COVID has not been a major NFL story for several weeks now, but that could change dramatically on Sunday. The 49ers and Texans have both closed their facilities after players have tested positive in the last week, and that potentially could lead to postponements to Monday, Tuesday, or even future weeks. In addition, normal quarterback starters Matthew Stafford and Andy Dalton have tested positive, which will likely knock them out of their teams' games this weekend and makes many of their talented skill players unattractive fantasy choices as well. Clearly, this is a week for matchup plays. I've done my best to highlight the teams and players unaffected by this new swell of cases. Hopefully, that can help lead you to a fantasy victory in what looks like a difficult week.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and opponent tendencies (Opp). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
You can see our full weekly projections with projected stats, matchup adjustments and fantasy points by subscribing to FO+.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Halfway through writing an explanation of how Ben Roethlisberger earned his reputation for an extreme home/road split on a three-year run from 2014 to 2016 that is atypical compared to the rest of his career, I wondered why I was doing it. Roethlisberger had a difficult matchup against the Ravens last week, and that was probably all I needed to say about it. Well, a week later, I'm glad I delved deeper because now I can tell you that he is the No. 1 matchup-boosted quarterback in Week 9 on the road in Dallas and you will hopefully trust me at my word. Roethlisberger in fact enjoys a 1.5-point projected increase because of his dome road venue. Outdoor quarterbacks tend to fare better in fantasy in domes on the road than they do at home, and that seems especially likely to be true for Roethlisberger this week as he faces the No. 24 DVOA Cowboys defense that increases opponent yards and touchdowns per pass attempt by 6% and 55%, both top-10 in football.
The bulk of the other pass gainers owe their boosts to combinations of playing at home and against favorable opponents. The only reservation I have about Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, or Matt Ryan at home against the Saints, Raiders, and Broncos, respectively, is the former's potential for higher winds in Tampa Bay. The 18-mph forecast for Sunday night puts Brady in the range of wind that tends to cut pass plays by close to 2%, completion rate by 4%, and passing touchdown rate by 7%. But his matchup against the Saints is just too enticing to kick him from my top five. The Saints are a top-10 booster of both completion percentage and yards per pass attempt, and they are the No. 1 increaser of touchdowns per pass attempt at 65%.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
If you're surprised to see Russell Wilson as the No. 1 quarterback decliner for the matchups this week, I don't blame you. The Bills may have a reputation as top pass defense from previous seasons, but they've underwhelmed at just 22nd in DVOA against the pass. That just hasn't fully translated to fantasy since the Bills also have a bad run defense, and that has promoted their opponents' run attempts by 5% in lieu of pass plays (2% cut). Meanwhile, Wilson has averaged 3.2 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2017, a top-10 rate among current starters. Even without the scary northeast weather from last week, Wilson is likely to fall a little short of his exceptional standard. I have him as the No. 6 fantasy quarterback this week.
In traditional formats, Ryan Tannehill and Drew Brees are the quarterbacks whose matchups could induce lineup decisions. Frankly, I never want to start Brees on the road, where he has averaged 5.3 fewer points than at home since 2017. And while Tannehill does not have that specific concern this week in Nashville, he does have to face a Bears defense that is No. 5 in DVOA against the pass and is a top-five cutter of completion percentage (7%), yards per attempt (10%), and touchdowns per attempt (47%). His opponent drops Tannehill from the top 10 of my true-talent quarterback rankings to just 15th this week.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Running Backs|
The ambiguity of the 49ers-Packers game following Kendrick Bourne's positive COVID test makes me too nervous spend a paragraph on JaMycal Hasty and Jerick McKinnon, who would otherwise land the top two spots at home facing a Packers defense that Dalvin Cook just shredded for 226 total yards and four touchdowns. But even without those full-point matchup gainers, there are a handful of backs with pretty good boosts this week, starting with Cook himself. He returns home to Minnesota and draws a Lions defense that is 21st in DVOA run defense and is a top-five increaser of both run plays (13%) and touchdowns per carry (35%). He may not need the help, but Cook is my No. 1 back for the week.
James Robinson and Justin Jackson creep into the back end of my RB1s thanks to a combination of backs injured and on byes plus their good matchups versus bottom-six run defenses in the Texans and Raiders. But while that statement would have surprised in the preseason, it's no stretch to see them with those rankings now. And I've spent countless words lauding the gains of facing both the Raiders and Panthers run defenses, the latter of which returns Clyde Edwards-Helaire to RB2 consideration after the Chiefs' addition of Le'Veon Bell sabotaged that value from a true-talent perspective.
