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Game Capsules: Breaking Down Week 9

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

Kansas City (+9) @ San Diego, Thursday 8:20 p.m.

Comments: The quarterback carousel in Kansas City turned again on a concussion. This time it was newly anointed starting QB Brady Quinn going down and losing the job for at least a week. In relief Matt Cassel was his usually ineffective self versus a ho-hum Raiders defense as the Chiefs became the first team since 1940 to go seven games without getting a single lead during regulation. Cassel threw a pick and lost a fumble to give himself at least two turnovers in all six of the games he's played in and 16 total for the year. The Chargers snagged three picks off him when the teams met in a Week 4 blowout in Arrowhead, and their defense registered six takeaways off KC. Jamaal Charles turned in a strong effort that week with 111 total yards and two scores, but even he gave the ball away twice on fumbles. And now Peyton Hillis is back to steal carries from the speedster. Last week neither had more than five, however,

Denver (-3.5) @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: Peyton Manning is well on his way to a fifth MVP even if he can maintain his recent string of four consecutive games with at least 300 yards passing and three touchdowns. Manning has made Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker must-starts in the process, as Thomas is third in the league in receiving yards and Decker has amassed five scores in the last four games. On the ground Willis McGahee shouldn’t have much trouble with a Bengals run defense that’s allowing an average of 124 yards per game and been hammered for nine rushing scores in just seven games… Coming off their bye the Bengals find themselves in a tough spot. They lost three straight before getting the week off to the below 0.500 Dolphins, Browns and Steelers and none were as close as the final score. Now they have to deal with one of the three hottest teams in the conference and maybe the entire league. Manning is on fire and the Broncos defense is 8th in yards allowed per game. Andy Dalton will badly need A.J. Green to torch Champ Baily in the same way he discarded Joe Haden in Week 6 to even give the offense a shot at keeping pace with the prolific Denver offense. Of course, if BenJarvus Green-Ellis can average more than 4.0 yards per carry for the first time since Week 1, that would go a long way towards grinding out the long drives the Bengals will need to get points and keep Manning sidelined.

Predictions: Manning keeps it up with 316 yards and touchdowns to Thomas, Decker and Joel Dreessen. McGahee totes it for 85 yards and adds a short score. Green-Ellis carries the ball for 52 yards as Dalton slings it plenty from behind, going for 274 yards and touchdowns to Green and Gresham. Broncos 31-20.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: The Ravens were extremely fortunate to get Terrell Suggs back so quickly from a torn Achilles that he suffered less than six months ago. They will be even luckier if he can regain the form he played with last year that earned him the Defensive Player of the Year award. When considering that their defense without stars Ray Lewis (triceps) and Lardarius Webb (ACL) gave up over 900 combined yards in the two games prior to last week’s bye, even a dominating Suggs may not make enough difference. That means you can count on Joe Flacco to be slinging it plenty as the Ravens are forced into higher scoring contests that require them to outgun their opponents. They may get a reprieve for one week though given that the Browns less-than-explosive offense averages just 19.3 points per game. Additionally, Joe Haden’s return to Cleveland’s secondary has made them suddenly stingier through the air, so expect Baltimore to pound Ray Rice against a run defense he burned for a career-best 204 yards last year in the Dawg Pound… When these teams met in Week 4 the Ravens were nowhere near the 30th ranked run defense in the league. Without Ray Lewis filling holes and blowing up tailbacks, Baltimore has allowed 408 yards and three scores on the ground in their last two games. That spells a big weekend for Trent Richardson who fought through a painful rib injury to gouge San Diego’s 2nd ranked run defense for 122 yards and the contest’s only TD last week. Brandon Weeden should keep the offense balanced by unleashing Josh Gordon’s speed on a secondary he hit for 320 yards in their last meeting before Gordon’s coming out party and Webb’s departure.

Predictions: Flacco throws for 270 yards and connects with Anquan Boldin and Rice for scores, while the latter tallies 139 total yards and adds another touchdown on the ground. Weeden hits Gordon and Ben Watson for TD’s in a 243-yard effort as Richardson racks up 142 total yards and a rushing score. Ravens 27-24.

