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NFL Week 9 fantasy football start ’em, sit ’em

2T0PMJY Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss (21) runs past Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard, center, and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Start Gardner Minshew: The Indianapolis Colts quarterback has put up strong fantasy numbers and has one of the best matchups of Week 9.

Sit Alexander Mattison: The Minnesota Vikings running back rotation has been unpredictable, and he is set to face a strong Falcons run defense.

Start Trey McBride: The Arizona Cardinals breakout tight end doesn’t have a great matchup, but he’s getting enough targets that it might not matter.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


Deciding who to start or sit in fantasy football can be as easy as looking at the PFF rankings and going with the higher-ranked player. This start ’em, sit ’em column digs a step deeper, looking into why someone you might typically start might not have a good week or why someone overlooked might have a good week. In many cases, it’s the usual starters who should star, but we want to explore the borderline players, too.

Jump to a position group:

QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF/ST | K

WR:CB Matchup Chart

QUARTERBACKS

START

Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
  • Howell ranks eighth at the position in fantasy points scored this season. The Commanders quarterback has averaged 18.6 fantasy points per game through eight weeks.
  • His PFF passing grade is below average, but his 369 dropbacks are by far the most at the position. He ranks in the top six in passing yards and passing touchdowns because of that volume. 
  • The Commanders have the fourth-best matchup for quarterbacks this week, according to our strength of schedule tool.
  • Howell has graded better against man defenses than zone defenses this season. He's also recorded a higher big-time throw rate (8.9% to 4.5%) and a slightly lower turnover-worthy throw rate (3.6% to 3.7%) against man coverage than against zone. 
  • The Patriots have lined up in man coverage at a top-10 rate this season. So, Howell will likely continue his pass-heavy role under center, but we can expect him to put up better numbers than usual. 

Gardner Minshew, Indianapolis Colts
  • Minshew has averaged 18.8 fantasy points per game over the last three weeks, 10th among quarterbacks. He’s thrown for at least 200 yards in all three games and has scored seven touchdowns over that stretch.
  • The Colts have the second-best matchup for quarterbacks this week, according to our strength of schedule tool.
  • Carolina has allowed a touchdown on 5.2% of the passes they have faced, the fifth-highest rate among defenses. They are also in the bottom 10 in team defense grade and passing yards allowed per attempt.
  • That hasn’t always led to huge days for opposing quarterbacks, as teams often tilt to the run game once they've gotten out to a comfortable lead.
  • The Colts are only 2.5-point favorites in this game. The Panthers have been backed to lose by at least three points in every other game this season.
  • Still, the Colts pass the ball 55.6% of the time when they have a lead, a top-10 rate among teams. 
  • It’s also worth noting that Jared Goff, Brock Purdy, Russell Wilson and Trevor Lawrence are on a bye week. Kirk Cousins is also out for the season, and Joshua Dobbs was just traded and probably won’t start this week.
  • Six of the seven quarterbacks who rank between ninth and 14th in fantasy points won’t be playing, leaving fantasy managers with more difficult decisions at quarterback than usual.

SIT

Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
  • Smith has averaged only 14.4 fantasy points per game this season after averaging 18.5 in 2022.
  • A lot of his numbers are slightly down compared to past years, including his PFF passing grade, his yards per attempt and his completion percentage.
  • One big difference is that he found the end zone on 5.2% of his passing attempts last season, seventh among quarterbacks. That has since dropped to 4.0%, right around the league average.
  • The other big difference is his performance in the running game in terms of both volume and production. He averaged 21.5 rushing yards per game in 2022, but he has managed only 7.0 yards per game in 2023.
  • The Seahawks have the fourth-worst matchup for quarterbacks this week, according to our strength of schedule tool. The Ravens have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season.
Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Mayfield has exceeded expectations this season, with his 60.4 passing grade ranking 15th among quarterbacks through Week 8. However, he has finished outside the top 12 in five of his seven games this season.
  • Mayfield has been relatively conservative this year. His 2.4% big-time throw rate is third-lowest among quarterbacks, while his 2.5% turnover-worthy play rate is one of the lowest in the league. That style of play doesn’t typically lead to many fantasy points.
  • Mayfield may seem like a good option this week, given the number of quarterbacks out, but the matchup isn’t as good as it seems.
  • He has a 14-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio against man defenses over the past three seasons, which shifts to 10-20 against zone defenses.
  • In Week 9, the Buccaneers take on a Houston Texans team that lines up in zone coverage at the eighth-highest rate in the league.

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