Fantasy Football Week 9: Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
The 2020 fantasy football season is flying by.
As we head into Week 9, the fantasy football stretch run is just around the corner. And that means the pressure on many fantasy managers is ramping up.
Sure, if your team is 7-1 or 6-2, you can afford to absorb a loss. Even if you're 5-3, taking an "L" is not the end of the world.
But falling below .500 this late in the season is a bad place to be. And if your team is 3-5 or worse, one more defeat could just about stick a fork in any chance you may have of making the playoffs.
With the pressure mounting, every lineup decision becomes that much more difficult. No one wants to make the bad call that sinks the season. You can think yourself in circles. Succumb to paralysis by analysis.
This column is here to help.
Every week, I select some lineup questions from the Bleacher Report app and then try to provide answers that will help fantasy managers field the best possible lineup and get a much-needed win.
Let's get after it.
Mr. Jones and Me
Injuries have wrought more than a bit of havoc at the wide receiver position in fantasy leagues this year, as any manager with a share of Michael Thomas of the New Orleans Saints can sadly attest.
But honestly, this isn't a bad group. It's better than some of the scrapheaps I'm sorting through in Week 9.
Two of these calls are easy ones. The first slot belongs to Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. The rookie's 3/26/0 line against the Green Bay Packers last week was a disappointment, but the week before Jefferson threw up the kind of numbers that win weeks—nine receptions, 166 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second time this season that Jefferson topped 150 receiving yards and found the end zone.
Spot No. 2 goes to another rookie. Chase Claypool has quickly emerged as an important part of the passing game for the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers. Coming off a solid effort against the Baltimore Ravens, Claypool gets a Week 9 matchup with a Dallas Cowboys defense allowing the seventh-most PPR points to wide receivers this year.
The third spot is the trickiest. There will no doubt be plenty of fantasy managers itching to roll out Antonio Brown in his first game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Brown is a 32-year-old wideout whose last game action came well over a year ago.
Marvin Jones Jr. of the Detroit Lions doesn't have the buzz surrounding him that Brown does, but he has posted double-digit PPR points in his last two games and will serve as Detroit's No. 1 receiver with Kenny Golladay on the shelf with a hip injury. Some of the shine could come off this pick if Matthew Stafford (COVID-19 list) misses the game, but Jones is still a better play than the complete unknown in Brown.
Youth vs. Experience
Let's hear it for getting to the point.
A month ago, this question wouldn’t have been a question. Over the first five weeks of the 2020 campaign, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (which still feels weird to say) was a respectable seventh in fantasy points among quarterbacks. But there wasn't a signal-caller in the AFC who racked up more fantasy points than Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills.
However, Allen and the Bills offense have hit something of a snag of late. Over the past three games, Allen is averaging fewer than 200 passing yards and a touchdown per game. While Brady's production has picked up a tad (fourth in fantasy points among quarterbacks over that span), Allen has plummeted outside the top 15.
The matchup in this one favors Allen—there isn't a team that has allowed more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks in 2020 than the Seattle Seahawks, who bring their porous defense to Western New York in Week 9. But the New Orleans Saints (who travel to Tampa this week) have hardly been stingy to the position, surrendering the seventh-most points.
Brady's 239 passing yards and two scores against the Saints in Week 1 resulted in one of his weaker statistical efforts of the season. But it was also his first game with a new team.
Brady is playing at home this time. Looking for payback for that Week 1 setback. And flat-out playing better than Allen at this point in the season.
The Golden Boy gets the nod here.
The Call: Tom Brady (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,900)
What Can Brown Do for You?
"Something something so-and-so or Antonio Brown?"
That may be a slight exaggeration, but there's no question that Brown is the most talked-about player in fantasy football as he makes his Buccaneers debut.
But he should also be the first player ruled out here.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians wouldn't specify how much Brown will play in his first game action since September 2019. But he did say a full snap count isn't likely.