Arizona (+11.5) @ Green Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: The two teams that are tied for the league lead in sacks with 26 apiece will get to tee off on the two teams that have been sacked the most. Aaron Rodgers has gone down 28 times this season while the Cardinals duo of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have been sacked a ridiculous 39 combined times. Each defense would be a useful start this week if it weren’t for the Rodgers factor eliminating Arizona’s upside. Offensively though the Cardinals skill players could have nice value given how the Packers struggled to slow the Jaguars 32nd ranked offense. Without the disruptive presence of Charles Woodson roaming the secondary and lurking into the backfield Green Bay let Blaine Gabbert achieve his first 300-yard game. That should translate to a promising day for John Skelton and his top targets Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts, as the Cardinals pocket passer was able to get to 290 versus the vaunted 49ers defense. LaRod Stephens-Howling’s ability as a receiver should likewise make him a solid flex at worst as he could match the 115 total yards Rashad Jennings laid on GB last week… With key players injured on both sides of the ball, the Packers are one of the most banged up teams in football right now. Alex Green has been miserable in the place of Cedric Benson (foot), averaging a pitiful 2.4 yards per carry on his 64 attempts in three starts. Don’t be shocked if James Starks steps in to steal some chances against the Cards’ 21st ranked run D. Even though the Cardinals pass defense just let Alex Smith post a nearly perfect passer rating, it could limit Rodgers some if he’s once again without Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and with Greg Jennings slated for abdominal surgery. After all Rodgers struggled against a Jags defense that was dead last in sacks and now faces a Cardinals D that is at the top in getting after the quarterback.

Predictions: Skelton throws for 314 yards and touchdowns to Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, while Stephens-Howling totals 84 yards. Green rushes fro 75 yards in a last chance outing. Rodgers connects with Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin for scores in a 268-yard day, while Nelson sits. Packers 27-17.

Chicago (-3.5) @ Tennessee, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: Jay Cutler badly needs Alshon Jeffery to get healthy soon. The lanky rookie wideout is still second on the team in receiving yards and tied for second in scores despite having missed two games with a broken hand. Brandon Marshall meanwhile has accounted for nearly 44% of Cutler’s passing yards and with such a one-dimensional passing game teams have been able to severely limit Cutler’s fantasy upside the past two weeks. It’s possible the Titans’ 29th ranked pass defense, which has allowed 17 scores already, could be the cure for what ails Cutler, particularly with teammate Earl Bennett and he returning to the home of their Vanderbilt Commodores. More than likely though the Bears will pound a Titans run D that’s giving up nearly 140 yards per game with Matt Forte and Michael Bush, and let their opportunistic defense keep the score down and the game in control… Chris Johnson has led the league in rushing over the past five weeks with 550 yards in that span. The Bears defense is tops against the run giving up an average of just 77.9 yards per contest. Something has got to give and there’s a much better chance it’s Johnson. Sandwiched in amongst his torrid stretch, the speedster does have a 15-carry, 24-yard outing versus Minnesota on his resume. And that’s not accounting for the three pathetic performances he began the year with, so having high expectations for a continued CJ2K emergence might be foolish this week. Hoping for much out of Matt Hasselbeck may also be a mistake given the Bears’ sterling 6-to-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Predictions: Forte totals 118 yards as Bush robs a goal-line score. Cutler throws for 239 yards and connects with Bennett for his only TD. Johnson totals 81 yards while Hasselbeck passes for 229 yards and a score to Nate Washington. Bears 23-16.

Miami (-1.5) @ Indianapolis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: The Dolphins are one of the bigger shocks of the first half of he season. After getting blasted in Week 1 by the Texans 30-10, the Dolphins are two overtime losses away from being 6-1. Instead they’re riding a three-game win streak into Indianapolis for a battle of two 4-3 teams with Wild Card aspirations. While the Colts have done it mostly with an improved offense led by Andrew Luck’s 266 yards per game passing, the Dolphins have relied on a smash-mouth defense that is 3rd against the run and giving up just 18.0 points per game. Offensively the Dolphins have leaned on their 1-2 punch rush attack of Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. And with Ryan Tannehill questionable with a hyperextended knee, don’t expect that to stop this week against the Colts’ 27th ranked run defense… The key for the Colts to beat Miami will be sustaining drives. The Dolphins are first in the league as a defense allowing just a 26.4% conversion rate on third downs. Behind Luck’s arm, the Colts are converting third downs at a 40.8% rate, so the game may be decided based on who gives more in this category. In their three-game win streak Miami has allowed just 12 points per game, so Luck will also need to finish drives, something he’s struggled with in recent weeks as he has just one passing score over his last three outings. If Reggie Wayne can thrive against Miami’s 27th ranked pass defense, and Dwayne Allen can provide a reliable security blanket in the absence of Coby Fleener (shoulder), Luck should be able to move the ball. Of course if the tandem of Donald Brown and Vick Ballard can find efficiency against a run defense relinquishing a league-best 3.5 yards per carry, the burden on Luck’s arm will get much lighter.

