This column is dedicated to the grind of the fantasy football season, in which hard-working owners are constantly thinking about possible waiver pickups and/or trades to make, all in the name of turning fake teams into very real moments of glory. With that in mind, here are the biggest questions for Week 9, with games loosely ranked from the most to least fantasy intrigue.
Bye weeks: Bears, Bengals, Cardinals, Patriots, Redskins, Texans
Eagles at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Where is the value, if any, in the RBs in this game?
It’s pretty common for fantasy-community types to wonder, “Why the heck doesn’t this NFL team give that exciting rookie, who clearly looks better than that washed-up veteran, more playing time?” NFL coach-types are not known to respond directly, but if they did, it’s likely they would commonly say, “Because I’d rather not get my quarterback killed with shoddy pass protection.”
Still, it’s fair to, you know, wonder if the Giants might come out of their bye with a little more determination to get Paul Perkins the ball. Heaven knows, 31-year-old Rashad Jennings has been dreadful, and the team headed into its break with the NFL’s worst rushing attack. Orleans Darkwa and Bobby Rainey are also around to potentially siphon off work, but neither of them has looked ready to give New York’s offense a jolt of playmaking ability.
Philadelphia may be going the other way, by giving more work to a 33-year-old RB, Darren Sproles. He had already been on the field more than starter Ryan Mathews going into Sunday night’s game against the Bears, but then Sproles really dominated the playing time. Mathews may be on his way to being a short-yardage specialist, which will be useful when the Eagles are near the goal line, but far less so in the majority of circumstances.
Doug Pederson said Ryan Mathews is still the lead running back. The playing time splits suggest it’s Sproles.
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) November 2, 2016
Saints at 49ers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)
Key question: Did Mark Ingram lose his job?
Mark Ingram may have coughed up more than just a football three carries into last week’s game against the Seahawks. He was benched for the rest of the contest while Tim Hightower got 26 carries, taking those for 102 yards, with rookie Daniel Lasco mixed in a bit. Most maddeningly, Hightower got five goal-line looks, more than Ingram has had all season, even though he scored on none of them. Now New Orleans gets a fantastic matchup with San Francisco’s tackling-averse defense, and suddenly, it’s very hard to predict who will get how many touches, and in which part of the field.
Jets at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Does Jay Ajayi have a third straight 200-yard game in him?
Miami’s bye might have come at the perfect time for Ajayi, given his need for a breather after rumbling for 418 yards in the two games heading into it. Or it might have been the last thing someone on the roll of lifetime needed. Either way, Ajayi will go for the hat trick against a Jets defense that’s the toughest in the NFL against RBs, allowing just 74.0 yards per game on the ground. Another 200-yard effort, of course, was always going to be an unrealistic expectation, but a good outing could solidify Ajayi as, at worst, a high-end RB2.
It will also be interesting to see what the Jets do at RB, given one, seemingly salient statistic: Matt Forte is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, while Bilal Powell averages 7.1. That’s right, 7.1, more than double, yet Powell has just 30 carries on the season to Forte’s 157. That would appear to be an imbalance worth addressing, no?
Bills at Seahawks (Monday, 8:30 p.m.)
Key question: Is Christine Michael stuck in a committee even before Thomas Rawls returns?
Michael should have had a field day last week in New Orleans, but he wound up sharing the field with C.J. Prosise, a rookie who had been working his way back from a multiweek hand injury. Prosise came away with 103 total yards, 43 of which were on a trick play, while Michael had just 40 yards on 10 carries, adding two on a reception. It was actually the first time the third-year RB, starting in Rawls’s lengthy absence, hit so much as a 4.0 yards-per-carry average since Week 3. Seattle’s offensive line play and Russell Wilson’s lower-leg injuries haven’t helped, but the team may have decided that Michael isn’t the workhorse type.
#Seahawks Week 8 RB snaps/touches:
— Chris Raybon (@ChrisRaybon) November 1, 2016
Steelers at Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Will Kenneth Dixon eat away at Terrance West’s carries?
The fantasy community waited weeks for Dixon to make his NFL debut, following a preseason knee injury, but by the time he did, West had seized the starting gig. Dixon got just six total carries in the three games in which he appeared before Baltimore’s Week 8 bye, but West (ankle) missed some practices during the break, giving the rookie another chance to impress the Ravens’ coaching staff. Dixon looked like the team’s best back during the preseason, and it wouldn’t be surprising if his touches increased.
Ben Roethlisberger is expected to go despite a knee injury, which would be good news for owners of all Steelers, but particularly for those planning on giving Sammie Coates a start. Coates has been dealing with a hand injury, and if he fails to go off in Baltimore, the explosive WR would make for a nice buy-low target.
Falcons at Buccaneers (Thursday, 8:25 p.m.)
