On Friday's episode of Treatment, the Fantasy Football Helpers discuss the recent signings at offensive coordinator including Greg Olson in Jacksonville and Adam Gase in Chicago. They also talk about Gary Kubiak and how Broncos' RB C.J. Anderson could be in for a historic season if the chips fall right.
The Helpers start off the podcast by talking about the recent hiring of Gary Kubiak on the Denver Broncos. Kubiak has a long history of churning out 1,000 yard rushers in his zone run blocking scheme. Most recently, he turned around a Baltimore Ravens offense that had been struggling with their run game dating back to Ray Rice's lowest yards per carry average of his career in 2013.
All Kubiak did was take a castaway running back in Justin Forsett and turned him into a Pro Bowler. Forsett rushed for more than 1,200 yards and scored eight touchdowns. Kubiak also became famous for his zone run blocking scheme in Houston, where future All-Pro running back Arian Foster compiled three straight 1,000-plus yard seasons.
With Kubiak now back in Denver, a place where he also helped Terrell Davis become one of the best of all time, the Broncos will shift their focus to current starting running back C.J. Anderson. Anderson had one of the best finishes to a season of any running back in recent memory, as we talked about a few weeks earlier on our recap podcast. It's not out of the question that an aging Peyton Manning combined with a good offensive line and Kubiak's run system could lend itself to a more run-heavy offense in 2014. If that's the case, C.J. Anderson is a bonafide RB1 in redraft leagues.
The next coach the Helpers talk about is offensive coordinator Adam Gase, a guy who was recently signed by the Chicago Bears. Gase led the 2013 Denver Broncos to a record 606 points, making them one of the greatest offenses in the history of the league. Gase will not have the kind of talent to work with that he had in Denver, but it's worth noting that he did managed to squeeze a playoff victory out of then-Broncos quarterback Tim Teebow in 2011. So Gase has proven he can be successful with a quarterback not named Manning.
Gase will be faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting Jay Cutler to play up to his potential. Cutler finished as the 14th best fantasy quarterback in 2014, which put his fantasy value as a boarderline QB1/QB2. The Bears definitely have the weapons at the receiver position with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. They also have the running back in Matt Forte. The real problem for the Bears since Cutler arrived has always been their offensive line. It'll be interesting to see how Gase works with Cutler and if they can get him some better pass protection. He's not unlike Tony Romo in that he has Pro Bowl level ability, but hasn't always had the best protection in the world which is a big reason why he battled injuries throughout his career.
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Well, if you’re still alive then I say congratulations and I I’d also like to say…. I’m jealous! My first round exit will be just another blip on the radar that nobody will remember. Admittedly, my team happened to not be very good, but in addition to my team, the regular season’s points leader and consensus best team in my league by far was eliminated. Unfortunately for that team, they will also be another team in the 2014 season that nobody will recall long term. This week those of you who are one game from the championship, are not only playing for a spot in the Super Bowl, or in many cases money….you’re playing for a permanent place in your league’s history books, a fond memory that you and your league members will have forever the bragging rights that come along with this glorious memory. Let me show you what I mean.
I’m a Giants fan in my early 30s and I’ve been a diehard football fan as long as I could remember. Anything Giants related is entrenched in my mind, but playoff games between other teams before they reached the Super Bowl…not as much. For example, everyone around my age or older remembers the Titans v. Rams Super Bowl XXXIV where Kevin Dyson, instead of scoring the game tying TD, was tackled at the one yard line to end the game. The game was now 15 years ago this January and even if you don’t remember the details of the game you know exactly what game I’m referring to and there is a clear picture of it in your mind. However, do you remember how those teams got there? A small percentage of you might, but I’m almost positive that the very large majority does not. I had to look it up and I discovered that the Rams beat the Tampa Bay Bucs 11-6. Weird score and I know I watched that game, but I can’t tell you anything about it off the top of my head. The Titans dominated the Jaguars 33-14. I can’t tell you anything about that game either. In the long run nobody will remember or care that the Bucs made the NFC Title game that year. I’m sure the Bucs don’t brag about losing that heart breaker. Super Bowls will live in all of our hearts and minds forever. Don’t be a blip on the radar! Whether you’re the best team in your league on paper or whether you’re a team that got hot at the right time, take it home this week and you’ll be in fantasy football lure for the rest of your days.
Your lineup should be set with the exception of maybe a flex spot and the always matchup dependent TE spot. However, there are players at every position that I believe can help you accomplish your goal of winning a Super Bowl ring.
