Something dawned on me last week — there were plenty of great Fantasy DSTs, but there weren't many great defensive performances across the league. The Dolphins dominated because of their pass rush causing Jared Goff to wilt; the Jets and Cowboys offenses are making every defense they play look good, and wind aided a number of defenses elsewhere. Smack dab in the middle of the weirdest NFL season ever, have we arrived at a point where good defense is sporadic and good offenses are rampant? If so, then ignoring most of the matchups and focusing solely on opportunity and upside could make the difference between a win or a loss.
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All lines from William Hill Sportsbook.
The line wants us to believe: The Giants' close game against the Bucs on Monday means nothing. For weeks, the Giants have been spread-covering darlings. Not this time -- they're not getting enough points. Washington played New York close in Week 6 and blew out the Cowboys the very next week. I suspect they'll be ready to rock coming off a bye while the Giants are on the road after playing on Monday. It's the exact same formula that did in the Rams last week.
NYG N.Y. Giants • #86
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Washington's zone-coverage scheme meshed with its good pass rush has contained wide receivers all year -- not one has had even 90 yards against them and only three have scored. Slayton was one of the three, beating cornerback Fabian Moreau on a rare man-coverage play where the defense didn't rattle Daniel Jones. Odds seem against it happening again, specifically with Sterling Shepard keeping Slayton's targets from being anything but consistent (nine last week, three the week before). Slayton has been under 60 yards in six of eight games and has a catchable target rate of 66.7% this season. Feels like more bust than boom.
Evan Engram TE
NYG N.Y. Giants • #88
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Ignoring 19 targets in his past two games is impossible, but it doesn't help that he dropped three of those targets, another was knocked out of his hands and four throws were uncatchable. So literally 42% of those targets ended poorly. Lesser teams might ditch a pass catcher like this but Jones actually tied a season-high with 10 targets to Engram last week and figures to be dialed in on him again here. Washington has allowed more touchdowns to tight ends (five) than wideouts (three) and safety Landon Collins won't be there to erase Engram like in Week 6 (three targets). If the Giants are still trusting Engram, Fantasy managers might as well, though he's a much safer start in leagues where catches count.
WAS Washington • #24
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
After hanging his first 100-yard rush game in Week 7, Fantasy managers will be inclined to start Gibson without a second thought. It's probably the smart thing to do -- Ron Rivera admitted recently that Gibson is getting better on inside runs, a step in the right direction as he masters the running part of the running back position. Rivera also noted he'd like Gibson to do more in the passing game, which was an area where he starred at Memphis. The Giants run defense is playing well (just four rushing scores allowed this year) but ranks eighth in yards per catch allowed to running backs (8.6) with three receiving scores from the position. Gibson has at least 15 touches in three of his past four and should be at least a reliable No. 2 running back this week.
The line wants us to believe: The Bears can keep it kind of close. The only time the Titans blew anybody out this year was in their COVID-postponed home game against the Bills. They're not built to run up the score on anyone, much less a resilient team like the Bears. The matchup isn't that bad for the Bears -- I suspect Chicago will keep it close with a little more success than normal for David Montgomery.
Jonnu Smith TE
TEN Tennessee • #81
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Has something happened to Smith since tripping over a defender's legs and hurting his right ankle in Week 6? In the two games since he ran into a tough Steelers matchup (four targets, one catch) and a windy game at Cincinnati (two targets, two catches), but to my eye, he's not running with as much acceleration as earlier in the year. The more telling thing is that he's been blocking a little more on pass plays, eliminating routes he could be running and targets he could be getting. Perhaps this matchup will be a good litmus test -- the Bears have allowed a score to a tight end in consecutive games and rank 11th in Fantasy points to a tight end. The weather isn't expected to be windy in Nashville, so consider this Smith's first game with favorable conditions and a decent matchup since hurting his ankle. The smart play is to start him if he's your best tight end, but find a backup before this week's games to potentially use in Weeks 10-12 when his matchups get uglier.
The line *wanted* us to believe: The Vikings are as good as they played in Week 8. Between Dalvin Cook zig-zagging through the Packers defense and mistakes by Green Bay's offense, the Vikings were gifted a win last week. Can they ride the momentum against a depleted Lions squad missing Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay and Jarrad Davis? Probably.
Marvin Jones WR
DET Detroit • #11
Age: 30 • Experience: 9 yrs.
