The calendar has turned to November as we enter Week 9 of the NFL season. Following this week, eight weeks remain in the regular season, meaning in essence, we are halfway home. However, there are still three more bye weeks to manage, including this week as any Patriots, 49ers, Jets or Rams you have on your roster won’t get you any points in Week 9.
Athlon Sports is here to help you make all of those important lineup decisions for your Yahoo!, NFL.com or ESPN fantasy football league with our weekly Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.
Bye week teams: New England, New York Jets, St. Louis, San Francisco
Sneaky Start of the Week
Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis vs. Miami
Allen may have been drafted a round later than teammate Coby Fleener, and has fewer receptions and targets than the former Stanford Cardinal, but he definitely has one advantage this week. Allen is playing and Fleener is not.
Fleener injured his shoulder in last week’s overtime win in Tennessee and is expected to miss the next two games. This means Allen will replace Fleener as the Colts’ starting tight end and likewise he won’t be competing with him for targets during this time.
Fleener and quarterback Andrew Luck may have been teammates at Stanford, but that hasn’t affected Allen and Luck’s chemistry one bit. While Fleener does have more targets and receptions, Allen has just four fewer catches (17 to 21) and he has two touchdowns, compared to zero for Fleener.
Between Fleener and Allen, Luck has targeted these two a total of 59 times in seven games. That’s an average of more than eight per contest. While Allen won’t get every single TE target this week against Miami (Weslye Saunders is also on the roster), I think he will get more than enough additional opportunities to make him a legitimate starting option in a week that has Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, Aaron Hernandez and Dustin Keller on bye.
Surprise Sit of the Week
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay at Oakland
Wait a minute. Sit the guy who led all running backs in fantasy scoring last week by piling up 205 total yards (135 rush, 69 receiving) and two touchdowns against, by all appearances, what seemed to be a pretty good Minnesota defense? More on the Vikings' D later (see below), but as it relates to Martin, feel free to call me crazy, but I just don’t think he will have near as much success this Sunday against Oakland.
The Raiders are ranked 11th in the league against the run, allowing 102.1 yards per game. Of the 715 total yards rushing the Silver and Black have surrendered, 583 have been gained by running backs. Of that total, 284, or a little less than half, belong to Reggie Bush (172) and Willis McGahee (112). They also have scored three of the five rushing touchdowns the Raiders have allowed to backs.
Outside of these two, the other running backs have accumulated 299 yards rushing on 113 carries, which works out to 2.6 yards per carry, and two touchdowns. I’m not saying Martin has not performed on the same level or better than a Bush or McGahee to this point. I just don’t think the Raiders’ run defense has been that bad if you look at the whole picture.
My other hesitation with Martin for this week revolves around the loss of All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks. Nicks, who was one of the Bucs’ big free agent signees this offseason, has been placed on injured reserve with a toe injury. Regardless of how deep Tampa Bay’s offensive line is, the loss of Nicks will have an impact that's almost certain to show up on the field.
Someone will have to move over and take Nicks’ left guard spot, which results in a domino effect across the line, or a reserve will be asked to fill some pretty big shoes. Either way, I would not be surprised to see the Bucs’ running game, and perhaps even pass protection, struggle this week on the road against the Raiders. I don’t think Martin will get shut out, but I wouldn’t count on an encore performance this week out west.
Cam Newton (CAR) at Washington
Regular readers of this feature would probably bring up the fact that on more than one occasion, I have suggested sitting Newton. I still view Newton as one of the bigger disappointments in fantasy football this season, when you compare production with draft position, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t put up big numbers any given week. And considering Washington is last in the league in passing defense, has allowed the most touchdown passes (18) and yards (2,532) to quarterbacks, I really like his chances to do just that on Sunday.
Michael Vick (PHI) at New Orleans (Monday)
Like Newton, Vick has been another frequent Sit target here. What’s worse, Vick could be playing for his job, as the heat is on him, head coach Andy Reid and the rest of the team and organization to try and turn things around. Whether the Eagles can pull out the win in New Orleans on Monday night or not remains to be seen, but I do like Vick’s chances to do his part against the Saints. New Orleans is allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and outside of 7.1 points by Matt Cassel, no quarterback has scored fewer than 23.2 against the Saints. Like Cassel, Vick has had his problems with turnovers, but I think he flips that script this week and plays his best game of the season. If not, he may find himself on the bench, and I’m just not referring to the fantasy aspect here.
