballard's fantasy outlook. He should get the ball no fewer than 16 times against the Dolphins and could also see an increased passing-game role.
The Dolphins have done an effective job of checking No. 1 receivers dating back to Week 2, when they began employing CB Sean Smith in shadow coverage. Reggie Wayne's "move" receiver role in Arians' offense makes him difficult to track along the formation, however, and he'll likely be Indianapolis' primary means of ball movement Sunday, particularly if the run game can't get going. ... Coby Fleener will miss at least two weeks with a subluxed shoulder, which may translate to an extra target or two for fellow rookie tight end Dwayne Allen. Allen scored a pair of early-season red-zone touchdowns and has two 20-plus-yard catches in his last three games. The Dolphins have allowed the eighth most yards to tight ends this year. Allen is worth a look as a desperation, bye-week flier. ... Considering the favorable coverage looks he receives opposite Wayne, Donnie Avery ought to have topped 60 yards in more than 1-of-7 games. He's a WR5 in fantasy leagues, and there's increasingly less reason to believe Avery offers any glimmer of upside. ... Miami's defense ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks with an 8:8 TD-to-INT ratio against. Andrew Luck flirted with QB1-caliber production early in the year, but he's crashed back to Earth with one touchdown pass in his last three games. Luck is just two-quarterback league material in a tough matchup.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 20, Colts 17
Buffalo @ Houston
It's easy to envision a lopsided Week 9 Houston win where Buffalo struggles to get anything going on offense. "They are really hard to play against," Cosell said of the Texans' defense this week. "I don't think this is a good matchup for Buffalo. I just don't see it. I don't see how they're gonna consistently move the ball. And I think (Ryan) Fitzpatrick, who struggles under pressure, is gonna face a lot of it early and often." The one way for Buffalo to move the football would be to give it to C.J. Spiller. Spiller is averaging a scintillating 7.65 yards per touch this year, and it's worth wondering if Buffalo's coaching staff considered increasing his role during its Week 8 bye. Spiller is the Bills' best, most explosive player, and it's not close. He needs to be in lineups as an RB2 in Week 9. ... Whereas Houston's defense has had trouble with in-space backs like Chris Johnson (157 yards), Reggie Bush (115), and Spiller, Wade Phillips' 3-4 has been far better at containing inside runners such as Willis McGahee (42 yards), Shonn Greene (45), and Fred Jackson. The Texans rank fourth in the league in run defense and haven't surrendered a rushing touchdown all season. I'd feel good about Spiller as a locked-in fantasy starter for this game, but F-Jax looks like more of a flex play.
The Texans butter their bread in pass defense. With top corner Johnathan Joseph healthy again, Houston can bottle up No. 1 receivers while J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Brooks Reed, and Connor Barwin tee off on the quarterback. This is a top-seven defense in passing yards, yards per pass attempt, and completion rate allowed, sacks, interceptions, and QB rating against. Fitzpatrick would be a poor play even in two-quarterback leagues. ... Stevie Johnson is the lone Bills pass catcher worth serious Week 9 fantasy consideration, and he's just a WR3. ... Donald Jones is Buffalo's No. 2 receiver. He's been held under 50 yards in 6-of-7 games this season. ... You know the drill on Scott Chandler; matchups don't matter. He can prove a worthwhile fantasy start if he finds the end zone, and he'll hurt you if he doesn't. Chandler hasn't found pay dirt since Week 4.
Arian Foster is an easy one. He's the No. 1 overall fantasy running back, and the Bills have the worst run defense in football. ... With Ben Tate out indefinitely due to a hamstring strain, Justin Forsett will back up Foster against Buffalo. Forsett has done a nice job off the bench in Houston this year, averaging over five yards per carry, but he'd be a major stretch as a flex option. ... The Texans are a philosophically run-first team and should control this game on the ground, but Houston's passing-game members have a pretty nice matchup, too. The Bills rank 22nd in pass defense and have allowed a 14:6 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy quarterbacks. Matt Schaub is a high-end QB2 in this game, and Andre Johnson won't struggle to get open. Johnson has a two-game streak of 75 or more receiving yards. He can add to that string if the targets are there. They have been recently; Andre leads the Texans with 22 targets over their last two games. ... The numbers say Owen Daniels has a more difficult matchup because Buffalo has been middle-of-the-road in terms of production allowed to tight ends this year. Daniels remains a worthwhile TE1 because Houston projects to be in scoring position often. He's a solid bet for a touchdown. ... Kevin Walter is third on the Texans in receiving, but he's a puzzle-piece role player and could easily get stuck blocking out wide if Foster gashes Buffalo. There are better bye-week WR3 options out there.