I'm reasonably comfortable expecting at least seven targets going Jones' way. He averaged exactly that many in Weeks 1 and 2 without Kenny Golladay, and averaged just over nine targets per game with Golladay absent for five matchups in Golladay's rookie year. Plus he had seven targets last week with Golladay not playing much. With the Lions, Jones has 27 games with at least seven targets and has scored at least 10 non-PPR/15 PPR points in 14 of them. A 52% success rate isn't great, but a date with the Vikings' 30th-ranked pass defense should encourage you. Six of seven receivers with at least seven targets have had 12-plus non-PPR/18-plus PPR points versus Minnesota. Granted, all of those gaudy totals came from elite-level receivers, but Jones' opportunity should help him perform like a No. 2 wideout with No. 1 upside.
The line wants us to believe: The Panthers are another cake walk for the Chiefs. I would expect the Panthers' zone defense to push Andy Reid to call more run plays. That eats clock and, theoretically, gives the Panthers a chance to stay competitive in the fourth quarter. It could mean Clyde Edwards-Helaire finally gets a chance to land more than 10 touches. It could also mean the Panthers lose by 7 or 8.
Le'Veon Bell RB
KC Kansas City • #26
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
Isn't it obvious? Bell has become a role player with a 3.8-yard rushing average and 7.5 touches per game. He's running just as patiently as he did in New York, causing him to not explode for big plays. And the Chiefs know it -- he's played exactly 17 snaps per game in his two games with his new team. He's taking on a Panthers defense that habitually plays zone defense and isn't expected to focus on stopping the run at all (which the Jets kind of did last week). That defensive strategy has placed Carolina fourth in Fantasy points allowed to running backs and tied for first in rushing touchdowns allowed (12). But that should help Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who's playing way more snaps. Tack on Bell's lack of playing in garbage time (zero fourth-quarter snaps with the Chiefs) and he's strictly bench material.
The line wants us to believe: Jacksonville finally won't get blown out. I think the oddsmakers are begging us to take Houston. The Jaguars have lost by eight or more in five straight, including at Houston in Week 5. Now they're changing quarterbacks. Why wouldn't they be bigger underdogs? One possible answer: Because the Texans' defense is just as bad as their own. The drop-off from Gardner Minshew to Jake Luton isn't dramatic. The better side to be on is Jacksonville's.
HOU Houston • #13
Age: 27 • Experience: 7 yrs.
In the three games since Bill O'Brien's firing, Cooks has caught 24 of 30 targets for 289 yards and two scores. No one else on the Texans has as many targets, receptions or yards in those games as Cooks, and only Fuller has more scores (three). He's running great routes and not taking on a ton of low-percentage throws, boosting his PPR floor (he's scored at least 13 PPR points in each of his last three). The Jaguars defense offers no challenge to Cooks, nor to Deshaun Watson in terms of pass rush. This should lead to an easy week for the Texans.
D.J. Chark WR
JAC Jacksonville • #17
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
The Jaguars' change at quarterback can't make things any worse for Chark — but can it make things better? Gardner Minshew ranked 10th in bad ball rate (18.8%) and wasn't consistently on the same page as his big-play receiver. It's nothing more than blind faith to assume Jake Luton will be any better, but at least we saw Luton lock on to and rely heavily on tall receiver Isaiah Hodgins at Oregon State. Don't expect Chark to be that guy in Luton's first game while drawing quality cornerback Bradley Roby in coverage. This could be a week where Jacksonville's other receivers have a chance to surprise ... not that you'd confidently start any of them, even against the Texans.
The line wants us to believe: Even at 5-2, the Colts aren't in the Ravens' class. Make no mistake, this will be the absolute toughest challenge for the Colts' vaunted run defense so far this season. I'm thinking the Ravens will have success with the ground game. But if the four Ravens starting defenders aren't cleared from COVID-19 protocols in time for the game, the Colts will have a shot to win. They're already helped by cornerback Marlon Humphrey not making the game.
Gus Edwards RB
BAL Baltimore • #35
Age: 25 • Experience: 3 yrs.
