It’s time for our weekly stroll across the league, looking at all the start and sit possibilities for every fantasy-relevant player. Remember, the conditional start players will depend on your roster and league parameters. Use those in conjunction with our weekly rankings to build your best possible lineup.
One note before we get going. The Lions, Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, Ravens and Texans are all on bye this week. Anytime you have six teams on bye, the fantasy community as a whole is going to be reaching much deeper than usual. Almost everyone can be thought of as a conditional starter in Week 9. We’re still going to attack the column with our usual boundaries. It’s more important than ever to use the start or sit recommendations below in tandem with our weekly rankings when setting your lineups.
Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart, Randall Cobb, Greg Olsen, Packers DST, Panthers DST
Rodgers will be happy to see anyone but the Broncos on the other side of the field this week. As good as the Panthers’ defense is, it’s not going to hold Rodgers to 77 yards and 3.5 yards per attempt. Now, Carolina has surrendered the fourth-fewest points per game to quarterbacks, and the Packers clearly miss everything Jordy Nelson brings to the table. Cobb has missed Nelson just as much as Rodgers, and the weight of being the No. 1 option in the offense is clearly dragging him down. The Panthers have also surged to the top of the NFC South partially thanks to their ability to control the pace. The fight over the pace of this game could very well determine who comes out on top. It will almost certainly determine whether Rodgers or Newton has the better fantasy game. Lacy owners might be the most frustrated subset of owners across the fantasy landscape, and now he has another brutal matchup, this time with the Panthers. On the other side, Stewart has put together three straight strong performances and is a top-10 option at running back this week.
Conditional start: Davante Adams, James Jones, Ted Ginn Jr.
If I can have one secondary option in the Green Bay offense for the rest of the season, I want Adams, not James Jones. Adams played 96.3% of the team’s snaps last week, and while the results weren’t great, it’s clear that he’s going to have a large role in the offense going forward. Jones has just 10 targets over the last three games and was outsnapped by Adams last week. As his touchdown rate necessarily regresses, his fantasy value will come down in tandem. He's still a viable WR2/3 this week, but the Packers need to get Adams and his ability to stretch the field more involved in the offense. Ginn had a terrible drop in overtime last week, but he had 10 targets in that game and seven the previous week. In this thin week, you don’t have to be desperate to look in his direction.
Sit: James Starks (hip), Corey Brown, Richard Rodgers
No explanation necessary, right? Right.
Washington Redskins at New England Patriots
Must start: Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Julian Edelman, Jordan Reed, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
The line on this game is 14, and I’m wondering how high it would have to be for anyone to really want to bet on Washington. It would be shocking if this weren’t another Patriots blowout, and you really don’t have to worry about this team taking its foot off the gas pedal. You don’t need any goading into starting Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman and Lewis. Why would you when the first two will likely finish at the top of their positions, and the other two could be top-10 among their peers. We’ve seen the Patriots turn to Blount in the second half of a few of their drubbings this season, and that could very well happen again on Sunday. You’re starting all your Patriots with confidence. Jackson has been out since the first quarter of the first game this season, and you should worry about speed guys coming off hamstring injuries. Having said that, Washington needs someone to step up alongside Reed in the passing game, and it doesn’t look like that will be Pierre Garçon.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Matt Jones, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola
Cousins took advantage of a bad Tampa Bay defense in Week 7, throwing for 317 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots have a way of snuffing out all hope, but Ryan Tannehill did throw for 300 yards last week, simply because game flow forced him to throw 44 times. You add one touchdown to that, and you’re looking at a decent fantasy performance. Cousins could be in that position and is an easy play in two-QB formats. If you’ve been following along with our fantasy coverage at all this season, you know well my disdain for the Washington backfield. Having said that, you can take a shot on Jones if you’re short-handed this week. He’s the most talented, explosive back on the roster, and a better pass catcher than Alfred Morris. You can always find a reason to play LaFell and Amendola, simply because of the New England offense. Still, that’s the only thing either brings to the starting discussion.
