Happy Week 9, everyone. Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes, as these are players I’ll likely have some exposure to over the weekend.
Start of the Week: Dak Prescott vs. Chiefs: All things considered, Prescott played well last week in D.C. In the driving rain and whipping winds, Prescott was asked to throw the ball just 22 times. Ezekiel Elliott ran it 33 times for 150 yards and a pair of scores. Prescott completed 14 of those 22 passes for 143 yards with no scores and no picks, finishing as the QB24 on the week. It was Prescott’s lowest finish of the season to date. In a week with six teams on bye, Prescott is a top-flight QB1 coming back home to face a Chiefs defense traveling on a short week. This one will be played in a dome with no weather concerns. Over the last five weeks, the Chiefs are 29th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, and no team has surrendered more touchdowns through the air in that span. This defense has really struggled without All-Pro S Eric Berry (Achilles’) and OLBs Justin Houston (knee) and Dee Ford (back) aren’t 100 percent. CB Steven Nelson was activated off I.R. last week, but Kenneth Acker was still playing snaps and getting beat by Demaryius Thomas. Trevor Siemian just couldn’t make the Chiefs pay. With Elliott’s suspension expected to start this week, look for the offense to lean more on sophomore Prescott. Chiefs DC Bob Sutton also runs a man-coverage scheme, which tends to have the defensive backs with their backs to the line of scrimmage. That will open up running lanes for Prescott as a scrambler to go with his dream matchup as a passer. Only three teams have allowed more rushing yards to quarterbacks than Kansas City. The 51-point total for Chiefs-Cowboys is the highest of Week 9, and the game is currently a pick ‘em. This has shootout written all over it. Prescott should bounce-back in full force Sunday.
Jared Goff at Giants: It’s a difficult week if looking for a streamer off the waiver wire, but there are a couple guys with whom you can win the week. Goff fits in that category. The Rams are coming off their bye and currently sit No. 2 in the league in points per game at 30.3, just behind the Texans’ mark of 30.7. Goff has been a respectable 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game through eight weeks. Coach Sean McVay is getting the most out of last year’s No. 1 overall pick, and the Rams will travel to face a Giants team that McVay knows well from his days as the Redskins’ OC in the NFC East. And now the Giants will be without top CB Janoris Jenkins after he was suspended by coach Ben McAdoo for violating team rules. This G-Men squad is off the rails, and the once-feared pass defense is dead last in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks the last five weeks. Without Jenkins locking down one portion of the field and no RE Olivier Vernon (ankle) screaming off the edge, this defense doesn’t put fear in opposing offenses. Goff hasn’t tossed multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 4, but Sunday presents a ripe opportunity to end that drought.
Jacoby Brissett at Texans: Brissett is in the same category this week as Goff above; a not-great quarterback in a normal week, but on the fantasy map with six teams on bye. Brissett managed the QB10 finish on the road in Cincinnati last week and nearly led the Colts to an upset win before he tossed a back-breaking pick-six in the fourth quarter to LE Carlos Dunlap. It was Brissett’s first multi-touchdown passing game of the season. The Texans present an opportunity to tie on another. Over the last five weeks, Houston is 31st in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, and the defense is getting burned by passers with mobility in that timeframe. Only two teams have allowed more rushing yards to quarterbacks since Week 3, and the Texans are 1-of-3 teams to allow multiple rushing touchdown to the position in those five weeks. Brissett has ran for three touchdowns since taking over as the starter in Indy and has 135 yards on the ground. Houston has been injury-ravaged in its front seven, losing all three of DE J.J. Watt, DE Christian Covington, and OLB Whitney Mercilus to IR. ILB Brian Cushing is on suspension, and fill-in ILB Dylan Cole isn’t practicing with a hamstring injury. This defense just got torched by Week 8’s QB1 Russell Wilson. Colts-Texans has the third-highest over-under of the week at 49 points and is a good bet to go over that number in a weather-free dome.
