Backup QBs: Trust Taysom Hill, Question Jordan Love
Week 9 was poised to center on a critical matchup between the Packers and Chiefs. But Aaron Rodgers' positive COVID test and apparent unvaccinated status may have sabotaged what should have been a fascinating game. And don't overlook the fantasy ramifications. Rodgers overcame the losses of his top three receivers last week with a pair of touchdown passes to slot receiver Randall Cobb. But those top receivers and running back Aaron Jones could fall short of their typical standards this week without one of the all-time great quarterbacks adding plays and extending drives with consistent, accurate passes. The Chiefs defense ranks 31st overall and 30th against the pass by DVOA, and so the Packers skill players have good matchups. They just won't match their typical standards in the true-talent rankings.
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.
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|Best Week 9 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
If you lost Rodgers as your typical fantasy starter, then fortunately there are several likely waiver wire options with strong matchups. Naturally, those start with Mike White, the first Jets quarterback to throw for 400 yards since Vinny Testaverde. I can't say I'm confident in White's true-talent ranking of 23rd at the position. That ranking captures yardage and touchdown efficiencies that are heavily regressed from the 9.0 and 6.7% rates from his lone career start. But I am weirdly confident in the quality of the matchup for fantasy purposes. The Colts rank fifth in overall defensive DVOA, but that is skewed heavily by the No. 1 run defense. They rank just 20th in pass defense and unsurprisingly then increase passing touchdown rate by 54%, the most in football. Of course, the Colts also increase interception rate by 55%. This has major blowup potential, but White could provide at least a modern encore for fantasy with another YAC-oriented passing strategy and a possible need to throw rather than run if the Jets fall behind or if Michael Carter and company fail to make any headway against the Colts' formidable defensive front.
If you're looking for a safer option at the position, Matthew Stafford is your best matchup-boosted bet. That is less about the Titans defense than you might expect—on the heels of a recent shutdown of the normally explosive Chiefs, they rank 14th in DVOA against the pass and modestly cut completion rate and passing yards per attempt by 5% and 6%, respectively. But Stafford should more than offset any opponent concerns with his home venue. Stafford has averaged 0.9 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road in recent seasons, split between a pair of dome stadiums in Detroit and now Los Angeles. And domes typically increase passing yards and touchdowns by 6% and 9% per attempt for home quarterbacks.
Best DraftKings Values: Taysom Hill ($1,500 underpriced at $5,500), Jordan Love ($1,200 underpriced at $4,400), Tua Tagovailoa ($500 underpriced at $5,800)
Best FanDuel Values: Taysom Hill ($1,200 underpriced at $7,000), Jordan Love ($900 underpriced at $6,000), Dak Prescott ($400 underpriced at $7,900)
You could roll with Stafford or Dak Prescott in plus matchups in your DFS lineups. But the big value comes from the unexpected starters Taysom Hill and Jordan Love. Hill may not even start, but he did practice on Wednesday and is expected to clear concussion protocol by the weekend. And if he does find the field, he is likely to be dramatically better from a fantasy than a real-world perspective. Thanks to four rushing touchdowns and 2.5 expected ones based on the location of his carries, Hill averaged 21.2 fantasy points per game in four starts for an injured Drew Brees in 2020. That rate would have Hill 10th among fantasy quarterbacks this season, just between sophomore standouts Justin Herbert (22.0) and Joe Burrow (20.7). And Hill should have a soft first start against a Falcons defense ranked 30th in DVOA and boosting of passing touchdown rate by 34%.
