Thumbs Up of the Week: Cam Newton (v ATL)
Newton owners might be upset that the Panthers traded away their top wide receiver, but let’s just slow down for a minute. Kelvin Benjamin missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL, and that happened to be when Newton had the best season of his career and was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. Carolina is going to let Cam do damage with his legs—which he’s already done more of in the past few weeks—and he should carry it even more in a pivotal NFC South matchup this Sunday. Despite the inconsistencies, I’m still playing Newton as a high-upside QB1 against a Falcons team that has allowed him to score a rushing touchdown in half of their 12 meetings.
Thumbs Up: Derek Carr (@ MIA)
More of a matchup play than the surefire starting option that many people expected heading into the season, Derek Carr has been up-and-down in 2017. Against weak defenses, he’s thrown for 303 yards per game and has an 8:0 touchdown-interception ratio, but against above-average units, he’s thrown for just 186 yards per game with a 4:6 touchdown-interception ratio. Miami has a middle-of-the-pack defense when it comes to points allowed to opposing fantasy quarterbacks, but this is a good matchup for Oakland’s offense, as they should be able to neutralize Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and company from wrecking the pocket, allowing Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to get open against an inexperienced cornerback group. I like Carr to have a big night on SNF.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff (@ NYG)
The 5-2 Los Angeles Rams come out of the bye week and head to the east coast, but it’s a great spot for Jared Goff to have success. First of all, the Giants suspended top cornerback Janoris Jenkins for missing practice, and at 1-6, New York is seemingly on the verge of collapse; they’ve allowed three touchdown passes in three of their past four games and they allowed nearly 400 yards in the other game. Also, the extra week to prepare should have Goff even more comfortable in Sean McVay’s offense, and the young head coach likely has a well-thought-out game plan to attack the struggling G-Men. Goff is a back-end QB1 for me.
Thumbs Up: Jay Cutler (v OAK)
People were way off when they thought Cutler would permanently lose his starting job to Matt Moore, as that was never going to happen barring a lights out performance last Thursday night. Not only was Cutler promptly named the starter for Week 9 after the shutout loss, but he’s now the center of the offense after the Ajayi trade, as Adam Gase is expected to employ a more pass-happy attack with Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams sharing the backfield. I’m excited to see what the offense can do with DeVante Parker healthy, as he and Kenny Stills provide explosiveness on the perimeter with Jarvis Landry and the running backs doing damage underneath. Cutler is worth a look with six teams on bye.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Carson Wentz (v DEN)
Fantasy owners might not want to hop off the Wentz Wagon until they are forced to when the Eagles have a bye next week, but starting the second-year quarterback in Week 9 could be playing with fire. The Broncos have allowed just 200 passing yards per game this season, and Wentz probably won’t be asked to push things at home against an elite secondary, especially with Denver’s offense playing so poorly. I still have him as the 13th quarterback this week, but the ceiling and floor are both lower than usual.
Thumbs Down: Kirk Cousins (@ SEA)
Seattle barely survived a shootout last week against Deshaun Watson and the Texans, but while the Legion of Boom isn’t what it used to be, they are still tough enough to present problems for a chemistry-lacking Washington offense. Kirk Cousins threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks in 2014, but that was at home with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon on the outside, and the perimeter options for the Redskins in 2017 just aren’t reliable; Josh Doctson has made some plays but it’s come with extreme inconsistency, and Terrelle Pryor barely sees the field anymore because he couldn’t get open or catch the ball when he did get open. Plus, top playmaker Jordan Reed (hamstring) isn’t expected to play, so Seattle can probably key on Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson for the most part.