Alex Smith at Cowboys: Not often do we need to advise starting fantasy’s overall QB1, but Smith understandably still goes overlooked in fake football. Smith is coming off a Monday night clunker against the Broncos, throwing for just 202 yards and one score. That happens often against Denver. The Cowboys defense shut down Kirk Cousins in D.C. last week, but weather played a huge role in that effort, and the Redskins were missing nearly their entire offensive line. Cousins didn’t stand much of a chance. This defense isn’t one to fear by any means. Over the last five weeks, Dallas has picked off just one pass, and Smith has yet to throw an interception this season. He committed his first turnover of 2017 by losing a fumble last week. In the last two games at Jerry’s World, the Cowboys have allowed 35 points to the Rams and 35 to the Packers. Jared Goff managed the QB14 finish in that game, while Aaron Rodgers was the overall QB6 in his. Smith has been putting up fantasy points all season and is squarely on the QB1 map this week in a potential shootout in the dome. As mentioned earlier, the 51-point total in Chiefs-Cowboys is the week’s highest.
Matt Ryan at Panthers: Ryan simply hasn’t gotten going in 2017. He’s the QB20 in fantasy points per game. Ryan hasn’t had a 300-yard game since Week 1 and has yet to throw for three touchdowns in a week. He accomplished those feats eight and nine times respectively as MVP last year. Under new OC Steve Sarkisian it isn’t happening, and Sark is doing a bad job of getting the ball into the hands of his best offensive players, namely Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman. Ryan’s stats are suffering because of it, and he’s already nearly matched his interception total from last season (7) with six through eight weeks. The Falcons now try to right the ship in Carolina where they’ll face a defense ranked No. 7 in pass-defense DVOA and 10th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks the last five weeks. This unit also just got back centerfield S Kurt Coleman and MLB Luke Kuechly back from injuries and shut down the Bucs’ offense in Week 8. Carolina is second in the league with 27 sacks. Atlanta’s implied team total of 21 points is one of the lowest of the week. At this point, we need to see it from Ryan before starting him in fantasy.
Andy Dalton at Jaguars: Dalton has taken advantage of plus matchups this season and just did so in Week 8 against the Colts, throwing for 243 yards and two scores as the QB3 on the week. He also had a big game against the Browns back in Week 4. Those are two of the easiest spots a quarterback could ask for, but a date with the Jaguars is one of the toughest. Jacksonville leads the league in sacks and quarterback hits and just traded for DT Marcell Dareus during last week’s bye. The Jaguars are No. 1 in pass-defense DVOA, No. 1 in pass yards allowed, and No. 1 in fantasy points given up to quarterbacks. They’ve allowed just four touchdown passes all year. Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line is 30th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. After losing both LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler in free agency, this blocking unit has cratered as a group. The Bengals’ implied team total of 17.5 points is the lowest of Week 9. Jacksonville’s defense is arguably the top play on the board, and it’s priced that way on daily fantasy sites.
Kirk Cousins at Seahawks: Cousins is currently the QB7 in fantasy points per game, but he’s coming off a real bad outing last week against the Cowboys. Heavy rain and swirling wind played a large role in the QB19 effort, but the Redskins were missing LT Trent Williams, C Spencer Long, and RG Brandon Scherff all to injuries, while swing tackle Ty Nsekhe was also out. RT Morgan Moses was playing on two bum ankles after twisting them both in Week 7. All four of Williams, Long, Scherff, and Nsekhe missed practice again on Wednesday and don’t have particularly promising Week 9 outlooks. Good luck trying to bring a patchwork offensive line to Seattle. The Seahawks just got torched on their home turf by rookie Deshaun Watson last week, but odds are strongly against it happening again with Cousins considering all the injuries, including Jordan Reed (hamstring) and Jamison Crowder (hamstring) after they didn’t practice Wednesday. Reed has all but been ruled out. Seattle is sixth in pass-defense DVOA and eighth in touchdown passes given up. Washington’s implied team total of 19 points is one of the lowest of Week 9. Seattle is a top-end D/ST play.