Sit: Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson, Redskins DST
In Washington’s last three games, Morris has 41 yards on 25 carries. Let’s just forget about him as a fantasy option. Thompson can actually be a decent long-range play in full PPR leagues, but nothing else. He’s expected to return from his back injury this week and was developing into a key part of the passing game before he went on the shelf. He had 22 catches in his last four games, averaging just shy of eight targets per game.
Tennessee Titans at New Orleans Saints
Must start: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Delanie Walker, Ben Watson
I sure hope you had all of your Saints active last weekend, because we’re not going to see a performance like that again this season. The good news is the passing game may have turned a corner, and in a week with six teams on bye, every Saint should be in your lineups. Even against a Tennessee defense that is fifth in pass DVOA, seventh in pass coverage and eighth in pass rush, you’ll want Brees, Cooks, Snead and Watson in there. Ingram was left out of the touchdown fun last week, but he ran for 80 yards on 16 carries and caught four passes for 39 yards. The Titans have been nearly as tough on the run, at least from a fantasy perspective, but the last two legitimate rushers they’ve faced—Lamar Miller and Devonta Freeman—topped 100 yards.
Conditional start: Marcus Mariota (knee), Antonio Andrews, C.J. Spiller, Dorial Green-Beckham
Mariota is expected to return from a sprained knee this week, and given the matchup, as well as the thin slate, he’s an easy play in two-QB formats if he’s back. He’s not worth starting in one-QB leagues, though. Mariota’s mobility is critical to his success, and he’s not going to be at 100% in that regard on Sunday. Furthermore, Kendall Wright will likely be out again, and the Titans rank 28th in the league in pass blocking. Andrews should start, and that alone makes him interesting this week. Remember, though, that he had just 64 yards on 16 carries in a great matchup with the Texans last week. Mariota’s return should help, but not nearly as much as it would if he were a threat to run the way he normally is. David Cobb should see his first game action this season, as well. Think of Andrews as a high-end RB3. With Khiry Robinson out, Spiller should see more work as a runner in New Orleans. He’s a worse play than Andrews and should be considered a flex option in deeper leagues. Green-Beckham is expected to get more playing time under Mike Mularkey, and with Wright potentially out because of his knee injury, the rookie could be Mariota’s top target on Sunday.
Sit: David Cobb, Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright (knee), Justin Hunter, Marques Colston, Titans DST, Saints DST
Cobb appeared in our waiver wire column both of the last two weeks and belongs on rosters in all competitive leagues. Still, he’s just back from a calf injury that landed him on the IR boomerang, so it’s unlikely the Titans will ride him all that heavily on Sunday. Keep an eye on his workload, as well as his playing weight. He reportedly returned to the team a bit out of shape.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Must start: Lamar Miller, LeSean McCoy, Jarvis Landry, Bills DST
Both of these defenses are in the bottom half of the league in rush DVOA, with the Bills especially struggling, checking in at 24th. Forget about last week for the Dolphins. A short week at New England is a recipe for disaster for any team. They should be able to bounce back on Sunday, with Miller leading the charge. McCoy will have to deal with the likely return of Karlos Williams, but he’s the lead back and should enjoy somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 touches in this game. That should be enough for him to achieve RB2 numbers. Even in an ugly game for Miami, Landry caught six of his eight targets for 71 yards. He does so much of his work out of the slot, so he’ll have the good fortune to avoid Ronald Darby.