Jordan Love is a greater mystery. He has attempted all of seven passes in his one-and-a-half regular seasons. But his opposing Chiefs are a decent fantasy matchup, increasing passing yards and touchdowns by 16% and 18% per attempt, both top-seven in football. Meanwhile, Rodgers did not land on the COVID list until midweek, and so Love is by far the cheapest starting quarterback at just $4,400 and $6,000 in DraftKings and FanDuel. I'm not sure I'd stack him with other Packers in the bulk of my tournament lineups, but he offers a lot of flexibility for premium players at other positions. And he could end up with a decent passing line by volume if Patrick Mahomes wakes up and forces the Packers into passing situations to overcome a deficit.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Speaking of Mahomes, he has been downright pedestrian the last two weeks with just 481 passing yards and one passing touchdown. I'm not worried about the cold spell in a general sense—he had a similar one in Weeks 6 and 7 of 2020 and exploded out of it for 788 yards and nine touchdowns the following two weeks. But it's worth noting that Mahomes' Packers matchup this week looks worse on paper than the Titans and Giants ones from the last two weeks. The Packers are middle-of-the-pack with the 18th-ranked pass defense. But they are dramatically worse in run defense (30th) and cut pass plays slightly despite a tendency to build leads. Meanwhile, the Packers are a top-seven increaser of interception rate at 49%. If Mahomes really is pressing because of his team's defensive struggles, then it would not be a surprise to see him turn the ball over this weekend, even with Aaron Rodgers on the COVID list.
Worst DraftKings Values: Kyler Murray ($1,200 overpriced at $7,900), Joe Burrow ($600 overpriced at $6,800), Patrick Mahomes ($300 overpriced at $7,800)
Worst FanDuel Values: Derek Carr ($400 overpriced at $7,500), Kyler Murray ($300 overpriced at $8,200), Joe Burrow ($100 overpriced at $7,600)
Kyler Murray has trended down from a quick start to the season as well. He threw seven touchdowns the first two weeks but has just 10 the last six. And after running in three touchdowns the first three weeks, he's hasn't scored a rushing touchdown since. It's hard to label matchups the primary reason the decline. His 400-yard, four-touchdown Week 2 outburst came against a Vikings defense that now is the highest-ranked of his 2021 opponents at third in pass defense DVOA. But it is worth noting that Murray has averaged 2.8 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road in his career, and he travels to San Francisco to take on the 49ers this weekend. Meanwhile, Murray has had particular difficulty with the 49ers in his career despite their varying defensive metrics and difficulties with injuries. He has averaged just 239 passing yards and one combined passing and rushing touchdown per game in his last three outings against his division rival across 2020 and 2021. You can't bench Murray in traditional formats, but I'd look elsewhere in daily formats with his high salaries.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Running Backs|
Jonathan Taylor, Darrell Henderson, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook don't need plus matchups to make it to RB1 status. They all have it by true talent. But this is just the second time all year I have had Myles Gaskin in my top 20 at the position. A major piece of that upgrade is a Texans opponent that ranks 31st in run defense DVOA, increases run plays by 12% per game, and increases rushing yards and touchdowns by 25% and 21% per attempt. But another is the streamlining of the Dolphins backfield with Malcolm Brown on injured reserve. Gaskin has taken 15 and 12 carries the last two weeks with Brown mostly sidelined. Those were just the second and third times all season he even hit double digits. And that recent trend has vaulted Gaskin to at least temporary RB2 status in PPR formats.
Best DraftKings Values: Michael Carter ($1,800 underpriced at $5,300), Khalil Herbert ($1,100 underpriced at $5,300), Salvon Ahmed ($600 underpriced at $4,000)
Best FanDuel Values: Adrian Peterson ($2,200 underpriced at $4,500), Michael Carter ($1,100 underpriced at $6,300), Khalil Herbert ($800 underpriced at $6,200)
The other Dolphins beneficiary of the Brown injury is Salvon Ahmed. He has enjoyed nine and eight touches the last two weeks and has become a decent cost-saving option in DraftKings at just a $4,000 salary. Ahmed would likely be the hammer that kills clock in the second half if the Dolphins could build a lead for once.
If you have a bit more money to play with, Michael Carter and Adrian Peterson are my preferred DFS bets at the position. The rookie Carter had steadily seen his snap share increase all season and exploded with nine and 14 targets in two games after a Week 6 bye. He may not sustain his top-three 24.7% target share the rest of the season, but Carter has had the 11th-highest carry share since Week 7 at 59.1%. He looks like an RB2 even if Mike White falls short of becoming the next Tom Brady.
