Cincinnati Benglas vs. Cleveland Bengals (Thursday, 8:30 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 46 pts, Bengals Total: 28.5 pts, Browns Total: 17.5 pts
Johnny Manziel starting for a banged-up Josh McCown would effectively scuttle any sort of fantasy appeal for Cleveland pass catchers and running backs. Manziel's 54.3 percent career completion rate and the Browns' refusal to let JFF off the play calling chain leaves very little upside – let alone floor – for anyone on the Cleveland side of the ball.
Hulking tight end Gary Barnidge is the only guy I would take a chance on in GPPs after a small DFS price decrease in recent weeks.
The Bengals' defense is one of a few fantastic cash game options, even with an inflated Week 9 price. They're at home and likely to inflict nightmarish game script on a terribly inaccurate quarterback. If you can jam Cincy into your tournament lineups, do it.
It's no secret that teams have attacked the Browns on the ground for most of 2015. There's a good reason, of course. Opponents are averaged 4.8 yards per carry against the Browns – fourth worst in the league. The Browns also give up the eighth most points per offensive snap, so opponents have been efficient in their thrashing of the Cleveland defense.
Your guess is as good as mine as to who gets the workload for Cincinnati this week. Jeremy Hill's offensive snaps are trending in a positive direction, as the team's big back has topped 50 percent of snaps in three straight games. Hill saw 43 percent of the team's carries last week against the Steelers – not a discouraging total considering it seemed he was being phased out in favor of Giovani Bernard. Hill is priced as RB16 on DraftKings – low enough to make him a reasonable tournament play. I'm not sure I can stomach deploying either Bernard or Hill in cash contests though.
The Browns allow one of the lowest completion rates in the NFL, but when teams hit via the air, they hit big. Cleveland is allowing a league-high 12.8 yards per completion. We saw Carson Palmer rack up fantasy points on lengthy connections just last week against the Browns. Don't be afraid of a blowout here: Andy Dalton, despite one down week, is still a cash game quarterback with a lofty floor.
The Browns have been shredded by every tight end that serves as an integral part of his team's offense. Delanie Walker exploded against Cleveland in Week 2 and Antonio Gates went off in Week 4. Tyler Eifert is borderline un-guardable for linebackers and safeties, and the Bengals know it. I love Eifert's touchdown potential with the Bengals' Vegas total so high. Eifert, a cash game stud here, is seeing about six targets per contest.
Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 44 pts, Bills Total: 23.5 pts, Dolphins Total: 20.5 pts
Tyrod (Tygod) Taylor is expected back for this one, which means it's time to review what the first-year starter has done in five games this season: he's averaged 18 fantasy points, never notching below 15.9 points. He's eclipsed 40 rushing yards three times. He's tossed at least one touchdown in every game, and a trio of scores in two games.
Taylor's upside isn't nearly as appealing as his floor. Miami, roasted by Taylor in September, has allowed 50 fantasy points to enemy passers over the past two weeks. Taylor's Week 9 DFS price tag makes him really appealing to those looking to stock up on high-end receivers or running backs.
The Dolphins are giving up 12 schedule-adjusted fantasy points to opposing tight ends, putting Charles Clay firmly in play for the first time since Taylor was injured. Every team that uses its tight end as a central cog in the passing game has had success against the Dolphins in 2015. Clay caught five balls, including a score, against his former team in Week 3. Clay is priced as TE9 on FanDuel and TE11 on DraftKings. I think he's a very safe play, with top-5 in his range of outcomes.
Miami has struggled mightily against pass-catching backs, with linebackers continually burned in coverage. LeSean McCoy will find his way onto a few of my lineups as Taylor's return boosts the runner's floor. While McCoy hasn't been incredibly efficient with his opportunities, Buffalo's implied Vegas total makes me pretty confident that he can return value in Week 9. Miami gives up the eighth most adjusted fantasy points to running backs.
Buffalo's defense has crumbled of late. Since Week 5, they've allowed a hefty .44 points per play – sixth most over that span. Hardly anyone has had success on the ground against Buffalo's solid front seven. It's through the air that teams have piled up points against the Bills. Ryan Tannehill will have volume firmly on his side this week. Passers are throwing 40.9 passes against the Bills, who allow 10.9 yards per completion.
I see this matchup as a great candidate to exceed Vegas' point projection, so correlating a stack – like Taylor and Jarvis Landry – has a lot of appeal. Only seven teams have allowed more fantasy production to opposing receivers and Landry is priced as WR17 on DraftKings, among receivers who – in my estimation – don't have the same sort of upside that Miami's No. 1 receiver does against a suspect Buffalo secondary. Landry has the 11th best WR-CB matchup of Week 9, according to PFF's matchup chart.
Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 46.5 pts, Packers Total: 24.75 pts, Panthers Total: 21.75 pts
I don't think anyone should expect another apocalyptic performance by the Packers' once-potent passing attack this week. It should be noted, however, that the Carolina secondary has been almost as dominant as the Broncos' coverage unit.
