Derek Carr (at Pittsburgh) - Hopefully we will not have to put Carr in this column for much longer, if at all. He has had two or more passing touchdowns in every game he has finished except when he faced Denver. The Steelers pass defense has been better than expected, and they slowed down Andy Dalton, but Carr just went into the teeth of the Jets defense and conquered them. Andre Holmes and Clive Walford give this pass offense two more wrinkles for the Steelers to defend while trying to slow down Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and of course Latavius Murray running the ball. Oakland and Carr should have a lot of success against a Steelers team coming off of a letdown loss.
Kirk Cousins (at New England) - Cousins is probably not a good bet to do much against the Patriots defense while the game is close, but how long will that be for? Five out of seven opposing quarterbacks have thrown 38 or more times against the Patriots, and only Brandon Weeden failed to go over 242 yards. Four out of the seven quarterbacks the Pats have faced have thrown multiple scores, and three have thrown for 300 yards. Add in Cousins getting his whole complement of weapons for the first time since Week 1 and you have a solid bye week coverage quarterback.
Tyrod Taylor (vs Miami) - Taylor is back and 100%, which is a great sign that his running ability will be unleashed. The Dolphins lost Cameron Wake, which could result in their offense reverting back to September form, which is when Taylor threw three touchdowns against them while going 21-for-29 for 277 yards. Sammy Watkins might be back, which is even better news for Taylor. We should put him right back in the low QB1 tier he was scoring at before his injury, so his sleeper status is based more on reputation than scoring.
Jameis Winston (vs New York Giants) - Winston will likely still be without Vincent Jackson, but the addition of Austin Seferian-Jenkins against a Giants defense that struggles in defending the tight end might be enough when you add him to Mike Evans and an excellent running back combination. The real accelerant to the fire here is the Giants offense resuming its 2014 form with a healthy Odell Beckham. That tends to make games looser and higher scoring, which Jameis Winston is up to, and the Tampa defense is down to. Winston has also already run in two scores this year, which increases his weekly ceiling.
Jeremy Hill (vs Cleveland - Thursday) - The only reasons Hill can be considered a sleeper right now is that he only scored once in the last three games and hasn’t gone over 68 total yards all year. That should change this week against a Browns defense that rolls out the red carpet for the run. Only the Chargers failed to post a 90+ yard rusher against them, and each of their last four opponents has had a runner go over 100 yards. Half of the games against Cleveland have produced a 20+ point fantasy total in standard scoring for the opposing starter. Hill should get his highest carry and yardage total this season, with at least one score to go along with it.
LeGarrette Blount (vs Washington) - The last three running backs to face Washington averaged 145 rushing yards, with none being lower than 136. That’s also while two of them ceded at least 10 carries to the number two running back. Washington lacks the secondary and pass rush to slow down the Patriots passing game, which should mean lots of second half carries for Blount and possibly multiple scoring opportunities. There aren’t going to be many better games to play Blount this year.
Ryan Mathews (at Dallas) - Bye week adjustments *should* mean a return to rational coaching, and rational coaching would dictate closer to a 50/50 split between Mathews and Demarco Murray, if not more carries for Mathews. Matt Cassel and the Cowboys aren’t going to run away and hide from the Eagles, so they should be able to get comfortable in their running game and feed whichever back they want. Mathews is averaging almost nine yards a touch over the last three games, so an increase in touches could be explosive for his fantasy value.
C.J. Anderson (at Indianapolis) - Anderson finally looked like 2014 Anderson last week. Even though he was behind Ronnie Hillman in touches, he still broke more long gains, gained more yards, and came out healthier. The Colts have allowed rushing touchdowns to running backs in three straight games, and three times this year they have allowed multiple running back scores to an opponent. The Colts defense is going to be weary playing a short game after playing overtime, and the Broncos will not let up on them. Anderson should make the most of what touches the Broncos give him.
C.J. Spiller (vs Tennessee) - Spiller hasn’t come close to assuming the prominence and size of role we had hoped for and projected when the Saints signed him, but the injury to Khiry Robinson has removed one of the biggest obstacles (or excuses) for not involving Spiller more. The game is indoors, on the Superdome fast track, and Spiller’s speed and elusiveness should be an even larger factor given the setting. Spiller has a low floor, but his ability to take any touch to the house gives him a high ceiling this week, assuming he gets a few more chances to do that than he has been getting.
Karlos Williams (vs Miami) - Williams looks ready to return to the lineup against the Dolphins. LeSean McCoy is as healthy as he’ll be all year, but Williams was creeping into a “thunder” RBBC role when both backs were on the field, and the last we saw that, Williams was rumbling for a long touchdown against these Dolphins to close out a blowout win in Miami. He could pick up where he left off against a deflated Dolphins team that just lost Cameron Wake and struggled to stop the run when he was limited in the first four games of the season. Williams is a classic finisher and the Bills should set him up to close out a sweep against Miami.