Start of the Week: Christian McCaffrey vs. Falcons: The No. 8 overall pick back in April, McCaffrey has been a massive disappointment as a runner. He’s averaging just 6.1 carries per game at a 2.39 YPC clip with no rushing touchdowns. He’s also dead last in yards after contact per attempt among 43 qualified runners at Pro Football Focus. However, as a pass-catcher, McCaffrey leads all running backs in targets and is seeing 9.25 per game over the past month. That’s over 1.5 more per week than second-place LeSean McCoy (7.67) in that span. McCaffrey also leads the Panthers in red-zone targets with seven and has scored on two of his four looks inside the 10-yard line. And with Kelvin Benjamin now out of the picture following his trade to the Bills on Tuesday, the Panthers want to get the ball more into the hands of playmakers like McCaffrey and fellow rookie Curtis Samuel and spread the defense out more after it was congested a bit with big-bodied, slow-of-foot guys like Benjamin and Ed Dickson congesting the field. The Falcons have long struggled to defend running backs who catch the ball under coach Dan Quinn. This season, Atlanta has allowed the fourth-most catches for the 10th-most yards and third-most touchdowns to opposing backs.
Alex Collins at Titans: Promoted from the practice squad ahead of Week 2, Collins has consistently been chewing up yards on the ground when given the opportunity. Among all running backs with at least 50 carries, Collins’ 5.98 YPC average is No. 1, and he was consistently ripping off monster gains against the Dolphins in Week 8. Collins played a season-high 49.2% of the snaps in the easy win and set new season-bests in carries (18) and yards (113). He also added 30 yards on two catches after not catching a single pass the previous seven weeks. After the dominant performance, coach John Harbaugh admitted Collins has earned more reps. Terrance West (calf) still isn’t practicing and won’t be the early-down back even when he returns. Buck Allen will still be a factor in the pass game and red zone. The only knock on Collins is he’s yet to score a touchdown, as he has just one carry inside the 20-yard line. It severely lowers his floor. But the hope is Collins gained the trust of the coaches last week and will get more of a workhorse role in Tennessee. The Titans are middle-of-the-pack against the run, ranking 14th in run-defense DVOA and allowing 3.43 YPC to running backs. Look for the Ravens to lean more on the run game with Joe Flacco coming off a thundering hit and concussion suffered last Thursday night. Expect Baltimore to protect him from himself a bit more than usual. Running the ball early and often can achieve that.
Darren McFadden vs. Chiefs: As far as I can tell at this point in time, Ezekiel Elliott is not going to play Sunday as his six-game suspension kicks into effect. Obviously, if for some reason Elliott is again allowed to play, McFadden isn’t a fantasy option. But with Elliott out, it figures to be a combo of McFadden and Alfred Morris. Owner Jerry Jones has already said Morris will be the starter, but that hardly matters. Morris has been active on game days ahead of McFadden this season, but Morris offers nothing in the pass game, and the Cowboys can run their normal offense with McFadden’s dual-threat ability on the field as a runner and pass-catcher. It makes far more sense from that standpoint to use McFadden more, and I’m of the belief that McFadden will be the back to own in Elliott’s absence. McFadden looked good in the preseason, averaging over 5.0 YPC, and was a favorite of OC Scott Linehan in 2015 before Elliott’s arrival the following season. McFadden could easily flirt with 15-18 touches, while Morris gets some early-down carries. The Chiefs are allowing 4.98 YPC on the ground over the past five weeks, and only the Raiders have given up more rushing yards in that span. Kansas City is 31st in run-defense DVOA. McFadden is a plug-and-play RB2.
Adrian Peterson at 49ers: In two games with Arizona, Peterson has experienced two total opposite ends of the spectrum. In his Cardinals debut, Peterson exploded for a 26-134-2 rushing line against the Bucs, but then followed it up with a dreadful 11-21-0 outing against the Rams in London. Coming off the bye, Peterson should be fresh and draws one of the easiest matchups on the board. The 49ers are 25th in run-defense DVOA, 29th in rushing yards allowed, and dead last in fantasy points given up to running backs over the past five weeks. Todd Gurley, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson, Andre Ellington, Ezekiel Elliott, and LeGarrette Blount have all finished as top-20 fantasy backs against San Francisco in that span. The insertion of Drew Stanton at quarterback for Arizona poses a major obstacle for Peterson since the Niners will most definitely crowd the box and make Stanton beat them, but the expectation is coach Bruce Arians will put the ball in Peterson’s belly as much as he can within reason. Peterson should be locked into fantasy lineups.