Without further ado, your week 15 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER:A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for.These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
· Mark Sanchez v. Dallas. Ok so maybe last week didn’t work out at home against Seattle, but that was the Super Bowl Champs playing at their best in a huge game and this is Dallas, a team that's known as the biggest group of December choke artists in the last 15 years. Their defense has given up 7 TDs through the air in the last three weeks to Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, and Mark Sanchez himself. The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in Dallas 33-10 on Thanksgiving day and there is no reason to think they won’t do the same on Sunday.
Quick stat: According to Football Outsiders, teams losing by more than 20 points at home are just 17-36 (.321) in road rematches. The Eagles and Sanchez are looking better already.
Sanchez has shown consistent QB1 ability other than his misstep last week and despite only throwing for 96 yards, he still threw for 2 TDs. He’s otherwise been consistently over 300 yards and has had multiple TDs in 5 of 6 starts. His matchup is ideal for the playoffs and has unlimited upside. Take a tip from me. Just because you were rejected by the girl/guy who doesn’t ever give it up (Seattle), does not mean you won’t score with the girl/guy who has the reputation for giving it up (Dallas)! As far as Mark Sanchez goes, we know he’ll score on Sunday….as soon as he’s done throwing a few TDs in the football game.
I’d Start Mark Sanchez over: Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, JohnnyManziel
· Matthew Stafford v. Minnesota. Oh how a couple of big performances against awful defenses make us forget. In the last two weeks against the 23rd and 31st ranked teams (Chicago, Tampa Bay) against fantasy QBs, Stafford has averaged approximately 350 yards and 2.5 TDs per game. Stafford’s previous two games were against elite defenses in New England and Arizona, games in which he combined for 0 TD and 2 INT. Minnesota, the 10th ranked fantasy defense against QBs and 6th in passing yards against, is up next on the schedule. They’re not nearly as good as New England or Arizona defensively but they’re not nearly as bad as Chicago and Tampa Bay. The Vikings can be run on easily, ranking 23rd in yards per game and I anticipate the Lions going that route. Some sites have Stafford ranked as high as #4 this week after his success the last two weeks but I’d expect him to finish with about 250 yards and 1-2 TDs, a borderline QB1.
I’d Start the following players over Matthew Stafford: Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan
· Fred Jackson v. Green Bay. They say experience wins in the playoffs right? Well why not take a shot with the oldest RB in the NFL. This matchup has big upside for the Bills best receiving threat out of the backfield. Jackson, a versatile threat looks as healthy as ever with 18 and 21 touches the last two weeks. He has not hit pay dirt in those games but he did score big in PPR leagues with his 10 receptions last week against Denver. Denver got off to a 24-3 lead and the Bills had to air it out leading to many dump offs to Jackson. I see this game against Green Bay being extremely similar with a similar outcome for Jackson. Start the old reliable Freddy Jackson as a RB2 in PPR leagues and as a flex in .5 PPR and standard leagues.
I’d start Fred Jackson over: Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Jeremy Hill, Latavius Murray
· Chris Johnson at Tennessee. Last week I believed in the awful RB (Trent Richardson) having a big game in a revenge game and it backfired on me. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Chris Johnson is a slightly better Trent Richardson. I don’t mean speed wise, Richardson runs in slow motion, but Johnson has zero power at this stage of his career and doesn’t provide much in terms of broken tackles. It takes Moses parting the waters for him to hit the hole. Johnson did have over 100 yards two games ago, in the run runrunrunrunrun game against the Dolphins, but has otherwise not topped 69 yards rushing yards this season when normal game plans were in place. A decent performance could very well happen against Tennessee but I would not dare to put my fantasy prospects on a guy who has not scored a TD in the last nine games. Experts are ranking him as a mid RB2 but I think he’s a at best a desperate flex option. If you’re still alive at this stage of the game, you probably can do better.
I’d start the following players over Chris Johnson: Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy Hill, Fred Jackson, Chris Ivory, Dan Herron
· Marqise Lee at Baltimore. For one week Baltimore, the league’s worst team against fantasy WRs, did not get dismantled in the passing game. With the Jaguars coming to town, a blowout is likely in favor of Baltimore and a lot of throwing should be in store for the Jaguars come the 2nd half of the game. A lot of throwing against the worst fantasy team against WRs? sounds like fantasy gold to me. Advantage Marqise Lee, the shiny new toy in Jacksonville. Lee has 16 targets over the last two weeks and is building some chemistry with number one pick Blake Bortles. He’s been consistent with 52-75 yards over the last 3 weeks including a TD, but should be on the higher end of the spectrum against one of the league’s poorest defensive backfields. Consider Lee as a 3rd WR.
