Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 9
He called it The Charlotte Chowdown.
A member of my long-running home fantasy league took over league note writing duties this year, and each week, he's created and written about a game of the week. Whichever matchup seems most interesting, he dubs it the game of the week. It's a completely subjective exercise. To make things entertaining, the loser of said game has to then send a video of themselves chugging a beer to the rest of the league. Because even if you lose, you win.
The rules changed this week.
Yours truly was one half of the game of the week, and I knew I had lost after Thursday night's tilt, because my opponent had the Baltimore Ravens defense. But I didn't have to prepare to chug a beer. No, not this week. This week was The Charlotte Chowdown (both game of the week teams reside in Charlotte), where the loser had to consume -- annihilate -- three pieces of cake in 30 seconds.
Instead of crushing a beer, I had to crush...cake.
You may be wondering, "Why cake?" Well, another league member got married on Sunday night, and many of us were in the wedding. And, well, weddings have cakes. So if I lost -- a probable outcome given the note was posted after the Ravens' game -- I would be peer pressured into eating three pieces of cake in 30 seconds in front of half of the fantasy league.
I don't back down from challenges. And I definitely don't after consuming cocktails.
So I gathered three pieces of cake. I sat down. And I called over my leaguemates and our significant others. I was ready to step up and pay for losing.
Three pieces of cake. 30 seconds.
And there's video proof, too. (But here's a photo instead.)
Before eating the cake, I wasn't super into the whole thing. I didn't want to eat three pieces of cake, let alone three pieces of cake in 30 seconds. Let alone at a wedding. Let alone while dancing was going on, so the dad moves had to wait.
But, guys, after that last bite went into my mouth -- once the challenge was over -- everything was perfect. (Aside from my stomach.) My leaguemates were celebrating like I had won The Masters. My wife was standing there smiling while simultaneously rolling her eyes. It was the perfect scene within the perfect day for one of my best friends.
And it all happened because of fantasy football -- a game about a game that doesn't just make your fall Sundays more enjoyable, but one that enables childhood friends to act like children again.
Cheers to Week 9.
Start Tyrod Taylor (at New York): Truly, this has nothing to do with Kelvin Benjamin becoming a Buffalo Bill on Tuesday. In fact, we shouldn't expect Benjamin to be all that involved in this game, especially considering it's being played on Thursday night.
This is all about the matchup and Tyrod himself. On the year, the Jets have allowed five top-12 quarterback performances, and the main reason that number isn't higher is because they've seen Jay Cutler twice (he was injured in one of the contests) and Blake Bortles once. One of those top-12 games was to Tyrod Taylor back in Week 1, too. New York has the ninth-worst secondary according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, and they're allowing the 11th-most fantasy points per game to opposing passers.
But what's also intriguing about this matchup is that the Jets have struggled against mobile passers. Or, I should say, they've given up 160 yards on the ground to quarterbacks this year, which is the fourth-most in the NFL. Taylor was able to exploit that back in Week 1 when he rushed for 38 yards, which helped buoy his overall performance a bit. That rushing component to go along with a weak pass defense makes Taylor a strong Week 9 option.
Sit Matt Ryan (at Carolina): The Panthers have been pretty impressive against the pass this year, and they've done so against good quarterbacks. Only Carson Wentz has been able to rank in the top-10 in weekly scoring against Carolina, and they've faced Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Brees, and Jameis Winston. As a result, when you adjust for strength of opponent, the Carolina secondary is numberFire's sixth-best one.
I'll openly admit that Matt Ryan is a prime regression candidate, as he's got a lower-than-career-average touchdown rate (3.9%), and the Falcons are actually second in the league in yards per drive. It's weird that he's scored 16 fantasy points in just two games this year. But this matchup on the road against a good defense with an overall low Vegas game total still makes him a risky start.
Start Alex Smith (at Dallas): The game with the highest Vegas total this week is not the one being played in the Superdome, rather the one being played in AT&T Stadium. Alex Smith will be quarterbacking one side of the matchup, which should automatically put him on your radar: more points being scored means a quarterback is going to be involved in some way.
Digging past the Vegas total reveals Dallas as a really good matchup, too. Of the seven passers they've faced this year, four have scored 18-plus fantasy points, while the other three all had reasons as to why they couldn't. One was Kirk Cousins last week, who was playing behind a makeshift offensive line. One was Eli Manning in Week 1, who didn't have his top receiver. And one was C.J. Beathard, who's C.J. Beathard.
You can start Alex Smith with confidence in this one.
What this Jaguars defense has done this year is nothing short of unbelievable. No quarterback has ranked higher than 19th in weekly scoring against them. Only two have scored double-digit fantasy points. And five of the seven relevant passers to face them have thrown an interception.