Peterson is an obvious value as a mid-week presumed starter signing. He may not match his Titans predecessor Derrick Henry's average of 27 carries per game. But if he carried even half that load, Peterson would be dramatically underpriced at just $4,500 in FanDuel. He's outside the top 75 in salary at the position and dramatically cheaper than even Ahmed ($5,200) in the format with the latter's clear secondary role.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Running Backs|
Khalil Herbert, Carter, and Peterson are three of my favorite DFS values this week because I believe the platforms underpriced the backs based on my projected roles for them with their offenses. But it's worth considering that all three backs have bad matchups in the traditional sense. Herbert will travel to face the Steelers who, with injured players such as T.J. Watt back, have settled into the sixth-best run defense by DVOA. They cut rushing touchdown rate by 64%, and so Herbert will likely need to continue his receiving advantage over Damien Williams to hit my expectations of a mid-tier RB2 status. It probably helps that Williams tweaked his knee last weekend.
Carter has a clear bad matchup in the Colts, who rank first in run defense DVOA. They even held Henry to 68 yards on 28 carries last week and broadly cut rushing yards and touchdowns by 9% and 70% per attempt. But presumably, Carter's newfound Alvin Kamara-like receiving workload should keep him relatively immune to matchups. He doesn't even drop outside my top 10 in PPR formats this week despite a projected loss of half a fantasy point.
Peterson draws a matchup that seems scary because of Aaron Donald. But interestingly, the Rams have declined dramatically from second last year to 18th this year in run defense DVOA. The Rams are more a problem because they are so explosive offensively and tend to build leads that force their opponents to pass. They increase pass plays by 3% and cut run plays by 7%, which could lead to a lower workload if Peterson can't fully replace what Henry did for the Titans offense—and who could?
Worst DraftKings Values: Aaron Jones ($500 overpriced at $7,200), Boston Scott ($400 overpriced at $5,200), James Conner ($400 overpriced at $5,300)
Worst FanDuel Values: Aaron Jones ($1,300 overpriced at $8,500), Alvin Kamara ($1,000 overpriced at $9,400), Boston Scott ($700 overpriced at $6,300)
With Aaron Rodgers sidelined, the Packers will likely aim to rely more heavily on Aaron Jones this week than normal. But Jones still strikes me as overpriced at his $7,200 and $8,500 DFS price tags because good quarterback play creates rushing opportunities, both by sustaining drives to create extra plays and by building leads that shift play calling to runs in the second half to kill clock. The Chiefs have been struggling, but this will still likely be a tall order for former first-rounder Jordan Love in his first career start. Before matchup adjustments, Jones fell from seventh to 13th in my true-talent rankings just because of the quarterback switch. But he remains the seventh-most expensive back in both DFS platforms.
Boston Scott made me look foolish in advocating for Kenneth Gainwell last week. But before you zag too hard against my bad advice, consider that the Eagles averaged an NFL-low 14.0 running back carries per game even when Miles Sanders was healthy. The team has typically relied on Jalen Hurts and a screen game as a de facto running game and could easily do so again this week when they won't be playing a Lions team that ranks 26th or worse in run defense and overall defensive DVOA and that they could beat by 38 points. The Chargers seem like a strong rushing matchup, too, since they have the worst run defense in football. But the Eagles may not be able to match the team's typical 19% increase in opponent run plays per game if Justin Herbert throws for a few touchdowns and builds a lead.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
Jerry Jeudy didn't do much for fantasy players in his return from a seven-week ankle injury. But even his four targets last Sunday were a decent 16.0% of the Broncos' total, the same rate that interim No. 1 receiver Courtland Sutton saw. Teddy Bridgewater didn't manage much against Washington, but he will likely fare better for fantasy against the Cowboys, who often build leads and increase pass plays by 2% per game and play in a passer-friendly dome. For Jeudy's sake, I'm more invested in his 72% snap share that suggests to me he is fully healthy. And with the handful of top receivers on bye, Jeudy makes my WR2 list at 14th at his position.
