Sneaky Starts: Week 9
It’s Week 9 and we are now officially past the halfway point of the fantasy season. There are six teams on bye—Cardinals, Bengals, Colts, Jaguars, Giants and Eagles—so the competition will be fierce on the waiver wire to find spot starts to cover these byes. Hopefully, owners have planned ahead and have a decent bench to utilize.
A great way to identify a potential spot start is to leverage 4for4’s signature strength-of-schedule metric, adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA). Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. So if a defense has seen a murderer’s row of running backs, it will be reflected in the defense’s aFPA. As a ranker, I use this metric weekly when putting together our award-winning projections.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers (@ CAR, 15th in QB aFPA)
FitzMagic is back, at least for a while. The Bucs benched Jameis Winston against the Bengals and Fitzpatrick came in and completed 11-of-15 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the Bucs’ near-comeback. He’s now averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and has a 13-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the season. The Panthers aren’t pushovers in the passing game, but they have yielded at least two passing touchdowns in each of their last four games, and that includes games against the Ravens, the Redskins and the Giants.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (vs. TEN, 11)
Prescott has scored 20+ in back-to-back games and has 18+ in three of his last four. He seems to be starting to run the ball more aggressively—149 yards and two rushing touchdowns in his last three games—and that is helping his bottom line. The addition of Amari Cooper may help as well.
Baker Mayfield, Browns (vs. KC, 28)
Mayfield scored 20.9 against the Bucs in Week 7 before a somewhat disappointing 14.1-point output against the Steelers last week. The Browns cleaned house, firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, so someone named Freddie Kitchens is going to call the plays going forward. The Chiefs have yielded an average of 305 yards and 1.3 touchdowns in the last four weeks, so the matchup is pretty good. The Browns are probably going to fall behind, so Mayfield should have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball.
Alex Smith, Redskins (vs. ATL, 30)
This is definitely more of a matchup play than any sort of faith in this 2018 version of Smith, who hasn’t scored more than 16.0 fantasy points since Week 3. The thing is—we know Smith is capable of producing, and the Falcons have been very, very, very generous to quarterbacks this season. In the last three games, they’ve yielded an average of 348 yards and 2.7 touchdowns to Eli Manning, Jameis Winston and Ben Roethlisberger. Washington will try to run the ball early in the game, but if the Falcons can jump out to a lead, there’s the potential of a blowup game from Smith.
Derek Carr, Raiders (@ SF, 29)
Carr was one of my Sneaky Starts last week and he delivered 244 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts despite being without Amari Cooper for the first time in a while. Another multi-touchdown game seems likely given the matchup against the 49ers, who have given up an average of 293 yards and 2.0 touchdowns in the last three weeks to Josh Rosen, Jared Goff and Aaron Rodgers.
Joe Flacco, Ravens (vs. PIT, 25)
Historically, Flacco plays better at home—1.6 TD/0.6 INT in Baltimore versus 1.0 TD/1.1 INT on the road since 2016—and he has averaged a solid 274 yards and 1.4 touchdowns in his last five games against the Steelers. On the flip side, the Steelers have yielded 238 yards and 1.7 touchdowns in their last three games against Baker Mayfield, Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan/Matt Schaub. Flacco pasted the Steelers for 363 yards and two scores—his best fantasy game of the season—back in Week 4.
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