Conditional start: Ryan Tannehill, Tyrod Taylor (knee), Rishard Matthews, Sammy Watkins (ankle), Robert Woods, Charles Clay, Dolphins DST
Both quarterbacks are must-starts in two-QB formats but just outside the top 12 overall. I have more confidence in Tannehill, thanks in part to a Buffalo pass rush that ranks 31st in the league. If the Bills can’t get after him, he’ll pick them apart and could even use his legs more than we’ve seen this year. So much of Taylor’s value is tied up in his rushing production, so if he still isn’t 100% with his knee, it could be a relatively quiet day. Still, we’re talking about a week that features Blaine Gabbert, Matt Cassel, Nick Foles and Johnny Manziel as four of the 26 starting quarterbacks. It’s pretty easy to highlight the starters in two-QB leagues. Watkins may return from his ankle injury, and you’re starting him if he does. If he doesn’t, Woods is a solid play in all formats. Jelani Jenkins has been in good in coverage this year, while Koa Misi has been terrible. If the Bills can figure out ways to get Clay singled up on Misi, he can take advantage.
Sit: Karlos Williams (concussion), Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, Jordan Cameron
Williams is expected to play for the first time since suffering a concussion, so it’ll be good to see him back on the field. He was averaging eight carries per game while splitting duties with McCoy, so that’s the workload we should expect on Sunday. We’ve seen him produce with so few touches, but it’s not a winning bet. You should only turn to him if you’re desperate.
St. Louis Rams at Minnesota Vikings
Must start: Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Rams DST, Vikings DST
This is one of the biggest games of the weekend, with a potentially crucial NFC tiebreaker on the line. These teams should be, at the very least, involved in the NFC wild-card mix, so the winner will get a crucial leg up on the loser. You can bet both teams will lean heavily on the run game, which makes sense given that the two best running backs in the league will be on the field in Minnesota. In four games as a starter, Gurley has rushed for 566 yards and three touchdowns, ascending to the title of the best fantasy back in the game. Peterson’s 633 yards and three scores in seven games look pedestrian compared with what Gurley has done already in his rookie season. As these backs go, so go their teams. Find the one with the better game, and you’ve likely found the winner. Peterson, however, does have a dangerous teammate in Diggs, who is averaging 13.48 points per game in standard-scoring leagues.
Conditional start: Tavon Austin
Earlier this week on the 120 Sports Fantasy Lunch Hour (download the 120 app if you haven’t already), I called Austin one of the most frustrating fantasy players in the league this year. Why? He has six touchdowns and 429 yards from scrimmage, but the nature of his game is confusing. He makes it almost impossible to predict when his meaningful performances will come. This week, with six teams on bye, is the perfect one to get him active.
Sit: Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Brian Quick, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Jared Cook, Kyle Rudolph
If the quarterback resources were spread equally across every fantasy league, Foles and Bridgewater would be starters in two-QB leagues. They’re both in the top 24 this week, ahead of Matt Cassel and Blaine Gabbert. Of course, the resources aren’t spread evenly. Bridgewater has a terrible matchup, while Foles just doesn’t move the needle for fantasy purposes. The only other potential starter here is Wallace, but how can you trust a guy, even this week, who’s averaging 5.03 fantasy points per game this year?
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets
Must start: T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Jets DST
Ivory has had some tough sledding over the last two weeks, but he gets a friendly matchup with a Jacksonville defense that has struggled against the run dating to last season and has surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Even with Ryan Fitzpatrick banged up, Marshall and Decker are easy plays this week. The Jaguars rank 29th in pass coverage and 28th in pass defense DVOA. Yeldon had his best game as a pro in the Jaguars’ win over the Bills in London, running for 115 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Don’t overthink the matchup for him, Robinson or Hurns. They’ve all proven themselves this season, and most fantasy owners will be shorthanded this week. These aren’t the types of players you sit for lesser options simply because of a bad matchup.
Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick (thumb), Julius Thomas
Fitzpatrick’s injury is on his non-throwing hand. The only real risk for him is that he takes a hit on that hand or comes down on it after being tackled and does more significant damage to the thumb. It shouldn’t inhibit his throwing, so he’s a definite starter in two-QB leagues. Calvin Pace will likely draw Thomas most frequently in coverage, though safety Marcus Gilchrist will be the primary man in certain situations. Neither has been tested too frequently this season. Thomas is a borderline TE1, ahead of Vernon Davis, Jordan Cameron and Jason Witten.