I wouldn't call Mike White safe for fantasy, but his top slot receiver Jamison Crowder certainly is. He has seen between six and nine targets in all four of his starts this season, and he had a 25.0% target share in 2020 that was 14th-highest at his position but that many fantasy players likely overlooked because he missed time. It would have made sense for the Jets to trade Crowder since he is blocking their rookie receiver Elijah Moore. But since they didn't, Crowder seems like a decent bet for border WR2/3 value the rest of the season in PPR formats. And he jumps to 22nd this week facing a Colts team that is dramatically worse against the pass (20th in DVOA) than the run (first) and that increases slot receiver yards and touchdowns by 10% and 78% per target.
Best DraftKings Values: Jerry Jeudy ($1,200 underpriced at $5,000), Tyreek Hill ($1,200 underpriced at $7,900), Diontae Johnson ($700 underpriced at $6,700)
Best FanDuel Values: Jerry Jeudy ($1,100 underpriced at $5,800), Jamal Agnew ($700 underpriced at $5,200), Hunter Renfrow ($700 underpriced at $5,600)
Diontae Johnson and Hunter Renfrow may not enjoy the same matchup benefits as their positional leaders. But they should be strong DFS values thanks to likely increased workloads because of the absences of some teammates. Since JuJu Smith-Schuster went out for the season with a shoulder injury, Johnson has seen a 35.1% target share that is third-highest at the position. I rank him third this week, too, but his $6,700 DraftKings salary is just 13th highest at the position.
It isn't clear how the Raiders will handle the loss of Henry Ruggs on the field. But Renfrow was already an underrated fantasy option with a 19.8% target share that was 44th at the position. And he will likely see a bigger piece of the team's target pie since the Raiders do not have a natural skills replacement for their former first-round draft pick. I settled on a 30th-place ranking for Renfrow in PPR formats this week, and his $5,600 FanDuel price is tied for 45th.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
Marvin Jones will likely enjoy his own increase in target share with DJ Chark out for the year. But this week, that increased attention may be a detriment since it will earn him possible shadow coverage from Tre'Davious White. White is allowing just 4.5 yards per target this season, the fifth-lowest rate among the 48 cornerbacks that have seen 30 or more targets. He has been a major contributor to the Bills' No. 1 pass and No. 1 overall defense by DVOA. With Adam Thielen, DJ Moore, and DeAndre Hopkins too productive to bench in traditional formats, Jones is the No. 1 wide receiver you should consider leaving on your fantasy benches this weekend. With the matchup, he falls from 39th in true talent to 44th at the position this week.
Worst DraftKings Values: Davante Adams ($1,500 overpriced at $8,200), DeAndre Hopkins ($1,200 overpriced at $7,000), Marvin Jones ($1,000 overpriced at $5,700)
Worst FanDuel Values: Davante Adams ($1,800 overpriced at $9,000), Justin Jefferson ($600 overpriced at $7,600), DeAndre Hopkins ($500 overpriced at $7,200)
It was pretty jarring to see the system label Davante Adams $1,500 and $1,800 overpriced because of his loss of Aaron Rodgers. But the more you dig into the likely impact, the more it makes sense. Rodgers has not missed any time since 2017, but Adams was already in his prime by that point. And over the five-year span that includes 2017, Adams has averaged 7.2 catches, 89 yards, 0.82 touchdowns, and 20.9 PPR points per game with Rodgers and 5.9, 70, 0.57, and 16.3 without him. Those latter averages would land Adams just 18th at the position this season. The 18th-most expensive receiver costs just $6,100 and $7,000 in the daily platforms, which represent even steeper discounts from Adams' $8,200 and $9,000 salaries. Leave him out of your lineups this weekend.