· Steve Smith Sr vs. Jacksonville. Steve Smith is in the midst of a fine bounce back season in his first year in Baltimore. He comes into this week 15 matchup against the Jaguars with two TDs in his last three games and with Torrey Smith battling an injury common sense says he’ll receive more targets and continue to put up big weeks. People see Jacksonville and think it’s a tasty matchup but much like I’ve warned the past few weeks, they’re actually a BAD matchup. Since week 4 this team has been playing stellar defense against the pass. Just this week they opposed Ryan Fitzpatrick who was coming off a 6 TD performance and held him to 135 yds and 0 TD! IN addition, the previous two weeks they held Eli Manning to 1 TD and broke Andrew Luck’s streak of 300 yard performances while holding him to 1 TD. The point of mentioning all these QBs is that the Ravens could very easily win this game handily, but it could be with a steady dose of Justin Forsett and some big plays against Blake Bortles. The Ravens will not have to air it out too often, limiting Smith’s opportunities against and already very good pass defense. All year Smith has been a boom or bust type of guy and I’m smelling bust for this week.
I’d start the following players over Steve Smith: Marqise Lee, Julian Edelman, Vincent Jackson, Golden Tate, Malcolm Floyd
· Larry Donnell v. Washington. It’s been a rough go for Larry Donnell and those fantasy players who started him for the past three weeks but week 15’s matchup with Washington is the cure for the tight end blues. The Redskins have gotten torched in back to back weeks by Coby Fleener and Jared Cook. They rank 29th overall against the TE. The Giants have shown that when they have an advantage in the passing game that they’ll keep picking on the matchup as evidenced by Donnell’s tendency to either put up a huge game or a tremendous dud. Look for the Giants to look for Donnell on fade patterns and/or jump balls in the endzone. In addition, look for them to throw a few deep seam passes to Donnell, a play that Washington has not shown the ability to cover in the last couple of weeks.
I’d start Larry Donnell over: Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener, Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz
· Julius Thomas at San Diego. If your other options are borderline options then you must start Julius Thomas, however I am concerned with his week 15 matchup. I’m mostly concerned with his injury. If he is not 100% then he is not the same player that can beat LBs and safeties 1 on 1 in the blink of an eye. In addition, I am concerned with Denver’s proficiency in the run game. In the beginning of the season, Denver was struggling to punch the ball into the endzone and Julius Thomas was their best option inside the 10 yardline. Nowadays CJ Anderson is one of the hottest RBs in the game of football, and he does convert inside the 10. The Broncos have no problem letting Anderson doing the dirty work while letting Julius Thomas get his legs back under him in his first game back from injury. If that wasn’t bad enough, San Diego is the 3rd ranked team against TEs and held a healthy Julius Thomas to only 2 catches for 23 yards in week 8. Once again, start him if you have to but if you have any other high end options like Delanie Walker, Martellus Bennett or this week even Larry Donnell, I would go ahead and bench him and save him for my Super Bowl week.
I’d Start the Following Players over Julius Thomas: Delanie Walker, Martellus Bennett, Larry Donnell, Antonio Gates
That’ll do it for week 15.It’s win or go home my friends. Don’t be a blip on the radar! Get it done this week and you’ll have bragging rights for a lifetime. Good Luck!
On Friday's edition of Diagnosis, the Helpers discuss a few playoff sleeper options at each position for Week 15. Week 15 is often considered the divisional round of the fantasy playoffs, so the competition is likely to get even tougher from here on out. Also, they go over their hits and misses from Week 14.
Editor's note: Our bullet point articles are written to better explain our weekly rankings, which you can find here.
Start of the week
Le'Veon Bell at Cincinnati
Bell has been one of the biggest surprises of this season. Yeah, he was expected to be a solid RB2, but the numbers he's putting up are reminiscent of Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles. Like Charles, Bell managed to string together an eight catch, 159 yard receiving effort that was similar to Charles' eight catch, 195 yards receiving against Oakland in 2013. The major difference between those two games were the touchdowns though, as Charles found the end zone four times while Bell didn't score once.
Scoring shouldn't be an issue for Bell this week though. The Bengals give up the sixth most points to fantasy running backs (19.6 per game) and Bell has rushed for a touchdown in last two contests. He's on pace for 2,000 total yards this season, making him one of the most versatile fantasy backs of the 2014 season. He's as good a bet as any to rush for 100 yards and score two touchdowns this week.
