New Orleans @ NY Jets
If the 4-4 Jets intend on continuing to be a competitive ballclub -- and not the 2012ish dumpster fire that lost 49-9 to Cincinnati in Week 8 -- they'd be smart to take a page out of Andy Reid's Hide Your Quarterback playbook. Geno Smith's performance has been far too inconsistent and error prone to shoulder an offensive load, committing 16 turnovers through eight games and absorbing 28 sacks to rank second in the NFL behind Ryan Tannehill. While there are no guarantees on OC Marty Mornhinweg's Week 9 game plan, a reasonable approach would be recommitting to power back Chris Ivory as the offensive focal point. The Saints' defense is vulnerable on the ground, where it surrenders a league-high 4.83 YPC and lacks point-of-attack-holding gap pluggers. Ivory remains a shot-in-the-dark flex option because this is all hypothetical. But smashing the football down New Orleans' throat would also be a way to keep Drew Brees off the field. ... Ivory was reduced to a six-carry back in Week 8, while backup QB Matt Simms pathetically led the Jets in rushing after replacing a benched Smith. Bilal Powell gained 39 scoreless yards on 14 touches. On the surface, the Jets seem to be adhering to a Belichickian backfield that morphs from week to week based on opponent-specific game planning. Fantasy owners are left to guess. I'd rather play Ivory than Powell in a Week 9 fantasy lineup, but avoiding both likely is the best approach.
The Jets were incredibly banged up in the pass-catching corps this week. Stephen Hill (foot) and Jeremy Kerley (illness) missed practice time, while Santonio Holmes (hamstring) still isn't ready to play. This team is badly in need of a bye, but doesn't get one until Week 10. TE Jeff Cumberland (concussion) will be inactive against the Saints. ... Geno's target distribution since Holmes' multi-week hamstring injury: Kerley 27; Hill and David Nelson 22; Cumberland 18; Powell 13; Ivory and Zach Sudfeld 2. ... Coming off a 12-target game, Nelson is an interesting desperation WR3 play in Week 9. The Jets will be without their starting tight end, and Nelson is essentially built like a tight end at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds. ... The Bengals smothered Kerley in Week 8, deleting Smith's most reliable target. It's not crazy to think Saints DC Rob Ryan will copy that approach considering how well it worked in Cincy's blowout win. Kerley is a risky, low-ceiling WR3 option. ... Hill seems to be playing hurt. He was held under 70% of the offensive snaps against the Bengals, as Nelson checked in at 79.1%. Hill needs to be on benches until he demonstrates full health. ... Look for Sudfeld to start in Cumberland's place. "Dudfeld," as the fantasy community has nicknamed him, has caught two passes for ten yards through six games. He's just a Dynasty league prospect.
The Jets have played stout defense most of the season, but Rex Ryan's back half is beginning to spring major leakage. And that's not good with New Orleans' top-three passing offense coming to town. Antonio Cromartie has taken a huge step back from his shutdown 2012 season, while Dee Milliner has been banged up and even more ineffective when on the field, getting benched for the second time this year in Week 8. Andy Dalton roasted New York for 325 yards and five scores last Sunday, only taking one sack. With a 13-1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last four games, smoking-hot Drew Brees is a top-three QB1 in Week 9. ... Playing through a partial plantar fascia tear, Jimmy Graham only needed 18 snaps to score two touchdowns in the Saints' Week 8 win over Buffalo. Rather than regress, Graham will likely become more comfortable and effective playing in pain. Don't panic; keep starting Graham as an every-week difference maker. The Jets have allowed the 13th most fantasy points to tight ends. ... Rookie Kenny Stills' snap counts have risen in four consecutive weeks, and against the Bills he popped off a career-best 3-129-2 line on only four targets. Because his playing time is still limited and he's not a player peppered with targets in the Saints' scheme, consider Stills a boom-or-bust WR3 against the Jets. The matchup is favorable enough that in this instance I wouldn't discourage anyone from chasing Stills' last-week points.