Opponents are completing just 56.5 percent of their passes against the Panthers and 5.3 yards per pass attempt – second to Denver's 5 yards per attempt. The Panthers are allowing 12.5 adjusted fantasy points to quarterbacks. It all makes for a fairly easy fade of Aaron Rodgers in Week 9. I think it's clear that without Jordy Nelson, Rodgers simply doesn't have the sort of weapons to be a matchup-proof, every-week cash game signal caller.
Randall Cobb is a viable tournament option for a couple reasons: his DFS price has fallen, if just a bit, he'll hardly be a popular Week 9 play after a couple lackluster performances, and he has what Pro Football Focus lists as Week 9's second best WR-CB matchup. Cobb, running 91 percent of his routes from the slot, will take on Bene Benwikere – the only exploitable member of the Carolina secondary.
Eddie Lacy, who appears to be mostly recovered from his pesky ankle injury, takes on a Carolina front seven allowing the 11th most schedule adjusted fantasy points to runners. Three of the past four Carolina opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards. Fully half of the touchdowns scored against the Panthers this season have been on the ground. We saw Frank Gore in Week 8 have consistent success against Carolina before the Panthers grabbed a solid lead and forced Indy to become one dimensional. Panthers opponents have rushed for 273 yards over the past couple weeks.
I see Lacy, priced as RB14 on FanDuel, as a rock solid value who could have a nice day by default as Green Bay struggles to move the ball through the air against the Panthers' shutdown coverage unit.
The problem with rolling out Cam Newton in cash contests is that the Panthers' quarterback requires a big day on the ground to meet and exceed his DFS price point. Newton remains one of the most inaccurate passers in the NFL, and in Week 9, he goes up against a Green Bay secondary that has allowed the fourth lowest completion rate to opposing quarterbacks.
The Panthers lack anyone who can beat the Packers' cover guys. Newton will almost certainly struggle through the air, leaving DFS gamers to hope that he'll post a fat stat line on the ground. That's a gamble I'm not willing to take. I don't think Newton has much of a floor here. There are much better options in Week 9.
Greg Olsen, the Panthers' only viable pass catcher, is a fine, if not uninspiring, Week 9 tight end play. The Packers allow the 11th most fantasy points to tight ends, when adjusted for strength of schedule. Green Bay opponents have attacked the team with tight ends in recent weeks, with Chargers and Broncos tight ends recording 19 catches for 235 yards against the Packers over their past two games. The Newton-Olsen combo is the week's third best QB-TE stack, per the stack generator.
Minnesota Vikings vs. St. Louis Rams (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Vegas O/U: 40 pts, Vikings Total: 21.5 pts, Rams Total: 18.5 pts
This game, without the presence of Todd Gurley, might have been enough to effectively end fantasy football. Neither team is all that interested in scoring points and both are quarterbacked by terribly ineffective signal callers.
This is, outside of the two running backs involved, an automatic fade for DFS gamers.
The Rams have quietly become one of the stingiest defenses against quarterbacks and pass catchers this season. They give up just 12 adjusted fantasy points to signal callers, holding opponents to nine yards per pass completion (only Denver is better). It spells certain doom for Teddy Bridgewater, fantasy's QB27. I'm all about the explosive Stefon Diggs – he's been highlighted here in back to back weeks – but even his low DFS price tag isn't appealing enough for me to deploy him in Week 9 tournaments. He simply doesn't have a ceiling in this one.
Minnesota's implied Vegas total isn't all that hateful, leaving Adrian Peterson enthusiasts some hope for a solid Week 9 performance. Peterson, fantasy's 44th most efficient runner, takes on a St. Louis front seven that gives up 25.4 adjusted fantasy points to enemy running backs. There's no way the Vikings are going to advance the ball via the pass in this one, leaving Peterson as the only viable option for gaining yards and (presumably) scoring points.
Peterson has notched 15.1 fantasy points (104.7 rushing yards) in five Minnesota wins this year. He's scored 12 points (55 rushing yards) when the Vikings lose. If you believe in Vegas' projection, Peterson is a fine cash game play.
It's hard to exaggerate how immune to game script Todd Gurley has become as the unquestioned centerpiece of the Rams' offense. There's very little reason to believe the Rams will be overwhelmed in this low-scoring affair, leaving the explosive rookie to pound away at a Minnesota front seven that has been alternatively rock solid and squishy soft against the run. Minnesota has given up just two big ground performances – against the Niners in Week 1 and the Broncos in Week 4 – but the ground attacks they've snuffed out have been among the league's worst.
Gurley is averaging a ridiculous 3.1 yards after contact – a big part of his 6.1 yards per carry mark. While this isn't a fantastic matchup, who among us can say that Gurley's ceiling is capped as long as he's getting such a huge workload and burning opposing defenses with such regularity.