Joique Bell vs. Tampa Bay
From one Bell to another, Joique is coming off his best game of the season where he rushed for two touchdowns and 91 yards against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. He's been somewhat inconsistent when finding the end zone as he hadn't scored four weeks prior to his two-touchdown effort. Even with that, he's been the most reliable running back on the Detroit Lions, averaging 52 yards per game. He also has a good matchup against a bad Tampa Bay rushing defense that gives up 18.1 fantasy points to running backs.
The Buccaneers defense has played a little better since the start of the season, with Gerald McCoy being a plug up the middle. But while the Buccaneer front four has given Tampa an edge, teams can still run the ball on them with reasonable success on the edges. Matt Forte rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries (3.9 ypc) and the Bengals dual threat of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 109 yards. Tampa's secondary ranks among the worst in the league as well, so Bell's receiving ability in the flat and on short routes could be equally effective. He's a good flex play this week.
Tre Mason at Washington
Mason has a lot going for him in this matchup, and it starts with all the problems going on in Washington. The Redskins have been a mess in the locker room, with reports that Jay Gruden wants quarterback Robert Griffin III off the team after this season. It's so bad that even one of his own teammates blasted him over the weekend. When your team has lost confidence and seemingly the will to play hard because of negative vibes, it's never a good situation. And that's not just some woo-woo speculative armchair analysis (ok maybe a little) but it really does impact a team's performance on the field.
Defensively, The Redskins have been very stout against the run this season but injuries are starting to take a toll. Starting linebacker and leading tackler Keenan Robinson has been battling a sprained MCL and hasn't practiced all week. Sack leader Brandon Meriweather (also a prolific tackler) is battling a sprained toe and hasn't practiced either. Meriweather is listed as doubtful while Robinson is questionable. Key pass rusher and run stopper Jason Hatcher is also questionable as is Chris Baker. On offense, DeSean Jackson is dealing with a shin injury and didn't practice Friday, he may be a scratch as well which could limit the offense since he's Washington's leading receiver.
Now on to the Rams. Mason had his coming out party against the Raiders last week, rushing for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He's become one of the key factors in the Rams' success. When Mason rushes for at least 60 yards, the Rams are 4-1 and when he rushes for over 100 yards, the Rams are 2-0. Expect St. Louis to ride Mason once again and while he might not explode for the big yardage he did against Oakland, he should still hover around the 70-90 yard mark and one touchdown.
Denard Robinson vs. Houston
Shoelace will need to double knot this Sunday after falling back to earth over the last few weeks. After several strong performances that included back-to-back 100 yard games in relief of starter Toby Gerhart earlier in the year, defenses are gearing up for him better. Teams are stacking the box since they know Robinson is perhaps the biggest offensive threat with Blake Bortles still going through growing pains as a rookie. All of that planning has really limited Robinson's value.
Another reason for caution could be Robinson's struggles in pass blocking. The Jaguars surrendered seven sacks to the New York Giants last week, and two of those were a result of Robinson's blown coverage. Dealing with a pass rush that includes J.J. Watt this week won't make it any easier. If the Jaguars elect to pass more and go after Houston's weak secondary, Robinson could see a smaller portion of the snaps.
The Jaguars have also been experimenting a lot since they know they're no longer in the playoff chase. Bortles will continue to get his reps so the staff can evaluate him and while the rookie quarterback is nursing shoulder and ankle injuries, expect the Jaguars' staff to keep testing out his skills so they can help him improve next season. If they pass a lot against Houston and Robinson is forced to come out due to his pass protection liabilities, then Shoelace could get lost in the shuffle.
Preparation in fantasy football is always crucial to victory. Each week, it's like a mad dash to see who can make the right pickups first and who's ahead of the injury and matchup curve the most. As the playoffs draw near, the planning that goes into having a strong lineup in Weeks 14,15 and 16 are the staple of every fantasy owner's season.
Those three weeks mentioned above are the big climax for fantasy owners, and they want their matchups tastier than a Chip Kelly personalized smoothie. If you're already thinking your team is destined for the playoffs, then you may want to look into how you can fortify your team to make it even more tough to beat when it really matters. Here are some matchups for Week 14 that could be plausibly fruitful.
