Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 9

Andrew Luck faces off against the toughest secondary in the league on Sunday. Should you be benching him?

We live in a football world where quarterbacks -- and, in turn, passing -- mean everything. And that's what makes this year's Denver Broncos' defense so absurdly good.

Through eight weeks of football, the Broncos' secondary, per our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, have prevented 57.39 points from being scored on them versus what a league average team would have allowed. And actually, because "league average" isn't simply zero NEP nowadays, the Broncos' pass D is even better. 

Consider this: the Packers' secondary ranks 16th against the pass according to our numbers with an Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points total of 31.98. Again, Denver's is -57.39. What this means is that, if Denver's pass defense was placed in Green Bay, we'd see a near 90-point swing in points favoring the Packers. That's almost two touchdowns per game.

That's silly.

As a result, quarterbacks are struggling hard to produce in fantasy football. And this week should be no different.

Quarterbacks to Sit

Andrew Luck (vs. Denver): Let's not pretend Andrew Luck has been the stud fantasy quarterback most thought he'd be when they took him in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts this year. In six games, he's ranked 15th or lower in weekly quarterback scoring three times, including an 8.4-point dud in Week 2 against the Jets. On the year -- albeit with more games played -- Alex Smith has more top-12, usable quarterback weeks than Luck.

Denver's defense, as shown above, is no joke. No passer has ranked higher than 18th in weekly scoring against them, while five of the seven passers they've faced ended the game with fewer than 10 fantasy points scored. Just to put that into perspective, Jameis Winston hasn't scored fewer than 12.44 fantasy points in a single game this year. The Broncos are holding quarterbacks to lower point totals than that. It all makes Luck a risky play.

Blake Bortles (at New York): Because of all the bye weeks, this week is thin for options at each position. So some of you may be leaning towards using Bortles, who's been fine from a fantasy standpoint this year, but I'd advise to stay away.

The Jets' secondary ranks sixth in the league according to our numbers, and they've allowed the 10th fewest points to the position these year. They've been torched the last two weeks, sure, but one game was against Tom Brady, and the other on the road against Derek Carr, who's been playing like a top-five fantasy passer. Prior to these contests, New York allowed zero quarterback performances to rank higher than 25th in weekly scoring. Given the Jets are at home this week and decent favorites, I'd look for another passing option.

Other quarterbacks to sit: Teddy Bridgewater (vs. St. Louis), Sam Bradford (at Dallas)

Quarterbacks to Start Instead

Eli Manning (at Tampa Bay): Eli bounced back after having two bad performances in a big way last week, and he's in a good spot to continue his high production in Week 9. Tampa Bay ranks 26th against the pass per our numbers, and over the last three weeks, they've allowed Blake Bortles to rank third at the position in weekly scoring, Kirk Cousins first and Matt Ryan ninth. They've been the worst team in the NFL against number-one wide receivers, too, and we all know that plays into the Giants' favor, as they've got Odell Beckham. It's a dream matchup for Eli.

Jay Cutler (at San Diego): Since returning from injury, Cutler's scored between 17.24 and 19.54 fantasy points in each of his last four games. That's nice, predictable production from your fantasy quarterback, isn't it?

The Chargers' secondary continues to drop in our pass defense rankings and now sit in 22nd in the league. They've been pretty friendly to fantasy quarterbacks as well, having allowed a top-12, QB1 performance to every quarterback they've faced not named Matthew Stafford, Teddy Bridgewater or Michael Vick. All three of those guys have been worse tossing the rock this year than Cutler.

In a game that Vegas predicts to be high scoring (49.5 over/under), expect Cutler to have a nice game this week for your fantasy squad.

Other quarterbacks to start: Ben Roethlisberger (vs. Oakland), Matt Ryan (at San Francisco), Tyrod Taylor (vs. Miami)

Running Backs to Sit

T.J. Yeldon (at New York): The Jets' rush defense has been really strong this year, too. In fact, it's been even better than the pass defense, which is why Yeldon is a scary play this week. 

On the year in PPR leagues, the Jets have allowed just four running backs to hit the double-digit mark in points scored. Two of those instances came because of touchdowns through the air, and while Yeldon's involved in the passing game, banking on something like that isn't a smart thing to do in fantasy. 

I can understand his allure more in PPR leagues, but in standard ones, I'd try to stay away. Though I'm fully aware this week it may be tough to do.