Jay Cutler (CHI) at Tennessee
Cutler has been about as boom or bust as a quarterback can be this season. He’s had three games of 22 or more fantasy points, yet he’s also posted three games with fewer than 10. Last week against Carolina was one of those (9.8), but I will grant him some leniency as I think his sore ribs were bothering him more than he let on. So why am I on the Cutler bandwagon this week? Let’s just say I think the home cooking will do him some good. Cutler played his college ball at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., and on top of a visit to his old stomping grounds, he also gets to face the Titans and their 29th-ranked passing defense. What better medicine for an ailing quarterback than a defense that has given up 17 touchdown passes and the fourth-most fantasy points to the position.
Joe Flacco (BAL) at Cleveland
The last time Flacco faced the Browns back in Week 4 he threw for 356 yards, had two touchdowns (1 pass, 1 rush) and just one interception (24.6 fantasy pts). So why the change of heart for this week’s rematch? Two reasons, the first of which is that Flacco has not played well in Cleveland. In four career games in the Dawg Pound, Flacco has completed less than 59 percent of his passes for an average of 165.8 yards per game, to go along with four touchdown passes and one interception. The bigger reason is that when the Ravens and Browns played in Week 4, cornerback Joe Haden did not as he was in the midst of serving a four-game suspension. Haden returned in Week 6 and in the Browns’ last two games, the defense has given up a total of 340 passing yards and no touchdowns. I just don’t see the Ravens throwing it as much or with near as much success this time around against the Browns.
Christian Ponder (MIN) at Seattle
After not throwing an interception in the first four games, Ponder has seven in the past four. He also has just six touchdowns in that same span, further limiting his fantasy production. The Vikings are in Seattle this week to take on a Seahawks defense that has already held Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Tony Romo in check at home. Last time I checked, Ponder wasn’t on any of these guys’ level, even with the issues Romo has had recently with interceptions.
Matt Hasselbeck (TEN) vs. Chicago
With news coming out that Jake Locker is dealing with a fracture in his non-throwing (left) shoulder, Hasselbeck will remain the Titans’ starter until further notice. That said, I wouldn’t plan on using the veteran this week against Chicago. Even though the Bears’ defense has fared worse against the pass than the run, it’s still a pretty stout one overall and I don’t think the Titans have an offense that can be expected to do all that much. For what it’s worth, Hasselbeck isn’t the only Titan I’m down on this week (see below).
Alfred Morris (WAS) vs. Carolina
Let’s see, Morris is third in the NFL in rushing and he’s facing a Carolina defense that’s giving up 114.4 yards per game along with the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. No one it saw coming, but Morris has become basically a must-start option each week and that’s certainly the case this Sunday.
Reggie Bush (MIA) at Indianapolis
Bush hasn’t rushed for more than 67 yards in a game since exploding for 172 against Oakland in Week 2. Fortunately for him, Indianapolis and the Colts’ 27th-ranked run defense are on tap. The Colts have already given up 177 yards to Maurice Jones-Drew and 161 to Shonn Greene. I’m not sure Bush will get that many, but I am predicting he will end up with around 100 and probably a score or two.
Jonathan Stewart (CAR) at Washington
The Redskins have done a decent job against the run this season, as they are ranked 10th in the league. However, Jonathan Dwyer put up 107 on the ground against them last week and while Stewart probably won’t reach that mark, I think he will do more than enough as both a rusher and receiver to put up decent numbers. Remember, Stewart has been named the No. 1 ball carrier for the Panthers, so he’s getting more touches than he was in previous weeks. After having just six in Week 5, he’s averaged 17 in the past two games. More touches don’t automatically result in production, but they certainly don’t hurt either.
Fred Jackson (BUF) at Houston
It’s bad enough for Jackson owners to have to watch him share carries with C.J. Spiller (and the same goes for Spiller owners too). Now, the Bills have the pleasure of going down to Houston to face a Texans’ defense that’s fourth in the league in rushing yards allowed and has yet to give up a rushing touchdown. Reduced opportunities have already taken away from Jackson’s production potential, combine that with a tough match up and you come up with a strong argument to leave Jackson on the bench this week.
Chris Johnson (TEN) vs. Chicago
Credit Johnson with this much, he has done a good job of turning things around after getting off to a horrendous start. He has 91 or more yards rushing in four of his last five games. Unfortunately, this Sunday he will be facing the NFL’s top rush defense (77.9 ypg), which has given up more than 63 yards to any running back only once. The Bears also have given up just one rushing touchdown, and that came in Week 1. Johnson has taken several steps forward in recent weeks, but it looks like it will be a step or two backwards on Sunday.