Maybe Brown will be one of the players who swings fantasy leagues in 2020. But it's not going to be in Week 9.
That leaves Diontae Johnson of the Pittsburgh Steelers and DeVante Parker of the Miami Dolphins. Parker scored a touchdown last week against the Los Angeles Rams, but he did so with his only catch of the game—a three-yarder. He also had just two targets in a game in which Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for fewer than 100 yards.
Those numbers are deal-breakers. Johnson has been nicked up, and his one catch for six yards last week against the Ravens doesn't inspire the warm and fuzzies.
But the week before that, Johnson went 9/80/2 against the Tennessee Titans, and he draws a Dallas Cowboys defense in Week 9 that has given up the seventh-most PPR points to wide receivers this season.
The Call: Diontae Johnson (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,000)
I wasn't kidding about the Antonio Brown thing.
For the sake of argument, we're going to assume Chris Carson of the Seattle Seahawks isn't playing in Week 9. Carson reportedly won't even test out his injured foot until Friday. The odds that he's a go against the Buffalo Bills aren't nearly as good as the odds that he could reaggravate the injury if he is.
That leaves this team in need of a running back, and it's an easy call between David Montgomery of the Chicago Bears and Justin Jackson of the Los Angeles Chargers. Montgomery is a clear No. 1 back who has touched the ball at least 17 times in each of his last four games.
Touches equal opportunity. Opportunity leads to production.
The flex spot isn't a difficult cal,l either. Brown is out for reasons already discussed—he may well be on a snap count in his debut. Jackson is tempting against a Las Vegas Raiders team allowing the sixth-most PPR points to running backs, but his workload has been all over the place this season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Pittsburgh Steelers hasn't been the fantasy force some predicted in 2020. But the 23-year-old has been targeted 22 times over the past two games and gets a Dallas secondary in Week 9 that has been…less than stellar.
He's the flex call.
OK, that's it!
Listen closely, intrepid reader.
Antonio Brown is not a good fantasy start in Week 9. Is it possible he'll have a big stat line against the New Orleans Saints? Yes—in that anything is possible. But it's exceedingly unlikely. He's a dart throw at best.
We'll look at the running back first. Le'Veon Bell of the Kansas City Chiefs is out; his odds of 15 touches against the Carolina Panthers just aren't good. J.K. Dobbins of the Baltimore Ravens had his first 100-yard rushing game last week, but he draws a second straight terrible matchup in Week 9 against a Colts team giving up the third-fewest PPR points to running backs in 2020.
The Packers are at the opposite end of that spectrum—Green Bay has surrendered the most points to running backs this year. Given all the injuries that have wrecked the San Francisco 49ers, the team will lean on the run Thursday. That could mean good things for rookie JaMycal Hasty.
For the flex spot, Dobbins would be an easy yes were it not for that lousy matchup—a matchup that isn’t much better for wide receiver Marquise Brown. Brandon Aiyuk would be San Francisco's No. 1 wide receiver Thursday, but he was placed on the COVID-19 list Wednesday and has been ruled out.
The Dallas Cowboys have been hot garbage defensively this season, and the Steelers have a chance to do something they have never done—start a season 8-0. Look for Pittsburgh to roll on the road and for rookie wideout Chase Claypool to impress once again.
All Aboard the Luton Express
This is a very 2020 question in that the option that at first glance appears to be the weakest of the bunch might actually be the best.
At the outset of the 2020 season, no one was stampeding to draft Cole Beasley of the Buffalo Bills. But the veteran slot receiver has quietly tallied 41 catches for 494 yards and two scores—numbers that land the 31-year-old inside the top 25 in PPR points for the season.
Those numbers are only part of the reason Beasley is a go in Week 9. The other part is a matchup with a Seattle Seahawks secondary that has given up the most PPR points to wide receivers this season.