Fantasy owners can downgrade Marques Colston from WR2 to WR3, but I'm still not convinced he's "done." Colston came within inches of two touchdowns against Buffalo; the first was broken up on a fierce hit by S Jairus Byrd and the second was narrowly batted away by CB Nickell Robey. Most troubling, the box scores have gotten worse, not better for notorious slow-starter Colston. He topped 60 yards in each of New Orleans' first four games, but has averaged 14.7 yards in three games since. I still think he's headed for a much better second half of the season. ... Back from a five-week wrist injury, Lance Moore caught a 15-yard touchdown in the first quarter against Buffalo, but played behind Colston, Stills, and Robert Meachem. Moore is a WR4. ... Like Colston, Darren Sproles is likelier to pick it up than go in the tank despite a zero-yard Week 8 game. On pace for 83 receptions and 1,107 total yards, Sproles remains an every-week RB2 in PPR leagues and solid flex play in standard formats. The Jets struggle in linebacker and safety coverage, giving Sproles an attractive Week 9 matchup. ... Enemy lead back stats versus the Jets' No. 1 run defense this season: Doug Martin 24-65-1; Stevan Ridley 16-40-0; C.J. Spiller 10-9-0; Chris Johnson 15-21-0; Jacquizz Rodgers 14-43-2; Le'Veon Bell 16-34-0; Ridley 11-50-1; Giovani Bernard 5-18-0. They've combined to average 2.52 yards per carry. Especially with Mark Ingram due back, this probably isn't the week to throw fantasy support behind Pierre Thomas.
Friday Update: Colston missed practice Friday with a knee injury and is listed as questionable on the injury report. Saints beat writers consider his status up in the air. Colston should be withheld from fantasy lineups based on a combination of poor to-date production and the likelihood he won't be 100% even if he suits up. If Colston does not play, we'd likely see more Nick Toon in the slot role, and Sproles getting increased touches.
Score Prediction: Saints 23, Jets 14
Minnesota @ Dallas
If you actually took time to listen to the audio of Dez Bryant's Week 8 sideline rant, you heard a confident player offering his quarterback strong words of encouragement. A player who wanted to win, not someone complaining about targets. Either way, look for the squeaky wheel to get greased as Dallas hosts Minnesota's doormat defense in Week 9. Notable enemy No. 1 wideout stats against the Vikings: Brandon Marshall 7-113-1; Josh Gordon 10-146-1; Antonio Brown 12-88; Steve Smith 5-21-1; Jordy Nelson 7-123-2. With Calvin Johnson on a bye, Bryant is fantasy's premier receiver play. ... Perhaps the most underrated element of Dallas' 2013 passing-game success has been the performance of an O-Line widely expected to be a weakness entering the season. Instead, the Cowboys have graded out as a top-ten pass-blocking team in Pro Football Focus' metrics while permitting the ninth fewest sacks in football. Expect a clean pocket for Tony Romo against a Vikings defense that ranks 29th against the pass and 27th in sacks. ... Romo's target distribution since Terrance Williams became a big factor five games ago: Dez 40; Williams and Jason Witten 23; Cole Beasley 19; Joseph Randle 10; Miles Austin 7; Dwayne Harris 4; DeMarco Murray and Phillip Tanner 3. ... Williams' target total has risen in three straight games, and only Dez, Megatron, Marvin Jones, Wes Welker, and Alshon Jeffery have outscored him among fantasy receivers over the past five weeks. I think in an ideal world you would be starting Williams every week as a WR3, but he'll likely keep scoring at WR2 levels the rest of the way.