LeGarrette Blount vs. Broncos: The acquisition of Jay Ajayi by the Eagles takes pretty much all of the wind out of Blount’s sails. Coach Doug Pederson has said this will remain a rotation, but the Eagles didn’t acquire Ajayi to make him a rotation back. They’re probably tired of mixing and matching running backs, having to pull guys off the field in certain situations, and likely want to be able to run the offense with Ajayi in all packages. Ajayi is immediately the team’s best pass-pro back, which is obviously important after the Eagles lost LT Jason Peters to a season-ending ACL tear. It’s unclear if Ajayi will play this week against Denver, but even if he doesn’t, this is a brutal matchup for Blount. The Broncos are No. 1 in run-defense DVOA and No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to running backs over the last five weeks. Denver was the first team to hold Kareem Hunt to fewer than 100 total yards this past Monday night, and the defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown to the position in over a month. ILB Todd Davis is also expected back from injury this week. On top of all that, Blount’s week-to-week role is wholly unreliable. He could get 20 carries or eight of them. In this spot, he’s merely a touchdown-or-bust RB3. All Blount has in his favor is Philly as an eight-point favorite.
C.J. Anderson at Eagles: Anderson saw his most carries in a game (15) since Week 4 last week against the Chiefs, and he ran the ball really well, averaging 5.2 YPC in the loss. However, Jamaal Charles remains a part of the game plan, and second-year RB Devontae Booker has emerged as a factor as well. Booker was the one who got the carries inside the 10-yard line last Monday night, scoring a touchdown from six yards out. It’s really hard to trust running backs in three-way timeshares. And the matchup this week is dreadful for this stable of backs. Kareem Hunt is the only running back who has had any level of success against this Eagles run defense. On the year, Philly has allowed just 348 rushing yards to the position. That’s 43.5 per game with just three total rushing touchdowns. Philly’s weakness is covering running backs who catch the ball. Anderson has caught more than two passes in a game just twice this season. He’s not much of a factor in that area. While Anderson has played well at times in 2017, he’s someone to avoid in this spot. The Broncos are likely to also be playing from behind quite a bit Sunday as eight-point underdogs with Brock Osweiler at quarterback. Denver’s implied team total of 17.75 points is the second-lowest of Week 9.
Marshawn Lynch at Dolphins: 31-year-old Lynch has become more of a glorified cheerleader and publicity stunt at this point. He hasn’t done much of anything since Week 1, topping 45 yards rushing just one since the opener and not seeing any more than 13 carries in a game in that span. Lynch was thrown out of the Week 7 win over the Chiefs for bumping a ref and suspended for Week 8. The offense is probably better without him part of it. This Miami defense just got gashed by one-time Lynch understudy Alex Collins last Thursday night to the tune of 113 yards on 18 carries, but overall the Dolphins are still No. 3 in run-defense DVOA and 11th in fantasy points allowed to running backs the last five weeks. Lynch is barely a 50% player in this offense and has literally nothing left. It should have been easy to avoid him in summer season-long drafts.