Last year, the Broncos were best at holding opposing quarterbacks in check, allowing 12.1 fantasy points per game to the position. This year, the Jags are allowing 6.9 fantasy points per game to signal-callers. That's so, so nice. And it's also the best rate we've seen over the last 15 NFL seasons.
Start Doug Martin (at New Orleans): The biggest fear for Martin owners this week is the potential for a negative game script. The Saints are seven-point favorites, and the game's being played in New Orleans. That could lead to more Charles Sims late in the game. But with that being said, Martin's played in negative scripts this year, especially in Arizona in Week 6, and he's still seen more than 50% of the team's snaps in each game played since his Week 5 debut.
The matchup here is really good for Martin. The Saints rush defense has been their weak point this year, ranking dead last in the NFL against the run per our adjusted numbers. That's translated to fantasy points against opposing running backs -- they're a bottom half team in fantasy points allowed to the position.
Martin's been seeing work, too. Over the last three weeks, he's seen 77.16% of the team's carries, which is the second-highest number among the backs who are playing this weekend. So that workload with the matchup should make Martin a viable option in this one.
Sit Jay Ajayi (vs. Denver): The player who ranks first in rushing attempt market share among active Week 9 backs is Ajayi, but his situation changed quite a bit from Week 8 to Week 9. You know, because he was traded.
The reason to sit Ajayi this week is two-fold. The first, obviously, is ambiguity. We're not totally sure how the Eagles will utilize him, let alone how they'll use him right off the bat. Is he going to see a big backfield share right away? Will he see goal-line looks?
There's the matchup, though, too. Denver's been known for their secondary in recent years, but they've been beastly against opposing running backs this year, as they've allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to the position. Only Orleans Darkwa has rushed for more than 54 yards against the Broncos, and they've faced Melvin Gordon, Kareem Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott, and LeSean McCoy. Anything can happen, but there are plenty of reasons to sit Ajayi this week.
Start Aaron Jones (vs. Detroit): Jones has now seen over 67% of Green Bay's carries over the team's last three games, which is one of the higher shares in football. Part of that has been due to Ty Montgomery's health, and that's the fear coming out of a bye. What if Green Bay decides to run Montgomery more?
They could, but they shouldn't. Jones currently has a Success Rate, or the percentage of positive expected point runs, of 52.46%, which is the best in the NFL among 50-plus attempt rushers. When pairing that with his 0.20 Rushing NEP per rush rate, he's been the most efficient runner in football by our metrics.
His talent combined with the potential workload makes him an every-week starter until we see Montgomery in the mix more. Even if the matchup is just an average one.
Sit C.J. Anderson (at Philadelphia): I mentioned this last week with Anderson, but in losses this year, he's been dreadful in fantasy football. In Denver's three wins, Anderson's averaged 18.47 fantasy points per game with a median score of 15.20. In those games, he's carried the ball 20, 25, and 20 times. It's almost like game script matters.
In losses, though, Anderson's failed to hit the double-digit points mark in PPR formats, and he's averaged fewer than 11 attempts per game. He's got the Eagles this week, who are eight-point favorites and have allowed the fifth-fewest points per game to opposing running backs. It's a dreadful matchup for Anderson.
Start Jonathan Stewart (deeper play, vs. Atlanta): Playing J-Stew is never going to feel comfortable, but there are some reasons for optimism this week. First and foremost, it's very clear that the Panthers are looking to run the ball as much as possible. General Manager Marty Hurney made note of that post-Kelvin Benjamin trade.
But Stewart's had a decent 47.62% rushing attempt market share this year, and he's seen 11 or more carries in all but one contest in 2017. What's even more important is that he's continuing to see the always-important goal-line looks. From within the opponent's 10-yard line, Stewart's seen half of Carolina's carries (8 of 16), while ranking 14th in the league in those types of attempts. At the goal line (within the opponent's 5-yard line), only 10 running backs have more carries than Stewart's 6.
The Panthers will be playing at home as favorites versus the Falcons this week. Atlanta's been average against the run according to our numbers, but they've also surrendered the ninth-most fantasy points to the running back position. You could do worse than Stewart during a tough bye week, but know he's still a deeper, kind-of-touchdown-dependent play.
Start Ted Ginn Jr. (vs. Tampa Bay): The Buccaneers have a bottom-five secondary no matter how you look at it, and that'll naturally be a big deal against Ginn and the Saints this weekend. But they've also allowed the seventh-most air yards despite already having a bye week, and they've got a injuries to the secondary, including to Brent Grimes, who may not be able to go this week. Ginn's seen inconsistent usage this year, and he's obviously a volatile play, but this is one of the best matchups you can find for him.
