Thumbs Up of the Week: Jared Goff (@ NO)
The options this week are a little thinner and more obvious due to six teams being on a bye, but Jared Goff is being treated as a midrange QB1 when I think a case could be made for him as the top play at the position in Week 9. The former No. 1 overall pick performed well in a victory over New Orleans last year with 354 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception—and that was when the Saints were playing strong pass defense. Now, they’ve allowed the third most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks despite a relatively easy schedule, and even dating back to his forgettable rookie year (when he threw three touchdowns in the first half), Goff has looked comfortable against Dennis Allen’s man-to-man defense. I’m expecting another 25+ fantasy points from the 24-year-old this weekend.
Thumbs Up: Matt Ryan (@ WAS)
Maybe the bye week caused people to forget how good Matt Ryan has been this season, but the 2016 NFL MVP is averaging more fantasy points per game (23.4) than anyone not named Patrick Mahomes (26.4) or Todd Gurley (25.3), and he’s on pace for a career-high 5,337 passing yards through seven games. Washington was already an underrated defense and just added All-Pro safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline, but Atlanta has the weapons to spread them out with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Tevin Coleman, and others. Matty Ice should be considered a solid QB1 for a key game.
Thumbs Up: Baker Mayfield (v KC)
He paid dividends a couple weeks ago with 20 fantasy points, but the soft stretch of matchups for Baker Mayfield hasn’t been quite as fruitful as expected so far. During Cleveland’s three-game losing streak, Mayfield has played even worse than the numbers suggest, and his recent showings probably played a large part in the franchise’s decision to fire not only head coach Hue Jackson, but also offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The rookie getting a new play-caller at the midway point of the season could make him a risky fantasy bet, but the Browns will need to score, and the upside is there against the vulnerable Kansas City secondary.
Thumbs Up: Ryan Fitzpatrick (@ CAR)
In the four games Ryan Fitzpatrick has finished (so the first three weeks with Jameis Winston suspended and last week’s comeback effort against the Bengals), he has averaged 28.3 fantasy points per game, which would—and I know it’s a small sample size—rank as the best fantasy season of all-time over 16 games. The journeyman quarterback has a downside similar to Jameis Winston in that he could make some bone-headed mistakes to derail a game, but he is a backend QB1 for what could turn into a high-scoring affair in Carolina.
Others: Derek Carr (@ SF), Marcus Mariota (@ DAL)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Mitchell Trubisky (@ BUF)
It’s tough to bench a guy that’s averaging 30.3 fantasy points per game since the final week of September, but with the fantasy playoffs inching closer, I would rather get out a week early than a week late. The Bills have limited dual-threat passers Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota to a combined 9.0 fantasy points this season, and Mitchell Trubisky (who has gone for rushing lines of 3/53, 8/47, 6/81/1, and 6/51 during his hot stretch) is bound to crash back to Earth eventually. I think Chicago could be headed for a slugfest against Sean McDermott’s squad, so Trubisky is more of a solid QB2 than QB1.
Thumbs Down: Philip Rivers (@ SEA)
I’m not completely off Philip Rivers this week based on his last performance against the Seahawks when he threw for 284 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a 30-21 victory, but that came at home four years ago. Now, he will head to Seattle to face a defense that’s allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and you know the crowd will be fired up with their team right back in the playoff race after two road wins. I’d wait until Week 10 to get Rivers in lineups.
Thumbs Down: Matthew Stafford (@ MIN)
Matthew Stafford has actually thrown for multiple scores in every game since the disastrous opener, but he’s been more of a high-floor QB2 than the QB1 option many had hoped for with just one game of more than 20 fantasy points this season. The Vikings have fixed some of their issues in the secondary in recent weeks, so Stafford might not have a ton of success with Golden Tate—his security blanket who has had a couple big games against Mike Zimmer’s defense—now in Philadelphia.