Malcom Floyd, Steve Johnson (vs Chicago) - The Chargers should see a lot of targets up for grabs with Keenan Allen out for the season and Ladarius Green likely out. Stevie Johnson will get the short targets over the middle that Allen lived on, and Floyd will be able to work the deeper middle. We know the Chargers can’t establish the run to save their lives, and the good news is that it will aim their offense right at the soft underbelly of the Bears defense - their secondary. They have allowed 13 wide receiver touchdowns this year, including three to the Packers and Lions and four to the Cardinals. Both of these sleepers could find paydirt this week.
Willie Snead IV (vs Tennessee) - The Titans have allowed multiple wide receiver touchdowns in three of their last six games, and the Saints are coming off a game where Drew Brees threw five to wideouts, including two to Snead. Snead has been a solid WR3/Flex level play while the Saints offense was still finding its way. Now that Drew Brees is back in form and Superdome home field advantage has been rostered, Snead is showing what he’s truly capable of this year.
Dorial Green-Beckham (at New Orleans) - Green-Beckham hasn’t broken through with a big game yet, but the Saints are the opponent you want to see on the schedule if you are looking for wide receiver touchdowns lately. They surrendered eight in the last two weeks, including a pair to Dwayne Harris last week. The likes of Josh Huff, Roddy White, and Terrance Williams have found paydirt against the Saints pass defense. That’s right, Brandon Weeden threw a touchdown pass against them. Marcus Mariota is back this week, and if he’s effective, it will likely be Green-Beckham at the other end of those passes. Green-Beckham is getting more playing time this week, and the new head coach Mike Mularkey and playcaller Jason Michael could give Green-Beckham more downfield shots against this mediocre group.
Marquess Wilson (at San Diego) - Eddie Royal isn’t out for the year, but we don’t know anything else about his knee injury. He is likely out this week against the Chargers, whose pass defense has been exposed a bit the last two weeks after a hot start. Wilson had 6-80 and 6-85-1 in his two starts with Cutler, and that was without Alshon Jeffery drawing #1 corners and attention. Jeremy Langford is starting at running back this week, so the Bears are that much more likely to rely on the arm of Cutler, which should mean another successful start for Wilson.
Brandon LaFell (vs Washington) - Players being “due” seems like bunk fantasy analysis, but now that LaFell is healthy and getting downfield looks, he is indeed “due” for a big game. The Patriots successfully got him going last year by sticking with LaFell through repeated drops, and they are likely to employ that strategy again this year. This Washington secondary has given up long touchdowns to Miles Austin, Riley Cooper, and Kenny Britt. It’s LaFell’s turn.
Dwayne Harris (at Tampa Bay) - Rueben Randle isn’t 100% by his own admission, and it was Harris, not Randle, that benefited from a Saints defense befuddled by Odell Beckham to score twice. We saw last year that Beckham will still get his AND draw coverage from his teammates. The Bucs have allowed over 200 yards to opposing wide receivers in five of the last six games. Between those factors, Harris has a decent shot at mattering in fantasy leagues this week.
Heath Miller (vs Oakland)- A perfect storm is coming together around Miller in Week 9. There was buzz that Miller would be more involved when Ben Roethlisberger returned, and he was to the tune of 10 catches for 105 yards. On the other side of the ball this week is the Oakland Raiders, who have given up touchdowns to tight ends in six of seven games this year. They’ve also allowed four tight ends to go over 80 yards, and two to score more than once. Miller is an easy waiver wire to your starting lineup call this week.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins (vs New York Giants) - Right now Seferian-Jenkins is on track to return in Week 9, but know that this matchup is good enough that former Giant Brandon Myers might be able to take advantage of it if Seferian-Jenkins can’t go. The lowest fantasy performance by any opposing starting tight end vs. the Giants was Zach Ertz’s 4-43 in Week 6, and Ben Watson, Charles Clay, and Jason Witten all had their best PPR performances of the year against the Giants. Odell Beckham is healthy and the Giants passing game should open this contest up, and Vincent Jackson isn’t, making Seferian-Jenkins Jameis Winston’s #2 target if he can go this week.
Will Tye (at Tampa Bay) - On the other side of the Giants-Bucs game at tight end is Will Tye. Larry Donnell has a sore neck and could miss Week 9. That would put Tye in the bullseye against a Bucs defense that just let Jacob Tamme get over 100 yards and a score, and allowed Jordan Reed to get in the end zone twice in Week 7. Tye is a pure receiving tight end with outstanding speed. He could be a major beneficiary of a defense focused on Odell Beckham with no clear #2 target at wide receiver.
Garrett Celek (vs Atlanta) - What do we know about Blaine Gabbert as a passer? Well, Marcedes Lewis was the Jags leading receiver in Gabbert’s rookie year, and Gabbert certainly isn’t going to be very bold looking downfield for Torrey Smith. The Falcons have been very soft against the tight end, allowing tight end scores in five of the last seven games, and at least 55 yards to a tight end in the two that they didn’t allow a tight end score. The 49ers are unlikely to have any running game to speak of, so Celek could have a big share of targets now that Vernon Davis is a Bronco.