The Colts' run defense has been outstanding all season, but this is their first game against a team with a rushing threat at quarterback — and it's THE rushing threat at quarterback. Lamar Jackson continues to give his run game advantages because of his constant threat to take off with the ball. Tack on the Ravens' sound run scheme and the Colts figure to have their hands full. Additionally, the Ravens could be better off with Dobbins and Edwards as their one-two punch than they were with Mark Ingram. Last week, Dobbins averaged 7.5 yards per tote and had seven runs of at least 7 yards; Edwards had a 5.4-yard rush average and 10 carries of at least 4 yards. Dobbins particularly has an edge because he plays on passing downs; Edwards played on just two third downs last week and 21 on the season. If the Bengals hung two rushing touchdowns on the Colts two weeks ago, so too can the Ravens.
IND Indianapolis • #20
Age: 26 • Experience: 3 yrs.
I don't like it for Fantasy purposes, but I don't blame the Colts for taking work away from Taylor. Though he's definitely faster and more talented than Wilkins, it seemed like he wasn't playing freely and didn't attack open spaces instinctively. Wilkins did, and he was dragging defenders and running with attitude to boot in Week 8. Wilkins had himself a career-best game and may have bought himself a spot in a timeshare with Taylor, but it's hard to expect either guy to reliably deliver big Fantasy points (Taylor has been at 12 or fewer non-PPR points in all but one game this season). Did I mention the opponent? Baltimore has allowed the fewest Fantasy points to running backs this season (12.71 per game). Assuming their front seven is healthy, they should make the matchup challenging for both Colts runners.
The line wants us to believe: Josh Allen will keep his team in it. I've been saying it for over a month: The Bills don't get respect from the oddsmakers. Except they're starting to earn that lack of respect -- they were, theoretically, a Cam Newton fumble away from their third loss in four weeks. Over the past four games Allen's completion rate has dropped 8.2% and his yards per attempt has dropped 2.4 yards. Everyone knows how explosive the Seahawks offense is but Jamal Adams' return to the secondary is a big deal. Maybe this isn't such an easy matchup for the Bills offense ... but it will be a nightmare for the Bills defense.
SEA Seattle • #31
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
If you started Dallas last week, you got lucky. True, he scored twice and nearly had a third tuddy, but needed every bit of 23 touches to amass 58 yards. Several inside runs were blown up by the 49ers defense penetrating the Seahawks offensive line, sure, but Dallas didn't put anything on film to suggest he's an NFL-ready rusher. He needs time to develop, and he's not as polished as a third-down back. The return of Travis Homer figures to relegate Dallas to a rushing-downs role, which isn't a horrible thing given this week's matchup. Buffalo has allowed at least one rushing score to a running back in 7 of 8 games (including the Jets!). That's what you're hoping for if you start Dallas now that he's got company in the Seattle backfield.
BUF Buffalo • #26
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Let's not go nuts over the Bills running backs after one great game, please. Before Week 8, the team's running backs averaged 68 rush yards per game and scored a total of three rushing touchdowns in seven games. Good blocking and winning the edge against the Patriots were big factors, but the Seattle front seven has only been spiked by the Vikings on the ground, and they ran it 37 times! It does seem clear that Moss is the better Fantasy back of the two — he finally overtook Singletary in playing time last week (53% of the snaps to Singletary's 49%, including kneel-downs) and has eight red-zone snaps with six touches while Singletary had three red-zone snaps, none inside the 10. Moss also had a number of good pass block reps, so he could be developing into a useful part of the offense. He's the preferred option of the two and is good enough to call a start while Singletary is at best a flex.
The line wants us to believe: The Falcons are good enough to be favored by more than a field goal. Denver's won three of its past four, only losing to the Chiefs. The Broncos are good. And while the Falcons run defense has improved dramatically since Dan Quinn's firing, their pass defense hasn't. Not having Calvin Ridley is a big deal for the Atlanta offense. Expect a close game ... or maybe a game where the Falcons are up big and then blow it late.
DEN Denver • #25
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
It's impossible not to see Lindsay as the Broncos' most explosive running back -- over his past three games he's averaged a preposterous 6.9 yards per carry with nine carries of seven or more yards (and five of 14-plus yards!). But his playing time remains an issue (73 snaps total since Week 6) and Melvin Gordon gets more third-down and red-zone work. As long as there's a split between them, Lindsay's upside is capped to flex status, especially in non-PPR leagues, while Gordon is the better bet in PPR, but it's not by a whole lot. And here's a newsflash: the Falcons run defense just might be improving. It's allowed just one rushing score and held opposing backs to less than 80 total yards in three straight (since firing Dan Quinn). It's hard to get excited about either back so long as they're sharing.