Thumbs Down: Ben Roethlisberger (@ BAL)
A lack of production for Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens in Baltimore hasn’t simply been a recent occurrence, as he’s struggled on the road versus his division foe since entering the league; in nine starts, Big Ben has gone 3-6 with just 241 yards per game and a 7:11 touchdown-interception ratio while never passing for more than 280 yards in a single game. The Ravens remain stout everywhere despite Sunday’s 36-21 loss to the Panthers, but I think this sets up as a James Conner week for the Steelers. Roethlisberger is a low-floor QB2 with limited upside.
Others: Sam Darnold (@ MIA), Brock Osweiler (v NYJ)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Nick Chubb (v KC)
A coaching change makes things a little more unpredictable, but I would think that Cleveland’s new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens knows a) how good Nick Chubb is, b) Kansas City isn’t the best tackling team in the league, and c) they will need to run to keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Plus, the Chiefs might be without starting inside linebacker Anthony Hitchens (ribs), which could force Dorian O’Daniel—a 220-pound rookie linebacker—into an early-down role for a unit that’s surrendering a league-high 5.4 yards per carry. Chubb is a solid RB1.
Thumbs Up: Chris Carson (v LAC)
With more than 100 rushing yards in three of his past four games, Chris Carson is wisely being featured ahead of first-round pick Rashaad Penny (zero offensive snaps last week), and that’s been a big reason for Seattle’s turnaround. The imposing second-year back has gone for standard league totals of 18.4, 12.7, and 18.4 in games with at least 15 touches, so he needs to be in all fantasy lineups as a high-end RB2 for Week 9.
Thumbs Up: Matt Breida (v OAK)
He’s not exactly a safe fantasy play while battling an ankle injury on a short week, but Matt Breida has basically been a miniature Wolverine in 2018, and I’d still slot him in as a low-end RB2/FLEX play against the Raiders, who are allowing the most rushing yards per game (144.7) this season. Through eight weeks, the 23-year-old trails only Nick Chubb (6.12) and Kerryon Johnson (6.05) in yards per carry (5.80) out of players with at least 50 attempts; also, he could be more involved as a receiver if Nick Mullens draws a start with C.J. Beathard (wrist) questionable, which is something to keep in mind for PPR owners.
Thumbs Up: Derrick Henry (@ DAL)
It obviously hasn’t been a great start to the season for Derrick Henry, but I’m not ready to give up on him as the calendar turns. While Dallas has turned into an elite defensive unit this year, they’ve allowed 111.5 rushing yards per game to Chris Carson and Adrian Peterson—two physical runners that Henry profiles similarly to—so the Alabama product might be able to set the tone for what projects to be a low-scoring battle on Monday Night Football. Henry should be picked up in all leagues that he was dropped in.
Others: Doug Martin (@ SF), Aaron Jones (@ NE)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Tarik Cohen (@ BUF)
Tarik Cohen has been phenomenal during Mitchell Trubisky’s breakout with 17.7 standard fantasy points per game (23.5 in PPR leagues) over the past four outings, but how much will the Bears really want to utilize “The Human Joystick” in a game they should handle by playing mistake-free football? Especially with Nathan Peterman starting for the Bills, Chicago can likely ride Jordan Howard and avoid revealing too many tricks before a divisional stretch (v DET, v MIN, @ DET) to close out the month. Cohen carries his usual big-play upside, but I think he’s better viewed as a high-end FLEX than low-end RB2.
Thumbs Down: Isaiah Crowell (@ MIA)
I think Isaiah Crowell leads the league in appearances as a “Thumbs Down” this season, and hopefully fantasy owners sold high while they could. Since setting a single-game franchise record with 219 rushing yards to start the month, Crowell has combined to rush 37 times for 94 yards (2.5 YPC) and zero touchdowns over the past three games, and the struggles are coming at the worst possible time now that Elijah McGuire—who generated as much hype as anyone in the offseason—is set to make his season debut against the Dolphins. Start the volatile FLEX option at your own risk.