With Beasley in one slot, there's one left with two candidates—DJ Chark Jr. of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Marquise Brown of the Baltimore Ravens. Both are young wide receivers who were tabbed by some as breakout candidates this year. Both have also been relatively disappointing.
Both have at least one significant question mark hanging over their heads this week as well. For Chark, it's the insertion of rookie Jake Luton at quarterback in Jacksonville. For Brown, it's a poor fantasy matchup with a stout Colts defense.
The Houston Texans, on the other hand, have been kind to opposing receivers in 2020: sixth in PPR points allowed to the position. That difference in matchup alleviates the concerns under center just enough to put Chark over the top.
The Kittle Konundrum
GAH! will have to do.
But there's nothing for the Kittle Krew to do now but move on. His NFL season may not officially be over yet, but from a fantasy perspective, he's toast after breaking his foot against the Seattle Seahawks last week.
That injury thrusts Jordan Reed into a bigger role for the Niners—provided he can make it back onto the field this week after just being activated from injured reserve. Reed is back at practice and trending in the right direction, but given the 30-year-old's extensive injury history, it can't be assumed Reed will play until he does.
If Reed does play, he's a tempting option. The 49ers have shown in the past that the tight end spot gets targeted with regularity even when Kittle is out, and Reed posted a 7/50/2 stat line with Kittle out in Week 2.
But in addition to Reed's bad knee, he gets a worse matchup in Week 9, as the Green Bay Packers have given up the seventh-fewest PPR points to tight ends in 2020.
Trusting any Dolphins pass-catcher is hard coming off a professional debut during which Tua Tagovailoa threw for all of 93 yards, but Miami is going to have to throw the ball more this week in Arizona than in a weird Week 8 game when the team scored two non-offensive touchdowns.
Mike Gesicki could serve as a safety valve underneath for Tagovailoa this week, especially with running back Myles Gaskin out. He's by no means a good play, but he's the better one here.
Fingers crossed and all that.
The Call: Mike Gesicki (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,400)
First off, on behalf of every fantasy manager who invested in George Kittle this season, I would like to say a bunch of things that I can't say because those words are frowned upon here.
Given that a lot of the quarterback questions I get are "Aaron Rodgers or Deshaun Watson," this is actually a refreshing change of pace.
The first thing we can do here is rule out Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins. Tagovailoa is a talented young quarterback who more than likely has a bright future ahead of him. But he's also making his second career start after passing for fewer than 100 yards in his debut. As things stand right now, he's barely a starting option in 2QB leagues.
Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans is an underrated fantasy asset; he was a top-five option in some scoring systems down the stretch last year and ranks inside the top 12 for the season in 2020. But Tannehill's Week 9 matchup is all kinds of bad, as there isn't a team giving up fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks this year than Chicago.
Derek Carr of the Las Vegas Raiders hasn't exactly piled up the numbers in 2020. Eight weeks in, the 29-year-old ranks 18th in fantasy points under center. But the Los Angeles Chargers have made a habit of making opposing quarterbacks look good this year. The Bolts have surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, including a three-score outing from Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos in Week 8.
Carr is the guy.
The Call: Derek Carr (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,700)
DraftKings DFS Question of the Week
I will confess to having a soft spot for defense questions, although that may be because I'm a huge fan of individual defensive player (IDP) fantasy leagues.
If you haven't tried one, you're missing out.
The Steelers defense showed last week that it is about as matchup-proof as a team defense gets. Despite allowing over 450 yards of offense to the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers were still a top-five producer thanks to four sacks, four takeaways and a defensive touchdown.
Pittsburgh is easily the top team defense of Week 9 going up against the Dallas Cowboys, who will be trotting out their fourth different quarterback of the season. But that primo matchup comes with a price tag to match—at $4,900, the Steelers are over $1,000 more than the No. 2 defense (the New England Patriots) at DraftKings.
That's a lot of extra cheese for the least important roster spot, money that would be better spent on other positions.