Predictions: Matt Moore starts for Tannehill and throws for 225 yard and a score to Davone Bess. Bush and Thomas combine for 138 total yards as Thomas vultures another short score. Brown and Ballard total 91 yards in their RBBC, while Luck leads the comeback with scores to Wayne and Donnie Avery in a 286-yard day that he caps with the game-winning rushing TD. Colts 21-20.

Carolina (+3) @ Washington, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: The past two Heisman winners, both dual-threat quarterbacks will battle it out in the first ever Cam Newton vs. Robert Griffin III showdown. And the winner will likely come down to whom can do more with his arm. If that is the case, expect Carolina and Cam to come out on top, as the Redskins pass defense has been abysmal through eight weeks. Allowing 314 yards and nearly 2.5 touchdowns per game, the Skins look like just the medicine Newton needs to get back on track throwing the ball. Despite the two interceptions he threw last week, Newton had a promising performance versus a very stiff Bears pass D, going for 314 yards at 8.1 per attempt. If he throws it close to 40 times against Washington, rest assured he’ll be putting a couple scores on the board. That means Steve Smith is a must start and Greg Olsen and even Brandon LaFell are useful fantasy options this week. On the ground Jonathan Stewart is getting looks as the feature back and he has all the talent it takes to start producing big numbers sooner rather than later, so he should find success against a defense that’s allowed at least 100 total yards or a score to a running back in every game… The Redskins are coming off a bad loss, but nowhere near as demoralizing as the Panthers tight road loss to Chicago. Washington beat itself in many ways against Pittsburgh, dropping an embarrassing 10 passes to cost them yards and potential scores. That issue can be corrected by simply focusing harder as a receiving corps. RGIII and Alfred Morris still performed well despite the miscues and should find the sledding easier against a middling Carolina defense whose statistics have been inflated recently by facing a string of weak offenses.

Predictions: Newton throws for 340 yards and scores to Smith and Olsen. Stewart totals 115 yards and grabs a score on the ground while Newton adds one as well. Morris totes it for 101 yards and a short touchdown. Griffin connects with Leonard Hankerson and Logan Paulsen for TD’s in a 216-yard passing day, while he also outrushes Newton 66-40. Panthers 31-27.

Detroit (-3.5) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: It took seven long weeks, but Matthew Stafford finally woke up. He managed to torch an elite Seattle pass defense for 352 yards and three touchdowns and even added a score on the ground. AND he did that while completing just three passes for 46 yards to Calvin Johnson. Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler each stepped up in the absence of Nate Burleson (leg), but the big difference maker was second-year wideout Titus Young, who registered 100 yards and two scores in a career effort. Going forward he looks like a solid No. 2 fantasy receiver given the attention that Johnson will draw. Rookie Ryan Broyles, who has now scored in back-to-back games, should also serve as a good flex option many weeks as the Lions will continue to pass heavily (Stafford has less than 40 attempts in just one game). Against the Jags’ 25th ranked run defense even Mikel Leshoure and to a lesser extent Joique Bell figure to turn in solid performances… The Jaguars are dead last in total offense by exactly 39 yards per game—a whopping margin—but are coming off one of their best performances with 341 yards at Green Bay. That showing though is likely more indicative of how much the Packers will struggle minus Charles Woodson than the Jaguars offense taking a step forward. Rashad Jennings has over 100 total yards in two straight games as the feature back, and should continue to be a solid option with Maurice Jones-Drew sidelined for the foreseeable future. Cecil Shorts has also performed well of late with 195 yards and a score over the last two weeks. Both look like solid flex options, though against a stiffer Lions defense expectations should be tempered.

Predictions: Leshoure totals 83 yards but loses a short score to Joique Bell. In the air Stafford connects with Johnson (2) and Young for touchdowns in a 312-yard effort. Jennings puts up 116 total yards and a TD, while Blaine Gabbert connects with Justin Blackmon for a score in a 223-yard outing. Lions 31-17.

Buffalo (+10.5) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments: Buffalo is coming off their bye week and staring a 3-5 record square in the face. If they want to alter their almost certain future they will need big performances out of the dynamic backfield duo of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Both backs are exceptional talents and capable of producing despite the Texans’ physical, 4th ranked run defense, but each is still a risky fantasy option, particularly given that Houston is the only team in the league to have not yet allowed a rushing score. More importantly though for the Bills’ hopes in Houston will be the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the team’s defense. If Fitzpatrick can avoid interceptions and focus on managing long drives by converting first downs, it will help keep Buffalo’s horrendous defense off the field and give them a chance to keep the score close… Speaking of that terrible Bills defense, expect Arian Foster to have a monstrous day against it. No team has allowed even 5.5 yards per carry for a season in the past 10 years. Through seven games the Bills are letting the opposition gash them for 6.0 per attempt and have given up 13 scores on the ground. Matt Schaub owners shouldn’t fret too much however, as Houston won’t go all on the ground against a Buffalo pass defense giving up nearly 250 yards and exactly two scores a game on average. If anything, the constant threat of Foster ripping through the defense will make play-action to Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels that much easier.

