Don’t set up your fantasy line-up until you take a look at who I think should play and who should sit. Let me help you get the W.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Must Start: Andy Dalton, Jermery Hill, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Gary Barnidge, Tyler Eifert Bengals DST
The Browns have allowed the seventh-most points per game and third-most yards per game this season. They’re terrible against the run and below average against the pass. Johnny Manziel is starting for Josh McCrown. Barnidge has turned into a locked-in starter, but understand that he broke out when McCown returned from injury in Week 3. In nearly two full games with Manziel under center in Week 1 and 2, Barnidge had four catches for 55 yards.
Conditional start: Duke Johnson, Travis Benjamin, Marvin Jones
Jones may be the fourth or fifth option in the offense, but he has still turned in three double-digit fantasy-point games this year. He’s a high-end WR3 in Week 9. Johnson, meanwhile, would be the primary back in a game where the Browns ask Manziel to throw the ball 35 or 40 times. He had just two receptions last week, but one of them went for 52 yards. Benjamin has slowed down over the last couple of games, but Manziel isn’t afraid to push the ball down the field, and an ability to stretch the field is Benjamin’s best trait. He’s a high-end WR3.
Sit: Johnny Manziel, Isaiah Crowell, Brian Hartline (concussion), Browns DST
Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newtown, Eddie Lacy Jonathan Stewart Randall Cobb, Greg Olsen, Packers DST, Panthers DST
Now, Carolina has surrendered the fourth-fewest points per game to quarterbacks. It will almost certainly determine whether Rodgers or Newton has the better fantasy game. Lacy owners might be the most frustrated subset of owners across the fantasy landscape, and now he has another brutal matchup with the Panthers. On the other side, Stewart has put together three straight strong performances and is a top-10 option at running back this week.
Conditional start: Davante Adams, James Jones, Ted Ginn Jr.
If I can have one secondary option in the Green Bay offense for the rest of the season, I want Adams, not James Jones. Adams played 96.3% of the team’s snaps last week, and while the results weren’t great, it’s clear that he’s going to have a large role in the offense going forward. Jones has just 10 targets over the last three games and was out snapped by Adams last week. He’s still a viable WR2/3 this week, but the Packers need to get Adams and his ability to stretch the field more involved in the offense. Ginn had a terrible drop in overtime last week, but he had 10 targets in that game and seven the previous week. In this thin week, you don’t have to be desperate to look in his direction.
Sit: James Starks (hip), Corey Brown, Richard Rodgers
Washington Redskins at New England Patriots
Must start: Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Julian Edelman, Jordan Reed, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
You don’t need any goading into starting Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman and Lewis. Why would you when the first two will likely finish at the top of their positions, and the other two could be top-10 among their peers? We’ve seen the Patriots turn to Blount in the second half of a few of their drubbings this season, and that could very well happen again on Sunday. Jackson has been out since the first quarter of the first game this season, and you should worry about speed guys coming off hamstring injuries. Having said that, Washington needs someone to step up alongside Reed in the passing game, and it doesn’t look like that will be Pierre Garçon.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Matt Jones, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola
Cousins took advantage of a bad Tampa Bay defense in Week 7, throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots have a way of snuffing out all hope, but Ryan Tannehill did throw for 300 yards last week, simply because game flow forced him to throw 44 times. Having said that, you can take a shot on Jones if you’re short-handed this week. He’s the most talented, explosive back on the roster, and a better pass catcher than Alfred Morris.
Sit: Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson, Redskins DST
Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints
Must start: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Delanie Walker, Ben Watson
I sure hope you had all of your Saints active last weekend, because we’re not going to see a performance like that again this season. The good news is the passing game may have turned a corner, and in a week with six teams on bye, every Saint should be in your lineups. Even against a Tennessee defense that is fifth in pass DVOA, seventh in pass coverage and eighth in pass rush, you’ll want Brees, Cooks, Snead and Watson in there. Ingram was left out of the touchdown fun last week, but he ran for 80 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 39 yards. The Titans have been nearly as tough on the run, at least from a fantasy perspective, but the last two legitimate rushers they’ve faced—Lamar Miller and Devonta Freeman—topped 100 yards.
Conditional start: Marcus Mariota (knee), Antonio Andrews, C.J. Spiller, Dorial Green-Beckham
Mariota is expected to return from a sprained knee this week, and given the matchup, as well as the thin slate, he’s an easy play in two-QB formats if he’s back. He’s not worth starting in one-QB leagues, though. Mariota’s mobility is critical to his success, and he’s not going to be at 100% in that regard on Sunday. Furthermore, Kendall Wright will likely be out again, and the Titans rank 28th in the league in pass blocking. Andrews should start, and that alone makes him interesting this week. Remember, though, that he had just 64 yards on 16 carries in a great matchup with the Texans last week. Mariota’s return should help, but not nearly as much as it would if he were a threat to run the way he normally is. David Cobb should see his first game action this season, as well. Think of Andrews as a high-end RB3. With Khiry Robinson out, Spiller should see more work as a runner in New Orleans.
