Tampa Bay @ Oakland
All-Pro LG Carl Nicks' year-ending toe injury is a concern for Doug Martin's fantasy outlook. The Bucs overcame RG Davin Joseph's August patellar tear enough to field a top-15 rushing offense in the first seven games, but Nicks is better than Joseph was, and ultimately losing both starting guards is a lock to impact any ground attack. Only time can tell just how affected the Bucs' will be. The good news is that Martin is a fresh-legged bellcow runner coming off ten days of down time following last Thursday night's 214-total yard, two-score demolition of a consistently stout Vikings run defense. Martin is running with far more purpose than he did early in his rookie season, and possesses enough wiggle to occasionally elude tacklers even when they get backfield penetration. The latter is an attribute Martin may have to rely upon more without Joseph and now Nicks. ... It's also notable that the Raiders are no longer a pushover run defense. Quietly skyrocketing to No. 11 in the NFL rankings against the run, Oakland has permitted just 114 yards and one touchdown on 48 carries (2.38 YPC) to opposing tailbacks in its last three games. Martin owners should be excited about his recent surge in productivity and start him as an RB2/flex versus the Raiders, but there are still factors working against the rookie. Martin certainly hasn't reached RB1 value yet.
Josh Freeman is on a three-week tear, a span during which only Aaron Rodgers has scored more fantasy points among quarterbacks. This is another favorable matchup, but caution is advised when treating Freeman as a trustworthy QB1. Freeman lit up bad Kansas City and New Orleans defenses, and a large chunk of his Week 8 numbers came on Martin's 64-yard screen pass score at Minnesota. I think there is something to the notion that the Bucs have hit an offensive groove by capitalizing on Freeman's power arm with chunk-play shots to vertical threats Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. And they can be especially dangerous off play-action fakes if Martin's running game continues to click. Ride Freeman against Oakland's No. 20 pass defense while he's hot, but don't count on him sustaining the recent production. ... Freeman's target distribution since the Bucs' Week 5 bye: Jackson 28, Williams 25, Tiquan Underwood 14, Martin 13, Dallas Clark 10. ... V-Jax was clearly laboring through a hip injury in last Thursday's win over the Vikings, contributing to his 2-40 stat line. Off the injury report after ten days rest, there's every reason to believe he can bounce back big at Oakland. ... Williams is now seeing enough regular targets in an offense that suits his skill set to be considered a high-upside WR3. He's on pace for 58 receptions, 997 yards, and nine touchdowns. ... Underwood isn't on the fantasy radar, but has overtaken former second-round pick Arrelious Benn for the Bucs' third receiver job. ... Clark isn't even a worthwhile TE2.
Here was Cosell's assessment of Oakland's run game this week: "They really try to run the ball, but there's just no room. And McFadden -- you can say what you want -- he's a downhill, explosive guy but he's not shifty, he's not elusive, he's not a create-space kind of runner. So he needs the hole to be there." Both Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus rank Oakland 30th in run blocking. So it's probably time to reset expectations for Darren McFadden. There are some things for DMC owners to hang their hats on -- job security, last week's season-best yardage, and the Raiders' genuine commitment to the run -- but reaching top-5 or even top-10 rushing stats no longer seems realistic barring a miraculous offensive line turnaround. Ranked 18th in running back scoring to this point, McFadden needs to be considered an RB2 moving forward. ... Running on the Bucs hasn't been easy, either. Tampa's sixth-ranked run defense is permitting just 3.53 YPC with vastly improved linebacker play, and will be fresh Sunday coming off a ten-day layoff following last Thursday's win. McFadden is an every-week starter simply because he gets volume, but generating lofty per-touch yardage will likely be a struggle in this matchup. ... Although he is practicing this week and remains a worthwhile RB5 stash, Mike Goodson's turf toe injury is a reminder of his long track record of durability concerns. He's just a change-up back right now.
