Brace yourselves, everyone—Super long intro incoming.
(For those only interested in my picks heading into Week 9, just skip to the graphic and read away!)
A few major bits of NFL news broke over the last couple of days, and I’d like to share some personal thoughts on a couple of them. Before the start of Sunday’s games, the Atlanta Falcons announced that WR Calvin Ridley would be taking some time away from the team to prioritize his mental health. Then, on Tuesday, a report came out of Las Vegas revealing Raiders WR Henry Ruggs was in a deadly car accident that resulted in the other driver’s death. Ruggs was intoxicated, registering a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit.
Both of these bits of news hit a little too close to home for me, and throughout this intro, I’ll tie both together.
Over the last few months, I have struggled mightily with my mental health. Much of my downward spiral began after my grandmother’s death, who was, for all intents and purposes, my biggest cheerleader. As someone who decided they wanted to become a writer, I decided to thrust myself into that journey in 2019, after seven years of merely flirting with the idea and doing the bare minimum to be satisfied with calling myself a writer.
Taking that dive was fulfilling to my soul, but certainly not my wallet. I wrote a feature film screenplay (twice), two television pilots (one drama, one animated comedy), two web series (six episodes apiece), and two short films, all within a year. I worked mainly as a valet, making just enough to pay some monthly bills but not enough to pay my exorbitant student loan payments consistently.
After little movements on the scripts and the pandemic mostly shutting down Hollywood’s desire to buy anything from a no-name writer, I needed to get back to making money. So I launched myself back into work, with most of my writing focusing on fantasy football since. I bring all this up because the fear of failure is what always kept me from taking the dive into my writing so many years earlier. In fact, that fear has halted much of my growth in life.
I didn’t grow up in a household that promoted self-confidence. To my dad, I was a disappointment because I didn’t like cars and getting my hands dirty like he did. To my mother, no matter how good I was at something, whether it was sports or academics, I could always do better. I got a B on a paper, and the response was never “great job!” It was always, “why not an A?” If I got an A, “why not an A+?” As a result, I’ve never felt good enough. In relationships, I often second guess myself and wonder what’s wrong with my significant other as they “settled” for me. At work, I would often bust my butt to be the best and earn promotions but get passed over for one reason or another.
There’s always been something missing that makes me whole.
This self-doubt has always made me moody and often on the edge of depression. But never once did I seek help or go to a therapist. I don’t know if it was because I was scared to admit I might have a legitimate problem or because therapy isn’t cheap, and I’ve never had a high yearly income. Regardless, I soldiered on, pushing my problems into the next week, month, and year.
It’s likely why I drank so much in my early 20s and likely why I’ve drank so much throughout my 30s. It was an easy way to cope. The reprieve in my mid and late 20s was when I met and dated my ex-fiance. For whatever reason, she understood me. I’m sure it had a lot to do with her battling her own demons, but I digress.
We were together for five years. When things ended, I was devastated. It drove me into a spiral that saw me move back in with my mother, somewhere I lived for the next seven years. About five years ago, my spiral apexed. I was in a single-car accident where my car hit a curb and essentially broke the front axel in my car. That accident was a direct result of me sitting at a bar for seven hours after work drinking with a co-worker and not being smart enough to call someone for a ride.
I was extremely lucky that not only was no one hurt (myself included), but I didn’t get a DUI. An officer only showed up after I’d been on the side of the road waiting for the tow truck for 30 mins. Before I rode off with the tow truck, they convinced me to take a breathalyzer test as a wake-up call.
I blew a 0.14.
I wanted to tell this story for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I want to applaud Calvin Ridley for recognizing he needs help. I don’t know what goes on in his life and what is or has been contributing to his mental state. But the feeling that it’s not “manly” or “weak” to admit we need help is crap. Bottling up your pain, depression, etc., will only make matters worse. Secondly, not admitting we need help could easily escalate and become a scenario that mimics Ruggs’ fatal decision.
I don’t know what went through Ruggs’ mind before he spent the night drinking, and then deciding getting in his car was a smart idea. But I also know when you’re that inebriated; you aren’t thinking. The difference between Ruggs’ incident and mine is that his decision resulted in someone’s death. It’s easy to spew hate and call Ruggs the scum of the earth for his decision. But, it’s also not hard to empathize and show compassion toward someone that made a horrible decision while under the influence.
I’ve seen many people speak out in favor of Ridley, applauding him for getting the help he needs. But, I’ve also seen the opposite, chastising him for not being man enough to go out and do his job. I’ve seen people condemn Ruggs after the facts have come to light (and even before) regarding his accident. And then I watched his former quarterback, Derek Carr, display compassion and love towards him.
Seeing someone like Calvin Ridley take the steps needed to get the help he needs is exactly why I’m writing this. It’s real for me. It’s helped me take the steps I need to get help. Because if I didn’t, people could be looking at me through the same lens they view Henry Ruggs. And that is not a lens I want to be seen through.