Week 14 matchups
Eric Ebron (3% owned) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With a little over 100 yards receiving and just one touchdown, the tight end dubbed the second coming of Vernon Davis hasn't had a very productive rookie season due to a nagging hamstring injury that's kept him out of action for nearly half the season. Still, he's eventually expected to return to the lineup in Week 11 and has a good matchup down the road against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks second worst in the league against the pass. In a pass heavy offense loaded with plenty of receiving talent, it's not out of the question Ebron could get lost in the shuffle playing along guys like Golden Tate, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson. Despite the possibility of low targets, he's still a good TE2 option just because of his athletic upside and a favorable matchup. With tight ends like Jordan Cameron and Vernon Davis constantly hurt, Ebron could be a good savior if you're weak at the TE position.
New Orleans Saints defense (8% owned) vs. Carolina
Carolina's offense has really struggled these past three weeks. They haven't scored more than 20 points since they tied Cincinnati 37-37 back in Week 6. Panthers QB Cam Newton has been playing hurt with two bad legs, which could severely limit his upside as a rushing quarterback. The Panthers running game has been non existent with their running backs averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Jonathan Stewart heads their paltry rushing attack with 299 yards on the year.
The Panthers receivers have also been inconsistent, with Greg Olsen serving as the team's best option with 51 catches. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin has shown flashes but his route running and consistency haven't been there, as evidenced by his 43 catches on a whopping 85 targets. He's basically catching just half of the balls thrown his way. Jerricho Cotchery is still without a touchdown on the season and looks as every bit out of place as many thought the vet would be in a role too big for a guy of his age.
On the other side, the Saints' defense has improved mightily. They've registered five interceptions in their last four games and have sacked the quarterback at least four times in their last three games. Surprisingly, they rank in the top 15 in yards allowed as well. While divisional matchups can often be close, the Saints defense could be worth a play due to Carolina's struggles on the offensive end.
Allen Hurns (20% owned), Cecil Shorts (43% owned) vs. Houston Texans
The Jacksonville Jaugars lost their most targeted receiver, Allen Robinson, to a broken foot which will sideline him for the remainder of the season. With Robinson out, expect the speedy Hurns to be the primary benefactor in the Jaguars' offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles has thrown for at least 200 yards in all but two starts, and he's eclipsed the 300 yard mark once as well. He moves the ball down the field consistently.
Hurns suffered a concussion during the Jaguars' last game against Dallas, but he still leads the Jaguars in touchdowns (5) and with Robinson now out, expect Hurns to see more targets which should increase his yardage totals and overall consistency. Plus, he's still available in nearly 80 percent of Yahoo! Leagues. Shorts is second on the team in targets (61) and has two 100 yard games on the season.
These two receivers are good options in Week 14 because of their matchup against the Houston Texans, a team with a secondary known for getting burned throughout this season. The Texans are allowing 279 passing yards per game, which ranks 29th in the league. Hurns will have major upside as a WR3/flex guy in a bigger role with a good matchup.
Terrance Williams (81% owned) @ Chicago Bears
I know, Williams has been an inconsistent player at times. But he's still on pace for 11 touchdowns and 700 receiving yards. Williams and the Cowboys will have a gift wrapping of a matchup against the Chicago Bears in Chicago on Week 14. The Bears have allowed 268 passing yards per game, which ranks 28th in the league. They're also surrendering around 30 points per game. Williams is coming off a poor game against Jacksonville where he only saw two targets, but they still took shots at him in the end zone. He's been a big part of the Cowboys' receiving game this season and while he may be feast or famine, he's unlikely to fade in an offense that values his contribution.
On Monday's episode of First Aid, the Helpers discuss Ryan Tannehill's career performance and what it means for the Dolphins fantasy value going forward. They also hand out their weekly awards and discuss tonight's Monday night matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants.
San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill owners got to see something special on Sunday, and that something was the best game of Tannehill's young career. The 2012 first round draft pick went 24-for-34 for 288 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran four times for 47 yards and finished with just under 40 fantasy points for the day.
Tannehill owners should temper expectations in the coming weeks though, as the Dolphins face tough defenses in Buffalo, Detroit and Denver over the next three weeks. Not to say Tannehill can't put up solid numbers against those defenses, he can, but it's out of line Tannehill to put up QB1 numbers every week. He hasn't thrown for three touchdowns once this season, and achieved the feat just four times in two and a half seasons.
Philip Rivers flipped on the opposite day switch and played nothing like a quarterback who came into this game with one of the best TD:INT ratios in the NFL at 20:5. I guess you could say Rivers was due for a bad game after such a great first half of the season, but it didn't make his performance any less bearable. Rivers went just 12-for-23 for 138 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. It was the first game Rivers didn't throw a touchdown which was surprising considering the receiving core was healthy and Branden Oliver has proven to be a force in the backfield.
