Fantasy owners looking to make start/sit decisions may have it tough in Week 9. Not only are there four teams on bye, but players are injured and being added to the COVID-19 list every day. Some players have a chance to still play on Sunday (if they were considered a close contact and continue to test negative), but others are already ruled out for the week.
Green Bay's running backs and San Francisco's wide receivers are two position groups that tentatively should be playing on Thursday night (assuming the game does not get moved) and are severely impacted by COVID-19. Keep an eye out for any more players sitting and try to piece together the best lineup possible.
Teams on bye: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia
START These QBs
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders
In the past four games, Herbert has thrown at least three touchdowns. He only has three – total – interceptions in that span. In the first two games he played this season, he only threw one touchdown but did produce more than 300 passing yards. Herbert should be considered a QB1 regardless of matchup. In Week 9, he faces the Raiders who allowed Tom Brady to throw for four touchdowns in Week 7 (Week 8 was rough for Baker Mayfield, but weather played a huge role in that). Plug Herbert into your starting lineup and continue on.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Bills face the Seahawks in Week 9, who allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Allen has been up and down lately, but it seems time for him to have an up game. He hasn't thrown a touchdown in the past two games (he did have a rushing TD in Week 8), but prior to that, he had at least two in every game. Seattle should put up points, which is a good game script for Allen. He's a QB1 this week.
SIT These QBs
Nick Mullens, San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers (Thurs.)
Mullens was benched mid-game for C.J. Beathard in Week 4. He's been named the starter for Week 9, and he may have a short leash, but he also has no passing options to speak of. COVID-19 has made its way through the 49ers receiving corps and this is going to be tough. George Kittle is already out because of injury. Kendrick Bourne tested positive for the virus and Bradon Aiyuk (along with an injured Deebo Samuel and left tackle Trent Williams) also will miss the game after being deemed a "high-risk close contact." It's almost not fair to hold this game against Mullens, but fantasy owners should try to find other options.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
During the bye week, the Dolphins announced they were benching Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of Tagovailoa. In his first start against the Rams last Sunday, Tagovailoa threw the ball 22 times. He completed 12 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Miami won the game thanks to its defense and special teams, not Tagovailoa, but the victory may have taken some of the attention off his otherwise underwhelming performance. Even with the byes and COVID issues, fantasy owners should be reluctant to start the rookie until he puts forth a better performance.
START These TEs
Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons
Drew Lock had a great fourth quarter in Week 8 and fantasy owners are hoping that continues this Sunday in Atlanta. The Falcons' secondary isn't great as the defense has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, including eight touchdowns (Robert Tonyan had three of those). Fant hasn't scored since Week 2, but he had nine targets this past Sunday, trailing only Jerry Jeudy (10) in that department. This is a great matchup and a solid starting opportunity for Fant.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints
Gronk and Tom Brady have reunited and it's been great for fantasy owners. Gronkowski has scored a touchdown in each of the past three games. Part of that is that he's (relatively) healthy. Part of that is that he has connected with Brady. And part of that is because of injuries – Chris Godwin has missed half of the games thus far. Godwin could be back this week and Antonio Brown is scheduled to make his season debut, which may cut into Gronk's targets. However, he's a big body and someone that Brady continually looks for in the red zone. The Saints have allowed tight ends to score plenty of fantasy points, and owners shouldn't be surprised if Gronk scores again this week.
SIT These TEs
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons vs. Denver Broncos
Hurst faces a Broncos team that hasn't allowed a tight end to score since Week 2. It may be tempting to want to start Hurst with Calvin Ridley suffering a foot injury last week, but this has the makings of a Julio Jones game, not Hurst. Ridley has not been ruled out, and if he's active, Hurst should be on the bench. However, if Ridley does sit, Hurst would fall into the TE2 range. He only has more than five receptions in one game this season, and even with Ridley missing time last week, Hurst only had five catches for 54 yards. Matt Ryan doesn't typically look for him in the red zone, so fantasy owners are relying on receptions.
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
In the past two games, Gesicki has four targets. He's caught one pass for eight yards. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3. With Tua Tagovailoa as quarterback, it's hard to predict who the targets will go to. Often, rookie QBs look for their tight end, but that wasn't the case in Tagovailoa's debut last Sunday. This week's matchup against the Cardinals isn't a bad one, although they have only allowed two touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season. They have not allowed a tight end to have more than four receptions or 55 yards. This doesn't appear to be the week that Gesicki breaks out of his slump.
START This Defense/Special Teams (DST)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
Dak Prescott. Andy Dalton. Ben DiNucci. None of them are going to be the starting quarterback for Dallas this week. The Steelers DST is a recommended fantasy option most weeks when they play against top-caliber quarterbacks. In Week 9, they get either Garrett Gilbert (a sixth-round draft pick in 2014 who has completed two passes in the NFL) or Cooper Rush (undrafted, completed one pass in the NFL in 2017). Start the Steelers wherever possible.
SIT This Defense/Special Teams (DST)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints
The Buccaneers face the Saints in Week 9, which should be a good game. However, for those looking to start the Buccaneers DST, you might want to find other options. The Saints give up the fewest points to opposing DSTs as Drew Brees has only thrown three interceptions this season. The Saints are no stranger to putting up points and should have Michael Thomas back. This game has the potential to be high-scoring and the Bucs DST should be left on fantasy benches.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
(Photo by Mike Nowak/Los Angeles Chargers, courtesy of chargers.com)