Thumbs Down: Chris Thompson (v ATL)
There were swarms of people counting out Adrian Peterson in his age-33 season, but I wasn’t one of them. However, anyone who claims they predicted this—a season-long pace of 1,687 total yards and double-digit touchdowns—is fooling themselves. The only downside of “AD” defying expectations is that Chris Thompson hasn’t been featured in Jay Gruden’s offense, so the dynamic receiving back doesn’t have the weekly upside that we saw a season ago, even in a potential shootout against Atlanta.
Thumbs Down: Ito Smith (@ WAS)
The Falcons’ last game wasn’t a great start for those hoping Ito Smith would be the runner to own in Atlanta’s backfield following Devonta Freeman’s placement on injured reserve, as he rushed just seven times for 16 yards. Of course, it was only one week, but I don’t see things getting much better on Sunday against the Redskins and their stingy defensive front. Even with six teams on a bye, I’d look elsewhere if possible.
Others: Dion Lewis (@ DAL), LeGarrette Blount (@ MIN)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Cooper Kupp (@ NO)
Cooper Kupp missed the past two games with a knee injury, but it sounds like he will return this Sunday for a potential shootout in New Orleans. If so, fantasy owners shouldn’t waste any time getting the valuable slot receiver back in lineups as a great WR2. Kupp’s “worst” game of five healthy appearances this season came back in Week 2 when he caught six passes for 63 yards, and the Saints have allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts. For what it’s worth, the 25-year-old went for 8/116 (on 11 targets) last year against New Orleans.
Thumbs Up: Devin Funchess (v TB)
I was surprised to see Devin Funchess combined for just five receptions and 22 scoreless yards in two matchups with the Buccaneers in 2017, but I wouldn’t bet on a repeat this season. First of all, Cam Newton appears to be more comfortable than ever as a passer in Norv Turner’s system, so he should be able to scan the defense and find Funchess against a small cornerback group. Also, this game has sneaky shootout potential if Ryan Fitzpatrick picks up where he left off last week and over his first three starts, which would lead to plenty of scoring opportunities for Carolina. I have Funchess as a reliable WR2 for Week 9.
Thumbs Up: Jordy Nelson (@ SF)
It looked like Jordy Nelson was going to have a huge day against the Colts when he was targeted on three of the first four pass attempts by Derek Carr, but he saw just one target the rest of the game in a 42-28 loss. Fantasy owners will understandably have reservations about rolling with Jordy after two duds in a row, but Thursday night sets up for a bounce-back performance against the 49ers, who just allowed Larry Fitzgerald (8/102/1) to turn back the clock in Arizona. I expect Nelson to have a few standout games the rest of the way, and this should be one of them.
Thumbs Up: Courtland Sutton (v HOU)
If Courtland Sutton is still somehow available in your league, he needs to be picked up immediately. The rookie has been dependent on touchdowns and big plays to start his career (and successfully so with at least 5.1 standard fantasy points in each of the past five weeks), but with Demaryius Thomas now gone, Sutton will be a full-time player. We saw DeVante Parker go off with six receptions for 134 yards last Thursday night against the Texans, and the SMU product profiles similarly as a big-bodied receiver that can destroy defenses on intermediate routes. Sutton is immediately a low-end WR2/FLEX with room to grow.
Others: Calvin Ridley (@ WAS), D.J. Moore (v TB)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jarvis Landry (v KC)
You can really never predict what’s going on with the Browns, but I would expect them to get more input from Baker Mayfield about what he is and isn’t comfortable with. Jarvis Landry was paid big money to be a reliable weapon out of the slot, but he and Mayfield haven’t shown strong chemistry so far this season, and we could see the ball go elsewhere against the Chiefs, who if nothing else, have a bunch of slot cornerbacks to handle the 25-year-old. Landry is just a FLEX in standard leagues for me.