A big reason why Rivers had so much trouble was due to the pressure he was under throughout the game. Led by Cameron Wake and Rishard Matthews, the Dolphins got consistent pressure and forced Rivers to unload the ball before he wanted to. The Dolphins sacked Rivers three times and forced one fumble on the day, which they also recovered. The Dolphins defense finished with 22 fantasy points in standard leagues and has now strung together back-to-back games of scoring at least 20 points. They're only owned in about 40 percent of Yahoo! Leagues also.
As for the running game, Lamar Miller didn't post spectacular numbers but was very efficient none the less for Miami. Miller rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries and added a touchdown as well. The Dolphins' line did a good job creating lanes for him to run through and while Miller didn't approach 100 yards, he gave Tannehill much more freedom in the pocket because the run game was working so well.
On the other side, Branden Oliver struggled for the second straight week. Oliver was consistently bottled up in the backfield and finished with 13 carries for 19 yards (1.5 YPC). It's safe to consider benching Oliver in non-PPR leagues as Ryan Mathews will likely return to the lineup after the Chargers' Week 10 bye. Oliver has proven to be a nice change of pace back who can catch the ball out of the backfield not unlike Danny Woodhead did last year for San Diego, but it' s looking more and more like the 5'8 Oliver may not have the size to be an every down back in the NFL.
A nationwide flood warning is in effect. Grab your umbrella because there’s a storm brewing out there. The hurricane otherwise known as weeks 9-11 was forecasted back when the NFL schedule makers decided to develop an unprecedented bye week system. Weeks 5-8 were the calm before the storm. Sure there was light rain at times for some owners with 2 teams per week having byes, but for many owners there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, especially in that joke of a week when Miami and Oakland were off. Storms at their worst are strong enough destroy houses and even cities and this 21 day long storm from week 9 to week 11 is threatening to ruin fantasy teams over the next 3 weeks, and maybe even entire fantasy seasons around the country. With 6 teams on byes this week and next week, and 4 teams off in week 11, there has never been a more critical time to reach into your bag of tricks. Work that waiver wire and don’t be afraid to reach deep on your roster during these weeks because at some point you’re going to need to take chances. The results of these three weeks will have a tremendous impact on your playoff possibilities.
So all of you owners of Julio, Roddy, Ryan, Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb, Watkins, Stafford, Joique, Golden, Cutler, BMarsh, Jeffery, Forte, Bennett and any injured player…. let me help lead you out of this storm completely avoiding any damage at all with these sleepers and bust predictions for week 9.
Without further ado, your week 9 Sleepers and Busts:
DISCLAIMER: A sleeper is not a must start and a bust is not a must bench, they are merely indications that a player will have a better or worse game this week than they normally do. It all really depends on your alternatives. I will give an example of a few players for whom I personally would start the sleeper over or bench the bust for. These players are simply there as an indication of how good or bad I think the sleepers/busts will perform so you have a comparison in mind when applying it to your actual lineup. For example if I am comparing a QB to a stud like Andrew Luck, I am not necessarily saying you need to start him over Luck (even if I would) but it will imply that I feel really good about him.
· Tony Romo v. Arizona. OR Andy Dalton v. Jacksonville All of you WWE fans, and back when I was watching, WWF fans, tell me that what you saw last week in Dallas wasn’t reminiscent of something you’d see at Wrestlemania, or since it was only week 8 and it was on Monday Night, Monday Night Raw. The Cowboys stadium is so over the top, and you had the same type of theatrics with Jerry Jones being in the owner’s box, then on the sideline, then in the trainer’s room and then back on the sideline as the messenger to head coach Jason Garrett, telling him that Romo was ready to come back in for the final drive. It’s just not something you see in the NFL. We saw Romo come out of the tunnel with a few minutes remaining in the 4th quarter and the crowd went wild, almost like we were seeing Stone Cold Steve Austin making a surprise appearance in the Royal Rumble after a year-long injury.
My point is that the Cowboys just love this kind of dramatic BS, and all I take from it is that Romo is healthy enough to play football. I truly think he’s going to be in the lineup against Arizona, a team that ranks dead last in passing yards against. If Romo is active, the Cardinals will be stacking the box, sending risky blitzes and giving up big chunks of yards through the air. I’ve seen this act before with Romo playing through pain, and more importantly, playing well while injured. I get to list him as a sleeper because the Cowboys create this kind of atmosphere that makes this a bigger deal than it really is, and owners will be wary to use him even if he’s pronounced as the starter. Romo is one of the top fantasy QBs since week 3, so start him as you normally would against a passing defense that gives up more yards through the air than anybody.
