Zac Stacy delighted his fantasy owners and, let's be honest, surprised the entire league by running for 134 yards against the Seahawks last week. He rolled his ankle late in that game, clouding his status for this week's game with the Titans, but by time Sunday morning rolled around we knew he'd be getting the start. Across the next three hours, he served notice to the league and the fantasy community that he just might be the breakout star of this season's second half.
Stacy dominated the Titans, running for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. He got little help from Kellen Clemens and the passing game, which totaled just 210 yards. That means he had to do nearly everything to keep the Rams in the game against a defense that knew it only had to stop him to lock up a victory. While the Titans indeed left St. Louis with a 28-21 win, they failed time and time again to prevent Stacy from ripping off huge chunks of yardage.
This, of course, is nothing new from the rookie out of Vanderbilt. Since being inserted into the starting lineup against the Jaguars in Week 5, Stacy has 471 yards and two scores on 102 carries, good for 4.6 yards per carry. He has had success against creampuff run defenses in Jacksonville and Tennessee, but he also rumbled through the Seahawks last week, and posted a solid 79 yards on 18 carries against a Houston defense that has surrendered 4.1 yards per carry. Most importantly for fantasy owners, he has at least 20 touches in each of the last four games, and racked up 33 on Sunday after getting 27 against the Seahawks. The Rams still get the Colts, Bears and Saints this year, all of which have struggled against the run. Stacy projects as a top-15 running back for the rest of the season.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 9 news:
Don't say the Eagles have a quarterback controversy, because they don't. When Michael Vick is healthy enough to play, I fully expect him to remain on the bench. Nick Foles put up his second monster game in three starts on Sunday, throwing for 406 yards and seven touchdowns against the Raiders. He hooked up with DeSean Jackson five times for 150 yards and a score. Riley Cooper had five receptions for 139 yards and three touchdowns, and appears to be an entirely different player with Foles under center. The quarterback completed 22-of-28 passes, notching a ridiculous 14.5 yards per attempt. It was an essentially perfect performance against a defense that hadn't exactly been the easiest to pass on this year. Heading into the game, the Raiders had allowed an average of 20.9 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, which ranked 16th in the league. You can start Foles with extreme confidence against the Packers next week.
The obvious still-playing casualty of Julio Jones' season-ending injury was always going to be Matt Ryan. He had already been essentially without Roddy White all season because of the receiver's lingering ankle injury. When Jones went down for the year with a fractured foot, Ryan fell out of the industry's top-12 rest-of-season quarterbacks. However, he still projected as a matchup play. After his Week 9 performance, I'm not so sure fantasy owners can trust him at all going forward.
Ryan threw for just 219 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the Falcons' 34-10 drubbing at the hands of the Panthers. That gives him seven picks and two scores in Atlanta's last two games. The only game he had any success without Jones came against the Buccaneers, a team that has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. That's the sort of matchup it's going to take to make Ryan a viable option for the rest of 2013. I could see dropping him in a 10-team league if I had a stable quarterback situation.
It's admittedly a little unfair to put Ray Rice in this section. After all, we shouldn't have expected much from him going up against a Cleveland defense that had allowed just 3.7 yards per carry through eight games. Still, I don't feel all that bad about mentioning him in this spot after he laid a huge egg, running for 17 yards on 11 carries in the Ravens' 24-18 loss on Sunday. Plus, we can call this a season lack-of-achievement award. Rice has scored fewer than eight fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues in all but two games this year. His most recent stinker earned him pole position for Bust of the Year, where he currently edges C.J. Spiller (who may be back, as we'll discuss in a bit) and Doug Martin. Even though the Bengals will be without Geno Atkins for the rest of the season, I wouldn't think about playing Rice against Cincinnati next week.
Week 9 observations:
• It's safe to say Sunday's performance is a bit more like what fantasy owners who drafted Tom Brady back in the summer expected. He finally had a good game, though he didn't stop at just merely "good." He lit up the Steelers for 432 yards, 13.1 YPA and four touchdowns in the Patriots' 55-31 win. Three of his receivers scored racked up at least 122 yards. It was the sort of game we're used to seeing from Brady, against a defense that had allowed just 6.4 YPA and five passing touchdowns all season before Sunday. The Patriots have a bye next week, but Brady owners might finally be able to breathe a little easier.