Slot receiver Beasley is a high-efficiency, low-ceiling player worth rostering as a WR4/5 in PPR leagues. He lacks standard-league value. Beasley has one touchdown this year and is averaging 9.2 yards per catch. ... The going has been slow for Witten the past three weeks, but he remains a critical component in Dallas' passing attack and has a get-well Week 9 matchup. The Vikings have allowed the 11th most fantasy points to tight ends and are dealing with injuries at both safety positions. FS Harrison Smith (turf toe) is on I.R./designated for return, while SS Jamarca Sanford missed practice this week with a groin injury. ... The Cowboys strongly considered letting DeMarco Murray (MCL sprain) play last week against the Lions, but scratched him at the last minute. He will start against Minnesota. Although there are no assurances on Murray's going-forward health -- he is an inherently injury-prone player -- Murray is worth firing up as an RB2/flex versus the Vikings' No. 21 run defense. Minnesota was gashed by Green Bay last Sunday night for 182 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. ... Despite underwhelming on-field play, Randle has established himself as Murray's handcuff. Randle handled 17 touches at Detroit, playing 33 snaps. Change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar only played seven downs and carried the ball five times. Tanner is a blitz-protection specialist at this point. He has touched the football just 12 times all season.
Friday Update: After Friday's practice, coach Leslie Frazier ruled out Sanford (groin) and top CB Chris Cook (hip), leaving Minnesota without three of its starting defensive backs for Sunday's bout with Dallas' top-eight passing offense. Romo shouldn't have any trouble finding open receivers in this game. The matchups for Dez, Williams, and Witten are ripe for the picking.
Despite a wholly ineffective Week 8 game against Green Bay, Christian Ponder handled the bulk of first-team reps in practice this week and is expected to start at Dallas. As inept as Ponder is as a signal caller and passer, his running ability gives him two-QB-league appeal in a game where Minnesota figures to be trailing, creating playmaking chances. He is not a viable QB1 streamer. ... Ponder's target distribution: Jerome Simpson 24, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph 22, Adrian Peterson 15, Cordarrelle Patterson 10, Jarius Wright 8, John Carlson 7, Toby Gerhart 6. ... Dallas has allowed the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends. Rudolph's production with Ponder just inspires zero confidence. He's at 2-27, 3-42-1, 5-28, and 4-51 in Ponder's four 2013 starts. Rudolph is a shaky bye-week TE1. ... The Vikings will attempt to play low-volume passing offense with a struggling quarterback on whom they've already internally thrown in the towel. So the fact that the Cowboys rank dead last in pass defense could just as easily be a mirage for any fantasy owner looking to invest in Simpson, Jennings, or Patterson. The QB isn't good and the team doesn't want to throw. This creates a very difficult situation for all members of the pass-catching corps.
Patterson's offensive snaps (15) last Sunday were his fewest since Week 4. OC Bill Musgrave remains resistant to committing to Patterson as a significant part of his passing game. The rookie's big-play ability still went on display on Patterson's 109-yard kickoff return. Patterson now leads the NFL in kick returns of 40-plus yards, with five. He's brought back two for TDs. ... There was worry in fantasy land about Peterson following Week 7, where he played through a hamstring injury and truly did not look his usual explosive self against the Giants, unable to burst up field or make defenders miss in space with his typical vicious cuts. Although the Week 8 stats don't fully reflect it, I felt better about Peterson after watching him against Green Bay. Peterson looked as spry as he has since early in the season, and is quietly on pace for a career-high 44 receptions. In Week 9, Peterson will face a Dallas defense allowing 4.41 yards per carry, the eighth highest clip in football. Lock in Peterson as a top-three fantasy back against the Cowboys.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 33, Vikings 17
Tennessee @ St. Louis
Quietly the No. 13 fantasy quarterback in per-game scoring, Jake Locker returns from a Week 8 bye to heal the hip injury that cost him two early-season games. Flourishing in first-year OC Dowell Loggains' controlled, quarterback-friendly offense, Locker has an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio and is averaging over 25 rushing yards a game. Locker is a sneaky QB1 streamer for fantasy owners with Peyton Manning or Matthew Stafford on a bye. Though St. Louis can bring edge pressure, Jeff Fisher's defense has allowed a 14:5 TD-to-INT ratio and NFC-high 67.7 completion rate to enemy passers. The Rams' defense is vulnerable in second- and third-level pass coverage. ... Slot man Kendall Wright has been Locker's favorite 2013 target and has a plus Week 9 matchup versus washed-up Rams slot CB Cortland Finnegan. Through seven games, Wright is on pace for 92 receptions and 990 yards. He could flirt with WR2 value in PPR leagues the rest of the way and is a recommended standard-league WR3 this week. Noteworthy opposing wideout stats against St. Louis' leaky secondary: Golden Tate 5-93-2; Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Anquan Boldin 5-90-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Larry Fitzgerald 8-80-2; Andre Johnson 7-88. ... Nate Washington has topped 62 yards in just 2-of-7 games and scored a touchdown in 1-of-7 this season, but he's at least worth a look for WR3 desperados. Locker targeted Washington ten times against San Francisco before the bye week.