However, there is a defense available on the cheap that could provide much better value. The New York Giants are a one-win mess of a football team, but the Giants defense has quietly been pretty good. The team ranks a respectable 13th in total defense and seventh in sacks with 20.
Facing Washington's 30th-ranked offense in Week 6, the G-Men were a top-five fantasy defense, racking up three sacks, two takeaways and a defensive score.
The difference in price between Pittsburgh and New York in Week 9 is the difference between starting Dalvin Cook and Jonathan Taylor at running back. Or DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown at wide receiver. Or Darren Waller and Dalton Schultz at tight end.
The Call: New York Giants (DraftKings DFS Value: $2,700)
Now it's time to kick things into high gear, run the two-minute drill and hit some more questions rapid-fire style.
Have more Week 9 lineup questions? Leave them in the comments. I try to spend at least a couple of hours there each Friday and Saturday to assist readers in setting their lineups.
I'm a helper.
lucastrombley needs a couple of spots filled. "Half PPR. [Damien] Harris or [Jonathan] Taylor? Marquise Brown, [Amari] Cooper or [CeeDee] Lamb?"
Damien Harris (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,300) of the Patriots is by no means a great play, but Jonathan Taylor of the Colts was benched in the second half last week in favor of Jordan Wilkins and has a bad matchup with a stout Ravens run defense. Baltimore's Marquise Brown (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,000) is an easy call at wide receiver—both Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb will be "catching" worm-burners from a fourth-string quarterback in Week 9.
It's a defense question for Zeke214. "Baltimore defense or Colts defense?"
This boils down to which opposing offense you trust to move the ball more consistently. The Colts defense has a better matchup from a fantasy-points-allowed perspective, but the Baltimore Ravens (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,500) are coming off a tough loss and have the run defense to force Philip Rivers to throw the ball to beat them. Baltimore is the play, albeit narrowly.
general8151 needs a starting quarterback. "Cam Newton or Drew Lock?"
There was a time when this question would be a no-brainer. But Cam Newton of the Patriots has struggled this year, Drew Lock (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,200) of the Broncos is coming off a three-touchdown game against the Los Angeles Chargers, and Lock gets an Atlanta Falcons team in Week 9 allowing the second-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks.
For Matty_K, it's a tight end query. "Do I start Jonnu Smith or Logan Thomas? Full PPR."
Washington's Logan Thomas has had his moments this season, but so has Jonnu Smith of the Tennessee Titans (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,900), who also has the advantage of a matchup with a Chicago Bears defense surrendering the ninth-most DraftKings points to tight ends in 2020. Roll with the latter.
linguisticlegs also needs help at tight end. "Gronk or [Noah] Fant?"
Noah Fant of the Denver Broncos has a fantastic fantasy matchup Sunday with the Atlanta Falcons, who lead the league in PPR points allowed to tight ends. But Rob Gronkowski (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has touchdowns in three straight games and leads all NFC tight ends in fantasy points over that span. Gronk smash.
NastyMofos is looking for assistance at wide receiver. "Corey Davis or Sterling Shepard?"
Corey Davis (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,900) of the Titans is coming off a big stat line (8/128/1) in last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but he has a tough fantasy matchup in Week 9 against a Bears defense giving up the fourth-fewest PPR points to wideouts this year. But Sterling Shepard of the Giants has an even worse one against Washington, and his target share has fluctuated wildly in 2020. Go with Davis.
Finally, MTSPICUZZA needs to choose a running back. "Antonio Gibson or J.K. Dobbins?"
Baltimore's J.K. Dobbins gashed the Pittsburgh Steelers for 113 yards on 15 carries last week. But the rookie from Ohio State faces a Colts defense giving up the third-fewest PPR points to running backs. In his last game, Washington's Antonio Gibson (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800) posted an even more impressive 20/128/1 line, and he gets a much more favorable Week 9 matchup with the New York Giants. Gibson it is.
Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year.
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