Noah Fant TE
DEN Denver • #87
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
I totally get that Fant's matchup is awesome and that literally every single tight end who's had at least six targets has scored on the Falcons. I just don't love how Fant is being used on the Broncos offense as more of a safety valve in the short area. He does challenge downfield at times but there's evidence as recently as last week that Drew Lock doesn't always connect with him. He was even open on Lock's touchdown throw to Albert Okwuegbunam, the Broncos' other tight end (who scored last week and had 60 yards the week prior). Fant's matchup and five games with at least six targets offers plenty of optimism, but his 7.8-yard average target depth (23rd among tight ends) and lack of production (double-digit PPR points in one of his past four games) doesn't make him a slam-dunk.
The line wants us to believe: The 2-5 Chargers are just as good as the 4-3 Raiders. Clearly, the line is designed to get you to bet on the Raiders. But why? They won in ugly conditions last week at Cleveland and have some quality wins. Meanwhile, the Chargers keep finding ugly ways to lose. Maybe I'm walking face-first into a massive trap but I'm not ready to trust the Chargers.
Derek Carr QB
LV Las Vegas • #4
Age: 29 • Experience: 7 yrs.
As well as the Chargers have been passing the ball, they've become increasingly weaker at defending the pass. Each of the last four quarterbacks to take on the Bolts have turned in at least 22 Fantasy points. Trading away nickel corner Desmond King isn't expected to have much of an impact, but if Joey Bosa is sidelined then Carr should have plenty of time to scan downfield. Last week's bad results were wind-aided, but in four of the five games prior, Carr found at least 22 Fantasy points.
LAC L.A. Chargers • #22
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Jackson finished last week with 142 total yards on 20 touches, including three catches, while hoarding 47% of the snaps. With Troymaine Pope in the concussion protocol and rookie Joshua Kelley seeing his playing time slip to 24% of the snaps (same as Week 1), it sure looks like Jackson is the Chargers' top back. And what a matchup he'll face: The Raiders rank fifth-worst in Fantasy points allowed to running backs and are tied for most rushing touchdowns given up (12). Jackson has 20 touches in two of his past three.
The line wants us to believe: The Cowboys will score two touchdowns. That's basically their implied point total. Maybe they can -- whoever they start at quarterback is an upgrade over Ben DiNucci, but the offensive line is still a massive liability and the defense makes mistakes constantly. James Conner should rack up a monster game.
PIT Pittsburgh • #18
Age: 24 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Talk about boom or bust: In three games where he's been affected by an injury, Johnson been a total non-factor. And in three games when he's been totally healthy, Johnson's delivered a minimum of 11 PPR points with 10 targets or more. It appears Johnson avoided a serious malady last week when he left part of the Steelers game at the — he wasn't on the team's injury report this week. That should put him on pace to help throttle the Cowboys pass defense, currently ranked second in the NFL with 14 scores allowed to wide receivers. It's hard to have confidence in Johnson given his incredibly volatile nature, but as flexes go, he's got a tremendous matchup and high-volume potential.
Amari Cooper WR
DAL Dallas • #19
Age: 26 • Experience: 6 yrs.
We're getting accustomed to sitting Cooper whenever he has a tough matchup. Tack on a quarterback he's never caught passes from in a regular-season game until this week — a quarterback who will be under siege from the Steelers pass rush all game — and expectations hit the gutter. The Steelers pass defense has struggled against mobile quarterbacks and/or hyper-efficient offenses. The Cowboys have neither of those.
The line wants us to believe: The Dolphins defense will keep the game competitive. If the oddsmakers wanted to really goad the public into taking the Dolphins, they would have made the line much larger. That tells me this is more of an honest line. The Dolphins have won 4 of their past 5, they are no pushover. Three of Arizona's wins are by more than five points, but two came at the expense of the lowly Jets and Cowboys. I think Arizona is the right side to be on, if only because Tua Tagovailoa didn't have many "wow" moments in his debut.