Now that the personal story is concluded, we can talk about last week’s calls. Again, my Plays are struggling. Only six of 16 correct calls last week. But my Fades cleaned up! Big bounce back in the form of 12 correct calls out of 16! 60% is a good week, though, so just need to work on these Plays!
A quick reminder of what Play and Fade mean: Play simply means players that I love based on matchups and my expectation that they’ll finish with more points than projected. Fade indicates players that I think will underperform their projections/consensus weekly rankings. It doesn’t mean I’m outright benching them, but I’m likely not rushing to put them in any DFS lineups either. Onto Week 9.
QB Derek Carr (LV) at NYG – The Raiders as a team have had one issue after another. First, it was the emails released that led to Jon Gruden’s resignation. Then, this weekend’s events that led to the release of former 1st-round WR Henry Ruggs (RIP to Tina Tintor). Throughout all this turmoil, the Raiders have persevered. Much of that can be attributed to the leadership and on-field play of Derek Carr. Carr is second in the league in passing yards per game (324) and has five top-12 finishes on the year. He’s done all that with only 12 passing touchdowns on the year, 15th among QBs. He should be able to add a few against the Giants this week. They’re tied for 6th in passing TDs allowed to QBs (15) and allow 256 passing yards per game. Losing Ruggs will hurt their deep passing game, and that’s an area that Carr has shined, as he’s currently 3rd in the NFL in yards on passes 20+ yards downfield (per PFF). But something Carr will have the offense ready, which should be good for a top-12 finish this week.
Other QBs with good matchups: Tua Tagovailoa (MIA) vs. HOU and Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) vs. ARI
RB Nick Chubb (CLE) at CIN – Nick Chubb certainly isn’t on this list because of his pass-catching prowess. Most of us assumed he wouldn’t be heavily used in the receiving game, but averaging literally one target a game is absolutely absurd for arguably the best pure runner in the league. But I digress. Chubb finds himself as a Play this week because the Bengals don’t play the run well. They’ve allowed one 100-yard game this year and four other RBs over 60 yards. Where they struggle the most, though, is against receiving backs. Cincinnati has allowed the most targets and receptions and the third-most yards to RBs. Will Chubb see more than one target this week? He averaged over four targets per game two years ago, and last year, he averaged over nine yards per reception. If there’s ever a week to feature Chubb in a big way, it’s this week.
RB Josh Jacobs (at NYG) – Josh Jacobs has dealt with his fair share of injuries this year, but coming off the bye week, is not listed on the injury report. That’s the good news. The great news? Jacobs has a rushing TD in each of his last three games. He also has double-digit carries in every game he hasn’t left early in. The Giants have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to RBs, and they give up a lot of chunk plays, as they allow 4.48 yards per rush to RBs. Jacobs isn’t known for his high YPC but did average 4.83 YPC against an Eagles D that allows 4.33 YPC to RBs. Sometimes, you just need to face the right team. Jacobs is an easy RB2 with upside this week.
Other RBs with good matchups: David Johnson (HOU) at MIA, Myles Gaskin (MIA) vs. HOU, and Mark Ingram (NO) vs. ATL
WR Robert Woods (LAR) vs. TEN – While the Titans defense has stepped up in recent weeks, not having Derrick Henry to control the clock will put them in less than favorable situations. The Rams passing offense is 4th-best in yards per game, and Matthew Stafford is 2nd in the league in passing touchdowns (22). And I haven’t even mentioned that the Titans allow the most fantasy points to WRs on the year. For as slow of a start as Robert Woods had, he’s the WR10 since Week 4. Fire him up this week against the Titans.
WR Brandin Cooks (HOU) at MIA – For as much as Miami is paying both Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, their secondary has been dog shit (pardon my French). Even in the bad matchups, Brandin Cooks has put up respectable numbers. He has three games under 17 fantasy points, but they came against Buffalo (best against WRs), New England (17th best), and Arizona (14th best). Cooks beats up bad secondaries, and the Dolphins have allowed the 2nd-most fantasy points to WRs on the year. It is expected that Tyrod Taylor will return this week and start for the Texans, and in their lone game together, Cooks went 7-132. Start Cooks without hesitation this week.
Other WRs with good matchups: DeVante Parker (MIA) vs. HOU, Hunter Renfrow (LV) at NYG, and Rashod Bateman (BAL) vs. MIN
TE Mike Gesicki (MIA) vs. HOU – The Texans are pretty terrible against TEs, allowing the 3rd-most fantasy points to the position. Gesicki will make that even more difficult with the number of snaps he plays out wide and from the slot. 8.5% of his snaps are inline. So basically, he’s a WR. And no corner on the Texans (or any team, really) is going to body a 6’6″ TE with any sort of regularity. He’s second on the team in targets and receptions and leads the Dolphins in yards. He took a bit of a hit upon DeVante Parker’s return last week, seeing only four targets to Parker and Waddles 11 apiece, but the Bills are elite against TEs. Ride with Gesicki this week with confidence.