Thumbs Down: Jameis Winston (@ NO)
Winston is ranked as a borderline QB1 in FantasyPros expert consensus rankings, but there’s no way I’d take the risk of playing him this week. Dealing with an injured throwing shoulder, Tampa Bay’s starter is at risk for an in-game benching, and that could potentially ruin your week or even derail your entire season if you need a win. Even if he’s healthy and plays the entire game, New Orleans isn’t the cupcake matchup that it’s been in recent years; since allowing 27 fantasy points per game to Sam Bradford and Tom Brady to start the season, the Saints have allowed just nine fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks—and they’ve allowed zero touchdowns in four of those five games. Sit Winston.
Thumbs Down: Andy Dalton (@ JAC)
More than any other team, the Jaguars are someone to completely stay away from for fantasy quarterbacks. Jacksonville is allowing a league-low 62.3 quarterback rating, league-low 5.7 yards per attempt, league-low four touchdown passes, and league-low 162 passing yards per game. And not to mention a league-high 33 sacks, which is by far the most despite having their bye week, and they just added All-Pro defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in a trade with Buffalo. The Bengals are going to have to attack with the ground game this Sunday.
Thumbs Up of the Week: DeMarco Murray (v BAL)
Murray has been a disappointment for fantasy owners so far with just one game of 15+ fantasy points in standard leagues, but he’s set to turn things around starting this week against the Ravens. A hamstring issue has been bothering Murray almost all season, but he should be healthy following the bye week, and even though Baltimore stopped Miami’s ground game in Week 8, everyone has been stopping Miami’s ground game this season. The Ravens are still allowing the third most yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry through eight games. I like Murray as a solid RB1 with his bully of an offensive line opening holes for him.
Thumbs Up: Christian McCaffrey (v ATL)
McCaffrey’s stock gets a big boost with Kelvin Benjamin gone, as the Panthers offense will now completely revolve around the eighth-overall pick. The Panthers were hesitant to give McCaffrey a workhorse role with just 12.25 touches per game in the first half of the season, but I think he will be unleashed down the stretch, and while blocking is still a concern, Carolina should get McCaffrey the ball in space against a Falcons team that has allowed the most receptions per game to running backs. I have the rookie as a high-end RB2 in standard leagues and a solid RB1 in PPR leagues.
Thumbs Up: Ameer Abdullah (@ GB)
Injuries forced Abdullah to miss both matchups with the Packers in 2016, but he’s as healthy as he’s ever been heading into a big game on Monday night. The Lions fed fourth-string running back Zach Zenner in last season’s Week 17 meeting, as he touched it 24 times for 110 yards and a touchdown, so I would think they’ll do the same with Abdullah this week. The former second-rounder rushed 13 times for 67 yards (5.2 yards per carry) when he worked as the lead back in December of 2015 versus Green Bay, and hopefully he can keep that efficiency going with a larger workload. For what it’s worth, the Lions are 3-0 when Abdullah gets 15+ carries and 0-4 when he doesn’t. I have him as a high-end RB2 with six teams on bye.
Thumbs Up: Tevin Coleman (@ CAR)
After seeing the field for just 19 snaps in the Falcons’ worst loss of the season two weeks ago, Tevin Coleman was given a season-high 14 carries in Sunday’s win over the Jets, though it was partly due to a minor shoulder injury for Devonta Freeman. That said, Coleman continues impress when he gets the ball with 5.4 yards per carry and 11.9 yards per reception, and Freeman might see his workload scaled back if he’s less than 100%. The Panthers aren’t a favorable matchup, but the ultra-talented backup totaled 135 yards and a score on 12 touches in their Week 16 meeting last year.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jay Ajayi (v DEN)
For his long-term 2017 fantasy outlook, there probably isn’t a better spot for Ajayi to have landed before the trade deadline, as Philadelphia has an elite offensive line that will open holes for him, and the team has already mentioned how they want to get him involved in the screen game. However, he can’t be considered an RB1 just yet, as the Broncos have the NFL’s top run defense, and it’s unclear what kind of workload Ajayi will have in his first game with the Eagles. I think he will be a solid RB1 after the bye week, but consider the 24-year-old a low-end RB2/FLEX for Week 9.
