1:00PM ET Games
Atlanta @ Carolina
Back on a statistical tear as the No. 4 per-game fantasy QB scorer over the past five weeks, Cam Newton should be licking his chops for this home date with Atlanta's pushover defense. Over their last six games, the Falcons have allowed Carson Palmer, Mike Glennon, Geno Smith, receiver-depleted Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill, and Sam Bradford to combine to go 131-of-203 (64.5%) for 1,531 yards (7.54 YPA) with a 14:3 TD-to-INT ratio. With Peyton Manning on a bye, you could argue Cam is fantasy football's top quarterback play this week. ... Newton's target distribution during his five-game hot stretch: Steve Smith 37, Brandon LaFell 27, Greg Olsen 26, Ted Ginn 20, DeAngelo Williams 14, Mike Tolbert 8. ... Smith is running more possession routes than usual under first-year Panthers OC Mike Shula, resulting in a career-low 10.5 yards-per-catch average. He's just a WR3, though a solid one in this game. Smith is the No. 21 overall fantasy receiver the past three weeks. ... LaFell has three touchdowns this season, but two have come on blown coverages and he's been held under 55 yards in 7-of-8 games. LaFell isn't worth a fantasy roster spot. The target numbers don't reflect it, but LaFell has been outplayed by Ginn all year.
Olsen is back in play as a low-end TE1 coming off a long week to rest his balky foot. Carolina last played two Thursday nights ago. Olsen's ceiling is limited by his integral role as an in-line blocker, but he's also ordinarily Carolina's No. 2 passing-game option when healthy. And per Pro Football Focus, Olsen ran 35 pass routes at Tampa Bay, a high for him since Week 5. Olsen's last three stat lines against Mike Nolan's Falcons defense: 4-55-1; 6-89-1; 2-53-1. ... Ginn is playing excellent football this season and was a gem find by rookie GM Dave Gettleman on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, but he is a third receiver on a run-minded team and not a recommended fantasy investment. He's playing just 45% of Carolina's offensive snaps. ... The Panthers' backfield is about to become a three-headed rotation even before factoring in Newton's increasing rushing role. Off the PUP list, Jonathan Stewart will make his season debut versus Atlanta, quite possibly cutting DeAngelo Williams' carries in half. Williams was already a volume-dependent, low-scoring fantasy back, and will now lose volume. Tolbert is entrenched as Carolina's red-zone specialist. One of these three backs will likely have a worthwhile fantasy game against the Falcons' 22nd-ranked run defense -- Atlanta is submitting 4.62 YPC -- but the predictability factor has evaporated. If forced to choose from the trio, I'd probably trot out Tolbert because he's the best bet to score. Williams would be the second best fantasy gamble, with Stewart a close third.
Friday Update: Panthers coach Ron Rivera stated Friday he expects Stewart to handle 6-10 touches against the Falcons. Williams is averaging 18.1 per game, so losing 6-10 to Stewart would be a major blow to DeAngelo's fantasy outlook. He's a poor flex option even in this favorable matchup.
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Atlanta's talent-deficient offense received a Week 8 wakeup call in the desert, exposing their Week 7 demolition of Tampa as fool's gold. This is a team with major pass-protection problems, few or no passing-game weapons, and a quarterback with limitations that become far more glaring when Matt Ryan isn't surrounded by All Pro-caliber wideouts. In Week 9, Ryan & Co. get an even tougher matchup on the road versus Carolina's defense, which ranks No. 1 in points allowed, No. 2 in yards, and No. 9 against the pass. Enemy quarterbacks have managed an anemic 6:9 TD-to-INT ratio on the Panthers this year. Ryan is the fantasy QB2 we all knew he'd be when Julio Jones and Roddy White went down. ... Even more troubling than Ryan's four picks for the future fate of the Falcons was Steven Jackson's sluggish Week 8 running. There were signs of Jackson's decline in the preseason. They were borne out at Arizona as S-Jax managed 13 yards on 14 touches, looking stiff and lacking any hint of burst. It's as if his quick-twitch athleticism has vanished. Judging by that game alone, the Falcons might be better off using Jacquizz Rodgers in a more prominent role. The Panthers rank No. 2 in run defense and have permitted two rushing touchdowns through seven games. If Jackson is going to get on track -- and I have my doubts -- this probably won't be the week. S-Jax is a shaky Week 9 flex option.