Thumbs Down: Doug Baldwin (v LAC)
Doug Baldwin is undoubtedly going to score eventually, and the Seahawks seem to be trying to force it to him at times, but I wouldn’t rely on a touchdown entering a shadow situation against Casey Hayward. Through five games, Baldwin has totaled just 14 receptions for 159 yards, and he is probably closer to the waiver wire than lineups at this point with potential showdowns against Hayward, the Rams (who held him to one yard in their first meeting), and Green Bay’s star rookie corner Jaire Alexander over the next three weeks.
Thumbs Down: Demaryius Thomas (@ DEN)
He still gets to sleep in his own bed this week after being traded to his former team’s Week 9 opponent, but Demaryius Thomas won’t be quite as comfortable with Bill O’Brien’s offensive system as he is in his own home. Overall, I think the fit with DT in Houston is a little odd because he’s a possession receiver on a team with one of the best possession receivers in the league, and Thomas already has become increasingly unreliable on the field in recent years. Plus, the Broncos know his strength and weaknesses as well as anyone, so you might need a score to feel good about starting the 30-year-old this week.
Thumbs Down: Amari Cooper (v TEN)
It might be fun to go with Amari Cooper on Monday night to see what he can do for the Cowboys, but a wait-and-see approach is the safe play for fantasy owners. I expect Mike Vrabel will have his defense prepared to not let Cooper beat them deep when he’s in the game, and there’s no telling how many snaps the former first-round pick will get in a new system. Long term, I like Cooper’s on-the-ground game and how it fits with Dak Prescott, but it’s probably unwise to bank on the pair connecting in their first game action.
Others: Allen Robinson (@ BUF), DeSean Jackson (@ CAR)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Rob Gronkowski (v GB)
The lack of red-zone targets (zero touchdowns since the opener) is a major concern for Rob Gronkowski, but he’s simply too dominant a player to not eventually explode. While the Packers have been stout against opposing tight ends, they showed vulnerability in matchups with Kyle Rudolph (7/72) and Jordan Reed (4/65), neither of whom is Gronk. The all-time great weapon remains the top option at the position and is a premium buy-low target.
Thumbs Up: David Njoku (v KC)
Considering the talent Cleveland has on the roster, it’s unfortunate that they’ve suddenly fallen back into everyone-is-a-risk status. Exhibit A is David Njoku, who saw zero targets in a cupcake matchup last week, but it’s not time to jump off the bangwagon for the 2017 first-round pick. I’m optimistic in the “new” coaching staff knowing Njoku is the most explosive pass-catcher on the roster, and perhaps he will get more isolation looks out wide or in the slot starting this week against the Chiefs’ 31st-ranked defense.
Thumbs Up: Jordan Reed (v ATL)
Atlanta is middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, but Dan Quinn will allow underneath throws to avoid getting beaten by chunk plays. That could mean plenty of targets for Jordan Reed coming off a game where he caught seven passes for 38 yards. The crafty tight end is a recommended TE1.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jared Cook (@ SF)
San Francisco has been generous to the position this year, but as I’ve said before, they have the cover guys at linebacker to neutralize opposing tight ends. Jared Cook has proven to be a volatile fantasy option, and Jon Gruden might decide to attack the Niners’ weaknesses on the ground and on the perimeter on Thursday night. The veteran remains a TE1, but not the top-five option that he’s being viewed as.
Thumbs Down: Cameron Brate (@ CAR)
Cameron Brate showed a bit of life with Jameis Winston under center, catching two touchdowns in two-and-a-half games. However, now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is back at quarterback, Brate’s touchdown-or-bust status will probably disappoint more often than not with the veteran gunslinger preferring to target outside the numbers.
Thumbs Down: Jesse James (@ BAL)
The Steelers can always dial up a big play to either one of their tight ends, but Vance McDonald was able to entrench himself as the clear favorite for looks in October, which makes Jesse James a risky option in an environment where Big Ben has struggled.