Moving the ball still shouldn't be difficult for Oakland in this game. They can do it in the air. The Bucs traded top corner Aqib Talib to the Patriots on Thursday, and RCB Eric Wright is battling an Achilles' strain. Banged-up journeyman Brandon McDonald (ankle) and undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson figure to see an uptick in snaps this week opposite LCB E.J. Biggers. Tampa Bay is already one of just three NFL teams allowing over 300 passing yards per game, and in the post-Adrian Clayborn era the Bucs lack pass rushers to mask any secondary deficiencies. QB1 streamers: Carson Palmer is your guy. ... White-hot Denarius Moore is the No. 4 fantasy receiver over the past three weeks, and nothing about this matchup indicates his roll will be slowed. He's a locked-in WR2 at this point. ... Savvy fantasy owners should still view a healthy Darrius Heyward-Bey as more of a boon to Palmer's Week 9 fantasy appeal than a standalone starting option. Taking a clear backseat to Moore in what remains a run-first offense, DHB has been highly inconsistent and mostly ineffective. He does have some big-play ability. ... Brandon Myers is Oakland's No. 3 option in the passing game. Myers' sure hands will keep him involved all season, but he doesn't score touchdowns and is essentially a checkdown tight end. The Buccaneers have surrendered the fifth fewest receptions to tight ends this season, and are in the bottom 13 in yards allowed.
Score Prediction: Raiders 24, Bucs 21
4:25PM ET Game
Pittsburgh @ NY Giants
Friday Update: Steelers beat writers expected Jonathan Dwyer to start this game all week, but he couldn't overcome a quadricep injury and missed Friday's practice. It's an indication Dwyer will be inactive against the Giants. Look for plodding Isaac Redman to draw the start. The matchup is favorable and Redman versatile enough that he's worth a look as a fill-in flex play. Redman will also be the heavy favorite for all goal-line work.
Running away with Pittsburgh's feature back job, Jonathan Dwyer tagged Washington's previously top-ten run defense for 115 total yards in Week 8 and will get another start this week. Dwyer has somewhat quietly racked up 229 yards on his last 34 carries (6.74 YPC) as one of the league's hottest backs over the past two weeks. Whereas Rashard Mendenhall had a reputation as a run bouncer, Dwyer gives the Steelers more of what they want as an inside bruiser content to pound away at defenses between the tackles. The Giants rank 19th against the run and surrender the fifth highest yards-per-carry average (4.64) in the NFL. Dwyer is a strong Week 9 flex play, and he's fast approaching rock-solid RB2 value. ... Mendenhall (Achilles') will miss his third straight game. ... Isaac Redman (ankle) is tentatively expected to play on passing downs and mix in as Dwyer’s change-of-pace back against the Giants. ... Baron Batch was the Steelers' third-down back in Week 8 and gained nine yards on five touches. He's nowhere near the fantasy radar. ... Rookie Chris Rainey played 12-of-62 snaps (19.4 percent) against the Skins and remains a situational, gadget-type back. Rainey is averaging just over three touches per game. ... Ben Roethlisberger's target distribution since the Week 4 bye: Mike Wallace 36, Antonio Brown 34, Heath Miller 28, Emmanuel Sanders 20.
Roethlisberger vowed before the season to "get Heath Miller to the Pro Bowl," and Miller is on his way. The No. 3 tight end scorer behind only Rob Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez, Miller has moved past "borderline" TE1 and should be locked into fantasy lineups against a Giants defense allowing the third most receptions and yards to tight ends. Jason Witten wrecked them for 18 catches and 167 yards last week. ... Wallace caught media flak for his three-drop prime-time game against the Bengals two weeks ago, but Big Ben hasn't stopped throwing to him. Wallace secured 7-of-9 targets against Washington and is an every-week WR2 with WR1 upside against the Giants' No. 26 pass defense. New York has allowed the most 20-plus-yard pass completions in the NFC, and intermediate to deep shots are Wallace's bread and butter. ... Roethlisberger is on pace for career bests in completion percentage (66.8), pass attempts (613), and TD-to-INT ratio (32:7). Averaging 284 passing yards per game, Big Ben is an inarguable QB1. ... While a quality receiver inside the numbers, Brown has never been a touchdown scorer. He has three receiving TDs in his first 32 NFL games. Even at Central Michigan, Brown never hit double-digit touchdowns despite averaging over 100 catches a year. He's shaping up as a WR3 in standard leagues with more value in PPR. ... Sanders is a better real-life than fantasy player in terms of his usage in the Steelers' offense. He's the No. 4 option in the passing game and a WR6 in fantasy.