• Only to be slightly outdone, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards, 8.3 YPA, four touchdowns and two interceptions in that game. The Steelers' schedule looks quite friendly for Roethlisberger, especially for the next two weeks. They host the Bills and Lions in Weeks 10 and 11, two teams with pass defenses that can be exploited. The Bills had allowed the second most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks through eight weeks, while the Lions have allowed 7.6 YPA and 13 passing touchdowns this season.
• In his second career start, Case Keenum had the Texans on the verge of a season-saving win before Andrew Luck went all fourth-quarter hero, as he is so apt to do. Still, it was a mightily impressive performance from Keenum, who threw for 350 yards, 10.3 YPA, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has looked every bit the legitimate starting quarterback in each of his two starts, and with a great weapon in Andre Johnson out wide, he has QB2 written all over him for the rest of 2013. The Texans have a tough matchup in Arizona next week, however, so you may want to consider other options for Week 10.
• I'm done with Alex Smith as a potential matchup play this season. Going up against a Buffalo defense that had allowed the second-most fantasy points per game heading into Sunday, Smith went 19-of-29 for 124 yards and zero touchdowns. That's a whopping 4.3 YPA. Through its first eight games, Buffalo had allowed 7.4 YPA and a league-high 20 passing touchdowns. This offense simply features way too much dink-and-dunk from Smith and the passing game. In his defense, Dexter McCluster had a bad drop on what would have been a huge play -- potentially a touchdown -- but the fact remains that Smith's longest pass play was 20 yards. His second-longest completion went for all of 12 yards. If he couldn't take advantage of the Bills, it's hard to start him with confidence in any matchup.
• As a leading Tony Romo apologist, I was quite happy to see him lead a game-winning drive over the Vikings, if for no other reason than to upset the Romo-is-a-choker narrative. All told, he finished with 337 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was impressive to see him bounce back from what could have been a backbreaking pick to go 7-of-9 (and one of those was a throwaway) for 90 yards and a score on the final drive. Dallas travels to New Orleans next Sunday night before its Week 11 bye.
• Jake Locker didn't do much on Sunday to support the notion that he's a high-upside QB2 for the remainder of the season. He threw for just 185 yards and two interceptions against the Rams, though the Titans were able to pull out a win thanks to a huge performance from Chris Johnson. I'm not selling on him just yet, though. Locker had a great game, at least from a fantasy perspective, in his return from a hip injury against the 49ers, and the schedule is certainly on his side. The Titans still have two games with the Jaguars, and single games with the Raiders and Broncos remaining. He's a great option against Jacksonville next week.
• After Andy Dalton's three-interception game against the Dolphins on Thursday, I heard a lot of crowing about him "coming back to earth." Yes, it was a down performance, but I still have him comfortably inside my top 12 for the remainder of the season. Three picks will always look ugly, but one was the result of a brutal drop by Mohamed Sanu that should have been a big play that set the Bengals up with a 1st and Goal. He hooked up with A.J. Green 11 times for 128 yards, and can continue making a living simply by targeting one of the best receivers in the league. Finally, the Bengals defense suffered a huge blow when Geno Atkins tore his ACL. It's terrible news for Atkins and the Bengals, but it could mean that Dalton will be forced to throw more often over the final seven games of the year. Don't overreact to a rough game against a good defense.
• It was an ugly day for the Raiders as a whole, but Terrelle Pryor contributed a decent performance. He threw for 288 yards, though he was picked twice, and piled up 94 yards on 10 carries. Pryor now has 485 rushing yards this year and looks like 2013's premier running quarterback. That, combined with Oakland's remaining schedule, makes him a high-upside QB2 for the rest of the season. The Raiders still have the Giants (next week), Titans, Cowboys and Chargers on the schedule during the fantasy season, including the playoffs.
• Despite what we've seen from Pryor and Locker, Jason Campbell might be the high-upside QB2 you want to own for the remainder of the season. Like Kansas City a week ago, Baltimore presented a tough matchup. The Ravens had allowed 20.2 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks entering Sunday, ranking 15th in the league. All Campbell did was throw for 262 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, leading the Browns to a 24-18 victory. In two games as a starter, he has 555 yards and five touchdowns. Those of you in two-QB leagues should take notice. The Browns have a bye next week.