Michael Turner (ATL) vs. Dallas
Take out Turner’s lone 100-yard effort this season (103 vs. Carolina in Week 4), and he’s rushed for 312 yards in six games. That’s averages out to 52 yards per game. He’s also scored a total of three touchdowns in those six games and has only seven receptions for 15 yards. He’s still getting the opportunities (24 carries last week), but Turner the Burner just doesn’t seem to be getting the job done any more. I don’t expect Dallas, which is 13th in the league in rush defense, to make things any easier on him this week either. With Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez doing as much damage as they have, the Falcons are slowly becoming a more pass-oriented team, which does not bode well for Turner’s fantasy outlook the rest of this season.
Steve Smith (CAR) at Washington
If Cam Newton (see above) is going to have a big game against Washington, he’s going to need some help from his receivers. Brandon LaFell is a little banged up, which means Smith and even tight end Greg Olsen (see below) will be asked to carry the load. The good news is that Smith is more than capable of doing so, and the Redskins’ defense has more than obliged this season. The Redskins have allowed the most receptions (124) and yards (1,819) to opposing wide receivers this season, to go along with 10 touchdowns. What more needs to be said?
Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at New Orleans (Monday)
Similarly to the Newton-Smith connection, Michael Vick will need his wide receivers to come through if he’s to enjoy the fantasy success against New Orleans on Monday night that I am predicting (see above). While I do think DeSean Jackson is a solid play this week, I am casting my vote for Maclin. The Saints are allowing the most fantasy points to wide receivers, including 13 touchdowns, so there should be plenty to go around regardless. However, I think Maclin is more of a complete receiver than Jackson, who relies heavily on the big play/reception, so I like his prospects of having a big night down in the Big Easy a little better.
Titus Young (DET) at Jacksonville
In fantasy football, there’s no better change agent than injury when it comes to a player’s outlook. Take the case of Young. Labeled a sleeper or player on the rise to start the season, the young receiver couldn’t seem to get out of his own way and was passed in the Lions’ pecking order by Nate Burleson. Burleson then breaks his leg in Week 7 against Chicago and Young immediately becomes the starter opposite Calvin Johnson. Young then proceeds to catch nine passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle the very next game. Johnson may be dealing with a sore knee, but as long as he’s on the field he will draw the majority of the defense’s attention, not Young. Change can be a good thing, and that appears to be the case here for Young, not to mention his owners.
Jordy Nelson (GB) vs. Arizona
Nelson missed last week’s game against Jacksonville because of a hamstring injury. Reports are he won’t even try to test it until Friday, and even then he will probably be a game-time decision at best. Green Bay is on bye next week and the Packers have already have seen what happens when someone comes back from injury too soon. Greg Jennings tried to do that after injuring his groin and now he’s out indefinitely after deciding to undergo surgery. One has to figure that even if Nelson does play, he will be limited. For the Packers, the more prudent decision would be to sideline him this week in hopes that he will be back to full strength after the bye. I think that’s the wise decision for his fantasy owners too.
Torrey Smith (BAL) at Cleveland
Smith caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland in Week 4. But, as has already been referenced (see Joe Flacco, above), that was against a Browns’ defense missing its best cover corner – Joe Haden. Haden will be back for this game and not surprisingly, the Browns’ pass defense has fared much better in the last two games. Smith relies too much on big plays to get his numbers and I don’t think Haden and co. let him get them this Sunday.
Kenny Britt (TEN) vs. Chicago
The good news is that Britt has played in the last four games, and no other injury issues have appeared during this stretch. The bad news is, he hasn’t done a lot in these four games either, catching a total of 13 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown. Don’t expect this trend to change this Sunday as the Bears have given up four touchdown receptions to opposing wide receivers. Britt may be playing, but I wouldn’t start him unless I had no other choice.
Greg Olsen (CAR) at Washington
The Redskins have allowed the second-most receptions to tight ends (52) and are tied for the most touchdown catches (7). Olsen is a tight end who is averaging better than six targets per game. Sometimes it is just as easy as that.