Sit: Blake Bortles, Denard Robinson, Zac Stacy, Stevan Ridley, Jaguars DST
Bortles’s Week 9 status is the same as Teddy Bridgewater’s and Nick Foles’s outlined above. He’s a top-24 quarterback, so he could very well be a starter in two-QB leagues. However, this matchup—despite Derek Carr’s heroics against the Jets last week—makes it nearly impossible to trust him in one-QB leagues. I’d rather play Kirk Cousins or Jameis Winston, just to name a few non-obvious choices.
Oakland Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: Derek Carr, Ben Roethlisberger, Latavius Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant
Get ready for the scoring bonanza that the Bengals and Steelers were supposed to give us last week. Divisional games between good teams often have a way of getting bogged down, with the two teams being too familiar for either to get a ton of traction. The Steelers are 31st in pass coverage, while the Raiders are in the bottom half of the league in rush and pass defense. Roethlisberger had a week to shake off the rush, and Carr just torched the Jets, one of the best pass defenses in the league. The Steelers will miss a beat with Williams stepping in for Le’Veon Bell, but not much more than that, evidenced by Williams’s performance the first two weeks of the season. You won’t be disappointed if you’re invested in this game.
Conditional start: Heath Miller
The Raiders have held opposing tight ends out of the end zone in one of their seven games this year: Week 5, when they entirely shut out Owen Daniels. They haven’t given up a big yardage number since Week 4, and they’ve clamped down in terms of yards per target since the first three weeks of the year, but this is still a team that is vulnerable against tight ends. That makes Miller worth more consideration than usual. If you typically start Travis Kelce or Jimmy Graham, Miller is a worthy bye-week spot starter.
Sit: Marcel Reece, Andre Holmes, Markus Wheaton, Raiders DST, Steelers DST
Moving right along…
New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: Eli Manning, Doug Martin, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans
What a difference a fully healthy Beckham makes. Manning scuffled in the two games Beckham was limited by his hamstring injury. With the star receiver back at 100% a week ago, Manning threw for 350 yards and six touchdowns, and Beckham finished with 130 yards and three scores. The Buccaneers have allowed the third-most points per game to quarterbacks and receivers. You can bet on another big game from this duo. Tampa Bay isn’t built to take advantage of the Giants the same way Drew Brees and New Orleans did last week, but you know Mike Evans is ready for a matchup with this secondary after he had just three catches for 48 yards in Week 8. Evans will have his hands full matched up against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for most of the contest.
Conditional start: Jameis Winston, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Rueben Randle, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), Giants DST
Winston should be started universally in two-quarterback leagues. He can be a spot starter in one-QB formats, depending on your roster. There’s no comparing him to Drew Brees, but it’s not like the latter was making all-world throws every time he dropped back last week. This Giants pass defense made things very easy on him, and Winston could similarly take advantage. If you’re turning to Jennings, you need to be shorthanded at running back and a believer that the Giants’ run game as a whole will excel. He has been bad this season, in no uncertain terms, and he barely plays on passing downs. That’s because Vereen is a real weapon for this team. He has three games with eight receptions and has found the end zone twice in those games. I’d rather play him than Jennings this week. If Seferian-Jenkins returns from his shoulder injury, he’s a TE1. Remember, the Buccaneers won’t have Vincent Jackson (knee) and will have to throw to keep up with Manning and the Giants.
Sit: Orleans Darkwa, Dwayne Harris, Vincent Jackson (knee), Donteea Dye, Larry Donnell, Buccaneers DST
Don’t be fooled by Harris’s two touchdowns last week. He had three catches for 37 yards and shouldn’t be on your radar.
Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers
Must start: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Falcons DST
The only thing you can be upset about as an owner of Ryan or Jones is that this game could get out of hand in a hurry. You had better hope Ryan and Jones have something to do with it getting to that point, because there’s a good chance they won’t do much of fantasy significance in the second half. Freeman, on the other hand, could be a battering ram after halftime. The defense, which isn’t exactly stellar, jumps into the fantasy picture with the inimitable Blaine Gabbert getting the start for the 49ers.