Score Prediction: Texans 30, Bills 13
4:05PM ET Games
Minnesota @ Seattle
Vikings-Seahawks has the lowest over-under of Week 9 at 38.5 points. It's a game to avoid where possible in fantasy lineup decisions. ... Jerome Simpson's Week 4 return from suspension was supposed to have a positive impact on Minnesota's passing attack, supplementing a seemingly fast-rising offensive corps with a wheelsy vertical threat capable of taking the top off defenses. The opposite has been true. Simpson has secured a paltry 3-of-11 targets for 45 yards since his debut game, coming at the expense of a shrinking receiving role for Kyle Rudolph. In Simpson's three full games played, Rudolph has a combined four catches for 25 scoreless yards. A top-five tight end in the season's first six weeks, it's time to start worrying about Rudolph's outlook going forward. He's losing production to an inefficient Simpson, and Christian Ponder is experiencing growing pains. This passing game no longer appears capable of supporting two pass-catching fantasy starters. ... There is one way and one way only for the Vikings to generate aerial ball movement against the Seahawks: Target Percy Harvin relentlessly. Already a slump-proof WR1, Harvin will make Seattle pay if DC Gus Bradley leaves usual slot corner Marcus Trufant on him for passing downs. To this point in the season, the Seahawks have "played sides" at cornerback with Trufant inside, and RCB Brandon Browner and LCB Richard Sherman always staying outside.
Michael Jenkins racked up four catches for 78 yards in last Thursday night's 36-17 loss to Tampa Bay. All of his numbers came in garbage time. You don't want Molasses Mike anywhere near your fantasy roster. ... If Ponder took a step forward in Minnesota's initial five games, he's taken three steps back in the last two. Ponder's eye level has become an issue again, and he's completed a rough 27-of-52 passes (51.9 percent) for 309 yards (5.94 YPA), two touchdowns and three picks in matchups with Tampa and Arizona. Ponder has enough individual talent and supporting cast to turn himself around, but he's a virtual lock to struggle against Seattle's physically dominant pass defense in front of the Twelfth Man. ... We've established that matchups simply do not matter when Adrian Peterson is rolling. And he's rolling. But this is a column on Matchups, so we've got to discuss it. Which begs the question, is Seattle's run defense springing leaks? At the very least, it's showing signs of humanity. The Seahawks have surrendered 234 yards on 43 carries (5.44 YPC) to Lions and 49ers tailbacks over the past two weeks. Seattle is obviously a stouter group than those statistics indicate, but it's just another reason to trot out Peterson as a confident fantasy start.
The Vikings opened the season playing typically stout run defense, but they're going to have to re-prove themselves to regain tough-matchup distinction. Minnesota has been throttled by the run over its past three games, silver-plattering 468 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 99 carries (4.73 YPC) to Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Washington. The Seahawks, of course, don't hide their weekly offensive intentions. They're fourth in the NFL in rushing attempts and second to last in passes, and will approach this game no differently. Marshawn Lynch has shredded San Francisco and Detroit's previously high-ranked run defenses for back-to-back 100-plus-yard games, so he's shaping up as matchup proof anyway. ... The Seahawks are showing signs of opening up the playbook for Russell Wilson. His 35 pass attempts in Week 8 at Detroit were a career high, and Seattle had a lead almost the entire game. So they weren't a product of pass-happy comeback mode. There is no question Wilson throws the football well enough to be an NFL starter, and he can be a QB2 asset with upside if the Seahawks cooperate. ... Sidney Rice looked like his old self against the Lions. Rice came away with 6/55/1, and was two or three bad breaks from a truly mammoth game. With Vikings top outside CB Chris Cook (broken arm) out of the way, Rice is going to square off against rookie Josh Robinson and frequent burn victim A.J. Jefferson on the perimeter. Rice is playing very good ball right now. And he's got an enticing Week 9 matchup.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 23, Vikings 20