For months on top of months during the offseason, fantasy owners have longed for the return of football. They waited, waited and waited, until finally, they had kickoff.
10 weeks into the regular season, and I almost wish it was the offseason again.
Thumbs Up; Quarterbacks
Ben Roethlisberger vs Buffalo Bills: People seem to always forget about Big Ben in fantasy, but he reminded them that he’s still hanging around on Sunday. Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards and four scores in a surprising shootout, and is now 8th in the NFL in passing yards. Pittsburgh is now surprisingly 10th in passing attempts per game this season (38.6) and Ben has had some strong fantasy outings. He should have another one this week against a Buffalo secondary that has been beaten up. Buffalo is allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to the position (22.88) and have allowed 20 passing touchdowns, which is the most in football. Target Ben this week, especially in daily fantasy.
Jake Locker vs Jacksonville Jaguars: I had Locker in the Thumbs Up column last week, and he teased me with a less than stellar 10.40 fantasy points. He missed many throws, but salvaged his fantasy day with a touchdown scamper. However, I’m not giving up on him. Locker is a streaky player, and with that being said, he should bounceback in a terrific matchup against Jacksonville. Whenever Locker has had a poor fantasy outing, he’s followed it with a strong one. The Jaguars are allowing 24.37 fantasy points per contest to opposing signal callers, which is the third-most in football. Meanwhile, this unit is also allowing 33 points per game (most in NFL), allow the best opposing quarterback efficiency (106.0) and have surrendered 16 scores through the air. Trust Locker again this week if you need him.
Nick Foles @ Green Bay Packers: This one may come back to bite me, as he is so inconsistent, but Foles is worth another look this week. Is he going to duplicate his seven-touchdown, 400-yard performance? Of course not. However, when Foles has seen a favorable matchup, he’s taken advantage of it. Green Bay has allowed the likes of Christan Ponder, Josh McCown to post strong fantasy outings, and this defense is banged up. This secondary has struggled, failing to intercept more than three passes all season long, and allowing 22.05 fantasy points per contest.
Matt Ryan vs Seattle Seahawks: The absence of his top receivers is a real problem. Over his last two games, Ryan has thrown seven interceptions, compared to just two touchdowns. He only has Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez to throw the ball to, and considering Gonzalez is constantly double-teamed, there’s not much in this offense. Too many times have I seen Ryan try to force a throw into a crowded Gonzalez, resulting in an interception. Ryan just hasn’t been the same as of late, and it’s ugly. I barely have him inside my top-20 ranks this week, as the Seahawks elite secondary comes to town. They are allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, with only 12.63 per game. Despite a strong game from rookie Mike Glennon last week, Seattle is still allowing less than 180 passing yards per game on the season.
Andy Dalton @ Baltimore Ravens: Dalton’s streak that resembled his hair (red hot) came to an end on Thursday night. The Red Rifle was pressured all night, turning the ball over three times. Things don’t get much easier this week against division rival Baltimore. Their defense isn’t as elite as many are used to seeing, but they have still been strong, allowing only 239 passing yards per game. They have also generated 28 sacks on the year, which isn’t good news for Dalton, who has been sacked 27 times in his own right this year. I think Baltimore’s defense shows up in this one, and we see a low-scoring game that doesn’t translate to fantasy goodness. In his last two full games against Baltimore, Dalton has 453 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
Thumbs Up; Running Backs
Chris Johnson vs Jacksonville Jaguars: The time has come. It’s the second half of the season, which means Chris Johnson is set to explode after starting the season off slow. It began on Sunday, as Johnson rushed 23 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He looked good, finding the holes and exploding through them. Look for an encore performance against a Jaguars run defense that is ranked the worst in football, allowing 13 scores on the ground, 161.8 yards per game and 12 rushes of 20-plus yards. Those big plays are Johnson’s bread and butter. They are also allowing 26.09 fantasy points per contest to backs, which is the second-most in the league. Continue to ride him while he’s hot.
Danny Woodhead vs Denver Broncos: I love Woodhead, and is there any reason I shouldn’t? A focal point of the Chargers offense, Woodhead is on pace for almost 1,700 total yards, 98 catches and eight scores. San Diego uses him in many ways. They line him up in the slot to burn a linebacker, use him in the backfield, at the goal line, you name it. Woodhead is seeing 37.5 snaps per game, sporting a target percentage of 19.0. He’s the clear passing downs back, and San Diego should be airing the ball out quite a bit in this one. The Broncos come to town, fresh off a bye, with the most high-powered offense in the league. Philip Rivers will be throwing the ball a ton to keep up with Denver, which means Woodhead will be on the field a lot. Woodhead could legitimately catch 10 passes in this game. Thank you, Mike McCoy, you offensive wizard.
Mike James vs Miami Dolphins: Boy, did I miss on James this week or what? A zero-win team with a bad offense, heading into Seattle, I would have never thought Tampa would succeed they way they did offensively. James, a rookie back out of Miami, was stellar in this one, totaling 166 yards. His 28 carries were encouraging, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. After a performance like that, I have to like him against Miami, right? Miami is currently allowing 26.13 points to running backs this season, which is the most in football. James is a borderline top-20 option for Week 10.
DeAngelo Williams @ San Francisco 49ers: I liked Williams a lot heading into this season, but it appears his fantasy stock is taking a hit. With Jonathan Stewart back in the lineup taking carries away in between the twenties and Mike Tolbert vulturing work at the goal line, Williams hardly has any upside in this crowded backfield. It’s hard to expect strong production when he is only going to see 12-15 carries per game (if that) against a very tough 49ers defense.
