Five Week 9 Storylines: Why the NFL is the Best

Jeff Fisher will face his old team this weekend.

The NFL brand will be boasting again this weekend.

Go look at the slate of Week 9 matchups, and tell me which one you’re really looking forward to watching. I’m waiting. Nothing? Right. Exactly. Because there aren’t any.

And yet, ratings will be through the roof, fans will be cheering, and I’ll be nerding it up on my laptop. For what? The Jets and Saints? Chris Ivory versus his old team?

Surely some of the games – like the one last night – will end up being close. But entering the week, the best one on paper looks to be the Texans against the Colts.

We’re getting excited for Case Keenum, guys.

That’s what the NFL has become. The brand – with both fandom and fantasy football – is entertaining no matter the product on the field. It’s that good.

Needless to say, it was a struggle to find good storylines for this weekend’s schedule of contests. That’s actually why there’s five of them instead of six this week. When you’re talking about Josh McCown, you know you’re in trouble.

Can the Bears offense move the ball?

Josh McCown is under center, and if you’re unfamiliar with his potential capabilities in this offense, I’ll direct you to Jeff Miller’s piece from earlier this week on him. In essence, he’s not Cutler, no, but he can be a serviceable option in fantasy football, especially with so many teams taking a week off.

The Bears are depleted, and that’s going to hurt their chances for any sort of playoff run, but it’s not just at the quarterback position. Their defense has been bad stemming from these injuries.

After Week 3 of this season, the Bears ranked eighth in the league in Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (explanation of Net Expected Points here) . At that time, they were holding offenses to about 3.5 points per game above expectation, meaning a replacement-level team in a similar situation would have given the opposition over three points per contest. Keep in mind, the “adjusted” piece of this equation tells us it’s been fixed for strength of schedule. When you consider their first two games were won by a combined four points, that’s significant.

But now, through Week 8, Chicago holds the 18th-best defense. In just five weeks they’ve dropped 10 spots, having allowed 40 points to the Lions, 26 to the Saints, 21 to the Giants and 45 to the Redskins. If you think the offense is this team’s biggest problem – the 12th-best one according to our metrics – you may want to rethink the idea.

This is just another reason McCown could work in the pretend pigskin landscape. The Bears are going to give up points, especially to the Packers, forcing passes as games wind down. Garbage time potential? Absolutely.

What can the Titans offense do?

I never thought I’d write so much about Kendall Wright, but here I am, multiple articles later, still talking about them.

If you missed my 15 Transactions for Week 9 piece this week, you may not have seen that Jake Locker has been one of the most underrated fantasy quarterback this season, and that Kendall Wright is outperforming his more-owned-in-fantasy teammate, Nate Washington.

Perhaps you’re unaware because the Titans are the most under-the-radar good team in the league (they rank 12th in our power rankings), but Kendall Wright is on pace for 91 catches this year. He’s become a must own in PPR leagues, and even in standard leagues I’d prefer him over Nate Washington due to Wright’s weekly floor.

In Week 9, the Titans will travel to St. Louis to face the Rams. It’ll be Jeff Fisher against his old team.

I expect Locker and the passing game to have a solid outing. The Rams have the 29th-ranked pass defense, and while they couldn’t stop the run at the beginning of the season, they now have a top-10 rush defense when adjusted for strength of schedule. In other words, CJWhateverK may continue to struggle, while Locker shreds a secondary that often looks like swiss cheese.

What will a Reggie Wayne-less Indianapolis look like?

Reggie Wayne ranks 16th of 35 30-plus reception wide receivers in Reception Net Expected Points, showing that at his old age, he was still contributing more for his team than half of the NFL’s top receivers.

Without him, it’ll be time for T.Y. Hilton to prove he’s more than just a deep threat, and Darrius Heyward-Bey to show that his hands are not, in fact, made of stone.

I do worry a bit about this transition without Wayne. In Bruce Arians' offense a year ago, Hilton was the perfect deep ball guy, and his Reception NEP per Target was one of the best in the league as a result. This season, Hilton’s been far less efficient than Wayne, ranking 61st out of 99 10-plus reception receivers within the Rec. NEP/Target metric. Wayne, now out for the season, ranks 27th in the category.

This relationship probably tells us just as much about Pep Hamilton’s conservative offense as well. Through eight weeks of the NFL season, the Colts have a 1.24 pass-to-run ratio (eighth-lowest in the NFL), and have run the 26th-most plays in the league. A Reggie Wayne loss may force them to be even less pass-happy.

I do still think Hilton is trending up in fantasy as a result, and that DHB and Fleener will get an uptick in targets. But there has to be a slight worry about the passing game with one of the best receivers in the game sidelined.

What’s Terrelle Pryor’s potential?

There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter this week about Terrelle Pryor and his chances of having a blowup performance against the Eagles on Sunday. Philly has the fifth-worst pass defense in the entire league, and have allowed a passing touchdown to every quarterback they’ve faced outside of Alex Smith and Eli Manning. Even then, those quarterbacks posted at least 246 yards.

Pryor’s clearly going to score fantasy points with his legs, and that’s what differentiates him from most of the league's signal-callers. His 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage last week against the Steelers instantly catapulted him into starter status in fantasy. But after that run – one that equated to 15.3 fantasy points – Pryor scored a total of 0.8 fantasy points. 0.8!

That should make Pryor owners at least a little nervous entering Week 9.

But here’s the deal: Pryor has at least 200 yards passing in four of his six games this year, and in each of those four games, he’s thrown at least one touchdown pass. The Eagles, as I noted, have yet to allow fewer than 246 passing yards in a single contest this season. And that was to Eli Manning, numberFire’s sixth-worst passing quarterback this season according to our Passing NEP metrics.

We’ve got Pryor, a quarterback with a dwindling Passing NEP total, as a top-10 quarterback option this week in fantasy. He should be able to hit his 31 rushing yard floor, and 250 yards through the air is not out of the question.

Is there garbage time potential for any contest?

I called out Kendall Hunter and Scott Chandler last week in this column as garbage time plays, and each finished with respectable fantasy days. This week, we’ve got three more games with double-digit spreads (Dallas vs. Minnesota, Seattle vs. Tampa Bay, Green Bay vs. Chicago), and given the plethora of bye weeks, there are two guys that could benefit from these potential blowouts.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers

The Packers are 11-point favorites on Monday night against the Bears, and with a banged up front seven that’s allowed 259 yards rushing and five touchdowns to opposing running backs over their last two games, Starks becomes a sneaky play.

In the Packers high-margin win versus the Vikings last week, Starks had seven carries for 57 yards and a score. With Eddie Lacy seeing more volume than a Def Leppard concert, he could be relieved in the fourth quarter by Starks once again.

Tim Wright, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I’d only start Wright if you’re desperate for a tight end play, which could be possible given what’s out there this week. His matchup is bad, facing a Seattle defense that’s allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends. And that’s skewed tremendously by an 11-reception, 141-yard, one-score performance from Houston tight ends in Week 4.

But Mike Williams is now out for the year, and there aren’t many options for the long-necked rookie Mike Glennon to throw to after the Bucs go down by 35 in the fourth quarter this week. Perhaps Wright benefits, ironically, from such a difficult matchup.