Rashad Jennings (at Tampa Bay): I was surprised to see that Jennings is still being started in about one-third of ESPN leagues, which is kind of crazy considering he's hit single-digit PPR totals in half of his contests this year. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have been really underrated as a run stuffing unit, ranking seventh according to NEP in rush defense. Given the running back carousel in the Giants' backfield, I wouldn't be starting Jennings this week.

Latavius Murray (at Pittsburgh): Again, I totally understand that it'd be tough to bench Murray this week, but the matchup isn't ideal. The Steelers actually rank first in rush defenses according to our schedule-adjusted metrics, and that's translated to fantasy success, too, as only two running backs -- Dion Lewis and Charcandrick West -- have ranked higher than 20th in weekly PPR scoring against the unit. Murray should see enough volume in the passing game to have a reasonable floor, but his rushing ceiling is a little scary, considering only two running backs have hit the 70-yard mark against Pittsburgh this year.

Other running backs to sit: Melvin Gordon (vs. Chicago), Matt Jones (at New England)

Running Backs to Start Instead

Jeremy Langford (at San Diego): The Chargers haven't been able to stop the run this year, which gives rookie Jeremy Langford a nice matchup in Week 9. Though I do like Cutler and his ability through the air, don't count out Langford in the passing game, as he played a little wide receiver in college and should be able to fill in well for the pass-catching Matt Forte. If he adds on 10 or so carries to the receiving floor, you're looking at a pretty nice game -- of the eight backs who have attempted 10 or more rushes against San Diego this season, six have finished with 15.5 or more PPR points.

Jeremy Hill (vs. Cleveland): To be honest, there aren't many under-the-radar running back plays this week, and I'm not just going to force a low-level player into this section when I really don't believe in him. So let's talk about Jeremy Hill -- a guy many fantasy owners are probably sick of -- and why this week could be the biggest game of the year for him.

Cleveland's rush defense is horrendously bad. It ranks dead last according to our numbers, and the unit has now allowed a top-13 performance to the running back position in all but one week this year. That game came a week ago, where Chris Johnson coughed it up twice, forcing his ranking to go down -- he still rushed for over 100 yards.

The Bengals are heavy favorites in their Thursday night contest, and in the three games where Cincinnati won by 13 or more points (their other wins were by 6 or fewer), Hill played his three highest games by snap count of the season. He'll be on the field a lot in this one, and if that's the case, he'll have plenty of opportunity to take advantage of a bad rush defense.

Eddie Lacy (at Carolina): Lacy owners are frustrated beyond belief with his play, but I do think he's an OK play this week against Carolina. 

It's easy to get caught up in how strong the Panthers' defense has looked, but the rush defense, partially due to injury, has been pretty mediocre this year, ranking 22nd in schedule-adjusted NEP. The Panthers have actually allowed a top-24 PPR running back (RB2 or better) in six of their seven contests this year, with last week being the exception. Lacy's snaps were down a bit last week in a game that was slipping away from Denver, but with Green Bay as slight favorites, I'd expect him to get enough usage to warrant a start.

Other running backs to start: Doug Martin (vs. New York Giants), LeGarrette Blount (vs. Washington)

Wide Receivers to Sit

Donte Moncrief (vs. Denver): You ever see that video of the toddler walking down a leafy path when, all of a sudden, a cat jumps out from the bushes and crushes the kid? That's how wide receivers feel against the Broncos -- they think everything is fine, and then the Denver corners come out of nowhere and make a play.

This year, the Broncos have allowed just two top-20 PPR performances to wideouts. Two. That's it. Two of them. This all goes back to what I talked about in the intro -- the pass defense is becoming historic, especially in this pass-happy era. I'd only play Moncrief, who's seeing decent volume still in the Colts offense, if I had no other legitimate options.

Mike Wallace (vs. St. Louis): Funny enough, Wallace was one of the two wideouts to do damage against Denver, scoring 22.3 PPR fantasy points against the unit back in Week 4. That's just one of two instances where he's hit the double-digit PPR mark, and now he'll face a Rams secondary that ranks third against the pass according to our numbers. No thanks.

James Jones (at Carolina): Jones continues to be a staple in this column, but I think it's important that people recognize that he's been #notgood in fantasy over the Packers last two contests.

Jones is touchdown-dependent -- I made this clear last week stating that, among relevant pass catchers, no wideout has seen a higher percentage of fantasy points scored from touchdowns than Jones. The reason I hated him last week is the same as this week: the Panthers don't give up wide receiver touchdowns, surrendering four all year long, which is fifth best in the league. It doesn't help that Jones hasn't seen much volume this year either, receiving more than five targets in just two games.

