Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward redraft leagues but can also be used for setting DFS lineups, as these are the players I’ll likely be filling out my cash lineups with on Sunday. As is the case each week, I’m ignoring the Thursday night game.
Start of the Week: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Raiders: Big Ben’s had a week to knock the rust off after coming back from his knee injury. At home against a Raiders team coming to the East Coast for an early start after a big home win against the Jets, Oakland is in a prime letdown spot while Pittsburgh needs a win after dropping a divisional game Week 8. A slimmed-down DeAngelo Williams is no slouch, but with Le’Veon Bell (torn MCL) out for the year, more is going to be on Big Ben’s plate. According to Rich Hribar’s Week 9 Worksheet, the Raiders have allowed a 250-yard passer 10 consecutive games dating back to last season. Oakland has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and this game has the third-highest over-under of Week 9 at 48 points.
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Tyrod Taylor vs. Dolphins: After missing Weeks 6 and 7 with a sprained MCL and the Bills coming off their bye, Taylor is ready to roll after practicing in full Wednesday. The long layoff is a bit concerning, but coach Rex Ryan said this is as healthy Taylor has been all year. Taylor had his best statistical game of the season against these same Dolphins in Week 3, completing 72.4 percent of his passes for 277 yards, three scores, and no picks. And that was on the road. He’s also averaged nearly 40 yards rushing per game across his five starts as an added bonus. Taylor’s surrounding parts look to be nearing health, as Sammy Watkins (ankle) is practicing and LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams will be available in the backfield after McCoy missed a decent chunk of the previous Miami-Buffalo matchup. The Dolphins have yielded the ninth-most fantasy points to passers.
Eli Manning at Bucs: Manning is coming off a 350-yard, six-touchdown assault of the Saints in a losing effort and heads back on the road in a similarly-attractive spot. The Bucs have been shredded via the pass, giving up 7.86 YPA, the second-most passing touchdowns, and third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Giants don’t have a running game to speak of, so this offense is going to operate through the air. New York runs the third-highest-paced offense in the league, while this game is tied with Oakland-Pittsburgh for the third-highest over-under of Week 9 at 48 points. Odell Beckham, after going bonkers in Week 8, gets another cake-walk, on-paper matchup.
Jay Cutler at Chargers: Cutler has been super-consistent the past four games, scoring no fewer than 17.2 fantasy points. He hasn’t topped 19.5 in that stretch, but we’re not looking for a monster game. San Diego’s once-dominant pass defense has crashed and burned the past couple weeks. With no Matt Forte (knee), the Bears will likely want more out of Cutler. Alshon Jeffery gets a dream matchup against shadow corner Jason Verrett, whom Jeffery has a five-inch and 40-pound advantage over. No. 2 receiver Marquess Wilson — with Eddie Royal (knee) out — will run the bulk of his routes at burnable No. 2 CB Brandon Flowers, who’s PFF’s third-worst cover corner out of 113 qualifiers. The Chargers’ pass-rush unit is ranked 30th in PFF’s team grades. The 49-point over-under is second-highest of Week 9, and San Diego is favored by just four.
Peyton Manning at Colts: The Broncos’ once-dead rushing “attack” came to life Week 8 against the Packers, taking pressure off 39-year-old Manning. With signs of life from C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, it makes defenses have to respect the pass. And Manning burned Green Bay for 340 yards. It was the best Manning had looked since Week 3. Might this be the start of a turnaround? We’ll see. The Colts don’t have a pass rush, Vontae Davis has looked human, and Indianapolis is coming off a short week after losing a heart-breaker to the Panthers on Monday night. Manning is coming back to the house he built, Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts are in a tailspin, and this game features two of the top-ten fastest-paced offenses. The Broncos are favored by five with an implied team total of 25 points. The Colts allow the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
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Teddy Bridgewater vs. Rams: Even with six teams on bye, Bridgewater is a bottom-five fantasy quarterback at home against a Rams defense that is right behind the Broncos in terms of eliteness. Denver and St. Louis has each allowed just five passing touchdowns. The Rams have PFF’s No. 1-ranked run defense, No. 5-ranked pass rush, and No. 6-ranked coverage unit. Bridgewater has topped 250 passing yards twice and tossed more than one touchdown once. Rams-Vikings has the lowest over-under of the week at 40 points and projects to be run-dominated.