Conditional start: Jacob Tamme
Tamme is at the back end of the tight end tier that includes players like Julius Thomas, Vernon Davis, Charles Clay, Delanie Walker and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. That places him right on the TE1/2 borderline, so if you don’t have another startable option, you can definitely feel decent about using him. He’s really the last of the potential fantasy starters in Week 9.
Sit: Every single 49er, Tevin Coleman, Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson (hamstring)
This is how bad it has gotten for the 49ers. Gabbert will get his first start since 2013 on Sunday. In his last start, which came against the Rams on Oct. 6 of the ’13 season, he went 9 of 19 for 181 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. There isn’t a 49ers fan in the world who wouldn’t take that stat line right now if you offered it to them. Carlos Hyde (foot) and Anquan Boldin (hamstring) are hurt. Torrey Smith has regressed. Vernon Davis is gone. The defense can’t stop anyone. This is a terrible team that may not have reached its low point of the 2015 season. All signs point to Hankerson missing another game because of his hamstring injury, but White is totally off the fantasy radar.
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
Must start: Peyton Manning, Ronnie Hillman, Frank Gore, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, Broncos DST
Manning is my No. 12 quarterback this week, so he just barely makes the QB1 class. Check the rankings to see if I like him better or worse than your other options. Manning and Thomas hooked up eight times for 168 yards last week, and despite Manning’s limitations, those two can still get the job done together. The Colts are reeling and have allowed the 12th-most points per game to quarterbacks, ninth-most to receivers and sixth-most to running backs. There’s no reason to sit any of Denver’s fantasy-relevant starters this week. If you own Hilton and Gore, chances are you don’t have enough other starter-worthy options to place them on the bench. There’s simply no way to attack this Denver defense, however. It ranks third against the run, second in pass rush, second in pass coverage and first, by far, in DVOA. Steel yourself for another disappointing showing from the Colts’ offense. If you do have other viable options, you’ll want to use them.
Conditional start: Andrew Luck, C.J. Anderson, Vernon Davis
The Broncos held Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards last week. Luck is not Rodgers. Just like George Costanza compared with Ted Danson, Luck is worse—much, much worse—than Rodgers. He’s mired in a terrible season, with much of his production coming in garbage time. What chance does he stand against this defense? If you have another solid quarterback, go in that direction. Anderson finally had a game worthy of his draft stock, but it came long after his owners gave up hope. Still, it’s clear that the Broncos intend to win with defense, the run, and a smattering of Manning’s remaining greatness. That could mean big carry numbers for Hillman and Anderson the rest of the season. We’ve touched on Davis a lot this week, but we’ll repeat here that he now rides the TE1/2 border most weeks. He’s 12th in our rankings this week and would move up to 11th if Austin Seferian-Jenkins is out again.
Sit: Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Owen Daniels, Colts DST
Moncrief’s fantasy production this season has rested on an unsustainable touchdown rate that has nowhere to go but down. The Broncos have allowed one touchdown to receivers this season and five total passing touchdowns.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Must start: DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Dez Bryant, Eagles DST, Cowboys DST
I’m guessing that the execs at NBC figured these two teams would have a combined record slightly better than 5–9 when they plucked it for Sunday Night Football. As it stands, the football-viewing public will be treated to one of the least appetizing games on the prime time slate this year. Bryant looked none worse for wear after returning from a broken foot last week, but he still has to deal with Matt Cassel under center. McFadden owners should take solace in the fact that he got 20 carries last week against the Seahawks. Barring an injury, he’ll be the man in Dallas for the rest of the year. Murray has averaged just shy of 20 carries per game across the Eagles’ last three contests. Couple that with the fact that the Cowboys’ defense ranks 20th in rush DVOA and 29th by Pro Football Focus’s metrics, and you can bet on seeing a lot of Murray on Sunday night. This figures to be a low-scoring, turnover-laden game.