Thumbs Down: Devonta Freeman (@ CAR)
As stated, Freeman could have his workload dialed back after injuring his shoulder in last Sunday’s win, so in a week that’s a little light for “Thumbs Down” options at running back, Atlanta’s starter makes the list. Since the bye week, Freeman has had touch totals of 11, 15, and 13; before that, he averaged 19.75 touches per game. You probably have to play him, but I have Freeman as more of an RB2 option and think Tevin Coleman is the better play this week.
Thumbs Down: Marshawn Lynch (@ MIA)
It’s probably past time to take Lynch out of lineups, as he has as many games with more than 10 fantasy points as he does suspensions this season. Oakland might not even be in a hurry to insert him back into the starting lineup after he inexplicably came to the defense of an opponent two weeks ago when he sprinted onto the field and pushed an official to protect Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters from himself. Even in a bye-heavy Week 9, Lynch is no more than a weak FLEX option against a strong Miami front.
Thumbs Down: Robert Kelley (@ SEA)
His own injuries as well as injuries on the offensive line have hurt Kelley on an underperforming offense, as the second-year back is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry on fewer than 10 touches per game this season. Washington’s starter has only topped 30 rushing yards once in five healthy games, so he isn’t a recommended fantasy play in Seattle, especially with game-flow concerns now that the Seahawks are suddenly rolling offensively.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Sammy Watkins (@ NYG)
Even before news came down of a team-imposed suspension for Janoris Jenkins, I liked Watkins as a WR2 coming off the bye week. Now, I have him as a low-end WR1 option. I know it hasn’t been easy owning him this season, but Watkins is an elite talent that just couldn’t connect with Jared Goff on some deep shots over the past few weeks. The chemistry between the two should be better with an extra week to prepare, and I think Sean McVay knows that getting his top receiver going would be huge for the contending Rams in the second half of the season.
Thumbs Up: Devin Funchess (v ATL)
Kelvin Benjamin wasn’t necessarily putting up great numbers before being traded on Tuesday, but there is going to be a significant number of targets available in the offense with Benjamin gone and Greg Olsen still out. I think most of them will go to Christian McCaffrey, but Funchess will be Cam Newton’s number-one wide receiver for the rest of the season, and he should be ready for it after showing flashes earlier this year. The Falcons allowed Benjamin to score in three-of-four career meetings, so hopefully those investing in Funchess will be rewarded with a touchdown on Sunday. He’s a solid WR2 option.
Thumbs Up: DeVante Parker (v OAK)
The matchup could be better in Parker’s return from an ankle injury, but he’s too talented to keep out of fantasy lineups when he’s active. Oakland has been able to contain bigger receivers like Parker, but the former first-round pick is more explosive than any other big-bodied wideout they’ve been tasked with defending, and we know Jay Cutler loves targeting “faster Alshon.” In a game with sneaky shootout potential, I think Parker is a high-upside WR2.
Thumbs Up: Amari Cooper (@ MIA)
Cooper disappointed last week after a breakout Week 8 performance, but he was in a difficult spot against Tre’Davious White and the Bills. It also didn’t help that Oakland decided not to move him around after doing so in his 11-catch, 210-yard game, but they should go back to putting Cooper in the slot and find out how to scheme the ball to him on Sunday Night Football. Some people are advising against sticking with Cooper, but you have to take the good with the bad. I’ve ranked him as a top-five option in Week 9 with the expectation that there will be a lot of good versus a young secondary.
Thumbs Down of the Week: A.J. Green (@ JAC)
So far this season, any wide receiver not named Antonio Brown has been shutdown by the Jaguars secondary. That said, A.J. Green is an elite player and you probably don’t have a better option to play, but he’s more of a midrange WR2 than high-end WR1 because of the matchup for me. Since the bye week, Green is averaging just three receptions and 34 yards per game. He shouldn’t be in any daily-fantasy lineups.