The Steelers are shutting down running games again. Since being embarrassed a bit by Chris Johnson in the Week 6 Thursday nighter, Pittsburgh has surrendered just 166 combined rushing yards the past two weeks and now ranks in the top nine among run defenses. Meanwhile, Ahmad Bradshaw is fading. His per-game YPC average has dropped in four straight weeks, and the G-Men are trying to mix in more of Andre Brown after Bradshaw's ultimately mild setback with his chronically troubled feet. Bradshaw's workloads have been voluminous enough to keep him squarely on the RB2 radar, but he's unlikely to find much Week 9 running room. ... Rookie David Wilson has touched the ball on offense just twice the past two weeks, with Brown reassuming change-of-pace back duties. Brown has scored on goal-line carries in back-to-back games, but that production is unsustainable and his usage has been minimal. He's just a Bradshaw handcuff.
On an otherworldly tear, Victor Cruz has 100 receptions for 1,598 yards and 12 touchdowns over his last 16 regular season games. Shake off last week's 23-yard clunker and start Cruz confidently against the Steelers. ... There's nothing wrong with Hakeem Nicks' feet or knees anymore; he's back to 100 percent. Sunday's matchup with red-hot Steelers RCB Ike Taylor won't be easy, but a healthy Nicks is plenty capable of getting the better of the league's elite cover corners. Perhaps downgrade Nicks from WR1 to WR2 until he resumes filling up box scores, but he's still an every-week starter. ... Pittsburgh's defense has been middle-of-the-road in terms of production allowed to tight ends. They've given up the 17th "most" fantasy points to the position. Just 19th in fantasy scoring among tight ends over the past three weeks, Martellus Bennett has settled in as a back-end TE1 mostly in need of red-zone touchdowns to prove a worthwhile fantasy start in any given week. ... The Giants took the pedal off the gas after jumping out to a 23-0 lead in last week's win over the Cowboys, sticking with the running game even as Tony Romo mounted a comeback. So New York's passing stats were down across the board. Eli Manning is still probably best treated as a QB2 in Week 9 because of the matchup. Pittsburgh ranks No. 1 in the NFL in pass defense. ... Rueben Randle oddly led the G-Men in Week 8 receiving yards (68), despite playing only nine offensive snaps. He's still behind Domenik Hixon (22 plays, 26 yards). Neither is a fantasy option.
Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Giants 20
Sunday Night Football
Dallas @ Atlanta
Tony Romo leads the league in interceptions (13) and has fumbled four times, and he's single-handedly torpedoed fantasy weeks with turnovers in two of his last four games. "I think you have to live with him being a little bit of a gunslinger, very much like Brett Favre," observed NFL Network's Kurt Warner this week. "He's gonna have those moments, and he's gonna make those plays." In other words, Romo won't stop trying to put the Cowboys on his back. The burden is enormous this season because Dallas essentially has no running game, and that is especially true with DeMarco Murray (foot) sidelined at least one more week. 20th in fantasy quarterback scoring, Romo will square off Sunday night with an Atlanta defense that ranks top ten against the pass, permitting a 7:10 TD-to-INT ratio, and has the NFL's fifth-lowest QB rating against. Romo is always capable of big games, but the on-paper setup isn't working in his Week 9 favor. ... Dez Bryant has been an error-prone nightmare all year, but he's getting it done in the box score with a seven-catch, 81-yard average and two scores in his last four games. Bryant was literally an inch from another monster effort before last week's would-be game-winning touchdown was overturned on replay. Bryant does have a favorable Week 9 matchup, as he'll run most of his routes against burnable Falcons RCB Dunta Robinson, and can capitalize on LCB Asante Samuel's off-zone coverage when Dez aligns to the other side. Bryant is a better fantasy than real-life player this season.
The Falcons haven't defended the run well, but matchups matter little for Felix Jones. He's the biggest fantasy football tease of the past two years. Jones is a thoroughly ineffective runner whenever the slightest bit short of 100 percent, and he's battling shoulder and knee injuries this week. Play him at your own risk. ... Phillip Tanner is next in line for carries, but he's averaging 2.44 YPC and is rarely used in the passing game. He's not a flex option against the Falcons. ... The absence of WLB Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) figures to make life easier on Jason Witten Sunday night. Weatherspoon plays Mike 'backer in Atlanta's nickel defense, and replacement Akeem Dent is a coverage downgrade. White-hot Witten is coming off an 18-catch game and needs to be locked into fantasy lineups in this possible shootout. ... Kevin Ogletree was a non-factor before straining his hamstring against the Giants. Look for Dwayne Harris to replace him as Dallas' No. 3 receiver Sunday night. ... Miles Austin is no longer showing any signs of his recurring hamstring problems on the field. While he's not as heavily targeted as Bryant or Witten, Austin has remained a big-time fantasy asset and will deal with inexperienced Falcons slot CB Robert McClain on passing downs in this game. Austin is on pace for 78 receptions, 1,283 yards, and just over nine TDs.