Andrew Luck vs. Broncos: Luck is allegedly “fully healthy” after battling shoulder, ribs, and ankle issues the first eight weeks. Still, this is his toughest spot of the season, even at home. The Broncos are locking pass offenses down and surrendered just 77 yards passing to Aaron Rodgers in Week 8. Denver is allowing the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. It has yielded just five passing touchdowns, and is one of four teams to pick off more passes than its allowed touchdowns. The Broncos have PFF’s No. 2-ranked pass rush and No. 2-ranked coverage unit.
Blake Bortles at Jets: Bortles has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of garbage time. With a 40-point over-under and 2.5-point spread, Jaguars-Jets doesn’t project to get out of hand. The Jets’ strength is their run defense, but they still have a top-11 pass defense in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Bortles will likely be able to fire off a few deep balls, but is as equally likely to turn the ball over. Gang Green has 15 takeaways, good for sixth-most in the league.
Sam Bradford at Cowboys: Only Andrew Luck (12), Peyton Manning (11), and Matthew Stafford (11) have throws more interceptions than Bradford (10), and those three have each played eight games to Bradford’s seven. Among full-time starters, only Luck’s 6.34 YPA is worse than Bradford’s 6.45 mark. The Cowboys don’t take the ball away, with only four on the year, but Dallas’ offense is the slowest-paced unit in football, limiting the opposing team’s possessions. Bradford has been a train wreck, and the only things keeping him in the starting lineup are his salary and the fact that Mark Sanchez isn’t any better. Dallas allows the fifth-fewest fantasy points to passers.
Start of the Week: Chris Ivory vs. Jaguars: Ivory is coming off back-to-back dreadful games on the road against both the Patriots and Raiders. Week 7 at New England, Ivory managed 41 scoreless yards on 17 carries before posting an even-worse 15 carries for 17 yards in Oakland. This came after Ivory ran roughshod through the Dolphins and Redskins in Week 4 and 6 for 29-166-1 and 20-146-1 rushing lines. Back home against the Jaguars, this sets up well for Ivory to get back on track. The Jaguars are allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs. The Jets are unlikely to put a ton on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s plate with him dealing with a torn ligament in his left, non-throwing thumb, and Gang Green is 2.5-point favorites. According to Graham Barfield, in five games the Jets are home and favored the past two seasons, Ivory has averaged 14.6 rushing attempts for 85.2 rushing yards and 1.2 touchdowns. He’s a good bet to meet those numbers Sunday.
LeGarrette Blount vs. Redskins: The entire Patriots offense is in play with a sky-high implied team total of 33.25 points. New England is heavy 14-point favorites at home over Washington. This is a game both Dion Lewis and Blount could return high-end numbers with Lewis doing damage early and Blount milking the clock late and tallying touchdowns. The Redskins started off the season playing well against the run but have since been exposed through the middle of their defense. They’re a bottom-seven run defense at Pro Football Focus. Blount hasn’t scored in two weeks but has 22 career touchdowns in 32 career games (including the playoffs) with New England. He’s due.
Doug Martin vs. Giants: Martin is a no-brainer start at this point, though some may refuse to be believers. Giants-Bucs is a sneaky game for fantasy goodness. The 48-point over-under is third-highest of the week, and the G-Men are favored by just 2.5. The Giants are allowing a league-worst 427.5 yards per game and over 112 on the ground. The entire Tampa Bay offense is in play, as the Giants have proven they can’t stop the pass or the run. Martin is in a contract year and, through eight weeks, is Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 running back. Meanwhile, New York has graded out as PFF’s sixth-worst run defense. Martin is averaging 21.5 carries for 109 yards with four total touchdowns the past four weeks. The Giants allow over 4.17 YPC to running backs.
Chris Thompson at Patriots: Thompson injured his back Week 6 against the Jets and ended up missing the game before the Redskins’ Week 8 bye. Now healthy, Thompson is practicing in full this week and should regain his job as Washington’s pass-game back. From Weeks 3-6, Thompson played nearly half the offensive snaps (47.6 percent) and was targeted at least seven times in three of those four games. Thompson is fifth among all running backs with 5.5 targets per game. The Redskins are 14-point underdogs on the road, which should lead to plenty of work for Thompson in catch-up mode. He’s a dark horse for low-end RB2 numbers in PPR formats.