If for some reason I’m wrong, and Romo actually does not play I have a bonus sleeper at QB for you that’s Andy Dalton at home against Jacksonville with A.J. Green back on the field. Dalton, a top 5 fantasy QB just a year ago has certainly missed his top receiving option but he’s actually excelled in 3 of the last 4 weeks a stretch in which he’s had 6 TDs (including 2 rushing) and 3 INTs. AJ Green’s presence is huge on its own but it will also allow breakout WR Mohamed Sanu to operate against number 2 CBs one on one all day long. He’s been playing absolutely out of his mind with Green out of the lineup and he’s sure to continue excel against lesser competition. Even with Giovanni Bernard out of the lineup the Bengals will move the ball against an inferior opponent, Jacksonville. The Jaguars have been playing a lot better defense of late but their last three opponents, Miami, Cleveland and Tennessee, have significantly worse QBs than Dalton and do not possess a WR duo comparable to AJ Green and Mohamed Sanu. I like Romo if he’s available more than Dalton but if Romo is out, look for Dalton to look like he did last season.
I’d Start Tony Romo OR Andy Dalton over: Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer
· Ryan Tannehill v. San Diego. In the long run I am a believer in Ryan Tannehill, but I had much higher expectations from him last week when he opposed an already poor defense that was loaded with injuries. Almost all of his stats (196 yds 1 TD 1 INT) were accumulated when the game was out of reach and the only thing impressive about his day were his 48 yards rushing. After his disappointment in week 8, Tannehill’s only truly high level performances have come against two awful defenses in Chicago and Oakland. This week he does come home, but San Diego is a less than ideal matchup. The Chargers rank 6th in passing yards against and they return two CBs (Brandon Flowers and Shareece Wright) from injury. Mike Wallace, despite having a bounce back season, has complained about his role in the offense and the lack of deep balls coming his way. His speed is not being fully utilized and Tannehill has not shown the ability to complete these types of passes at a high rate. Look for the Chargers to do what they do best and sustain long drives eating up clock, while the Dolphins will continue to play more of the same conservative run the ball and throw dink and dunk type passes in the short and intermediate game. There aren’t going to be enough possessions against a quality pass defense like San Diego for Tannehill to be worth starting. Look elsewhere for your bye week replacement.
I’d Start the following players over Ryan Tannehill: Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, Brian Hoyer
· Shane Vereen v. Denver. The roller coaster ride for Shane Vereen owners continued in last week’s thrashing of the Bears when Jonas Gray dominated the backfield touches. However, if you take a closer look, there was at least one encouraging sign for Vereen owners. Vereen got 5 touches and/or targets inside the 10 yard-line including two goal line runs. It seems like game flow will dictate whether Vereen has a monumental game, big game, average game, or below average game. I do not see him having any total busts going forward. This matchup against Denver is the perfect setup for the monumental type of performance. The Patriots and Bill Belichick have had success against Peyton Manning in the past, but win or lose, nobody is slowing down Denver right now, so we’re sure to see a high scoring, high pace game. Denver ranks first in the NFL in rushing yards against, so don’t expect to see Jonas Gray rumbling down the field. This is the ideal game for Vereen’s skillset. The fact that Gronk is at the top of his game and that Brandon LaFell has established himself as a go to guy, will only help free up the middle of the field for Vereen to operate 1 on 1 against a LB. Expect Vereen to see 8+ targets and the ceiling for him, especially in PPR leagues, is unlimited.
I’d start Shane Vereen over: Frank Gore, Alfred Morris, Jerick McKinnon, Denard Robinson, Chris Ivory
· Chris Ivory at Kansas City. Chris Ivory is a fine player and is one of the biggest surprises at the RB position this season, but this week owners should look for other options. The Jets travel to Kansas City, and let’s be honest; they’re going to lose big. There's no doubt that Kansas City will be stacking the box with their dominant front seven led by Dontari Poe, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, and will force Michael Vick to throw. This alone does not eliminate Ivory from a start because the Jets have lost big throughout the season and Ivory has been great. But, combine that with the fact that we’re in week 9 and Kansas City has allowed ZERO rushing TDs this season and right there we have our the nail in the coffin. Again, running backs such as Montee Ball, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Lamar Miller, Frank Gore, and Branden Oliver have combined for ZERO TDs on the ground against this team. I would not bet on Chris Ivory and the Jets breaking that trend.