Other TEs with good matchups: Tyler Conklin (MIN) at BAL and Jared Cook (LAC) at PHI
QB Matt Ryan (ATL) at NO – Fading Matt Ryan, for me, has less to do with New Orleans being good against QBs (7th-fewest fantasy points allowed) and more to do with just how mediocre Ryan is against New Orleans. Ryan’s record against the Saints in their last seven meetings is 1-6. Only once in those seven games did he throw for more than two touchdowns. He also has seven interceptions against them in that time, averaging one per game. So, you’re already starting with negative points. Over his last five games against the Saints, Ryan has only seven TDs. Without Calvin Ridley to pull coverage away from the rest of the defense, I can’t imagine the Falcons’ offense will get going, especially considering they won’t be able to run the ball with much consistency. Ryan is a hard Fade for me this week.
Other QBs with bad matchups: Trevor Lawrence (JAX) vs. BUF and Justin Fields (CHI) at PIT
RB Joe Mixon (CIN) vs. CLE – The Browns allow the 5th-fewest fantasy points to RBs this year. That’s the bad news for Joe Mixon, as it likely means the Bengals passing attack will take center stage. More bad news? Mixon isn’t heavily involved in the passing game, averaging only 2.6 targets/game. His two best games as a receiver were against the Jets and Lions, who allow the most and 3rd-most fantasy points, respectively, to RBs. Unfortunately, the Browns are neither of those teams. Only once this year has Mixon failed to top 10 fantasy points, so at least he has a solid floor. Just don’t expect much of a ceiling game in this divisional matchup.
RB James Robinson/Carlos Hyde (JAX) vs. BUF – As of this writing, James Robinson has not been ruled out for Sunday’s game due to a heel injury suffered in Week 8. But he hasn’t practiced, and his outlook remains bleak. This is a friendly reminder that even if JRob can play, stay far away. The Bills have bottled up RBs this year, allowing the fewest fantasy points to RBs. Only Derrick Henry has topped 45 rushing yards against them, and Antonio Gibson is the only other RB to post 10 or more fantasy points against them. Only two upper-echelon RBs are on a bye this week (D’Andre Swift and Leonard Fournette), so you shouldn’t feel forced to start Carlos Hyde if you need a replacement. Just run, run far away from this backfield.
Other RBs with bad matchups: Damien Harris (NE) at CAR, Khalil Herbert (CHI) at PIT, and Devin Singletary (BUF) at JAX
WR Mike Williams (LAC) at PHI – After slaughtering the Cleveland Browns in Week 5, Mike Williams has seen a grand total of 10 targets and tallied 8.6 fantasy points. Many of the teams that sport shoddy run defenses tend to be pretty stingy against WRs simply because teams just decide to run the ball instead. Against RBs, the Eagles allow the 2nd most fantasy points. Against WRs, the Eagles allow the 3rd-fewest. More to the point, CB Darius Slay has been elite this year, sporting PFF’s 8th best coverage grade among corners. Keenan Allen is the chain mover, and Mike Williams is the big-play guy. And the big plays are likely to come from RB Austin Ekeler this week due to the matchup.
WR Christian Kirk (ARI) at SF – The Cardinals have been absolutely decimated at WR of late. A.J. Green has COVID, and DeAndre Hopkins is dealing with a hamstring injury. One is definitely not playing, while the other isn’t likely to play. On top of that, QB Kyler Murray is dealing with an ankle injury that has him 50-50 for Sunday. Things could shake out to Christian Kirk being the Cardinals WR1 on Sunday. That likely means a move to the outside, where Kirk has struggled taking advantage of opportunities. In their first matchup, Kirk tallied 5-39 with 4-31 coming from the slot. San Francisco CBs have allowed only 195 yards out of the slot this year. Kirk in the slot is fine, but not needle moving. Moving him outside doesn’t instill confidence, sorry.
Other WRs with bad matchups: DeVonta Smith (PHI) vs. LAC, Jakobi Meyers (NE) at CAR, and Russell Gage (ATL) at NO
TE Kyle Pitts (ATL) at NO – The Unicorn was certainly a figment of our imagination last week. With Calvin Ridley attending to his mental health, Kyle Pitts became the de facto WR1 for the Falcons. That meant facing new Panthers CB (and former Defensive Player of the Year) Stephon Gillmore. The result? Two catches for 13 yards. You know who WR1s see when they face the Saints? Former Rookie DPOY and 3-time Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore. Ridley remains out, and we already talked about Matt Ryan’s recent struggles against the Saints. So, um, like, good luck this week, Pitts.
Other TEs with bad matchups: Tyler Higbee (LAR) vs TEN and Pat Freiermuth (PIT) vs CHI
Looking for more Start/Sit suggestions? Club Fantasy does a show every Saturday morning at 11 AM EST on YouTube that is 100% dedicated to your questions. So tune in and fire away! It will be a boring show without you!