Jeremy Langford at Chargers: Matt Forte (knee) isn’t going to play Monday night, leaving the backfield in the hands of rookie Langford and change-of-pace back Antone Smith. When Forte went down last week, Langford stepped into an every-down role, rushing 12 times for 46 yards on 33-of-61 snaps. The Bears reportedly “claim” Langford is good enough to handle feature-back duties in Forte’s absence. The matchup doesn’t get any better for Langford’s first career start. The Chargers are Pro Football Focus’ worst run defense, and only the Browns have allowed more fantasy points to running backs. San Diego has surrendered 5.17 YPC and 10 total touchdowns to the position. Langford is a good bet for an 18-touch floor in a game the Bears will be playing up in pace.
Eddie Lacy at Panthers: Lacy’s 38 rushing yards against the Broncos last Sunday were a three-week high, and he found the end zone for the first time since Week 1. It’s improvement, but Lacy remains a borderline starter until we see further evidence of it. The matchup at Carolina isn’t any easier. With James Starks back fully healthy and no longer on the injury report after missing practice time with a hip injury last week, he and Lacy will likely be in a 50-50 timeshare again. Against a tough run defense led by DTs Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, this is a situation to avoid. Lacy could find himself back on the RB2 radar next week against the Lions with a step forward in Carolina.
Antonio Andrews at Saints: In his first media session Wednesday, interim coach Mike Mularkey named Andrews the starter for now and moving forward, calling the second-year UDFA a “workhorse.” That’s fine and dandy, but Andrews runs 4.82 at 5’10/225. He’s a Shonn Greene-type plodder with a 3.7 YPC average on his first 54 career carries. The Titans’ offensive line is a mess, and the passing game hasn’t found much success. Defenses can stack the box against the run and play single-coverage outside to force Marcus Mariota to beat them. That hasn’t happened much to this point. Andrews is a lock for double-digit carries, but getting in scoring range is a whole other feat. He doesn’t possess the breakaway speed to house one from distance. Even in a dream matchup against New Orleans’ pitiful defense, Andrews is by no means a must-play.
Matt Jones at Patriots: Going into the Week 8 bye, coach Jay Gruden said he wanted to fix the running game over the break, but remained committed to Alfred Morris as his starter with rookie Jones splitting the load. Coming out of the bye, Gruden’s tune didn’t change. He reiterated a desire for Morris and Jones to each get their share of work. Against the Patriots’ No. 8-ranked fantasy run defense in a game the Redskins will likely have to abandon the run as 14-point underdogs, it’s a week to avoid both Morris and Jones. Since gashing the Rams for 123 yards and two scores on 19 carries in Week 2, Jones has managed 98 yards and one touchdown on 38 carries (2.58 YPC) across four games. Since Week 1, Morris has rushed for 181 scoreless yards on 66 carries, good for a 2.74 YPC average. Chris Thompson is a good bet to lead the backfield in snaps Sunday.
T.J. Yeldon at Jets: Yeldon has two 100-yard rushing games over his past three games and is averaging 4.75 YPC in that span with one touchdown. He’s expected to take over goal-line work from a laughably ineffective Toby Gerhart starting this week. But the matchup couldn’t be any worse. The Jets are allowing 3.32 YPC and the fewest fantasy points to running backs. They’re one of just three teams to allow one rushing touchdown on the year. Latavius Murray shredded the Jets for 113 scoreless yards on 20 carries last week, but Gang Green comes back home as favorites against Jacksonville. After loafing through the Oakland loss, the Jets will be poised to shut down the Jaguars’ offense. Yeldon has an ultra-soft schedule Weeks 11-16 to close out the season.
Start of the Week: Stevie Johnson vs. Bears: Keenan Allen is done for the season with a lacerated kidney. That elevates Johnson into an every-down role as the new No. 1 receiver in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Malcom Floyd will continue to operate as the deep threat on the opposite side of the field. Johnson primarily ran all of his routes out of the slot the first eight weeks, but is expected to take on more reps outside in two-wide sets before kicking back inside in sub-packages when Dontrelle Inman comes on the field. Allen’s void leaves 11.1 targets per game out there for the taking, and Johnson figures to be the biggest beneficiary not named Antonio Gates. The Bears have been killed via the pass and especially by opposing receivers. They’ve allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to the position, and none of CBs Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter, or Sherrick McManis have played well. Slot CB McManis was benched in favor of rookie UDFA Bryce Callahan last week. Johnson is one of the game’s best route runners and can beat any of these four. The Chargers figure to lean on the run more without Allen, but they won’t abandon their No. 1 pass offense.