I’d start the following players over Chris Ivory: Shane Vereen, Ben Tate, Jeremy Hill, Branden Oliver, Andre Williams
· Andrew Hawkins v. Cleveland. The Baby Hawk has been soaring up and down the field the last 2 weeks to the tune of 12 catches for 200 yards and 1 TD. With Jordan Cameron likely out, he's far and away Brian Hoyer’s number 1 option in the passing game at home against the absolute worst fantasy defense against WRs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have accomplished this feat through 8 weeks and now have traded away the best player in their secondary, safety Mark Barron. Look for Brian Hoyer to have a field day with the main beneficiary being the vastly underrated Hawkins. I’ve seen him ranked as WR26-30, but in a shallow week like this, I’m giving him top 20 value. He’s already had five games with over 70 yards and I’m projecting him for at least seven catches for 80-110 yards and a maybe even a TD.
I’d Start Andrew Hawkins over: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree, Doug Baldwin, Keenan Allen
· Michael Crabtree v. St. Louis. The hype and respect that Michael Crabtree receives from fantasy owners and experts world-wide baffles me. Listen, I will admit the guy does have a really cool name, but otherwise what else does he really have going for him? Is it his 2013 of 19 catches and 284 yards in an injured season with only 5 regular season games? Or is it his 2014 campaign where he is on pace for only 73 catches for 736 yards? What other player who has topped out at 49 yards receiving in the last 4 games would be ranked as a WR2 on expert lists this week? He’s ranked as the #24 WR and it is just incredible to me. Sure, the Rams are a fine matchup. Colin Kaepernick threw for over 300 yards in their last meeting and that game was one of Crabtree’s best moments of the season when he had 3 catches for 49 yards and a TD. In other words, he isn’t very good. Anquan Boldin has dominated the Rams for years and I would expect this game to be no different. The additions of Steve Johnson and Brandon Lloyd to the 49ers receiving core certainly have not helped Crabtree one bit. However, if you like seeing your players on the sideline stretching their feet out by stepping on a tennis ball or a softball or whatever that ball is, then Crabtree is surely your man. But, if you want statistics, production and fantasy points I’d look elsewhere.
I’d start the following players over Michael Crabtree: Andrew Hawkins, Odell Beckham Jr. , Doug Baldwin, Pierre Garcon, Allen Robinson
· Clay Harbor v. Cincinnati. Blake Bortles is having a rough start to his NFL career. He’s turned the ball over plenty and his team, as a result, has fallen behind in many games fairly quickly. However, Bortles was the number 1 QB drafted and every game he has certain drives and plays that display exactly why he was the most coveted player in the 2014 NFL draft. Look for Cincinnati to take the lead early in this game and never look back, forcing Bortles into a second half full of passing. Cincinnati is totally inept at covering any TE with a pulse, and Clay Harbor does have one. Other than Levine Toilolo and Crocket Gilmore, every tight end they have faced this season has gone for double digit fantasy points in .5 PPR leagues. This list includes Dennis Pitta, Delanie Walker, Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, and Dwayne Allen. Is Clay Harbor closer talent wise to Levine Toilolo and Crocket Gilmore than these other stud tight ends? Definitely. But the Jaguars dial up plenty of plays (even deep plays) for Harbor, and Bortles has confidence in his TE. If you’re streaming, look for Clay Harbor to deliver low end TE1 numbers.
I’d start Clay Harbor over: Vernon Davis, Timothy Wright, Jace Amaro, Heath Miller
· Jordan Reed at Minnesota. Against the tight end, Minnesota has allowed only New Orleans’ Josh Hill, to score double digit fantasy points in .5 PPR leagues. They are ranked number 7 overall against TEs and they give up the 4th fewest passing yards per game, so this is sure to be a tough draw for Jordan Reed. RG III will be making his first start since week 2 and he will be rusty. Reed has had to share looks at the TE position with Niles Paul and has not yet broken out the way that owners who drafted him thought he would when he became healthy. I believe in Jordan Reed long term, as RG III gets comfortable playing quarterback again, but I would avoid starting him this week.
I’d start the following players over Jordan Reed: Travis Kelce, Larry Donnell, Jason Witten, Zach Ertz,
That’ll do it for week 9. Let’s take this three week storm of byes one week at a time. Here’s to sunny skies and a disaster free week 9. Good luck to you all. Feel free to drop a comment question or criticism and I’ll do my best to give you a prompt response.
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