Key question: What will we see from Antone Smith and Peyton Barber?
It’s come to this for Tampa Bay, which first lost Doug Martin to a multiweek hamstring strain, then had to put Charles Sims (knee) on injured reserve and saw Jaquizz Rodgers suffer a foot injury last week. Like Quizz, Smith played for head coach Dirk Koetter in Atlanta, and he appears to be the favorite to get most of the work Sunday. Barber, though, played well two weeks ago (12-84-1) and could be in line to handle any goal-line carries. There is plenty of uncertainty about when either Martin or Rodgers will return, so both Smith and Barber could be useful for more than just this game.
Jaguars at Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Can Charcandrick West carve out a bigger role?
As of this writing, Spencer Ware was in the concussion protocol, leaving his availability very much in doubt. Even if he does play, West will have a role, because Jamaal Charles (knee) is no longer around, having been sent to IR. Ware has looked very much like an RB1 this season, but the door may have opened for West, if he stands out, to make himself a flex consideration in future games.
Cowboys at Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Will Corey Coleman pick up where he left off?
The first WR taken in the NFL draft, Coleman looked like the real deal through the first two weeks, racking up 173 yards, including a 104-yard, two-touchdown effort in Week 2. He hasn’t been seen since, as he suffered a hand injury, but is expected to play against Dallas. Coleman may even get force-fed targets right off the bat, if Terrelle Pryor’s hamstring issues turn out to be a major problem.
Broncos at Raiders (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.)
Key question: Can Derek Carr stay hot against the Broncos?
If so, we may really have the next elite (sorry, Joe Flacco) QB on our hands. Carr became just the 18th player in NFL history to throw for over 500 yards last week, but he did need overtime, and a pliant Bucs defense, to get there. Denver trots out fantasy’s stingiest defense for QBs and WRs, giving Carr, who’s sixth at his position in fantasy points per game, quite the test. Of course, even if he passes it, Carr won’t be a must-start the next week, but that’s just because he’ll be on a bye.
Highest-graded NFL QBs through Week 8:
1. Tom Brady, 96.4
2. Andrew Luck, 88.9
3. Matt Ryan, 88.4
4. Derek Carr, 87.3
5. Carson Wentz, 86.8 pic.twitter.com/BYUOO44tyO
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 1, 2016
Colts at Packers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m.)
Key question: What’s next for This Week in Packers WRs?
When we last saw Green Bay in action, Randall Cobb (hamstring) missed the game, and Ty Montgomery was also a surprise scratch after it was revealed he was dealing with a sickle cell trait-related illness. Both players are tentatively expected back, but it’s no sure thing. Meanwhile, Jordy Nelson had a huge game (4-94-1) in their absences, but it’s tough to know what to expect from the former WR1 when everyone is available. Then there’s Davante Adams, who has emerged as a go-to target for Aaron Rodgers, this after previously being generally viewed as unreliable. Whoever is on the field Sunday should be able to do well against Indianapolis, but the going gets tougher after that (Titans, Redskins, Eagles, Texans, Seahawks).
Panthers at Rams (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)
Key question: Is Cam Newton ceding his goal-line role to Jonathan Stewart?
In each of Carolina’s past two games, Stewart has scored twice, with all four touchdowns coming within two yards of the end zone. Cam Newton scored on one goal-line carry in those games, and Stewart could be taking more of that role, which, of course, is how it goes on every other NFL team. Newton has been his squad’s best short-yardage back since he entered the league in 2011, but a concussion earlier this season as he crossed into the end zone may have convinced all Panthers parties to lessen his role. If so, that would have obviously good implications for Stewart’s fantasy value, and it could knock Newton, who has thrived on touchdown runs, down a rung on the fantasy QB ladder.
Titans at Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m.)
Key question: Can Derrick Henry build off last week’s breakout?
DeMarco Murray’s toe injury, not to mention a big lead over the Jaguars, gave Henry a chance to show what he could do with his biggest workload of the season. The hulking rookie responded with 97 yards and a touchdown on 20 touches, including 16 carries, and he could be set up for another busy day if Murray is not fully recovered. Even if the latter is ready to go, Henry’s outing may have convinced Tennessee to turn their backfield into more of the timeshare that many observers envisioned before the regular season began.
— A to Z Sports (@AtoZSports) November 2, 2016
Lions at Vikings (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Will Kyle Rudolph got it going again?
Remember when Rudolph was supposed to have finally arrived as a TE1? Well, that was three games, zero touchdowns and 101 total yards ago. Rudolph did get 11 targets in Week 7, which is encouraging, and now he gets a great chance to reemerge against Detroit, which allows the most fantasy points to TEs. If Rudolph can’t get it done in this spot, owners may have to view him as more of a touchdown-dependent streaming option than a weekly start.