Ryan's target distribution over Atlanta's last two games: Harry Douglas 25, Rodgers 14, Darius Johnson and Tony Gonzalez 12, Drew Davis 8, S-Jax 5, Levine Toilolo 3, Chase Coffman 2. ... Douglas is a recommended sell high. Never an explosive talent, Douglas' two weeks of top-end statistics have been the strict product of injury-induced opportunity. And that's rarely a sustainable long-term fantasy recipe. Roddy White (hamstring/ankle) is likely to return for the stretch run, and defenses will begin focusing more attention on Atlanta's slot receiver. Douglas remains a solid WR3 at Carolina, but owners would be smart to bail with his value at its peak. ... Gonzalez will do battle Sunday with a Panthers defense allowing the 14th most receptions to tight ends. Carolina served up a 5-48-1 line to Bucs TE Tim Wright in Week 8, eight catches to Rams tight ends in Week 7, and an 11-109-1 number to Vikings TEs in Week 6. Despite his 2013 inconsistency, I can't see benching Gonzo this week unless you have Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jordan Reed, Antonio Gates, or Jason Witten. ... Coming off a career-best 5-77-1 line at Arizona, Davis will be a shot-in-the-dark WR3 if White is inactive against the Panthers. If Roddy does play, Davis will be Atlanta's third or fourth receiver. Johnson is playing Julio Jones' old "X" position.
Friday Update: Falcons beat writers expressed optimism Friday that White would play at Carolina after returning to practice on a limited basis. White's return is going to throw a wrench into the fantasy potential of Douglas, and especially Davis. If White returns as a full-time player, I'd look for Atlanta's two-receiver package to be Roddy and Douglas with Johnson entering at "X" in three-wide sets. Facing such a strong Panthers pass defense, Douglas is the only Atlanta receiver I'd consider as a WR3.
Score Prediction: Panthers 27, Falcons 17
San Diego @ Washington
The Chargers return from a Week 8 bye rested and poised to light up Washington's 29th-ranked defense, which has allowed the second most points in football. The Skins are getting shredded by the pass, allowing a 15:7 TD-to-INT ratio and the fifth highest passer rating (100.7) in football to enemy quarterbacks. The No. 5 fantasy QB in per-game scoring, Rivers is a high-ceiling start in D.C. ... Bolts-Skins has the highest over-under of Week 9 at 51 points with a one-point spread, meaning the Vegas prognosticators anticipate both teams scoring 24 or more. It's a great week to invest in San Diego pass-game members. ... Rivers' target distribution over his last four games: Antonio Gates 34, Keenan Allen 33, Danny Woodhead 25, Vincent Brown 23, Eddie Royal 16, Ryan Mathews and Ladarius Green 5. ... It's during that four-game window that Allen stepped forward as San Diego's No. 1 wideout. He's a top-ten fantasy receiver over that span and a WR2 with upside at Washington. ... The Redskins are playing weekly musical chairs at safety, causing communication issues that lead to blown coverages down the seam and in the red zone. Broncos tight ends tagged Washington for a combined 6-53-1 stat line in Week 8, and Martellus Bennett found pay dirt against them the week before. There's nothing imposing about Gates' Week 9 matchup. He is San Diego's target leader on the season, with ten more than any other Charger.
Now the No. 4 option in the Chargers' passing game, Brown would be a weak WR3 despite this attractive on-paper matchup. ... Slot receiver Royal is playing 63% of San Diego's offensive snaps and lacks playmaking ability. A WR5, Royal is essentially waiver-wire fodder at this point in the season. ... Run-defense matchups don't matter much for Woodhead because the Chargers get him into space and his role is locked in as a passing-down back averaging 14 touches per game since the season opener. On pace for 92 receptions, Woodhead is an RB2 in PPR leagues and every-week flex starter in standard settings. ... Matchups are far more relevant for Mathews, who is utilized strictly as an on-the-ground ball carrier and has gone catch-less in four of San Diego's past five games. This one's a doozy. Washington's No. 30 run defense is one of just two teams that has served up double-digit rushing touchdowns on the season, and is permitting 4.39 yards per carry, the ninth most generous clip in football. Fire up Mathews as an RB2/flex this week.