Start of the Week: T.Y. Hilton at Texans: Hilton has been listed in the “sits” portion of this article on a near-weekly basis. He’s coming off yet another bad stat line last week in Cincinnati when he caught only two passes for 15 yards in the narrow loss. Hilton has been held to 30 yards or less in four of the last five. His only two reasonable performances were home-game blowups against the Browns (7-153-1) and 49ers (7-177). Otherwise, he’s been a complete non-factor as Jack Doyle dominates targets. But speaking Wednesday, coach Chuck Pagano admitted the offense has to find better ways to get Hilton the ball. And Week 9 presents a plum chance to achieve that. The Texans were just eviscerated by Russell Wilson last week, and both Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett were running free behind the defense most of the afternoon. On the year, Houston has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to receivers. Hilton has a knack for performing better indoors and has had big games against the Texans in the past, though those have came with Andrew Luck under center. In a week with six teams on bye and not a whole lot of upside out there with C.J. Beathard, Brock Osweiler, and Drew Stanton starting for three other teams, Hilton is pretty much a mist-start in this spot. Colts-Texans has the third-highest total of the week at 49 points and sharp money has been on the over. This has big-time shootout potential in the dome at Reliant Stadium.
Devin Funchess vs. Falcons: Funchess was a huge swing and a miss last week against the Bucs’ terrible pass defense. He managed just two catches for 11 yards on six targets, but whipping winds played a big factor in hindering both passing games. Funchess has seen at least six targets in every game since a two-target Week 1. In that span, he’s drawn eight-plus looks in 5-of-7 games. And with fellow big-bodied WR Kelvin Benjamin now out of the picture following his trade to the Bills, Funchess is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in Carolina. Benjamin’s 6.4 targets per game will likely be spread out to a number of different players, but the subtraction of Benjamin can only help Funchess. The Panthers return home Sunday to face a Falcons unit that is 25th in pass-defense DVOA and 16th in fantasy points allowed to receivers over the last five weeks. The hope in Carolina is that Curtis Samuel can stretch the field and open things up more underneath for guys like Funchess, Christian McCaffrey, and Greg Olsen when he returns from his ankle injury. This is a potential blowup spot for Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense as a whole.
Paul Richardson vs. Redskins: Richardson matches a season-high with seven targets last week against the Texans, and he made them count by snagging six for 105 yards and two scores. Richardson had a third touchdown called back on a penalty. Over the last three games, Richardson has out-snapped Tyler Lockett 152-117. Lockett has won the target battle 19-14, but Richardson has the yards advantage 201-176 with three touchdowns to Lockett’s zero. Both receivers are big-play threats and streaming options, but Richardson seems to be taking hold of No. 2 duties. The Redskins are a middle-of-the-road 16th in pass-defense DVOA and 14th in fantasy points allowed to receivers over the last five weeks. Stud CB Josh Norman just returned from a multi-week ribs injury last Sunday, and both Richardson and Lockett figure to see plenty of Norman and CB Bashaud Breeland on the outside with Doug Baldwin manning the slot. But Russell Wilson is playing out of his mind right now and has looked unstoppable with Richardson and Lockett getting open downfield. The Seahawks’ implied team total of 26 points is the third-highest of the week. Seattle doesn’t have a running game to speak of, so most of its firepower and production comes through the air.
Mohamed Sanu at Panthers: Sanu missed Week 6 following Atlanta’s Week 5 bye, but in the two games since, he’s seen target totals of 10 and seven against the Patriots and Jets. Sanu seems to be more involved under first-year OC Steve Sarkisian and is on pace to see more than 100 targets for just the second time in six career seasons. Running over 61% of his routes from the slot, Sanu will match up often with Panthers slot CB Captain Munnerlyn on Sunday. Munnerlyn is Pro Football Focus’ No. 90 cover corner out of 114 qualifiers through eight weeks. And with Julio Jones doing battle with budding star CB James Bradberry on the outside and Devonta Freeman dealing with shoulder and neck issues, a few more looks could come Sanu’s direction. Sanu is tied for the team lead with seven red-zone targets and has converted both of his inside-the-10 targets into touchdowns. In a shallow week with six teams on bye, Sanu’s steady floor makes him a WR3.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Broncos: Jeffery delivered a 53-yard touchdown in the win over the 49ers last week, but overall his final stat line of 2-62-1 was a bit of a downer. The matchup was ripe for the picking, but Jeffery saw just six targets and again caught less than half of his looks. On the season, Jeffery’s 48.3% catch rate is 101st among 109 qualified receivers at Pro Football Focus. A lot of that has to do with Jeffery’s 16.0 yards average depth of target, but the problem is he’s not catching many of those long balls. Jeffery has caught just 2-of-14 passes 20-plus yards downfield. He now gets an extremely difficult matchup against a Broncos pass defense that is No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to receivers the last five weeks and No. 1 overall in total defense. If Jeffery hasn’t been able to do it against guys like Patrick Peterson, Josh Norman, Casey Hayward, and James Bradberry, then there’s little reason to believe it’s suddenly going to happen against Aqib Talib. The way the Broncos are constructed on defense filters a ton of passes inside to the tight end. Zach Ertz is by far the best play on the Eagles this Sunday and the only semi-reliable option for daily leagues.