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• Giovani Bernard submitted quite possibly the touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter of Thursday's loss to the Dolphins, when he broke tackle after tackle and ran approximately 150 yards to score from 35 yards out. One big takeaway though, is that BenJarvus Green-Ellis got 21 carries to Bernard's nine. The rookie out of North Carolina did a whole lot more with his totes, running for 79 yards and scoring twice, but the fact remains that the Bengals like to lean on Green-Ellis in certain situations. He's not going to go away, and that means Bernard is going to put up another stinker or two this season. We'll have to be diligent in our deployment here. Cincinnati has two division games looming, as it heads to Baltimore than host Cleveland before its Week 12 bye. We'll revisit his status later this week, but you might want to look elsewhere come Sunday.
• In that same game, first-half flop Lamar Miller continued his second-half turnaround, running for 105 yards on 16 carries against a Cincinnati defense allowing 4.0 yards per carry this season (including Miller's performance). He now has 194 yards on 34 carries in his last two games. Prior to those two outings, he hadn't carried the ball more than 14 times in any game this season. We very well could be seeing a new dedication to Miller and the run game from the Dolphins. If that's the case, he's a strong second-half breakout candidate.
• C.J. Spiller finally looked like himself on Sunday, riding two huge carries to a 116-yard day against the stout Kansas City defense. He did limp around on his ankle a bit after motoring for a 29-yard run, but he came back and exploded for a 61-yard romp on Buffalo's first play from scrimmage in the second half. The Bills rode Fred Jackson for most of the rest of the game, but with another week to heal, there's plenty of reason for optimism for Spiller when the Bills play the Steelers next week. As for Jackson, a healthy Spiller is bad news for his owners. He'll still have a role in the offense and remains a solid flex play next week, but we could see his impact diminish if Spiller gets an increase in touches.
• I can't really explain why the Cowboys would activate DeMarco Murray after he missed two games with a knee sprain, then give him just four carries, but it was undoubtedly a frustrating experience for his fantasy owners. He did catch six of his seven targets, but those went for just 19 yards. I suppose the good news is that he came out of the game none the worse for wear. The Cowboys travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints next week, which should be a great matchup for Murray. They've allowed 4.8 yards per carry on the season.
• Zac Stacy wasn't the only running back in the Titans-Rams game who could be on the precipice of a second-half surge. Chris Johnson torched the Rams for 150 yards and two touchdowns. You'd have to add up his entire output from his last five games before you eclipsed 150 yards, so to say this was his best game of the year is a bit of an understatement. He could also just be getting started. Three of his next four games are against the Jaguars and Colts, two teams that have allowed at least 4.5 yards per carry this year.
• Just when things finally started looking good for Darren McFadden, that pesky hamstring had to flare up again. McFadden left Sunday's loss to the Eagles after getting just five carries. To add insult to injury, his owners had to watch Rashad Jennings run for 102 yards and a score. If someone in your league dropped Jennings when McFadden returned, you'll want to put in a claim or a serious bid, depending on how your waiver-wire system works. He hasn't done much this year, but he dominated the touches out of the backfield after McFadden left the game. That pattern would likely continue should the starter have to miss time.
• Rex Ryan has shown a penchant, both over his career as a head coach and this season specifically, to ride the hot hand in the backfield. There's reason to believe that will carry over into next week with Chris Ivory. He ran all over his old team on Sunday, picking up 139 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' upset win over the Saints. Ivory got just six carries last week, but he had 34 carries for 104 yards two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Bilal Powell got just nine carries. This remains a somewhat cloudy situation, but Ivory appears to be peaking through those clouds just a bit after his huge game against the Saints. The Jets, however, have a bye next week.
• We didn't get to see a ton of Mike James last week after the Buccaneers fell behind the Panthers early and had to abandon the run. We got to see a whole lot of him on Sunday, and if that game was any indication, he could be in store for a big second half. James ran for 158 yards on 28 carries against the Seahawks and added a touchdown pass for good measure. He did all that damage without the benefit of one huge play, as his longest run from scrimmage went for 21 yards. It's that sort of consistency that could have him as a reliable RB3 or flex play for the rest of the season. The Buccaneers host the Dolphins, a team that just gave up a combined 151 yards to Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, next week.