Predictions: Jackson totals 68 yards while Spiller gets 82 for himself, but neither scores. Fitzpatrick throws for 211 yards and a score to Donald Jones but is picked twice. Schaub connects with Johnson and Daniels for touchdowns in a 236-yard outing. Foster carries it for 208 total yards and two scores in the blowout. Texans 34-13.

Minnesota (+5) @ Seattle, Sunday 4:05 p.m.

Comments: In their last two games Minnesota has averaged only 289 yards and 19.0 points per game. Adrian Peterson has accounted for 286 total yards and 12 points in that stretch, or about a half and a third respectively of those totals. Unfortunately for the Vikes and their fans, a trip to Seattle doesn’t figure to be the week to improve those team numbers. And for Adrian Peterson owners, his 100+ and a touchdown streak will likely conclude in the Pacific Northwest, as the Seahawks have allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season and only three rushing scores. Like Peterson, it’s impossible to bench Percy Harvin, but facing the aggressive bump-and-run coverage of Seattle’s long and strong corners, and given Christian Ponder’s poor play the last two weeks, don’t be surprised to see Harvin’s worst game of the season. Moreover, Kyle Rudolph is flat out unstartable until he begins getting consistent yards and targets after producing a pathetic 17 yards in the past two games… The 4-4 Seahawks have lost consecutive games for the first time this season, but both came by one score or less and were road losses to 2011 playoff teams. Getting a Vikings team on the downslide coming in to face their 12th-Man home advantage should be a good remedy. Minnesota’s defense was stout for the first five weeks of the season but have allowed 88 points and over 1,100 yards in their last three games. Marshawn Lynch should take the most advantage of this recent collapse, as the Vikes have seen 100-yard rusher torment them in three straight weeks and given up four scores to running backs. Russell Wilson has made great strides over the past two weeks, so don’t count out the receiving options for Seattle either.

Predictions: Peterson bullies his way for 94 yards on the ground, while Ponder passes for 219 yards and a score to Michael Jenkins. Lynch breaks tackles en route to 114 yards and a touchdown. Wilson hits Golden Tate and Sidney Rice for scoring strikes in a 237-yard performance. Seahawks 21-10.

Tampa Bay (+1) @ Oakland, Sunday 4:05 p.m.

Comments: Rookie first-round pick Doug Martin has exploded in the past three weeks with 467 total yards and three scores, culminating in a huge 214-yard, two-touchdown performance last week. However, despite a strong chance he sees a sizeable workload again, the “Muscle Hamster” may have his hot streak end given that Tampa just lost Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks to IR with a toe injury. Josh Freeman on the other hand has a nice shot at continuing his blazing play against an Oakland pass defense giving up nearly 250 yards per game. Taking shots downfield to his big, athletic wideouts, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, Freeman has piled up 1,000+ yards and nine scores in three prolific games, all while throwing just one pick… Like Freeman, this game could set up nicely for Carson Palmer. The 6th ranked Buccaneers run defense has stoned more backs than not. They only allowed Adrian Peterson and Alfred Morris to top 100 yards on them and both those backs needed long scoring runs to get there. The way Darren McFadden has struggled in Oakland’s poorly executed zone-blocking scheme, averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, suggests that the Raiders will need to rely on the pass against a Tampa D giving up an average of 310 yards per contest through the air. With Palmer averaging 277 per game that should translate to nice days for Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey as well. Moore in particular is looking like a must-start given that he’s posted at least 65 yards or a score in every game this season.

Predictions: Freeman passes for 294 yards and scores to Jackson and Dallas Clark, while Martin adds 104 total yards and a rushing touchdown. McFadden nets 86 total yards himself and squeezes in a short TD. Palmer hooks up with Moore and DHB for touchdowns in a 277-yard performance. Raiders 24-21.