The Falcons are undefeated entering game eight. Matt Ryan is the NFL MVP to this point, and I'm not sure it's close. Until defenses begin finding ways to penetrate Ryan's pocket and knock him off his spot, he will keep picking them apart. The Cowboys have defensive personnel to keep Ryan contained, but we'll believe Atlanta's passing game is stoppable when we see it. Ryan is the No. 2 quarterback in fantasy points per game, and he will pile up more if this matchup turns pass heavy in the Georgia Dome. ... Dallas' corners are moving parts. For instance, both Mike Jenkins and Brandon Carr have dabbled at slot corner, outside corner, and safety over the past month. Morris Claiborne plays both LCB and RCB depending on Rob Ryan's game plan for the week. Claiborne matched up for most of last week's game with Hakeem Nicks, and held Nicks under 50 yards for the second time this season. There's just no way to tell who will cover whom on Sunday night because these guys move all over the place. Don't sweat matchups with Julio Jones and Roddy White. Just start 'em. ... At the same time, this could easily be a Tony Gonzalez kind of game. Dallas' defense should be susceptible down the seam following ILB Sean Lee's year-ending toe injury, and matchup-mastermind Ryan figures to be more concerned with Jones and White.
Practice-squad type WR Drew Davis finished Week 8 with a 2/30/1 line, but both catches came on Atlanta's scripted first drive of the game. Harry Douglas is due back from injury this week, leaving Davis without an offensive role. Avoid Atlanta's slot receiver position in fantasy leagues. ... Michael Turner's third consecutive second-half slowdown is in full effect. It's actually begun earlier this season. His per-game yards-per-carry average has slipped in three straight games, and Turner is easy for heavyweight front sevens like Dallas' to defend because he can't accelerate to the edges. The Cowboys rank 13th versus the run and permit under 4.0 yards per carry to enemy rushers. Turner isn't going to be an effective fantasy start unless he scores at the goal line on Sunday Night Football. ... Jacquizz Rodgers busted a career-long 43-yard run against Philadelphia's already-defeated defense in Week 8. Rodgers' previous career long was 13 yards. Rodgers will play a solid dose of passing-down snaps against the Cowboys, but he continues to offer little in the way of ball-carrying ability and is no longer a recommended fantasy stash.
Score Prediction: Falcons 27, Cowboys 24
Monday Night Football
Philadelphia @ New Orleans
Unsurprisingly considering each team's defensive state, Philly-Saints has the highest over-under of Week 9 at 52 points. Todd Bowles' first game as Eagles "interim" defensive coordinator was a complete flop. The Eagles let the Falcons score on each of their first six possessions, and the ball barely hit the ground in Atlanta's passing attack until it took the pedal off the gas late in the ballgame. Philadelphia is not generating pass pressure, and the secondary isn't playing well, either. "(Nnamdi) Asomugha in three games this year has given up a perfect quarterback rating on plays in which he's been targeted," NFL Films' Greg Cosell said this week. "So every time he's been targeted, the ball's been caught. Asomugha, at this moment in time, is a below-average NFL corner. (Dominique) Rodgers-Cromartie is also an average player at this point." Cosell said he'd be "very surprised" if the Saints didn't drop 30-plus points on the Eagles. Start Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, and Marques Colston, and Lance Moore is squarely on the WR3 radar. ... Arguably the NFL's hottest receiver entering Week 8, Colston was limited to 63 yards on five catches because the Broncos shadowed him with Champ Bailey all over the field. Bailey doesn't typically play in the slot -- where most of Colston's pass routes are run -- so the strategy wasn't especially predictable. Colston should draw Asomugha Monday night in what will be a far more fantasy-friendly matchup.