Ryan Mathews vs Denver Broncos: Mathews has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners this season, but he doesn’t figure to see the field on Sunday as much as fantasy owners would like. The game flow will likely feature a high volume of passing, which means Woodhead, not Mathews, will be on the field. Also, even when he is in the backfield, Mathews could struggle. Denver is allowing slightly over 81 rushing yards per game, and opposing rushers are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
Thumbs Up; Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown vs Buffalo Bills: Brown continues to emerge into one of my favorite commodities at the wide receiver position. He is seeing a healthy 10.25 targets per game, is catching over seven and a half balls per game, and the Steelers are throwing the ball more than usual. Brown is by far the most used receiver on this team, as they use him in the backfield, out wide, wherever. He leads the NFL in receptions (61) and is on pace for 130. Consider him a wide receiver one this week against a Buffalo secondary that is allowing 38.50 fantasy points per game to wide receivers. Buffalo’s defense is allowing opposing offenses to run 69.9 plays per game, so there is plenty of volume opportunity for Brown in this one.
Alshon Jeffery vs Detroit Lions: Jeffery has led the Bears in receiving yards (517) over the last five games. He’s making big plays, serving as a big time target and finding the end zone. Sure, fantasy owners would prefer Jay Cutler throwing him the football, rather than Josh McCown, but Jeffery has still seen a healthy 16 targets in the two games he has been under center. Don’t be surprised if Alshon makes a few big plays in this game, as Detroit’s secondary is allowing 11.8 yards per completion to go along with the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. This game could be an absolute shootout, and McCown has been playing well in place of Cutler.
Golden Tate @ Atlanta Falcons: Last week, Tate was absolutely blanketed by Darrelle Revis, resulting in just three catches for 19 yards. However, he faces Atlanta’s weak defense this week, and they don’t have a Darrelle Revis on their roster. In fact, they don’t half anything remotely close. Sidney Rice is out for the year, and Percy Harvin’s status is still up in the air, so Tate should continue to be the top target in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Falcons defense is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to receivers, and opposing offenses are posting 41.6 pass attempts per game, the third-most in football. They are also allowing 28.2 completions per game, which is the second-most. I smell a touchdown coming from Tate in this one, but let’s just hope he doesn’t start taunting from the 40-yard line.
Mike Wallace @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wallace has been, well, Wallace this season. He’ll tease you with a big performance one week, and then follow it with consecutive duds. I’m not a fan of his one dimensional game, and this week, he’s a risky start. He will draw coverage from Darrelle Revis, which is more than enough to shy me away. But for more of a selling point, Pro Football Focus currently has Revis as the number two coverage corner on the season. Opposing receivers have only been targeted 30 times this year when Revis is blanketing them, which is the third-fewest in football. According to PFF, Revis has also only allowed one touchdown all season while in coverage. Wallace’s one-trick pony skill-set won’t be enough to beat the likes of Revis.
Cecil Shorts @ Tennessee Titans: With Justin Blackmon once again suspended, Shorts will return as the top option in the passing game. He could legitimately lead the league in targets the rest of the way (was doing so before Blackmon returned), but he’ll have a tough going this week. The Titans are allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to wide receivers, with just 19.23. They are the only team allowing less than 20 points per game to the position. Meanwhile, Alterraun Verner is one of the most underrated corners in football, and is the top-ranked corner on PFF. Opposing signal callers are posting an NFL rating of 23.2 against Verner, he has four interceptions and has yet to allow a touchdown.
Thumbs Up; Tight Ends
Tim Wright vs Miami Dolphins: Wright is flirting with must-start territory at the tight end position, folks. Take notice. He’s caught at least five balls and a touchdown in two straight games, and has really benefited from rookie quarterback Mike Glennon’s gun-slinging mentality. Glennon is currently averaging 40.8 pass attempts per game, and Wright has seen about six targets per game since Glennon has been under center. That’s strong, considering Vincent Jackson is being targeted 87 times per game. Just kidding, but seriously, he gets looked at religiously. Meanwhile, Miami has been brutal against tight ends, allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to the position (13.00). They are almost allowing a whole touchdown per game to tight ends, as well.
Garrett Graham @ Arizona Cardinals: Graham hasn’t been as strong as many would have expected when Owen Daniels, but they could forgive him this week. Young quarterback Case Keenum appears to be boosting the fantasy value of all of his receiving options, thanks to his chuck- it- downfield mentality. Keenum is much better than Matt Schaub has been all season long, and isn’t afraid to sling it to his wideouts. Graham has seen a healthy 14 targets per game, and is averaging 12.1 yards per catch. Arizona is the worst defense at defending tight ends, surrendering 708 receiving yards, eight touchdowns and 18.55 fantasy points per game to the position, all of which are the most in football.
Heath Miller vs Buffalo Bills: I still like Miller as a fantasy tight end (I own him), but it appears he is becoming less of a part of this passing offense than usual. The receivers and even running back Le’Veon Bell (nine catches in last two games) are seeing more work in the passing game than the trustworthy Miller. Buffalo never gives up a ton of production to the tight end position, allowing less than nine fantasy points pe game.
Thumbs Up; D/ST
Titans defense vs Jacksonville Jaguars: The Titans defense started off strong, but tailed off a bit since. Still, they are a top-five defense in my book this week, as the lowly Jaguars come to town. No Blackmon on the outside, running back Maurice Jones-Drew hasn’t been practicing and Jacksonville is allowing opposing defenses to score 15 fantasy points per game, which is the second-most in football.
Bears defense @ Detroit Lions: The Chicago defense is no longer a must-start option. Heck, they aren’t even a must-own defense. They have seen their fair share of injuries, the middle of that defense has been brutal, and now they face the Lions high-powered offense. This game could be a high-scoring affair. Detroit is averaging 416 total yards per game (third-most), and are scoring 27.1 points per game.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.