Pittsburgh (+3.5) @ New York Giants, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Comments: Since Week 1 the Steelers have dropped just two games, both on the road, both to fourth-quarter comebacks and both on late field goals. They are just a few plays away from being 6-1 and in the discussion for best in the league. And prior to Jonathan Dwyer posting back-to-back 100-yard games they were among the league’s worst rushing offenses. Now the bruising halfback has provided balance to an offense that was already getting masterful play out of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben has led an offense that is converting a league high 51.9% of it’s third downs and he has thrown just three interceptions to 14 touchdowns in seven games. With speedy receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown and reliable tight end Heath Miller all playing at a high level, the Steelers offense should have little trouble moving the ball on the Giants’ 26th ranked pass defense. Dwyer meanwhile will look to overcome a quad strain to keep churning out 100-yard games on a defense allowing an average of 113.0 yards per on the ground… Eli Manning did not throw a touchdown pass last week but he did notch another fourth-quarter comeback into his belt. From a fantasy perspective, owners will hope for more after having Manning throw just two touchdowns in his last three games despite plenty of weapons in the passing game. Unfortunately, they may have to wait at least one more week, as the Steelers bring the top-ranked pass defense to town. Overall, Pittsburgh is giving up the second-fewest total yards in the league at just 274 allowed per game, so it could be a tough outing for all Giants skill players. In the end, this matchup may come down to which team budges more in the turnover battle. The Giants have produced a league-high 24 takeaways while the Steelers are tied for the fewest given up at just six.

Predictions: Dwyer rushes for 97 yards and a touchdown, while Roethlisberger throws for 268 yards and hits Brown and Miller for scores. Manning slings it for 251 yards and TD strikes to Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle. Bradshaw chips in 81 total yards as the G-Men squeak out the W. Giants 26-24.

Dallas (+4) @ Atlanta, Sunday 8:20 p.m.

Comments: The Cowboys going back on the road could be a good thing for Tony Romo owners considering the Dallas signal caller has thrown nine interceptions in his last two home stands. Having dropped 3-of-4 games, the Cowboys are desperate to hand the Falcons their first loss of the season. To do so they’ll need to lean on their 3rd ranked pass defense to limit the high-flying pass attack led by Matt Ryan. And of course they’ll need Romo to protect the ball against a Falcons defense that’s third in the NFC with 17 takeaways. Given Dallas’ distinct lack of a running threat without DeMarco Murray (foot), who will miss at least one more game and be replaced by a Felix Jones-Phillip Tanner combo, Romo will need Dez Bryant to tough out the hip injury he suffered on one of the most heartbreaking non-touchdown catches in recent memory. Considering that Bryant has been perpetually nagged by injuries in his young career, expect Miles Austin and Jason Witten to once again see a ton of targets… Roddy White and Julio Jones will be the Atlanta keys to victory. If the stud Falcons wideouts can outsmart and out-quick the tight coverage of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, Atlanta will be in a great position to stay undefeated. As amazing as he still is, Tony Gonzalez will not be able to move the chains by himself. So with Michael Turner once again going downhill fast, expect Ryan to take a lot of shots to White and Jones to prove that Atlanta is the home of football’s best receiving duo.

Predictions: Felix Jones rushes for 54 yards. Romo tosses touchdowns to Austin and Witten in a 276-yard primetime effort. Ryan throws for 291 yards and hits White and Jones for touchdowns as Turner chips in 59 yards rushing. Falcons 20-17 in OT.

Philadelphia (+3.5) @ New Orleans, Monday 8:30 p.m.

Comments: Michael Vick will remain the starter for this Monday Night showdown despite speculation that he might be unseated by rookie Nick Foles. It’s the four-time Pro Bowler’s intention to get his “swag” back after committing 13 turnovers in just seven games, and a matchup with a New Orleans team that’s dead last in total yards allowed per game by nearly 50 yards (they give up a whopping 474.7 per) may be just the perfect opportunity for him to do it. The Saints are giving up just over 30 points per game and have been equally bad against both the run and pass. Look for LeSean McCoy to get leaned on early to keep drives going and Drew Brees off the field. And look for the Eagles to utilize McCoy in play-action to deep threats DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin when they try to get Vick going in this tasty matchup… The Saints are 2-5 but until last week all their losses had been by one score or less. Even though they don’t have the defense to limit the other points on the board, they do have that Brees guy to keep things close. Behind his passing, the Saints offense usually hums on their fast home turf, and with Jimmy Graham back from an ankle injury that shouldn’t change this week. If they want to beat the Eagles it might behoove the Saints to get Pierre Thomas and their dead last running offense moving, but if Philly fails to pressure Brees the way they have the rest of the league (just nine sacks so far), the defense and run game may matter little while Brees picks them apart one first down at a time.

Predictions: Thomas totals 66 yards while Brees goes for 358 and three scores through the air to Graham, Marques Colston and Lance Moore. McCoy piles up 141 total yards and a rushing TD. Vick uses his swag to add 74 on the ground and hooks up with Jackson and Brent Celek for touchdowns with his arm in a 284-yard night. Saints 30-27.