Robert Griffin III's fantasy owners need to shake off his Week 8 clunker and start him in this likely shootout. The Chargers' defense is 23rd in yards allowed and brings little pressure, ranking 21st in sacks and 22nd in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metrics. RG3's accuracy has been a year-long problem, but quarterbacks' ball location tends to improve dramatically in clean pockets. He should have them on Sunday. There are only six QB1s I'd play over Griffin in Week 9: Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and Russell Wilson. ... Griffin's targets since Washington's Week 5 bye: Pierre Garcon 34; Jordan Reed 29; Leonard Hankerson 14; Santana Moss 10; Roy Helu 9; Aldrick Robinson 4; Josh Morgan 3; Alfred Morris 1. ... Garcon's touchdown shortage has been disappointing, but it's only a matter of time before he rediscovers pay dirt. He's fourth among all NFL wide receivers in targets the past three weeks, and seventh in catches. Both starting San Diego corners -- RCB Derek Cox and LCB Shareece Wright -- rank in the bottom dozen of PFF's cornerback grades. Garcon is a player to target in buy-low trades before Sunday's game. His usage in the passing game suggests a hot stretch is coming.
Reed is the real deal. No tight end in football has been targeted more over the last three weeks, and only Vernon Davis has scored more fantasy points during that span. Reed is a top-six tight end going forward. ... Z receiver Hankerson and slot man Moss aren't big enough components of Washington's passing attack to warrant serious fantasy start-ability. Hankerson has settled in as a touchdown-dependent, low-ceiling WR3. ... Helu torpedoed fantasy games for owners who tried to chase his Week 7 three-touchdown fluke into Week 8, managing six touches for 25 scoreless yards against the Broncos. Helu is a good football player and will remain involved as a passing-down specialist, but this is Morris' backfield. Helu would be a poor Week 9 flex play. He needs a Morris injury to become reliably start-able in fantasy leagues. ... Morris was re-confirmed as Shanahan & Son's bellcow against Denver, tallying a game-high 17 carries for 93 yards and a score. Morris' lack of passing-game usage demotes him from RB1 to high-end RB2, but he's an every-week fantasy starter regardless. Morris has 525 rushing yards on his last 97 runs (5.41 YPC). I've written it in this space before and will again: Alf is playing better than he did as a rookie, even if the fantasy production hasn't fully caught up. The Bolts' defense is silver plattering 4.79 yards per carry, the third highest clip in the league. This is a great week to start Morris.
Score Prediction: Redskins 30, Chargers 28
Kansas City @ Buffalo
Andy Reid is the obvious frontrunner for NFL Coach of the Year at midseason. Not just for turning a 2-14 embarrassment into an 8-0 postseason lock. For dragging Alex Smith to all eight wins, essentially copying Jim Harbaugh's Hide Your Quarterback formula with a top-five defense and running back on pace to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton also merits a major hat tip. The Chiefs haven't been in a shootout or faced a large deficit all year long. ... Smith hasn't hit 300 yards in any game yet and has failed to throw a touchdown pass in four of the last six weeks. He's the No. 21 fantasy quarterback in per-game scoring. Smith is a low-upside two-quarterback-league option. ... Smith's target distribution since Anthony Fasano returned from injury two games ago: Dexter McCluster 15, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe 11, Donnie Avery 9, Anthony Sherman 7, Sean McGrath 4. ... Laughably, 26 of Smith's 36 throws in Week 8 (72.2%) were intended for running backs and tight ends. Kansas City's quarterback and the style of offense the Chiefs are playing simply aren't conducive to wide receiver production. Smith refuses to throw outside the numbers or downfield. Bowe has become fantasy trash.