Brandon LaFell vs. Redskins: As mentioned above with LeGarrette Blount, this is an opportunity to use all of the Patriots. Not often do we see a team with an implied team total of 30 points, and the Patriots sit at 33.25 at the onset of the week. Since returning from his foot injury two weeks ago, LaFell has played 71.6 and 82.9 percent of the snaps while seeing eight and seven targets. He dropped a horrifying five passes Week 7 as he knocked the rust off, but came back Week 8 and caught four balls. The arrow is pointing up for LaFell. He’s already taken over as the No. 2 receiver, bumping Danny Amendola back into a bit role. The Redskins have graded out as PFF’s 26th-ranked pass-coverage unit. Tom Brady is going to do whatever he wants.
Allen Hurns at Jets: Hurns has done a ton with very little. He’s fantasy’s WR15 after eight weeks, but is just 31st in targets among receivers. Hurns has scored a touchdown in five-straight games, yet has topped seven targets in a game just once all year. Among receivers who have caught at least 20 passes, Hurns is sixth in YPR with a 16.5 mark. Teammate Allen Robinson is fourth with a 17.2 average. The Jaguars are a big-play offense. Robinson projects to draw shadow coverage from Darrelle Revis on Sunday, leaving Hurns against Antonio Cromartie and slot WR Bryan Walters vs. Buster Skrine. Through eight weeks, Cromartie is Pro Football Focus’ No. 89 cover corner out of 113 qualifiers. He’s allowed 18.4 YPR and five touchdowns to go along with a 132.5 passer rating. Hurns and Blake Bortles have a strong chemistry and are a good bet to hook up a number of times.
Mike Evans vs. Giants: Last week didn’t go as planned for Evans. Vincent Jackson (knee) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder) sat out Week 8 against the Falcons, and Evans projected to gobble up targets. At the end of the day, he was the target on just nine of Jameis Winston’s 29 throws, and some of the passes weren’t even catchable. Evans also happened to injure his hamstring in the game, forcing him to miss 18 snaps. Jackson remains sidelined for the Bucs, but Seferian-Jenkins figures to be back. The Giants remain without RCB Prince Amukamara (pectoral) and will trot out Jayron Hosley in his place. Evans runs most of his routes at right cornerbacks. Hosley is listed at 5’10/179, while Evans is a behemoth at 6’5/225. He has seven inches and 46 pounds on Hosley. In a game with a 48-point over-under, Evans is a borderline WR1. The Giants just got eviscerated via the pass last week, giving up 511 yards and seven touchdowns to Drew Brees.
Marquess Wilson at Chargers: Eddie Royal (knee) is almost certain to miss Monday night’s game, leaving Wilson to take over as the every-down No. 2 receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. He’ll be a distant No. 3 option behind Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, but Wilson has the best matchup of the bunch. Jeffery is expected to be shadowed by CB Jason Verrett, leaving Wilson to operate against No. 2 CB Brandon Flowers. In his coverage, Flowers has allowed a 66.7 percent completion rate, 15.1 YPR, five touchdowns, and a 136.5 passer rating while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ third-worst cover corner out of 113 qualifiers. With Matt Forte (knee) on the shelf and the Bears playing up in pace at San Diego, it will likely lead to more passes for Jay Cutler. Wilson has WR3 upside.
James Jones at Panthers: Jones is extremely touchdown-dependent and has seen more than six targets in a game just once this season. The past three weeks, he’s averaged under three targets per game and was held to one catch for two yards at Denver in Week 8. Heading to Carolina, the matchup doesn’t get much easier. Panthers shutdown CB Josh Norman doesn’t follow No. 1 receivers into the slot, meaning Randall Cobb should avoid him much of the day. That leaves Davante Adams and Jones to do battle with Norman and feisty veteran CB Charles Tillman on the outside. Tillman held his own against Donte Moncrief last Monday night and should be able to keep up with slower receivers like Jones and Adams. Those playing Jones are merely hoping for a score. The Panthers have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to receivers.