Pierre Garcon vs. Cardinals: (Editor's Note: This was published before Garcon landed on IR, ending his season) Garcon played less than half the snaps last week against the Eagles due in large part to a neck injury suffered in the second quarter when he was shoved late out of bounds and crashed into an assistant coach on the sideline. Garcon returned in the second half, but with the Niners getting trounced, the coaches felt no need to expose him to more hits in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t sound like an overly serious issue, and Garcon said after last Sunday’s loss that he expected to play Week 9. He missed practice on Wednesday. If Garcon does suit up, he’s someone to avoid completely against CB Patrick Peterson. In his coverage this season, Peterson has allowed a grand total of seven catches for 82 yards, and quarterbacks have a passer rating of 59.3 when targeting him. C.J. Beathard isn’t someone who’s going to change that. Garcon and Peterson met in Week 4, and Garcon finished the day with four grabs for a meager 36 yards on eight targets. The 39-point total in Cardinals-49ers is the lowest of Week 9 in a game likely to be super run-heavy.
Rishard Matthews vs. Ravens: After a promising start to the season, Matthews has faded fast in recent weeks. He hasn’t scored since Week 3 and flopped in a number of plus spots against the Browns (3-40) in Week 7, Dolphins (3-34) in Week 5, and Texans (3-49) in Week 4. Matthews still leads Titans receivers in targets, but Corey Davis is expected back from a six-week hamstring injury and is likely to start, according to coach Mike Mularkey. Both Matthews and Eric Decker are on notice with the Titans needing a jolt on offense. It’s not out of the question that Davis and fellow rookie Taywan Taylor could steal snaps and looks from the two veterans. The matchup also isn’t any good. Baltimore is No. 2 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 3 in fantasy points allowed to receivers the last five weeks. CB Jimmy Smith is Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 cover corner out of 114 qualifiers, while first-round rookie Marlon Humphrey checks in at No. 34. The weakest spot is slot CB Lardarius Webb. Matthews runs nearly 70% of his routes on the outside. Matthews is a desperation WR4.
Start of the Week: Vernon Davis at Seahawks: Jordan Reed strained his hamstring last week and isn’t going to play Sunday in Seattle. In six games Reed was severely limited or missed altogether last season, Davis played snap rates of 97.3, 97.3, 98.3, 79.2, 68.8, and 95.5. He saw at least four targets in four of those six contests. Reed has already missed or played minimal snaps in three games this season. Davis has played at least 70% of the snaps in all three of those. He’s gone for 50 yards and/or one touchdown in two of them. The Seahawks haven’t faced many imposing tight ends this season, but Evan Engram went 6-60-1 against them in Week 7, and Tyler Higbee of the Rams had a career-high 98 yards on four grabs in Week 5. Jack Doyle was concussed in the Week 4 matchup. The injury to FS Earl Thomas (hamstring) should make things a bit easier for Davis down the middle of the field. Even at his advanced age, Davis still has his vertical speed and athleticism. When looking for a streamer, we want guys on the field who get targets. Davis checks those boxes and could be leaned on even more with the inconsistent play from Washington’s wideouts.