Graham returned from his ankle injury in Week 8 to play 41-of-62 downs (66.1 percent) and catch 5-of-10 targets for 63 yards and a touchdown. He's typically a 75-80 percent player, so look for a healthier, even more involved Graham with an extra day between games. ... Moore played the same number of Week 8 snaps as Graham, but his targets (6) and production (3-25) predictably took a hit. Moore is a WR2/3 when Colston or Graham sits out. When they're both playing, Moore is a matchup-dependent WR3. This is a favorable matchup. ... After consecutive 75-plus-yard efforts, Devery Henderson went catch-less in last week's loss to Denver. It's a reminder that he's one of fantasy's least consistent receivers and ultimately not worth the headache. ... Darren Sproles' workloads (9, 11 touches) have disappointed in two games since New Orleans' Week 6 bye, but he's found pay dirt in both and remains an every-week flex play in standard leagues with high-upside RB2 appeal in PPR. Particularly in projected shootouts like this, you don't want to leave Sproles on your bench. ... Pierre Thomas is the second best bet for fantasy production in New Orleans' three-headed backfield, but averages just over ten touches for 57 yards per game and has one touchdown on the year. He's a low-end flex option. ... Mark Ingram has ten carries for 28 yards since the open date and rarely sees the field unless New Orleans is blowing out its opponent. Ingram would need Thomas or Sproles to get injured to be a start-able fantasy player.
Friday Update: Saints coach Joe Vitt revealed Friday that Sproles fractured his hand in Thursday's practice, requiring surgery. I think it would be surprising if Sproles didn't miss multiple games. The injury should catapult Thomas from a ten touch-per-game player into the 15-21 range, dramatically increasing his fantasy value and making "P.T. Cruiser" a high-upside RB2/flex play on Monday Night Football. If Sproles missed a month or more, Thomas could legitimately flirt with RB1 production because he plays in the passing game, was already the favorite for early-down carries, and would benefit from significantly increased volume in a high-scoring offense. This Sproles injury is a big deal. He was getting the ball ten times a game, including a six-catch weekly average, and the bulk of those opportunities will now go to Thomas.
On Ingram, Ivory, Cadet: The impact on Ingram's role remains to be seen. He may handle a few more carries per game with Thomas' passing-game work increasing, but ultimately we're in wait-and-see mode on Ingram. Full disclosure: My college buddies' league has a Saturday waivers system and I'm trying to re-add Ingram after dropping him early in the year. But not with lofty expectations. I think his upside is still limited to flex option in favorable matchups. Chris Ivory now stands to be active on game days, though like Ingram does not play in the passing game and may still not be a fantasy contributor. UDFA rookie Travaris Cadet is an intriguing pickup in deep leagues. He was highly productive in the preseason, essentially playing Sproles' exact role on the Chase Daniel-engineered second-team offense this August.
In his first game back from the Week 7 bye, Michael Vick played tentatively in a dumbed-down offense ostensibly designed to limit turnovers. Vick was takeaway-free against the Falcons, but the conservative plan of "attack" was thoroughly ineffective, and an obvious recipe for failure when Philly's defense collapsed, forcing Vick into comeback mode. By all accounts, Monday night's game will serve as Vick's audition for the season's remainder. He'll be benched for Nick Foles if he doesn't deliver. If he does and leads Philly to victory against the league's worst defense, the Eagles will be back to .500 and squarely reenter the NFC East hunt. Due to the matchup, there is no question that Vick should be started in fantasy leagues. ... Jeremy Maclin has been an utter disappointment this season, and suffered two killer, late-game drops against Atlanta that could have turned his game around. All that said, Maclin has a highly favorable Week 9 matchup against Saints RCB Patrick Robinson. Maclin runs the majority of his pass routes against right cornerbacks, and Robinson was lit up so badly last week that New Orleans benched him in-game for reserve slot corner Johnny Patrick. Robinson got smoked by Demaryius Thomas (7-137-1).
LCB Jabari Greer remains the Saints' top cover corner, but Eric Decker (4-43-2) got the better of him in the red zone last week. Greer will match up with DeSean Jackson for most of this week's Monday nighter. Jackson is a borderline WR2/3 play. ... Brent Celek is averaging just 33.4 receiving yards over his past five games, but he's on the bye-week TE1 replacement radar this week simply because Eagles-Saints projects as high scoring. Both offenses should move the ball offensively, and feed off each other in terms of filling up the box score. ... LeSean McCoy has been the only guy scoring touchdowns in Philadelphia of late. McCoy has four TDs in his last three games despite disappointing rush-yard stats. Those yardage numbers should come up on Monday Night Football. New Orleans ranks 31st in the league in run defense and is silver-plattering 5.03 yards per carry. Only the Bills have allowed more rushing touchdowns this year.
Score Prediction: Eagles 34, Saints 30