Our NFL Insiders predict Week 9‘s biggest upsets, fantasy flops and sleepers. Plus: Which young QB would our experts build a franchise around? Who’s the midseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year? And which team is primed for a second-half tear?
What’s your top upset pick for Week 9?
Domonique Foxworth, The Undefeated senior writer: Broncos over the Eagles. Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense have had great moments in recent weeks, but they have not been consistently effective. I think they will struggle to score against the Broncos’ talented defense and the game will be close. If the Broncos can force turnovers, creating a short field for their offense, I could see them pulling off a shocking upset.
Mina Kimes, senior writer: Falcons over Panthers. While Matt Ryan fumbled three times against the Jets this weekend — in part because of the rainy weather — he looked surprisingly sharp, and it was promising to see Tevin Coleman get more involved in the offense. The Panthers’ defense looks terrific, but their offense underwhelmed again, and I think both Newton and the rushing attack will struggle to fend off the increasingly disruptive Grady Jarrett.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Falcons over Panthers. The Falcons aren’t a bad choice at Carolina, which is probably why the point spread is so small. Both QBs put the football at risk, adding some volatility. I’d be tempted to roll the dice on Tampa Bay at New Orleans if Jameis Winston were healthier.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Falcons over Panthers. The Falcons have won two of their past three games in Charlotte, and three of their four victories this season have come on the road. The Panthers’ struggling offense will allow the Falcons to stay in the game, and anything can happen in the fourth quarter.
Field Yates, NFL Insider: 49ers over Cardinals. Let’s go bold here and pick the 49ers to enter the win column following an 0-8 start. The reasons for optimism? They face an Arizona team that will be quarterbacked by Drew Stanton, whose inconsistency as Carson Palmer‘s fill-in gives San Francisco a chance. San Francisco was terrific against the Arizona offensive line when they met previously this season, registering six sacks.
Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz lead the NFL in Total QBR. Which one are you starting your franchise with?
Foxworth: I’ll take Michael Jordan, aka Deshaun Watson. Wentz and Dak have had the good fortune to start their careers behind top-notch offensive lines. Watson has been unstoppable behind a bad unit. I’d love to see what he can do with great blockers. Or maybe I would employ the Seahawks’ strategy, spend money elsewhere and let my outstanding quarterback carry the offense with a discount offensive line.
Kimes: Watson. People will (correctly) accuse me of recency bias, but Watson blew my socks off on Sunday, passing for 402 yards against a Seahawks defense that had previously allowed an average of just 190 per game while demonstrating veteran-level poise. Wentz has been stupendous so far this season, but Watson already has shown so much more than the Eagles quarterback did during his rookie season.
Sando: Watson, because I feel as though he has been underrated and deserves to be held up with those other guys. Wentz and Prescott have longer pro track records and therefore could be safer choices. All three seem to get and embrace the QB position with all its responsibilities. Watson has consistently performed at a high level on the biggest, most competitive stages.
Seifert: Prescott. The question really boils down to who will be the best passer, because mobility fades over time in all quarterbacks. To this point, Prescott has shown the most accurate arm and advanced passing skills. His career completion percentage (66.1) is better than that of Wentz (62.0) or Watson (61.1). His runs, when they do occur, are strategic and controlled — not a mad scramble. You couldn’t go wrong with anyone in this trio, but Prescott is my choice.
Yates: Wentz. There are three right answers here, as all are just terrific. When it comes to evaluating franchise quarterbacks, there’s an element of knowing it when you see it. They all check that box. They’re sensational leaders, can win from the pocket, win when the play breaks down and have incredible football character: true franchise building blocks. But I’ll take Wentz with a razor-thin edge over Prescott and Watson.
Who’s your pick to be the biggest fantasy flop this weekend?
Foxworth: A.J. Green, WR, Bengals. Green’s production hasn’t been good the past two weeks. The Bengals will want to feature him in Jacksonville, but it won’t matter against the Jaguars’ defense. Andy Dalton will be under constant pressure from the “Sacksonville” front and Green will have to compete with a pair of the best corners in the league, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
Kimes: Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. Mariota has been up and down this season as he has battled injuries, and this week he gets to face a Ravens defense that has allowed the second-lowest number of fantasy points to quarterbacks and ranks fifth in opponents’ passing yards per game. While Baltimore hasn’t played a stellar slate of quarterbacks this year, I don’t think Mariota is physically well enough to break the trend.
Sando: Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins. The Seahawks appeared shockingly vulnerable to Watson and the Texans last week, and now they could be without Earl Thomas. But the Redskins, unlike the Texans, will not be coming to Seattle with a dual-threat quarterback and a game plan they tricked out during a bye week. Washington is a banged-up group with a weak cast of wide receivers. I’m expecting Seattle’s pass defense to bounce back.
Seifert: Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles. Philadelphia is no doubt excited about its new running back and eager to work him into the scheme. But this will be a tough week to do it against a Broncos team that has the NFL’s second-best run defense (72.9 yards per game). If form holds, Ajayi won’t get much in the way of extra yards. The Broncos are holding opponents to a league-low 1.33 yards after contact per rush.
Yates: Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers. San Francisco’s outstanding wide receiver looks likely to draw the unfortunate fate of shadow coverage from Patrick Peterson (more on him later), something that we saw a steady dose of when these teams met earlier in the season. Garcon was limited to just four catches for 36 yards on eight targets, tied for the lowest catch percentage of his targets in a game this season. Be wary of this matchup.
Which team is primed to go on a second-half tear?