Locker's full target distribution this year: Wright 39, Washington 36, Delanie Walker 23, Kenny Britt 18, Damian Williams 13, Chris Johnson 9, Justin Hunter 5. ... The Rams have allowed the third fewest fantasy points to tight ends, making Walker an undesirable play. ... The Titans are using Britt as a fourth receiver. Williams is now No. 3. ... Hunter played 11-of-62 downs against the 49ers and is fifth through the rotation. ... A large contingent of fantasy land has been hoping CJ2ypcK's favorable stretch-run schedule will turn his season around. Painfully ineffective to this point, Johnson has gained 111 scoreless yards on his last 48 runs (2.31 YPC), and his carry totals have fallen by the wayside since the start of the year. Based on Johnson's declining rushing usage and coach Mike Munchak's Wednesday pledge to hand Shonn Greene 15 carries per game going forward, it should surprise no one if the Titans concluded during their Week 8 bye that Greene is simply their best ball-carrying option. Matchups column readers know this has been hinted for weeks now. ... Because we've yet to see Munchak & Co. put Greene's increased role into action, he'd be a crapshoot flex play against St. Louis' No. 23 run defense. Greene, however, is worth rostering in all leagues as a potential lead runner behind a Titans O-Line that Pro Football Focus has graded as a top-14 unit this year. ... Johnson owners can try hanging their Week 9 hats on the plus matchup and his rising passing-game involvement. It's worth noting St. Louis has shown susceptibility to long runs, allowing the third most 20-plus-yard rushes in football. Those are Johnson's specialty. He's still a dicey RB2/flex at this point, with less value in standard leagues than PPR. Johnson's carries are in decline, and he definitely won't get goal-line work.
Overcoming last week's fourth-quarter ankle scare, Zac Stacy returned to Rams practice in full on Thursday and will start against the Titans. Tennessee's defensive weakness is on the ground, where they rank 24th versus the run and have submitted eight rushing scores through seven games. Stacy is the clear-cut offensive centerpiece in St. Louis now, with his weekly touch totals increasing in four straight games. He's a high-end RB2 play this week. ... St. Louis' pass game has become a true fantasy wasteland. I think you could make a good argument Tim Tebow would be a better option under center for the Rams than Kellen Clemens. Clemens was that bad in last Monday night's loss to Seattle, despite a seemingly half-hearted defensive effort from the traveling Seahawks. The Titans are playing top-seven pass defense with a 6:6 TD-to-INT ratio allowed to enemy signal callers. I expect to see backup QB Austin Davis play sooner rather than later. ... Just in case you're desperate enough to consider any Rams wideout or tight end, here is Clemens' target distribution on the season: Jared Cook 8; Chris Givens 6; Lance Kendricks 5; Austin Pettis 4; Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, and Stacy 3; Daryl Richardson 2; Cory Harkey 1.
Score Prediction: Titans 20, Rams 14