MIA Miami • #11
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
In Tua Tagovailoa's first NFL start, the rookie threw bad passes on 16.7% of his 22 attempts. That's not a big deal for one game, but Parker getting only two targets clearly suggests Tagovailoa won't be a locked-on thrower like he was in college (or like Ryan Fitzpatrick was last year). Tack on Tagovailoa barely throwing deep (two attempts longer than 15 yards) and there's plenty of reason to believe Tagovailoa won't be taking the road paved by fellow rookies Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert to Fantasy stat greatness. Only two quarterbacks have had more than 22 Fantasy points on the Cardinals this season, and only four have had more than 15. It's a tough spot for Tagovailoa and all of his receivers.
The line wants us to believe: Even with the Saints receivers healthy, the Buccaneers are the class of the NFC South. It's a challenging spot for the Saints -- they're outdoors on natural grass for the second straight week against a tough defense. Moreover, their pass defense just got beat up by Nick Foles, Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney -- now they're getting Tom Brady, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown. So why isn't the line higher?! Seems suspicious. I hate feeling suckered, but I can't resist the situation. Give me the Bucs.
TB Tampa Bay • #17
Age: 32 • Experience: 10 yrs.
Maybe he's hard to trust, and maybe he's older, but one thing the guy has always been good at is running routes at high speeds and catching footballs. His limited playing time with Tom Brady last year obviously left a good enough impression for Brown to follow the quarterback to Tampa Bay when his suspension ended. It would be mystifying if Brown doesn't play much considering he's instantly among the fastest receivers on the team. Brady ranks third with 43 deep-pass attempts according to Pro Football Focus with an adjusted completion rate of 46.5% (14th best) and three touchdowns (tied for 13th best). Brown is coming aboard to improve those numbers while also forcing defenses into playing simpler coverages. Tack on the aggressive nature of Bruce Arians' offenses along with a sagging Saints secondary (19 pass touchdowns allowed including two to the Bears in Week 8) on the road for the second straight game and Brown should be a shoo-in for some good, if not great, numbers.
Mike Evans WR
TB Tampa Bay • #13
Age: 27 • Experience: 7 yrs.
When he's shared the field with Chris Godwin in four games this season, Evans has averaged three targets, 1.5 catches and 12.8 yards. That's not the receiving average, that's his total receiving yards! This week it's not just Godwin he'll chop up targets with -- it's Antonio Brown, too. Plus an re-emergent Rob Gronkowski. Want more bad news? The Saints have genuinely had Evans' number in seven straight meetings -- only once in those games has Evans notched north of eight non-PPR/12 PPR points. Want to call him a flex? That's fine, but Evans' floor of mediocrity is considerably more likely than his ceiling.
The line wants us to believe: The Jets won't go down without a fight. Seriously, what stopped the oddsmakers from making the Patriots a 10-point favorite?! I know they're not the same ol' Patriots, but these definitely are the pitiful Jets. It's that thought that makes me nervous about trusting New England to win by eight or more ... but I can't trust the Jets. Pats it is.
NE New England • #37
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
This should be the kind of game the Patriots lean on the run. Heck, given the way Cam Newton has thrown the ball lately, maybe the Patriots want things that way every week. The truth is Harris has given the Patriots offense a semblance of stability. He's physical, he's got good speed, he's got underrated hands (you'll see him use them soon), and he's been getting at least 55% of the Patriots running back touch share the past two weeks. The Jets run defense is aggressive, but losing linebacker Avery Williamson, eighth in Pro Football Focus' run-stop rate this season, absolutely stings. Harris has big potential in all formats.
The line wants us to believe: Injuries and COVID-19 have left the 49ers punchless. Kyle Shanahan has been resourceful with his offense before and his defense still has plenty of talent to take on the Packers' depleted offense. I would expect a competitive, close game.
SF San Francisco • #28
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
Last week, Hasty played on zero obvious passing downs (two short third downs and a short fourth down). McKinnon played in these passing situations, including nearly all the fourth quarter snaps when the 49ers were down multiple scores. If the Packers build a lead, expect a repeat of this. If they don't, then Hasty's got a great shot to be the benefactor of Kyle Shanahan's run-game wizardry. The Packers have allowed a score to a running back in all but one game this season, and in McKinnon's case, the Packers have allowed the second-most yards per catch to running backs (9.8) and tied for the most receiving touchdowns to the position (four). It all adds up to the Packers being ranked first in Fantasy points allowed to running backs (28.3 in non-PPR). And they've got to be tired after getting gashed on Sunday by the Vikings. Hasty's in play as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy runner in all formats.