Thumbs Down: Kelvin Benjamin (@ NYJ)
I’ve discussed the impact of the Benjamin trade for Carolina’s fantasy options, but what about Benjamin himself? If anything, it’s probably a slight downgrade, but you can probably keep him in lineups as a low-end WR2 option down the stretch. This week, though, he’s just a risky FLEX play with six teams on a bye, as KB only has a couple days to learn the offense. Perhaps the Bills will give him a handful of downfield and end-zone opportunities, but Benjamin is a risk on Thursday night.
Thumbs Down: Pierre Garcon (v ARI)
For all the struggles and bad breaks Arizona has had in 2017, Patrick Peterson’s ability to shutdown opposing receivers has not been impacted. Pierre Garcon had just 36 yards in their first meeting this season, and I don’t expect him to be much better in a game that the Cardinals will need to be at their best defensively to stay alive without Carson Palmer and David Johnson. Sit Garcon if you can.
Thumbs Down: Alshon Jeffery (v DEN)
He’s been healthy so far, but Alshon is on pace for an underwhelming 56/832/6 line in his first year with the Eagles, and the pace is unlikely to increase as the Eagles host the Broncos on Sunday. Philadelphia will likely avoid Aqib Talib (Jeffery’s likely matchup) as much as possible, and they probably won’t need to get too aggressive in a game they should handle. Keep Jeffery out of lineups through Philly’s Week 10 bye.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Jack Doyle (@ HOU)
There isn’t a guy I was more wrong on than Jack Doyle last week, as with Andrew Luck still out, I thought Cincinnati would be able to take him away before he had the game of his life. Fortunately, there’s time for me to get it right, and Doyle might just top the game of his life after seeing Houston’s coverage (or lack thereof) on Jimmy Graham last week.
Thumbs Up: Jared Cook (@ MIA)
In just eight games, Oakland has already used Jared Cook more than the Packers did in 2016, as he has more catches and just four fewer yards than he did all of last season. Miami has been susceptible to production by opposing tight ends this year, so I like Cook to make some plays on Sunday night.
Thumbs Up: Vernon Davis (@ SEA)
It appears that the oft-injured Jordan Reed is set to miss Week 9 with a hamstring injury, so the reliable Vernon Davis should get the start and be close to an every-down player. Before last week, the 33-year-old averaged 70 yards per game over his previous four contests, and that was with Reed active for three of them. Davis should be a top-three option for Kirk Cousins in Seattle.
Thumbs Up: Nick O’Leary (@ NYJ)
O’Leary was held to one reception in a good spot last week against the Raiders, but he gets another favorable matchup against the Jets on Thursday night. Plus, being a TNF game, things could get a little unpredictable. I like O’Leary as a quality streaming option.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jason Witten (v KC)
Kansas City has been more vulnerable to tight ends since Eric Berry’s season-ending injury in the opener, but Witten is too volatile at this point in his career for me to confidently recommended him for fantasy lineups. The 35-year-old probably needs to find the end zone to be worth a start.
Thumbs Down: Austin Hooper (@ CAR)
Hooper scored his second touchdown of the season in last week’s win over the Jets, but he’s still yet to record more than 50 receiving yards in a game outside of a fluky two-catch, 128-yard performance in the season opener. The Panthers aren’t a good matchup with Luke Kuechly healthy.
Thumbs Down: O.J. Howard (@ NO)
I warned people not to chase the fantasy points from the previous week in regard to Howard, and he was held to just 16 yards in a loss to the Panthers. The rookie is just an unpredictable desperation option with Cameron Brate healthy.
Thumbs Down: Julius Thomas (v OAK)
I’ve chosen Thomas to replace Martellus Bennett as the weekly “Thumbs Down” until he’s off all rosters. Anthony Fasano is close to being the better fantasy option.
For defense and kicker advice—and all your start/sit decisions—check out our full Week 9 rankings.