Given that, Chase Edmonds is the back to discuss. With Kenyan Drake sidelined, I have him seventh in true talent at the position and sixth this week facing the Dolphins in Arizona. Relative to most players, Edmonds has an unusual amount of guesswork in his projection. The Cardinals have Day 3 draftee and undrafted rookie Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward to spell him as they desire. But Edmonds saw a bell-cow workload of 27 carries and four targets in Week 7 last season, a week after David Johnson got hurt and a week before he was hurt himself and the team traded for Drake. Since Drake should only miss a week or two, I suspect Edmonds may see that kind of a featured role. And even if he doesn't, he already has a top-10 13.6% target share at the position to raise his floor in PPR formats. It's a risk, but one that comes with a major potential reward since the Dolphins' extreme split of a No. 3 DVOA pass defense and No. 32 DVOA run defense should make some Cardinals back a featured part of the team's game plan.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Running Backs|
Speaking of uncertainty, I've projected Christian McCaffrey to return with something close to his pre-injury workload despite Mike Davis' success in his absence. Beat reporter David Newton thinks that will happen since McCaffrey's versatility confuses defenses, which in turn helps protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater behind a below-average offensive line (6.8% adjusted sack rate, 19th). Still, this may not be the optimal week to return McCaffrey to your daily lineups on the road in Kansas City. Teams have tried to take advantage of the Chiefs' relative weakness against the run (5.4% DVOA, 28th) versus the pass (-11.4%, seventh) by running more -- the Chiefs increase their opponents' run plays by 7%. But that stellar pass defense has limited scoring opportunities for opposing running backs, with both their rushing and receiving touchdown rates cut by 60% and 102% when facing the team.
There are reasons to be nervous about Jonathan Taylor and Melvin Gordon independent of their matchups. The former ceded the Colts' No. 1 back duties to Jordan Wilkins last Sunday, and whether that was because Wilkins had the hot hand or because Taylor is dealing with a minor ankle injury, it isn't great for his fantasy value. The latter has been consistently outplayed by teammate Phillip Lindsay, who has bested Gordon with 6.4 versus 4.2 yards per carry and 57.8% versus 42.2% success rates. And given their opponents this week, it's safest to steer clear of both players, at least in shallow and daily formats. Taylor draws an angry Ravens team that is the No. 3 cutter of both run plays (15%) and rushing touchdown rate (56%). And Gordon plays a Falcons defense that, despite their difficulty in stopping the pass (22.4% DVOA, 29th), has effectively limited the run. They are the No. 8 DVOA run defense and are a top-10 decreaser of run plays (15%), yards per carry (15%), and touchdowns per carry (40%).
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
This week may be the swan song of Mike Evans' WR1 fantasy value. Chris Godwin is on the mend from a broken finger and is 50/50 to play on Sunday, and Antonio Brown will likely be limited to half of the team's offensive snaps or fewer in his debut with the team. By Week 10, the Bucs seem likely to be back to their problem from Week 1 in fantasy, which is having too many good players for all of them to reach their previous career potential. Fortunately for Evans, he has a matchup to enjoy this week. He is tied for the lead among receivers with seven touchdowns and is top-10 in opportunity-adjusted touchdowns, and his opposing Saints boost receiving touchdown rate to No. 1 (42%, ninth), No. 2 (38%, seventh), and deep receivers (259%, first).
You won't be surprised to hear that the Cowboys are a plus matchup for a variety of receiver roles as well, and that seems particularly important this week since the Steelers have several fantasy-relevant ones with different skill sets. I really like Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson this week. The Cowboys boost touchdown rate to both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers by more than 100%. And after letting Byron Jones leave for the Dolphins in free agency, the Cowboys are left with just nickel corner Jourdan Lewis in the top 70 of cornerbacks in yards allowed per target. Outside starter and rookie Trevon Diggs is allowing 9.2 yards per target; Daryl Worley was in last place allowing 13.5 yards per target before the team released him last week. The team may see some relief in the return of Chidobe Awuzie on Sunday, but that likely won't be enough to slow down Claypool, who leads all receivers with 2.99 PPR points per target.
Jefferson is second among receivers with 2.63 PPR points per target this season. And while his three-catch, 26-yard letdown last Sunday was his second poor fantasy performance in the last three weeks, it was easily explained. Green Bay had sustained winds north of 20 mph, a condition that motivates a shift in play calling from the pass to the run that the Vikings were likely already considering with Dalvin Cook getting healthy and the Packers deploying a bottom-10 DVOA run defense. The Lions aren't dramatically better with the 21st DVOA run defense, but at least Jefferson will have great conditions in the dome in Minneapolis. All told, he improves from 21st in my true-talent receiver rankings to 16th this week.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
That underwhelming Bills pass defense I discussed in Russell Wilson's paragraph has suffered from the intermittent loss of top cornerback Tre'Davious White this season. But White is healthy now, and he is one of just nine corners that has seen at least 100 targets since 2019 and is allowing 7.0 or fewer yards per target. He may not be enough to stop DK Metcalf -- I don't think anyone can -- but he and excellent safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have helped the Bills cut deep receiver yards and touchdowns per target by 35% and 126%, respectively. This may be the rare week when RedZone never cuts to Metcalf streaking down the sideline.