Buffalo's defense has given up a lot of passing-game production this season -- the Bills rank 24th against the pass and have allowed a league-high 20 passing touchdowns -- but matchups don't really matter for Kansas City's passing "attack." Because they don't attack. Held under 40 yards in 6-of-8 games, Avery is waiver-wire material. ... Buffalo has been stingier in tight end coverage, where it ranks 20th in fantasy points allowed. Lumbering in-line TE Fasano isn't on the radar. ... McCluster saw a season-most ten targets in last week's win over the Browns, securing seven for 67 yards and a touchdown. McCluster's previous target high was five. The score was McCluster's first of the season. There is a one-game sample size that suggests McCluster might be fantasy relevant, and about six others that shout to ignore him. Chase last week's box score at your own risk. ... As is unfailingly the case in the Hide Your Quarterback formula, the Chiefs will attempt to beat Buffalo on the back of Jamaal Charles. Charles has at least 120 total yards and/or a touchdown in every game this year, and is a no-brainer top-three running back play against the Bills' No. 26 run defense. ... Forward thinkers should note that Charles is on pace for a whopping 388 touches, and his previous career high is 320. Knile Davis is worth stashing for the stretch run as an RB5. Reid's offense has been decidedly running back-centric in Kansas City.
Thad Lewis' tendency to get the ball out quickly should theoretically help mitigate the ferocious Chiefs pass rush, but there is little else working in his Week 9 favor. Despite Lewis' efficient delivery, he's still managed to absorb at least four sacks in all three of his starts and committed five turnovers with six fumbles. He's now battling an illness and rib injury. Even when 100%, Lewis has shown himself to be a clearly-backup-caliber player, and he's now taking on the NFL's most intimidating defense. He's not a recommended two-QB-league play. ... Lewis' target distribution: Stevie Johnson 24; Scott Chandler 18; Fred Jackson 14; Robert Woods 13; T.J. Graham 12; Marquise Goodwin 8; C.J. Spiller 5; Tashard Choice 4. ... Keep in mind Johnson missed one of Lewis' starts. He's the heavy favorite for targets in Buffalo and the only Bills pass catcher worth serious Week 9 fantasy consideration. A precise enough route runner to get the better of top Kansas City corner Brandon Flowers, Johnson is a solid WR3. ... Keyed in the back end by red-hot SS Eric Berry, the Chiefs have allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. This is not an appetizing matchup for Chandler. ... Hitting a rookie wall, Woods is on pace for just 44 receptions this season and has been an afterthought in the passing offense with Lewis under center. The otherwise impressive rookie has failed to clear 25 yards in three consecutive games.
Friday Update: Despite mid-week national reports Lewis would play through his rib injury Sunday, he was listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report, giving Lewis a 25% chance -- at best -- of fulfilling normal duties against the Chiefs. It's a big concern for the entire Buffalo offense, particularly in such a daunting Week 9 matchup. If Lewis can't go, the Bills will start undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel at quarterback. Tuel is 8-of-20 passing for 80 yards and an interception on the year. The Bills already passed up one opportunity to start Tuel when E.J. Manuel (knee) went down, promoting Lewis off the practice squad instead. It's telling. The coaching staff doesn't have faith in Tuel.
Leave out Kansas City's Week 3 tilt with Philadelphia where LeSean McCoy went off, and these are the anemic stat lines of enemy tailbacks in the Chiefs' other seven games: Maurice Jones-Drew (15-45-0), Arian Foster (4-11-0), DeMarco Murray (15-25-0), Ben Tate (15-50-0), David Wilson (13-55-0), Chris Johnson (10-17-0), Darren McFadden (16-52-0), Willis McGahee (9-28-0). This is a brutal matchup for fading Jackson, who's managed 179 yards on his last 57 carries (3.14 YPC) and is obviously wearing down in his age-32 campaign. Jackson has become a touchdown-dependent week-to-week fantasy commodity, meaning he's likely to hurt you if he doesn't find pay dirt. I'd bet against F-Jax scoring on the Chiefs. Particularly with Spiller due back after a week off, Jackson is just a flex option in Week 9. ... As a gap-jumping slasher, Spiller will be a better bet to break a long run versus Kansas City's stout defense than inside grinder Jackson. Still, Spiller is a boom-or-bust flex due to his uncertain workload and mostly head-scratching usage by Buffalo's rookie coaching staff. It is worth noting, however, that Doug Marrone and OC Nathaniel Hackett had begun calling more screens and outside runs just as Spiller's ankle injury popped up, after fruitlessly banging him off guards' backsides all too often in the season's initial month. Ultimately, I'd be hard pressed to keep Spiller's week-winning run skills out of my Week 9 fantasy lineup.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 20, Bills 13