• The 2013 DeAngelo Williams experience sure was fun. I hope you got out while you still could. Williams ran for 42 yards on 13 carries against the Falcons on Sunday. Jonathan Stewart, making his season debut, picked up 43 yards on nine carries. Mike Tolbert held down his short-yardage and goal-line role, running for 24 yards and a score. This remains a timeshare, at best, for Williams. Stewart could easily take over the lead role if he continues to run with more effectiveness. Either way, you'll likely want to avoid starting Williams against the 49ers next week.
• Well, it finally happened. A little more than a month after pulling off one of the biggest in-season trades in recent memory, the Colts relegated Trent Richardson to a timeshare in the backfield. It likely would have happened sooner, if not for Ahmad Bradshaw's season-ending injury, but the fact remains that Richardson brought this on himself. Donald Brown outperformed the former third overall pick, running for 49 yards on eight carries while Richardson plodded for 20 yards on eight totes. This bullet point is not here to build up Brown. Rather, it is to point out that Richardson absolutely cannot be started in any format unless you are absolutely desperate.
• There was no hotter running back in the month of October than Stevan Ridley. He capped the second month of the season with a 115-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Steelers, and ran for 340 yards and six scores across four games in the month. Unfortunately for his owners, the Patriots have a bye next week, and have a seemingly tough schedule for a running back remaining, with dates left against the Panthers, Texans, Browns and Ravens. Still, he has become a matchup-proof play.
• The Great Terrance Williams Touchdown Streak has come to an end. The Vikings held him out of the end zone, breaking his run at four games. Unfortunately for his owners, he also had just two catches for 33 yards. While this streak has rightfully brought him to the attention of the fantasy community, we know few things are more volatile in football than receiver touchdowns. Williams had just one catch for four yards before notching a 60-yard score late in last week's loss to the Lions. He had only two catches for 27 yards three weeks ago, though one of those two went for six points. Williams has been productive, but he hasn't exactly set the world on fire.
• If I can own one Saints receiver the rest of the year, I want it to be Lance Moore. He scored a touchdown last week, though he got just four targets while being eased back into the lineup. He got 10 targets this week, catching six of them for 70 yards. Yes, part of the reason Drew Brees looked his way so often was because Marques Colston was out. Yet the fact remains that Moore has the full trust of his quarterback, and that he looked healthy each of the last two weeks. Everyone knows just how explosive this offense is on a weekly basis. Moore isn't a guy you'll want to count on as a starter every single week. There are too many mouths to feed in New Orleans. He's a guy you can plug into your lineup in the right situations, though.
• Keenan Allen had yet another big game Sunday, catching eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Since earning a sizable role in the offense the fourth week of the season, Allen has 31 catches for 497 yards and three touchdowns. That's an average of 13.54 fantasy points per game. Allen has developed into a matchup-proof guy you can trust every single week. The Chargers have a great matchup with the Broncos next Sunday. You'll want Allen in your lineups.
• Thanks to that matchup, Eddie Royal retains his relevance for at least one more week. In San Diego's last two games, Royal has managed to play, and play well, despite being iffy during practice all week. He has eight catches for 125 yards and two scores in those games, both of which were against exploitable secondaries. As we know, the Broncos fall under that designation, as well.
• After disappointing his fantasy owners each of the last three weeks, Pierre Garcon finally had a monster day Sunday, catching seven of his 11 targets for 172 yards. You can bet on this sort of volume week after week. Garcon has 89 targets in eight games this year. Washington visits Minnesota on Thursday night next week. The Vikings have allowed the eighth most fantasy points per game to wide receivers.
• Fantasy owners should never be surprised to see a big game out of DeSean Jackson. That he went off for 150 yards and a score against the Raiders is no big deal. However, the fact that teammate Riley Cooper had five catches for 139 yards and three touchdowns is reason for outright shock. After another huge game from Nick Foles, there's a great chance he remains the starter for the rest of the season. That would be excellent news for Cooper. He has been a non-factor with Michael Vick at the helm, but has 15 catches for 347 yards and four touchdowns in the three games started by Foles this season. Do what is required to get a waiver claim in on him early this week.