Coming off of consecutive games with 10 targets even with teammate A.J. Brown healthy, Corey Davis has earned your fantasy consideration. This just may not be the week to start him against a Bears defense that is a top-10 cutter of yards and touchdowns per target to both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. And it's a similar story for Sterling Shepard. He has 18 targets the last two weeks and seems clear of the turf toe injury that landed him on injured reserve. But Washington has developed into the No. 2 DVOA pass defense, and they reduce No. 1 receiver touchdown rate by 68%.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Tight Ends|
Iowa teammates Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are this year's breakout sophomore tight ends, both in the top 10 in my true-talent tight end rankings. Meanwhile, both draw excellent Week 9 matchups in the Falcons and Vikings. The former defense is allowing the third-highest DVOA of 27.5% to the position and is a top-five increase of their completion rate (24%), yards per target (22%), and touchdowns per target (123%). And the latter is friendly for efficiency (19.0% DVOA), completion rate (21%), and yards per target (77%), if not touchdowns per target.
Across the field from Fant, Hayden Hurst does not draw a favorable matchup. The Broncos allow a below-average DVOA to tight ends (-6.1%) and cut their touchdown rate by 48%, top-10 in football. But Hurst still earns a subtle matchup boost by virtue of playing at home in the dome. Tight ends are among the biggest winners of playing at home in domes, where they typically score 15% more touchdowns per target than in a neutral venue.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Tight Ends|
Mark Andrews has his five touchdowns to credit for his clinging to a top-five true-talent ranking among tight ends. Otherwise, he has stepped back this season. Andrews has yet to reach 60 yards in a game in 2020, and he can't fully blame his matchups for his shortfall of 60 yards in his last two weeks combined -- yes, the Steelers are the league's top defense against the position (-73.6% DVOA), but the Eagles have been downright friendly to it (23.3%). None of that bodes well for Andrews this week, who travels to Indianapolis to face a Colts defense that is on the Steelers side of the spectrum (-24.9%). They are a top-two cutter of tight end completion rate (22%), yards per target (35%), and touchdowns per target (125%), and Andrews falls outside of my weekly top 10 for the first time all season.
Michael Thomas was a limited practice participant on Wednesday and may finally play his first game since Week 1 on Sunday. That could spell the end of Jared Cook's three-game touchdown streak, but I would have bet on the Bucs to do that regardless of which of Cook's Saints teammates were healthy this week. The Bucs cut touchdown rate to tight ends by 32%. And they also cut catch rate and yards per target by about 10% each.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Kickers|
The Falcons and Titans have difficult defensive opponents for their passing and running games, but the Broncos and Bears have the right kind of red zone defenses to promote extra-short field goal attempts. They boost those tries by 20% and 42%, respectively, which makes Younghoe Koo and Stephen Gostkowski K1 options this week at home in Atlanta and Nashville.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Kickers|
The Dolphins' transition from worst in 2019 to 11th this year in defensive DVOA has ramifications for their opponents at a variety of positions. Don't forget about kickers. The team has been a top-three reducer of opposing short (67%) and long (37%) field goal attempts alike, and that knocks the normal K1 kicker Zane Gonzalez outside my top 20 this week. And Joey Slye faces a similar fate traveling to Kansas City. Their opposing offenses seem to understand the importance of scoring touchdowns in the red zone to keep pace with such an explosive offense. As such, the Chiefs cut short field goal attempts by 27%, seventh-most in football.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Defenses|
Not everyone will trust Washington's ascension to the top five in defensive DVOA, but Chase Young and company have held their last four opponents to fewer than 20 points, and those included both the Ravens and Rams outside of the NFC East. This week, there's no need to question their bona fides. Washington draws the division-rival Giants that are top-five promoters of sacks per pass attempt and tackles for losses. Daniel Jones has cut his fumble rate from 1.4 per game last year to 0.6 per game this year, but he's throwing interceptions at a 3.3% clip, up from 2.6% last year. Expect turnovers. Washington is my No. 1 fantasy defense of the week.
The underdiscussed part of the Patriots' problems this season is their defense, which has fallen from first to 27th in DVOA because of a combination of a loss of talent, a tougher schedule, and regression. Luckily for the team, they face a Jets offense this week that can right the ship. The Jets have scored 17 or fewer points against all but one of their opponents this season, including twice against the bottom-10 Bills defense. The Patriots remain the No. 1 promoter of interceptions, and the Jets boost sacks per pass attempt and tackles for losses by 32% and 38%, respectively. You can be confident in the Patriots defense in fantasy at least for one week.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Defenses|
The Falcons and Titans may be disappointed by their recent results, but their offenses continue to hum, and that makes the Broncos and Bears defenses worse choices for fantasy this week than they would usually be. Ryan Tannehill at least has a reputation for holding the ball and taking sacks -- he led the quarterbacks that made eight or more starts last season with a 9.8% sack rate. But even he won't take sacks behind a top-five pass-protecting offensive line with a 4.2% adjusted sack rate. Not even Taylor Lewan's season-ending ACL injury has changed things for him. Tannehill has yet to take three sacks in any game this season.