Jared Cook at Dolphins: Cook is ninth among tight ends in targets, eighth in catches, and sixth in yards. The only thing missing is the touchdowns, as he has just one. Cook could easily have a couple others but alligator-armed one in Denver in Week 4 and had one overturned Week 7 against the Chiefs. Unlike last year in Green Bay where there were plenty of mouths to feed, the Oakland offense is more concentrated, delivering most of the action to Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Cook. The Dolphins have collapsed defensively of late and are 22nd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored a touchdown against them in Week 7, Austin Hooper caught seven balls in Week 6, and Hunter Henry went 7-80 in Week 2. Cook is an every-week starter at this point and gets an appetizing matchup Sunday night.
Cameron Brate at Saints: Over the last four weeks, Brate is fifth among all tight ends, averaging 7.75 targets per game. He’s seen at least five targets in every game since Week 4 and is fourth among tight ends in red-zone targets (9). Brate has reeled in four of those nine targets, with all four going for touchdowns. Rookie O.J. Howard was the big story in Week 7 against the Bills, but he predictably crashed back to Earth with a 2-16 line last Sunday. Brate managed a solid 4-64 day and cleared 60 yards receiving for the fifth-straight game. The Saints have defended tight ends relatively well, allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points to the position over the last five weeks. But Zach Miller’s touchdown should have counted last week, and they haven’t faced even a remotely decent tight end since Rob Gronkowski all the way back in Week 2. Gronk went 6-116-1 before leaving with a groin injury. Kyle Rudolph caught a touchdown versus New Orleans in Week 1. The 50.5-point total in Bucs-Saints is the second-highest of the week and will be played in the fantasy-friendly Superdome. Brate caught a touchdown against the Saints last Week 16 and had a 4-47 day in Week 14.
Jason Witten vs. Chiefs: Witten has been up-and-down this season, but overall he’s essentially the Cowboys’ No. 2 receiver. He’s tied for seventh among all tight ends in targets, fourth in catches, and seventh in touchdowns. Witten is a high-floor fantasy starter and now gets a date with a Chiefs defense that has yielded the third-most yards to tight ends. This defense has collapsed on the back end in S Eric Berry’s (Achilles’) absence, and ILB Derrick Johnson is a shell of his former self at 35 years old (later this month) and off another Achilles’ rupture suffered last December. Witten is an auto-play in a game with the week’s highest total at 51 points played in a dome environment.
Austin Hooper at Panthers: Hooper has turned his game up a notch the past month, stringing together receiving lines of 5-50, 7-48, and 4-47-1 over the last four games. Hooper could have had a second touchdown last week. He’s the TE16 in fantasy points per game. The matchup this week just isn’t very good, especially after the Panthers got FS Kurt Coleman and MLB Luke Kuechly back from injuries last week. Carolina has allowed the sixth-fewest catches for the sixth-fewest yards to tight ends. Hooper is more of a TE2 this week, even on a slate with six teams on bye.
Eric Ebron at Packers: Ebron’s snap rate has taken a big hit the last four weeks. He’s only playing about 50% of the reps after being in on at least 64% of the plays each of the first three games. But the Lions are mainly replacing his blocking snaps; Ebron’s targets have remained steady. He saw six last week against the Steelers and turned them into a season-best 58 yards. But Ebron also dropped another pass, and it’s possible the Lions were just trying to showcase him ahead of the Tuesday trade deadline. Ebron, of course, didn’t get dealt, and there’s talk in Detroit of Darren Fells and even Michael Roberts leaping him on the depth chart. The Packers don’t present an easy matchup anyway, as Green Bay is No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and is the only squad yet to see a tight end score a touchdown against them. Ebron is a low-floor TE2.
Martellus Bennett vs. Lions: After averaging seven targets per game the first four weeks, Bennett has devolved into an afterthought in Green Bay. In the three games before last week’s bye, Bennett averaged a minuscule 3.3 targets and has yet to score a touchdown on the year. He even said over the bye week that he’s retiring after the season. That could have been frustration talking, but Bennett very well may not be in it 100 percent any longer. The Lions by no means are a tough matchup for opposing tight ends, but there are so many mouths in Green Bay, and the Packers are throwing the ball even less with Brett Hundley under center. Bennett remains safe to avoid.