The NFL is definitely a passing league. Need proof? Look no further than the 23 different rookies who have caught a touchdown pass this season. Or how about the fact that Andrew Hawkins is on pace for 1,000 receiving yards. Remember when 1,000 receiving yards was a big deal?
If you’re still not convinced, let me direct your attention to Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s quarterback is usually a better asset to the Steelers than he is to fantasy owners. He’s won two Super Bowls, but he doesn’t necessarily fill the stat sheet — until this past Sunday, that is. Big Ben shredded a pretty solid Colts secondary to the tune of 522 yards and six TDs. Six! Meanwhile, Tom Brady barely broke a sweat throwing for another 354 yards and five scores. Since the Patriots’ Monday Night meltdown against the Chiefs on Sept. 29, the Golden Boy has amassed 1,261 passing yards and a TD:INT ratio of 14:0. And if that doesn’t do it for you, Kyle Orton threw four touchdowns on Sunday — all to his own team! I rest my case.
So what does it all mean? Well, for one thing, having a reliable running back on your roster at this point gives you a huge advantage over everyone else, just because they’re so rare. But it also means you have to get decent production from your QB position if you want to keep up with everyone else. Why does that matter right now? With six teams on bye, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Orton and, um, Zach Mettenberger are all unavailable to fantasy owners this week. There’s some big names on that list.
If you were leaning on one of those signal callers, you’re suddenly scrambling for a replacement. And just filling the void with a game manager while your opponent trots Peyton Manning out there probably won’t get it done. Carson Palmer would be a great fill-in if he’s somehow still available in your league. Even Joe Flacco or Eli Manning could minimize the damage. Just avoid the Jets at all cost. Please.
And, as always, the quickest path to fantasy success is to find the strong players that are facing weak opposition and cash in. With that in mind, here are the Money Matchups for Week 9…
QB: Tom Brady, NE (v DEN). First he gets embarrassed by Kansas City in front of a national TV audience, then he downplays the explosiveness of his team’s offense… and then he averages 315 passing yards and 3.5 TDs per game for the entire month of October. Now he gets another rematch with his old friend Peyton, in a game that has all the makings of a high-scoring shootout. Oh, and Brady’s clearly back in sync with the healthy — and virtually uncoverable — Rob Gronkowski now, too. I could keep going, but I think that’s probably enough.
Honorable Mention: Cam Newton, CAR (v NO). Newton has certainly been up-and-down lately, but this is about as good of a matchup as he could ask for. Only six teams allow more fantasy points to opposing QBs than the Saints, the game is in Carolina and it’s on Thursday night. That means an extremely short week for New Orleans, who just faced the Packers on Sunday night and now has to travel for an outdoor game. Plus — as crazy as it sounds — the Panthers currently lead the NFC South at 3-4-1. So there’s plenty on the line here.
RB: Marshawn Lynch, SEA (v OAK). Sure he hasn’t scored since that Monday Night contest when everything Percy Harvin did was disallowed for no apparent reason. And he hasn’t posted an actual rushing touchdown since the game before that, when he trotted into the end zone to beat the Broncos. And yes, there seems to be some tension in the Seahawks’ locker room right now. But Seattle needs to get back to basics, and that means running the ball with Lynch. They also probably won’t have him on the roster next season, so they don’t necessarily care if they run him into the ground. And, finally, this game will be played against a team that may not win a football game until the next Olympic year.
Honorable Mention: Ronnie Hillman, DEN (@ NE). You know the NFL running back that Montee Ball was supposed to turn into? That guy is Ronnie Hillman. In three games as a starter, the former San Diego State standout has 283 rushing yards, 74 receiving yards and two touchdowns (and nearly a lot more, had an unlikely series of events not prevented him from about three scores last Thursday). This week, he faces a Patriots defense that’s shaky against the run to begin with and is going to be focused on stopping the pass in yet another epic Manning/Brady showdown.
WR/TE: Dez Bryant, DAL (v ARI). Put simply, the Cardinals tend to have problems with the opposition’s top receiving weapon (see: Maclin, Jeremy. Or Jackson, DeSean. Or Thomas, Demaryius). They usually find a way to win anyway though, and that’s definitely a trend that could continue this week. No one really seems to have an answer for how to shut down Dez — except maybe Dez himself — so you probably can’t go wrong here unless Tony Romo is out and Brandon Weeden is the one throwing the ball. At that point, all bets are off. Sorry.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Green or Mohamed Sanu, CIN (v JAX). We were going to make Andy Dalton one of the Money Matchups at quarterback… until we looked at his stats and realized he hasn’t thrown a touchdown since Oct. 12. That was more than a little concerning, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Bengals are in a good spot to get their offense back on track against a Jaguars defense that allows 267 yards per game through the air. Sanu has been excellent over the last few weeks, and should still have value even when Green returns. But if Green is back for this one, he gets the nod.
D/ST: Seattle Seahawks (v OAK). Who made this schedule? Not only do the Seahawks get Oakland, they get them at home. Didn’t Seattle win the Super Bowl last year?
Honorable Mention: Kansas City Chiefs (v NYJ). Geno Smith threw more completions to the Bills last week (three) than he did to his own team (two). In fact, he nearly threw more interceptions than total passing yards (five). Then Michael Vick came in and promptly looked like a slightly more experienced version of Geno. On the bright side, at least the Jets aren’t dysfunctional or anything, so I’m sure they’ll get this all worked out. Until then, start the Chiefs defense.
The Fantasy Football Fix podcast is available on ArizonaSports.com every week during the NFL season, with Luke Lapinski, Jordan Byrd and Paige Dimakos giving you all the insight you need to rise to the top of your league.