Other wide receivers to sit: Anquan Boldin (vs. Atlanta), Jordan Matthews (at Dallas):

Wide Receivers to Start Instead

Steve Johnson (vs. Chicago): Keenan Allen is out for the year with a kidney injury, which means his volume -- and there's a lot of it -- will be spread around the Chargers' offense. I really like Johnson to be the main beneficiary, as he'll take much of Allen's underneath routes and potentially be a PPR machine. Against Chicago, a team allowing the 10th most points to the wide receiver position, that's great news.

Dez Bryant (vs. Philadelphia): Fantasy owners may feel a little hesitant to play Bryant after a bad outing during his return last week, but he's in a really good spot this week as he goes up against the Eagles and cornerback Byron Maxwell. Top wide receivers against Philly have ranked no worse than 23rd in weekly PPR scoring (roughly 15 points), while the Eagles have played teams like Dallas (post-Dez injury), Washington and Carolina. Don't be afraid to use Bryant this week, especially given all the bye week teams.

Robert Woods (vs. Miami): If you need a deeper play this week, I don't mind Woods. Sammy Watkins was limited in practice on Wednesday, and if he can't go, Woods should continue to see an expanded role in the Bills' offense. The last time the Bills played -- without Sammy -- Woods came down with 13 targets, catching 9 of them for 84 yards and a score. The Dolphins' secondary has been better over the last few games (aside from last week against New England), but according to Football Outsiders, they're one of the worst teams in the NFL defending top wide receivers. That's what Woods would be without Watkins.

Other wide receivers to start: Eric Decker (vs. Jacksonville), Allen Hurns (at New York)

Tight Ends to Sit

Jason Witten (vs. Philadelphia): The quarterback change for Dallas hasn't been very kind to Witten, at least from a ceiling standpoint. Since Week 1, Witten hasn't scored more than 13.3 PPR fantasy points, while hitting the single-digit mark in three of six games. Now he'll get the Eagles, a team being beat on the outside rather than through the middle of the field, as shown by their number-two ranking against the position in fantasy points against. I'd ideally look elsewhere.

Other tight ends to sit: Coby Fleener (vs. Denver), Kyle Rudolph (vs. St. Louis)

Start These Tight Ends Instead

Heath Miller (vs. Oakland): The Raiders have played seven games this year, and in all but two of them, a tight end from the opposing team has finished, at worst, as the fourth-ranked PPR tight end of that particular week. The two instances where Oakland was fine against tight ends came against the Broncos and the Jets, two squads who haven't had much of a tight end presence this season. Miller has seen 11, 2 and 13 targets in games where Ben Roethlisberger played the entirety of the game, so there's potential for a lot of upside in this one.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs. New York): If ASJ is able to get back onto the field today -- he practice yesterday -- then fantasy owners should be excited. Not only for Jameis Winston to have another weapon and potentially put up nice numbers but because the Giants have been porous against tight ends all year, giving up 58 receptions to the position. That's seven more than any other team. Only Zach Ertz has failed to be a top-12, TE1 against the G-Men this year, giving ASJ a nice, safe floor if he suits up.

Other tight ends to start: Larry Donnell (at Tampa Bay), Delanie Walker (at New Orleans)

Defenses to Sit

Carolina Panthers (vs. Green Bay): Though the Packers haven't played like their typical offensive selves this season, only the Broncos' defense has ranked in the top 10 against them this year. The Panthers have a great defense, but it's not Denver-great. There's a chance Aaron Rodgers and company don't put up a lot of points, but you want sacks and turnovers with your fantasy defense -- Rodgers has thrown just two picks all year and has been sacked no more than three times in a single game.

Other defenses to sit: Washington Redskins (at New England), Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Oakland)

Start These Defenses Instead

Atlanta Falcons (at San Francisco): When Blaine Gabbert has seen significant snaps (three years worth of data), he's never finished a season with a Passing NEP per drop back better than -0.12. To put that into perspective, that rate would rank dead last among 2015 quarterbacks -- worse than Nick Foles and, yes, worse than Colin Kaepernick. He's a defense's dream come true, and the Falcons, the most average defense imaginable according to our numbers, should be able to take advantage.

Other defenses to start: New Orleans (vs. Tennessee), Cincinnati (vs. Cleveland)