Conditional start: Ryan Mathews, Jason Witten
Murray’s increased role in the offense over the last three weeks hasn’t come at Mathews’s expense. Rather, it has been the run cannibalizing the pass. Now, Mathews is still getting just about 10 touches per game, but he’s doing damage with that limited opportunity. He has averaged exactly 10 touches in his last three games. He has a total of 263 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in those games. In two of them, he scored at least 15 fantasy points. He can be a starter in a week with just 13 games on the schedule. Witten is really a TE2 because of Cassel, but he’s on the higher end. Still, you’re better off with one of the Clay/Walker/Julius Thomas/Tamme group we’ve referenced over and over again.
Sit: Sam Bradford, Matt Cassel, Darren Sproles, Christine Michael, Jordan Matthews, Riley Cooper, Nelson Agholor, Terrance Williams, Zach Ertz
Bradford’s finishes at the quarterback position by week are as follows: 18, 28, 27, 2, 12, 24, 25. Why should anyone believe in him in any format? Matthews’s finishes at the receiver position by week are as follows: 16, 18, 53, 59, 50, 48, 82. Why should anyone believe in him in any format? Bradford has been a QB3 more often than a QB1. Matthews hasn’t been anything better than a WR4 since Week 2, and he’s only been that high once. This should go without saying, but Bryant’s immense talent is the only reason you can play him, and Witten is a long-range desperation play. No one else in the Dallas passing game should be considered.
Chicago Bears at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Jeremy Langford, Danny Woodhead, Alshon Jeffery, Stevie Johnson, Martellus Bennett, Antonio Gates (knee)
We probably won’t see either of these teams in the playoffs, but this could still be a fun, exciting Monday night game. Both teams bring solid offenses and substandard defenses, and all the fantasy juice means plenty of games could hang in the balance until the final gun. Cutler has had a quietly productive season, scoring at least 18.2 points in all four of his games since returning from his hamstring injury. Jeffery, meanwhile, has 18 catches for 263 yards and two scores since getting back on the field after a hamstring injury of his own. The fantasy community, however, will be watching Langford closely this week. The rookie out of Michigan State should get at least 18 or 20 touches in what amounts to the start of a tryout to see if he can be the team’s feature back next season.
Antone Smith will play, as well, but all indications are that the Bears will let Langford be a workhorse. Rivers is as steady as they come, but he could be in trouble without Keenan Allen. No quarterback is the same without his top receiver, especially one playing as well as Allen had been this season. The Bears have been bad against the pass overall but have held four of the seven quarterbacks they’ve faced this year under their season averages. Johnson graduates to a must-start with Allen out, and Gates was already practicing early in the week. He should return on Monday.
Conditional start: Melvin Gordon, Marquess Wilson, Malcom Floyd
Gordon got a season-high 18 carries last week, though he turned them into just 54 yards. With all the teams on bye and Branden Oliver on IR with a toe injury, Gordon may be worthy of a low-end flex spot this week. Wilson and Floyd both became more important to their respective teams because of injuries, as well. Eddie Royal will miss what was supposed to be a return game to San Diego because of a knee injury, while Floyd will now start because of Allen’s injury. Both are potential starters in all formats, though Floyd is the better play. He’s going to have a more important role for the Chargers than Wilson will for the Bears.
Sit: Antone Smith, Eddie Royal (knee), Dontrelle Inman, Ladarius Green, Bears DST, Chargers DST
You’ve got a few intriguing players here in very deep leagues. Smith proved with the Falcons last year that he could make an impact with limited touches, but we can’t really be sure what his role will be, and the Bears do sound committed to Langford. Johnson does a lot of work out of the slot, meaning Inman will be lined up outside the numbers opposite Floyd for a large portion of the night. We’re still looking at a WR4 at best, though, with limited targets in an offense that prioritizes the two other receivers along with Woodhead and Gates.