• You knew at least one of Doug Baldwin or Golden Tate would have to step up with both Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin on the shelf. Baldwin was the one to do so on Sunday, hauling in six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Both of them remain strong plays while Harvin remains sidelined with a hip injury. Even after he comes back, you can consider them in the right circumstances.
• Few things are certain in the NFL, but I feel all right asserting that T.Y. Hilton isn't going to regularly post 30-point fantasy days now that Reggie Wayne is done for the year. Having said that, Hilton will get a ton of targets in light of Wayne's knee injury. He got 12 on Sunday night, and we can safely call 10 his weekly floor for the rest of the year. Given all that volume and a quarterback in Andrew Luck who continues to get better and better, it's not a stretch to say Hilton could be a WR1 for the final eight weeks of the season
• The struggles of the Patriots passing game as a whole, and Tom Brady in particular, have been well publicized all season. No one could have blamed you for benching Danny Amendola on Sunday, and you were likely in a tight spot if you were even thinking about playing Aaron Dobson. However, you're looking awfully good if you started either one, as Amendola had four receptions for 122 yards and a score, while Dobson reeled in five balls for 130 yards and two TDs in the Patriots' 55-31 win over the Steelers. The spin on Amendola is easy. He was a top-20 receiver entering the season, then immediately had his 2013 derailed by injuries. As long as he's healthy, you're playing him. It's not so cut-and-dried for Dobson. He benefitted from Kenbrell Thompkins' inactive status on Sunday, but clearly he has earned a measure of Brady's trust. The Patriots have a bye next week, which could give Thompkins enough time to recover and play Week 11. We'll revisit that situation in about one week's time.
• You're always starting Rob Gronkowski, and Sunday he officially doubled the membership of the top tight-end tier. He caught nine of 10 targets for 143 yards and a touchdown. Earlier in the day, rival Jimmy Graham had nine receptions for 116 yards and two scores. No other tight end can do what these two do with such ruthless consistency. If you drafted Gronk, you obviously hoped to have him before Week 7, but there's no use looking back on that now. You have the second best tight end for the remainder of the season.
• After catching nine passes for 90 yards in his previous three games, Jason Witten got back on track Sunday, racking up eight receptions for 102 yards and a score against the Vikings. It wasn't a hard performance to predict. The Vikings had allowed the ninth most fantasy points per game to tight ends entering the contest. Still, his owners had to breathe a sigh of relief. Get him right back in there against the Saints next week.
• There's the game Tony Gonzalez's owners expect of him with regularity now that Julio Jones is out for the season. The veteran had six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown Sunday, his first strong output since Jones' season-ending foot injury. The Falcons' nightmare season continued, however, and they could be throwing the ball a ton for the rest of the season. That's great news for Gonzalez. They play the Seahawks next week, but have friendly matchups with the Buccaneers, Saints, Bills, Packers and Redskins to follow. Gonzalez is safely among my top five at the position for the rest of the year.
• Zach Ertz and Brent Celek combined for eight catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles' dressing down of the Raiders on Sunday, but I wouldn't get too excited about either going forward. The presence of one negates the upside of the other, similar to the effect Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert have on one another in Cincnnati. This was simply a performance for the ages by Nick Foles and the Philadelphia passing game. That's what it would take on a weekly basis to make either of them reliable plays.
• Looking for a high-upside, under-the-radar tight end for the remainder of the year? How about Tampa Bay's Tim Wright, who caught all four of his targets Sunday for 58 yards and a touchdown. Last week, he had five receptions for 48 yards and a score. He has seen a significant amount of snaps the last five games and has 19 grabs for 195 yards and two touchdowns in that stretch. The Buccaneers host the Dolphins on Monday night next week. Miami has allowed the third most fantasy points per game to tight ends on the season, making Wright a sneaky-good play for Week 10.
• The Bengals have been a strong fantasy defense all year long, but that may change now that Geno Atkins is out for the season. This defense has enough playmakers to still be a solid play, but so much of what they're able to do is because of Atkins' disruptive presence. You'll want to start them against the Ravens next week.
• Next week's streamables include the Titans hosting the Jaguars, Dolphins at the Buccaneers and Steelers hosting the Bills.
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