Sit Alshon Jeffery (vs. Denver): Like I talked about in my 15 Transactions column this week, Jeffery's peripheral numbers haven't been awful this year. He's second in the NFL in air yards, and he's seen 23.75% of Philly's targets. There's nothing wrong with that at all.
There are two main reasons he's struggled in fantasy this year. First, he's not the main red zone threat on his team. Zach Ertz has double the number of red zone targets versus Jeffery, and he's seen more than double from within the opponent's 10. But something that's not talked about enough is that Alshon's seen some pretty tough matchups. The Eagles have faced Washington twice, when the Redskins have been top-notch against perimeter wide receivers. Instead of going to Jeffery, the Eagles utilized a great slot matchup and targeted Nelson Agholor in those matchups.
And this week won't be much different. Denver's a team with great cornerback play, and they're often exploited by opposing tight ends as a result. The highest yardage total from an opposing wideout against Denver has been 64 yards this year, and that was to Johnny Holton and it happened on one play. That's why Ertz is more than likely the go-to in this matchup, leaving Jeffery with potentially another bad performance.
Start Will Fuller (vs. Indianapolis): Even though touchdown regression is going to get the best of Will Fuller eventually, he's still playing about 90% of Houston's snaps, and he's captured an 18.18% target share over his last three games. He'll be on the field, and he should at least see a handful of targets from Deshaun Watson this weekend.
The matchup is gorgeous, too. Fuller's been a big-play machine, and he's currently averaging 21.5 yards per reception. According to AirYards.com, Fuller has a 21.7 average depth of target, which is over three yards higher than DeSean Jackson, who's second on the list among wideouts with 20 or more targets this year. Meanwhile, the Colts have allowed the fourth-highest average depth of target in the league to go along with the second-most fantasy points to the wide receiver position, making this the ideal spot for Fuller to thrive.
Sit Pierre Garcon (vs. Arizona): Quarterback C.J. Beathard has started two games for San Francisco this year, and in those contests, Garcon has seen a combined 11 targets. That's a market share south of 15%, which is far off the approximate 22% share he had pre-Beathard.
We know the passing attack is messy, and this week, while the Arizona Cardinals secondary is anything but frightening as a unit, we should expect Garcon to see a lot of Patrick Peterson. When the 49ers faced the Cardinals earlier this year, Garcon had just 4 catches for 36 yards. And that was with a friendlier (on the field, at least -- I have no idea if Brian Hoyer is a nice guy or not) quarterback.
Start Vernon Davis (at Seattle): The Seahawks haven't been awful against tight ends this year, but they really haven't faced many good ones, either. And, to be honest, the matchup itself isn't nearly as big as the potential for volume. That's still the driving force for all positions in fantasy football. And Vernon Davis could see some looks. Jordan Reed is more than likely out this week, and Jamison Crowder didn't practice on Wednesday. That leaves the slot and middle area of the field open for Davis to work some magic.
Sit Austin Hooper (at Carolina): As usual, it's tough to find even semi-relevant tight ends and call them sit candidates. So maybe benching Hooper is a weird thing to point out, but Recency Bias is real, and Hooper's coming off a strong outing in Week 8. The truth is, though, that Carolina has been above-average against tight ends in terms of fantasy points against per game, and Hooper still has seen two or fewer targets in over half of his games. He's straight up risky.
Start Jack Doyle (at Houston): Doyle has the fourth-highest target market share among Week 9 tight ends, and he's seen a ridiculous 28.83% of the Colts' targets over the last three weeks. This week he'll get a probable negative game script in Houston (more passing for the Colts), and the Texans have surrendered the sixth-most points to the tight end position this year. He's a great play.
Start the Buffalo Bills (at New York): The Bills have the 10th-best defense according to our schedule-adjusted rankings, so it's not like they're bad to begin with. But this is still about the matchup. The Jets have allowed each defense they've faced to score five standard fantasy points, which is a great floor. And that floor's created by the fact that they've given up at least one sack and one turnover in each game played. Even though this game's in New York, the Bills have a nice foundation to work off of this week.
Sit the Denver Broncos (at Philadelphia): As awesome as the Broncos defense has been this year, they're still in a tough spot in Week 9. The Eagles haven't allowed an opposing defense to rank higher than 16th in weekly fantasy scoring since Week 2, and as I mentioned above, the team's offense has versatility to the point where they can avoid the tough Bronco cornerbacks. You may be forced to play Denver only because you're not trying to roster more than one defense this week, but know that they're not in the greatest position being on the road as heavy underdogs this week.