Fantasy Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Week 9
One of the things that makes fantasy football so captivating is the variance. Derrick Henry was the RB1 in all of fantasy in 0.5 PPR in 2020, but Henry himself only had three weeks as the top fantasy scorer. That means, on individual weeks, some very strange players may lead the league in fantasy points at their positions.
That opens the door for some room to be "spicy" and make some fun predictions. In a landscape increasingly set ablaze by "hot takes," it can be difficult to understand the difference between a bold prediction -- based on a particularly strong spot for a team or player -- and a senseless take with the prayer of becoming correct based on variance.
Let's shoot for the former with five interesting spots to target during this weekend's NFL games.
(All predictions are for half-PPR and FanDuel scoring for quarterbacks.)
1. Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes Combine for 4 or Fewer Touchdowns
The pair are projected for 4.40 touchdowns per numberFire's projections, but I will take the under. That is particularly dangerous given the Chiefs have allowed 0.29 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back this season to opposing passers -- third-most of teams playing this weekend. The Packers have fared much better (0.08 Passing NEP per drop back), but how can these secondaries stop these quarterbacks?
By being terrible against the rush.
Both of these defenses stink at stopping opposing rushers. Both Green Bay and Kansas City are tied for the second-most Rushing NEP per carry (0.11) in the NFL. Especially when your defense is feeble, controlling the clock with the running game is a necessity. That might be easier for the Packers with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, but the Chiefs have posted 0.03 Rushing NEP per carry the past two weeks without Clyde Edwards-Helaire, as well.
The path to this game slowing to a crawl is there if either coach chooses to take it. Considering those rushers may also take scores from the signal-callers in the contest, just be careful about penciling in the pair for an Oklahoma-Texas Tech reenactment from Mahomes' college days.
Editor's Note: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 after publish and is out for Week 9. We'll chalk this one up as a no-contest.
2. Myles Gaskin Delivers an Actually Useful Top-15 Fantasy Performance
Myles Gaskin exploded in Week 5 for 26.9 half-PPR fantasy points. And it didn't matter.
He found any sensible manager's bench in that matchup with the vaunted Tampa Bay defense. This week may be the first since that game where Gaskin is a plus start in fantasy football.
Gaskin's role is getting better. He's seen at least 12 carries, 4 targets, and a 59% snap share in each of the past two weeks. That was in one positive matchup (Atlanta) and one horrendous matchup (Buffalo). Notably, those were both negative game scripts throughout. He has 27 carries the past two weeks, which is 7 more than his two other backfield mates (20) combined. He's also posted five of the team's six red-zone carries in that span.
Miami should now see a positive game script and matchup with the lowly Houston Texans. They are seven-point home favorites, and the Texans are allowing the sixth-most half-PPR points (24.5) to opposing running backs.
Out of necessity, I will be confidently starting Gaskin just a couple of weeks after picking him up off waivers, and, due to his poor reputation, he may still be on your wire at this moment.
3. Tee Higgins -- Not Ja'Marr Chase -- is the Bengals' Top Wideout This Week
Ja'Marr Chase has minus-money odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he is someone I would actively be looking to sell for a quality return in fantasy football.
Chase's role just doesn't match his production at this point in time. Don't get me wrong -- it's a good one. Chase has run 96.1% of the Bengals' routes and has a 27.3% target share. It's just likely his production doesn't stay this high behind it.
The Cincinnati offense is loaded. Tee Higgins actually leads the team in both target share (30.0%) and air yards (272) the past two weeks; that includes Chase's monstrous outburst against Baltimore. Tyler Boyd is lurking with a 21.4% target share, and C.J. Uzomah has had his pop games, as well. The Bengals' 61% pass rate in neutral situations is solid, but Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine also command targets.
With Higgins already commanding a larger role, it's less bold to take him over Chase in a matchup with Cleveland than it seems. Higgins has just 2 touchdowns on 49 targets this year, whereas Chase has 7 touchdowns on 60 targets. Assuming Joe Burrow isn't actively picking favorites with his fellow alum, that should even out as the season progresses.
4. Darren Waller Explodes for 20-Plus Points in the Meadowlands Again
Fantasy managers may never forget "The Darren Waller Game."
In Week 13 of 2020, Waller blasted the Jets for 13 catches (on 17 targets), 200 yards even, and a pair of touchdowns. This outburst followed some so-so fantasy performances as a surprise, and Waller returns to MetLife Stadium this weekend as the Raiders head east to battle the Giants.
His 24.1% target share this season already leads the Raiders, and he should be back from an ankle injury after two full weeks off including the bye. His load may get a little heavier with the unfortunate news revolving around Henry Ruggs, as well.
Waller's matchup specifically is just fine; the Giants are allowing the 14th-most half-PPR points to opposing tight ends.
Still, with a premium workload for the tight end position that is getting slightly better, I wanted to give birth the newest meme if he indeed blows up just outside of New York again Sunday. "Hoodie Melo" and "Playoff Lenny"... meet "The Wolf of Waller Street".
5. The Saints Become Week 9's Top Defense
Ryan posted -0.11 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 8, which was only higher than Jared Goff, Taylor Heinicke, and Kirk Cousins. The Carolina secondary saw a boost by way of Stephon Gilmore, but at home against a pass defense that ceded 0.16 Passing NEP per drop back the two weeks prior against Cousins and Daniel Jones, it was a tremendous letdown.
The concern for the immobile Ryan is that his weaponry is getting worse. Calvin Ridley has stepped away from football temporarily, and Kyle Pitts caught just two balls on six targets in Week 8 amidst waves of double teams. The Falcons' rush attack has also scuffled to -0.09 Rushing NEP per carry this year, so Cordarrelle Patterson isn't doing much besides helping his own fantasy prospects.
This lack of support is concerning headed into a date with the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans is third in the NFL in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play (0.00), and the Saints have generated 16 sacks and 13 takeaways in seven games.
This game is in New Orleans, as well, so even with the Buffalo Bills taking on the hapless Jaguars, a spicy yet reasonable prediction is the fast, active Saints defense tops all other 27 units playing this week. It would be their fourth top-five week of 2021.