Sit: David Cobb, Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright (knee), Justin Hunter, Marques Colston, Titans DST, Saints DST
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Must start: Lamar Miller, LeSean McCoy, Jarvis Landry, Bills DST
Both of these defenses are in the bottom half of the league in rush DVOA, with the Bills especially struggling, checking in at 24th. Forget about last week for the Dolphins. A short week at New England is a recipe for disaster for any team. They should be able to bounce back on Sunday, with Miller leading the charge. McCoy will have to deal with the likely return of Karlos Williams, but he’s the lead back and should enjoy somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 touches in this game. That should be enough for him to achieve RB2 numbers. Even in an ugly game for Miami, Landry caught six of his eight targets for 71 yards.
Conditional start: Ryan Tannehill, Tyrod Taylor (knee), Rishard Matthews, Sammy Watkins (ankle), Robert Woods, Charles Clay, Dolphins DST
Both quarterbacks are must-starts in two-QB formats but just outside the top 12 overall. I have more confidence in Tannehill, thanks in part to a Buffalo pass rush that ranks 31st in the league. If the Bills can’t get after him, he’ll pick them apart and could even use his legs more than we’ve seen this year. Watkins may return from his ankle injury, and you’re starting him if he does. If he doesn’t, Woods is a solid play in all formats. Jelani Jenkins has been in good in coverage this year, while Koa Misi has been terrible. If the Bills can figure out ways to get Clay singled up on Misi, he can take advantage.
Sit: Karlos Williams (concussion), Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jordan Cameron
St. Louis Rams at Minnesota Vikings
Must start: Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Rams DST, Vikings DST
You can bet both teams will lean heavily on the run game, which makes sense given that the two best running backs in the league will be on the field in Minnesota. In four games as a starter, Gurley has rushed for 566 yards and three touchdowns, ascending to the title of the best fantasy back in the game. Peterson’s 633 yards and three scores in seven games look pedestrian compared with what Gurley has done already in his rookie season. Peterson, however, does have a dangerous teammate in Diggs, who is averaging 13.48 points per game in standard-scoring leagues.
Conditional start: Tavon Austin
Austin has six touchdowns and 429 yards from scrimmage, but the nature of his game is confusing. He makes it almost impossible to predict when his meaningful performances will come. This week, with six teams on bye, is the perfect one to get him active.
Sit: Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Brian Quick, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Jared Cook, Kyle Rudolph
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets
Must start: T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Jets DST
Ivory has had some tough sledding over the last two weeks, but he gets a friendly matchup with a Jacksonville defense that has struggled against the run dating back to last season and has surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. The Jaguars rank 29th in pass coverage and 28th in pass defense DVOA. Yeldon had his best game as a pro in the Jaguars’ win over the Bills in London, running for 115 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Don’t overthink the matchup for him, Robinson or Hurns. They’ve all proven themselves this season, and most fantasy owners will be shorthanded this week. These aren’t the types of players you sit for lesser options simply because of a bad matchup.
Conditional start: Julius Thomas
Calvin Pace will likely draw Thomas most frequently in coverage, though safety Marcus Gilchrist will be the primary man in certain situations. Neither has been tested too frequently this season. Thomas is a borderline TE1, ahead of Vernon Davis, Jordan Cameron and Jason Witten.
Sit: Blake Bortles, Denard Robinson, Zac Stacy, Stevan Ridley, Jaguars DST
Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, Latavius Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant
Get ready for the scoring bonanza that the Bengals and Steelers were supposed to give us last week. Divisional games between good teams often have a way of getting bogged down, with the two teams being too familiar for either to get a ton of traction. The Steelers are 31st in pass coverage, while the Raiders are in the bottom half of the league in rush and pass defense. The Steelers will miss a beat with Williams stepping in for Le’Veon Bell, but not much more than that.
Conditional start: Heath Miller
The Raiders haven’t given up a big yardage to tight ends since Week 4, and they’ve clamped down in terms of yards per target since the first three weeks of the year, but this is still a team that is vulnerable against tight ends. That makes Miller worth more consideration than usual. If you typically start Travis Kelce or Jimmy Graham, Miller is a worthy bye-week spot starter.
Sit: Marcel Reece, Andre Holmes, Markus Wheaton, Raiders DST, Steelers DST
New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: Eli Manning, Doug Martin, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans
What a difference a fully healthy Beckham makes. With the star receiver back at 100% a week ago, Manning threw for 350 yards and six touchdowns, and Beckham finished with 130 yards and three scores. The Buccaneers have allowed the third-most points per game to quarterbacks and receivers. Mike Evans is ready for a matchup with this secondary after he had just three catches for 48 yards in Week 8. Evans will have his hands full matched up against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for most of the contest.
Conditional start: Jameis Winston, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Rueben Randle, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), Giants DST
Winston should be started universally in two-quarterback leagues. He can be a spot starter in one-QB formats, depending on your roster. If you’re turning to Jennings, you need to be shorthanded at running back and a believer that the Giants’ run game, as a whole will excel. Vereen is a real weapon for this team. He has three games with eight receptions and has found the end zone twice in those games. I’d rather play him than Jennings this week. If Seferian-Jenkins returns from his shoulder injury, he’s a TE1. Remember, the Buccaneers won’t have Vincent Jackson (knee) and will have to throw to keep up with Manning and the Giants.