Kellen Davis (CHI) at Tennessee
The only team to allow more catches to opposing tight ends than the Redskins is the Titans (56) and they also have surrendered seven touchdowns to the position. Davis has only caught a total of 10 passes so far, but two of those are for touchdowns. I don’t think Davis will double his reception total in one game, but I will be surprised if he doesn’t finish with more than three, his current season high, and finds the end zone for the third time.
Kyle Rudolph (MIN) at Seattle
Rudolph does have five touchdown receptions, which ties for him for the third-most among his position, but he’s caught a total of two passes in his last two games. That’s also the number of touchdown passes the Seahawks have allowed to tight ends all season. In this instance, 2 + 2 = Rudolph on the bench.
Dennis Pitta (BAL) vs. Cleveland
Pitta had 18 receptions and two touchdowns in his first three games. Since then he’s caught 12 passes for no scores in his past four contests. Cleveland has given up only two touchdowns to opposing tight ends, and in Week 4 against these same Browns, Pitta didn’t catch a thing. I’m not expecting an exact repeat, per se, but I also would look at other options if I had Pitta on my roster.
Denver at Cincinnati
The Broncos held Drew Brees to 213 yards passing and the Saints to just 14 points last week. This week they go to Cincinnati to face a Bengals team that is struggling to run the ball (26th in the league in rushing) and has allowed five sacks and eight takeaways in its last three games. Advantage Denver.
Atlanta vs. Dallas
The Falcons have been fairly steady when it comes to DST production. They are 10th overall in fantasy scoring and have scored 10 or more points five times. The Cowboys are coming off of a game in which they turned it over six times, have a running game that’s pretty banged up and a quarterback that’s thrown 10 interceptions in the past four games. It doesn’t hurt that this game is on the Falcons’ home turf either.
Minnesota at Seattle
This appears to be a defense that’s reeling somewhat. Since Week 5, the Vikings’ DST has scored a total of 27 fantasy points. Seventeen of these came in one game, a dominating Week 7 performance against Arizona and its porous offensive line. In the past three games (which includes that same game against the Cardinals), the Vikings have surrendered an average of 156 yards rushing. Next up? Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks, in Seattle. I’ll pass, thanks.
Philadelphia at New Orleans (Monday)
The Eagles have a new defensive coordinator, a lot of other defensive issues and are on the road this weeks. Chances are you weren't planning on playing New Orleans' DST in this game either as this one has the look of an entertaining, high-scoring affair. And if that wasn't enough reason to give you pause on plugging the Eagles in there, how about this? The Saints have only turned the ball over nine times. Contrast that to the Eagles, who have coughed it up 17 times.
Lawrence Tynes (NYG) vs. Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is 2nd in the league in total defense and tied for ninth in scoring defense (20.6 ppg). However, this game is in New York and there's a reason that Tynes has already made 24 field goals, six more than any other kicker. I think the Giants will be able to move the ball against the Steelers, but will be held out of the end zone enough times to allow Tynes to add to his league-leading total of three-pointers.
Garrett Hartley (NO) vs. Philadelphia (Monday)
Hartley has only made seven field goals, as the Saints have been somewhat a touchdown-or-nothing kind of offense. That said, I don't think it matters this week as I am fully expecting the Saints-Eagles match up on Monday Night Football to feature lots of offense and plenty of points. Unless it's a safety, the only way a team can score points is with a kick (field goal) or a play that results in a kick (PAT). That's where Hartley comes in for the Saints. Likewise, I think Eagles kicker Alex Henery would be a solid option this week as well.
Rob Bironas (TEN) vs. Chicago
I will admit, Carolina's Justin Medlock proved me wrong last week, as he drilled five field goals and added a PAT in the Panthers' loss to Chicago, after I tabbed him as a Sit. So even though I am somewhat tempting fate by picking Bironas this week against the Bears, I'm willing to take that chance. The Bears' defense is still pretty good and as you can see by my previous Sit designations for Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt (see above), I'm just not that optimistic about the Titans' prospects of doing much of anything on offense on Sunday. This blanket statement includes Bironas.
Jay Feely (ARI) at Green Bay
Arizona managed a total of three points on Monday night at home against San Francisco. Does anyone really expect the Cardinals to fare that much better this Sunday on the road at Lambeau Field? Green Bay is tied for first in the league (ironically with Arizona) in sacks (26), while the Cardinals have given up 39 quarterback takedowns. That's 11 more than any other team in the league. Does anyone else think these two statistics portend a rough day at the office for John Skelton and company?
— By Mark Ross, published on Nov. 2, 2012