Donte Moncrief vs. Broncos: Panthers RCB Charles Tillman locked Moncrief down on Monday night, holding him to one catch for 13 yards on three targets. Against all other Carolina defenders, Moncrief caught one pass for five yards on two targets. The matchup for Week 9 is even tougher for Moncrief. He’ll run the bulk of his routes at Broncos’ outside CBs Bradley Roby and Aqib Talib. The two have combined to allow just one touchdown and pick off four passes, while the Broncos’ defense as a whole has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to receivers. Only one receiver has scored a touchdown all season against Denver.
Robert Woods at Dolphins: Sammy Watkins (ankle) practiced on Wednesday and appears to be on track to return after missing Week 7 in London. In that game, Woods and Chris Hogan operated as the Bills’ Nos. 1 and 2 receivers for E.J. Manuel. Woods reeled in 9-of-13 targets for 84 yards and a score against Jacksonville. With Watkins set to come back, Woods will fall back into a limited role as the No. 2 receiver and third or fourth option for Tyrod Taylor. To be productive, Woods has needed a lot of targets. Those just aren’t going to be there with Watkins and Charles Clay ahead of him.
Jamison Crowder at Patriots: In the absence of DeSean Jackson (hamstring), rookie Crowder has proven to be a reliable set of hands behind Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed. He’s caught 32-of-40 targets for 292 yards. But Crowder is averaging a meager 9.1 YPR and has yet to find the end zone. His ceiling is extremely low. And Jackson is going to return this week after missing the past six games. Crowder will fall back into the No. 3 receiver role as the fourth or fifth option in the pass game. Even if he does get catches, Crowder has been allergic to pay dirt.
Start of the Week: Austin Seferian-Jenkins vs. Giants: Seferian-Jenkins hasn’t played since Week 2 due to a strained shoulder. He returned to practice last week before ultimately being inactive for Week 8. The second-year tight end didn’t suffer any setbacks; the Bucs are just trying to get him back into game shape. That should happen this week, and ASJ should be ready to go against the Giants. Vincent Jackson (knee) is still sideline, so Seferian-Jenkins should be second in line for targets behind Mike Evans. The Giants have allowed the most catches and yards to tight ends. With only Evans ahead of him in the pecking order, Seferian-Jenkins has a high target floor.
Charles Clay at Dolphins: Revenge game No. 2 for Clay. He already had his best game of the season against his former Dolphins teammates in Week 3, catching 5-of-7 targets for 82 yards and one touchdown. In five games with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Clay has averaged over six targets per week, scoring both of his touchdowns. Even with Sammy Watkins (ankle) likely back, Clay should still see enough looks to return back-end TE1 value with six teams on bye.
Julius Thomas at Jets: Allen Robinson is expected to be shadowed by Darrelle Revis, so Blake Bortles’ passes have to go somewhere. Allen Hurns will be option No. 1 in the intermediate-to-deep parts of the field, but Thomas has been funneled targets down the seams and over the middle the past two games, catching 8-of-18 targets for 82 yards and one score. The Jets play strong tight-end defense but have started to crack recently with ILB Demario Davis struggling in coverage.
Jacob Tamme at 49ers: Leonard Hankerson (hamstring) remains sidelined and Roddy White is a non-factor. With Hankerson out, Tamme took over as the No. 3 option behind Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman last week. He ended up catching 10-of-12 targets for 103 yards and one touchdown against the Bucs. Look for Tamme to fill a similar role against a bad 49ers defense.
Kyle Rudolph vs. Rams: Rudolph is blocking more than ever in the Vikings’ ground-and-pound offense. He’s been targeted four times or fewer each of the past five games with Stefon Diggs taking over as the go-to receiver in the intermediate parts of the field. Rudolph has scored a touchdown two of the past three weeks, and that’s all you’re hoping for at this point with him. His floor is absolute zero, while his ceiling isn’t high. There are better options, even on a short week.
Ben Watson vs. Titans: Watson has been lighting it up of late as he’s seen his role increase in the pass game. He’s averaged eight targets per game the past four weeks and posted a 10-127-1 line Week 6 before going off for 9-147-1 last week. But the Saints should be able to run the ball heavily against Tennessee, which will limit Watson’s looks. He’s still behind Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead for targets, and the Titans’ weakness is outside.
Vernon Davis at Colts: The Broncos did a great job sending a pair of sixth-round picks to the 49ers for Davis on Monday, but initial reports are Davis isn’t going to be heavily involved on offense for at least a couple weeks as he tries to pick up the offense and learn the playbook. Davis has TE1 upside for the stretch run, but is merely a TE2 who may play limited snaps against the Colts.