DeAndre Hopkins has maintained his typical top-15 fantasy scoring this season. But he owes the bulk of that standing to his seven touchdowns, tied for fourth-most at the position. But Hopkins has just 4.9 expected touchdowns, netting him a top-eight touchdown surplus. And he has a modest 20.0% target share that has tied for 40th at the position. You maybe can't avoid him in traditional formats. But in a bad 49ers matchup and dealing with a hamstring injury that limited him to 15 snaps last week, I'd steer clear of Hopkins in DFS in Week 9.
|Best Week 9 Matchups - Tight Ends|
The Chargers may best be known for their poor run defense. But they struggle against tight ends as well, increasing their yards and touchdowns by 49% and 51% per target, both top-six in football. I had already boosted Goedert into my top five at the position thanks to season highs of five and seven targets and 70 and 72 receiving yards in his two games since teammate Zach Ertz was traded. But Goedert climbs even higher to third at the position with plus matchup. He's a no-brainer option in traditional leagues, and I have him as a rare DFS value at a position where the platforms tend to overinflate the prices of the elite tier because of the lack of depth at the position.
Best DraftKings Values: Tyler Conklin ($700 underpriced at $3,000), Dan Arnold ($600 underpriced at $3,400), Dallas Goedert ($400 underpriced at $4,500)
Best FanDuel Values: Dan Arnold ($400 underpriced at $5,100), Tommy Sweeney ($400 underpriced at $4,700), Pat Freiermuth ($400 underpriced at $5,000)
If you're looking to save some money at the position this week, Tyler Conklin and Tommy Sweeney are decent options. With expected starter Irv Smith out for the year, Conklin has demonstrated unexpected consistency and a 14.2% target share that is 16th-highest at his position. That's ahead of tight ends such as Tyler Higbee (13.1%) and Hunter Henry (12.7%) with much better fantasy reputations. Meanwhile, Sweeney could follow in Conklin's footsteps, at least temporarily while typical Bills tight end starter Dawson Knox misses another couple of games with his broken hand. In his first game of relief duty, Sweeney saw four targets and contributed 30 yards. It was a modest fantasy day, but Knox owed his top 10 fantasy status to a position-leading five touchdowns. And Sweeney will presumably fill that role as well and is a decent bet to score facing a Jaguars team that increases yards and touchdowns to the position by 27% and 39% per target, both top-10 in football.
|Worst Week 9 Matchups - Tight Ends|
I don't expect Kyle Pitts to have two catches and 13 yards every week he plays without normal No. 1 receiver Calvin Ridley, who is taking a potentially extended leave from football because of his mental health. Even with their fall from their early-season DVOA grace, the Panthers rank sixth in pass defense DVOA and may be better than that ranking now that former defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore has joined the team. But Pitts' problem is that his other divisional rivals, the Saints, are just as difficult a defensive opponent. They rank fifth in pass defense DVOA and are a top-three cutter of yards (34%) and touchdowns per target (101%) for the position. Pitts can't fall too far in traditional formats because just five tight ends see even 20% of their teams' targets, and Pitts is poised to join them as the de facto No. 1 on his team. But I would certainly look elsewhere in DFS this week, where his $5,900 and $6,600 salaries are far from discounted.
Worst DraftKings Values: Kyle Pitts ($1,200 overpriced at $5,900), Zach Ertz ($700 overpriced at $4,700), C.J. Uzomah ($100 overpriced at $3,900)
Worst FanDuel Values: Mark Andrews ($1,200 overpriced at $7,100), Kyle Pitts ($600 overpriced at $6,600), Noah Fant ($200 overpriced at $5,600)
The Vikings' No. 3 pass defense snuck up on me. But with excellent coverage defenders such as Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith healthy, it's less a surprise that the Vikings are a bad matchup for opposing tight ends. They are the No. 4 cutter of tight end touchdown rate (97%) just behind the Saints and render Mark Andrews a less appealing option this week than he typically would be.
Meanwhile, C.J. Uzomah and Noah Fant are overpriced because of unsustainable to-date production. Uzomah has five touchdowns but just 0.8 expected touchdowns based on the location and air yards of his targets. His 4.2-touchdown surplus is nearly double the rest of his position. Fant has more similar production and underlying metrics, but he is set to lose some of his formerly top-six 19.7% target share with top Broncos receiver Jerry Jeudy back in the fold. Tim Patrick even played 94% of snaps last week, and it creates too many capable mouths to feed for Fant to live up to his $5,600 FanDuel salary that is ninth-highest at the position this week.