Sit: Orleans Darkwa, Dwayne Harris, Vincent Jackson (knee), Donteea Dye, Larry Donnell, Buccaneers DST
Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers
Must start: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Falcons DST
You better hope Ryan and Jones have something to do with it getting to that point, because there’s a good chance they won’t do much of fantasy significance in the second half. Freeman, on the other hand, could be a battering ram after halftime. The defense, which isn’t exactly stellar, jumps into the fantasy picture with the inimitable Blaine Gabbert getting the start for the 49ers.
Conditional start: Jacob Tamme
Tamme is at the back end of the tight end tier that includes players like Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Charles Clay, Delanie Walker and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. That places him right on the TE1/2 borderline, so if you don’t have another startable option, you can definitely feel decent about using him. He’s really the last of the potential fantasy starters in Week 9.
Sit: Every single 49er, Tevin Coleman, Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson (hamstring)
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
Must start: Peyton Manning, Ronnie Hillman, Frank Gore, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, Broncos DST
Manning is my No. 12 quarterbacks this week, so he just barely makes the QB1 class. Manning and Thomas hooked up eight times for 168 yards last week, and despite Manning’s limitations, those two can still get the job done together. The Colts are reeling and have allowed the 12th-most points per game to quarterbacks, ninth most to receivers and sixth-most to running backs. If you own Hilton and Gore, chances are you don’t have enough other starter-worthy options to place them on the bench. There’s simply no way to attack this Denver defense, however. It ranks third against the run, second in pass rush, second in pass coverage and first, by far, in DVOA.
Conditional start: Andrew Luck, C.J. Anderson, Vernon Davis
The Broncos held Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards last week. Luck is not Rodgers. Luck is worse than Rodgers. He’s mired in a terrible season, with much of his production coming in garbage time. If you have another solid quarterback, go in that direction. Anderson finally had a game worthy of his draft stock, but it came long after his owners gave up hope. Still, it’s clear that the Broncos intend to win with defense, the run, and a smattering of Manning’s remaining greatness. That could mean big carry numbers for Hillman and Anderson the rest of the season. We’ve touched on Davis a lot this week, but we’ll repeat here that he now rides the TE1/2 border most weeks. He’s 12th in our rankings this week and would move up to 11th if Austin Seferian-Jenkins is out again.
Sit: Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Owen Daniels, Colts DST
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Must start: DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Eagles DST, Cowboys DST
McFadden owners should take solace in the fact that he got 20 carries last week against the Seahawks. Barring an injury, he’ll be the man in Dallas for the rest of the year. Murray has averaged just shy of 20 carries per game across the Eagles’ last three contests. Couple that with the fact that the Cowboys’ defense ranks 20th in rush DVOA and 29th by Pro Football Focus’s metrics, and you can bet on seeing a lot of Murray on Sunday night. This figures to be a low-scoring, turnover-laden game.
Conditional start: Ryan Mathews, Jason Witten
Now, Mathews is still getting just about 10 touches per game, but he’s doing damage with that limited opportunity. He has averaged exactly 10 touches in his last three games. In two of them, he scored at least 15 fantasy points. He can be a starter in a week with just 13 games on the schedule. Witten is really a TE2 because of Cassel, but he’s on the higher end. Still, you’re better off with one of the Clay/Walker/Julius Thomas/Tamme group we’ve referenced over and over again.
Sit: Sam Bradford, Matt Cassel, Darren Sproles, Christine Michael, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Nelson Agholor, Terrance Williams, Zach Ertz
Chicago Bears at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Jeremy Langford, Danny Woodhead, Alshon Jeffery, Stevie Johnson, Martellus Bennett, Antonio Gates (knee)
Both teams bring solid offenses and substandard defenses, and all the fantasy juice means plenty of games could hang in the balance until the final gun. Cutler has had a quietly productive season, scoring at least 18.2 points in all four of his games since returning from his hamstring injury. Jeffery, meanwhile, has 18 catches for 263 yards and two scores since getting back on the field after a hamstring injury of his own. The fantasy community, however, will be watching Langford closely this week. The rookie out of Michigan State should get at least 18 or 20 touches in what amounts to the start of a tryout to see if he can be the team’s feature back next season. Rivers is as steady as they come, but he could be in trouble without Keenan Allen. Johnson graduates to a must-start with Allen out, and Gates was already practicing early in the week. He should return on Monday.
Conditional start: Melvin Gordon, Marquess Wilson, Malcom Floyd
Gordon got a season-high 18 carries last week, though he turned them into just 54 yards. Wilson and Floyd both became more important to their respective teams because of injuries, as well. Floyd will now start because of Allen’s injury. Both are potential starters in all formats, though Floyd is the better play. He’s going to have a more important role for the Chargers than Wilson will for the Bears.
Sit: Antone Smith, Eddie Royal (knee), Dontrelle Inman, Ladarius Green, Bears DST, Chargers DST