Foxworth: The 49ers. OK, so how are we defining a “tear”? Relative to the 49ers’ 0-8 start, one win could qualify as a tear. But I think they could double or even triple that number. Now that offensive guru Kyle Shanahan has a real NFL quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers will have a chance in at least four of their remaining eight games.
Kimes: The Saints. New Orleans has ripped off five straight wins for a reason: The Saints are no longer dependent on the offense bailing out the defense. Since Week 3, New Orleans has allowed just 277.6 yards per game, third best in the NFL. Last week, the team won without Brees throwing a touchdown pass, which hasn’t happened in eight years. Against all odds, the Saints look like one of the more balanced teams in the NFC, and they’ve got a relatively easy schedule down the stretch.
Sando: The Jaguars. Seattle is a great choice, but Jacksonville deserves a mention. The Jaguars play the NFL’s easiest remaining schedule with games against Cleveland, Indianapolis, Arizona and San Francisco — all teams with backup quarterbacks in the lineup. Before facing those teams, the Jaguars will play back-to-back home games against the Bengals and Chargers, both of which are flawed teams that Jacksonville might be able to beat. Reaching double-digit victories is realistic.
Seifert: The Steelers. They’re already hitting their stride, having won three consecutive games after a 3-2 start. I’ve always thought their offense would be lethal so long as Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown stay healthy. They have, and now rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster has joined the mix. The Steelers have averaged the fourth-most yards per game (400.6), and their defense limited opponents to the fourth-fewest points per game (16.2) during that streak. This balanced team is primed for a second-half run.
Yates: The Lions. I had initially tabbed the Seahawks as my answer here, but at 5-2, it would be less of a surprise for them to go on a tear. So I’ll go with Detroit, which fell in Week 8 in close fashion to the Steelers. Three of the Lions’ four losses this year have been by a score or less, and they’ve already beaten the team that currently leads their division (Minnesota). The Lions own the NFL’s third-easiest remaining schedule from here on out and could kick-start a second-half surge when facing the Packers on Monday night in Brett Hundley‘s second career start.
Pick a fringe fantasy player who should be started in Week 9.
Foxworth: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions. Abdullah will have a big game for the Lions, who face the Packers — the fifth-worst fantasy defense against the run. And without Aaron Rodgers, Detroit should be leading in the fourth quarter and handing the ball off a lot.
Kimes: Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals. The Jaguars boast the NFL’s best pass defense, but they’ve struggled to stop the run, allowing a league-worst 138.6 rushing yards per game. In a game where Andy Dalton will inevitably be under siege from start to finish, I could see him dumping the ball off to Mixon, who racked up 91 receiving yards Sunday.
Sando: Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers. Tampa Bay needs balance to protect Jameis Winston while the quarterback plays through a shoulder injury. Martin has at least 18 carries in each of the Buccaneers’ past two games, an increase from his first couple of games back from suspension. While Week 9 opponent New Orleans is improved on defense, the Saints rank among the NFL’s’ bottom three in yards per rushing attempt allowed and yards per attempt allowed before first contact. There is at least some potential for a strong game from Martin.
Seifert: Adrian Peterson, RB, Cardinals. It sure sounds odd to consider Peterson a fringe player, fantasy or otherwise. But he has scored in only one his past nine games, dating back to the start of 2015. The Cardinals’ matchup Sunday against San Francisco gives him a good opportunity. The 49ers have allowed the NFL’s second-most rushing touchdowns (nine) and third-most rushing yards (1,054).
Yates: DeAndre Washington, RB, Raiders. While Marshawn Lynch returns from suspension this week, I’m just not convinced that Washington will be entirely phased out of the offense. He piled up late yardage in Week 8 that made his fantasy day more relevant, but I think most importantly he has been more effective than Lynch this year. It would behoove Oakland to keep him involved, especially as they face a Miami run defense that was gashed versus the Ravens in Week 8.
Who has been the Defensive Player of the Year so far?
Foxworth: Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars. I could make the statistical argument for Campbell, but others have done that below. So, I will give you some good old-fashioned eye-test analysis. Campbell is the best most dominant player on the league’s best defense. His impact up front makes everyone around him better.
Kimes: Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars. Khalil Mack, who won Defensive Player of the Year last season, collected 11 sacks in 2016. Campbell and DeMarcus Lawrence both have reached 10 halfway through the season. I expect Campbell to have an easier time than Lawrence bolstering his sack total because opposing offenses have to account for so many talented pass-rushers on the Jags’ defensive line.
Sando: Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars. Campbell has 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in seven games for the NFL’s most statistically dominant defense. He is the rare 30-something defender (31) who commanded a mammoth sum in free agency and instantly seemed worth the investment. Reggie White was like that for Green Bay. Campbell is not Reggie White, obviously, but his impact has exceeded expectations that were very high (and he has more sacks in his first seven games with the Jaguars than White, then 32, had in his first seven with the Packers).
Seifert: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Vikings. In his fifth season, and after signing a six-year contract extension, Rhodes has emerged as a player the Vikings can consistently ask to shadow an opponent’s top receiver. Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Davante Adams are among those who have gone quiet against Rhodes and Minnesota. His traditional statistics — one interception, five passes defensed — are modest. But there is no one playing cornerback with more confidence and physicality than Rhodes, including my friend Field Yates’ nomination.
Yates: Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals. For more on this topic, be sure to check out Monday’s edition of the Nickel Package podcast, as Mike Sando and I had this very conversation. I’ll buck the conventional choices and go with Peterson. Opposing top wide receivers have lived miserably against him. While the gaudy stats (which often lead to awards) aren’t there, Peterson has been an exceptionally dominant player this year.