Week 9 of fantasy action will separate the best owners from the rest.
A quick glance at the schedule will give any owner cold chills—a large chunk of the league's fantasy titans are on byes as Denver, Detroit, San Francisco and a few others all have the week off.
The sudden black hole of fantasy talent will need to be filled via proper decisions from owners. Below are three key start 'em, sit 'em scenarios all owners should be aware of in what is a critical week.
Start 'Em: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Miami Dolphins
Andy Dalton is a legit No. 1 fantasy quarterback.
Last week's over 300 yards and five touchdowns against Rex Ryan's defense should not have been the deciding factor for owners, as it marked his third straight 300-yard performance and makes it 11 touchdowns in three games.
Dalton benefits from a great game plan and perhaps the most offensively-potent depth chart in the NFL. He's an automatic start from here on out regardless of the matchup, but it doesn't hurt that he gets a shot at the middle-of-the-pack Miami pass defense and a team that has lost four straight.
Sit 'Em: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Tom Brady's time as a go-to fantasy stud is long gone.
Brady has thrown just two touchdowns in his last four games with four interceptions and has failed to break the 200-yard mark twice. In Brady's last two games, he's had star tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field.
Now Brady encounters the NFL's No. 2 pass defense, as Pittsburgh gives up just 181 yards per game—which is starting to sound like a typical Brady stat line.
Start 'Em: Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Owners brave enough to take on Oakland's Darren McFadden this year were rewarded in Week 9 as he exploded for 73 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh.
Is Darren McFadden a must-start in Week 9?
While not his best performance of the year in terms of yardage (does a stat line produced against Jacksonville actually count, anyway?), McFadden appears healthy and once again dangerous as a major part of a top-five rushing attack.
McFadden is a hot hand, so owners know what to do—ride it. Philadelphia only gives up 99.5 rushing yards per game, but that's because teams know they can impose their will through the air against a horrible secondary.
One problem—quarterback Terrelle Pryor is coming off an 88-yard, two-interception performance through the air. The Raiders will stay on the ground and allow McFadden a major day.
Sit 'Em: Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns
It's tough to advise owners to bench a star running back, but it's even harder to classify Baltimore's Ray Rice as one in 2013.
Rice, hobbled or not, averages just 2.8 yards per carry this season, has scored all of three times and has failed to rush for more than 74 yards in a game.
Rice is due for a breakthrough, but it won't happen in Week 9 against Cleveland. Back in Week 2, the stellar Browns defense held Rice to just 36 yards on 13 carries and nine more on three receptions. Rice also fumbled in the embarrassing showing.
There's no reason to keep Rice out of every contest the rest of the way, but he needs to prove he's still got it first.
Start 'Em: Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys
Greg Jennings has not scored a touchdown since Week 4 and has suffered thanks to a horrible quarterback situation in Minnesota.
Regardless, Jennings is a smart play in Week 9 against the NFL's worst pass defense that allows 315.4 yards per game. He's still the No. 1 receiver and is liable for a multi-touchdown game as he had in Week 4 against Pittsburgh.
Granted, those are Jennings' only scores on the season, but clearly no quarterbacks have major issues moving the ball against Dallas' secondary. Regardless of who is under center, the veteran Jennings needs to be in all starting lineups.
Sit 'Em: T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
With Reggie Wayne out for the year, T.Y. Hilton figures to see an uptick in opportunities and production moving forward.
Just don't bank on it right away.
Hilton is an elusive speedster who was fantastic in his rookie season a year ago, but in Week 9 he must produce against the NFL's best pass defense with more attention than ever thrown his way with Wayne out of the picture.
Last week Hilton managed just two receptions on 11 targets against the third-worst pass defense the NFL has to offer in Denver. Until Hilton can prove productive, he needs to sit on the bench against quality opposition—which Houston absolutely is.
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