Fantasy Cheat Sheet: The 10 tips that will help you win in Week 9
Despite Calvin Johnson's knee, the Lions should have a huge day against the Jags
Darren Sproles' injury makes Pierre Thomas an intriguing play at running back
This looks like Redemption Week for Michael Vick, Cam Newton and others
Fantasy fortunes can turn on a dime, which is why every expert echoes the same mantra: "Start your studs." Studs have earned the label; studs pay you back.
With that in mind, we're dubbing this Redemption Week. Fantasy players will finally be able to say: "Thank goodness I have Calvin Johnson," or Cam Newton, or Michael Vick. They can also expect back-to-back monster weeks from LeSean McCoy and Matthew Stafford.
Sometimes winning a fantasy championship requires blind faith. That loyalty guides much of the last-minute advice in SI.com's Week 9 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet.
BURKE: Week 9 Actives/Inactives
1. Revenge of the fallen: Don't be afraid to play Calvin Johnson.
Johnson, the first receiver drafted in almost every league, missed practice this week with a bothersome knee and reportedly was ginger in pregame warmups -- but he is active and starting.
He might be limited some, but 75 percent of Megatron makes him 100 percent to start in fantasy. He can still he effective, even if he only plays in obvious passing downs. With the Jags struggling against the run, third down might not be third-and-long too often. Johnson's used to seeing extra coverage, but if the Lions move the chains consistently, the Jags won't be able to focus on Megatron alone.
Owners drafted Megatron to make their seasons. He can't do that if he's on the bench.
2. Johnson isn't the only Lion who can make your week, though.
Stafford is coming off his first multi-touchdown game of the season, having thrown three last week against Seattle's secondary, which is one of the toughest in the league. The Jaguars will have a tough time keeping up with Stafford's receivers, including burgeoning fantasy star Titus Young, underrated tight end Brandon Pettigrew and out-of-nowhere rookie Ryan Broyles.
Heck, even running back Mikel Leshoure, who was invisible late last week, will be a great play against the Jags. Leshoure won't be yanked and forgotten against a defense that is the fifth-worst in fantasy against running backs.
The Jags may show some life at home, but the better they play, the more the Lions will push the pace.
3. No longer doubting Thomas: Pierre is the Saints back you want.
Darren Sproles will not play after mid-week surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand, which means the Saints are going to need to make up some plays for their other running backs -- something they've avoided doing the entire season.
Pierre Thomas is ahead of former first-round pick Mark Ingram, whose carries are limited to the red zone and usually give way to Drew Brees passes at that point.
Thomas will start and will likely assume the pass-receiving back role Sproles occupied so well in becoming a PPR stud. Thomas won't be as productive as the scat-back Sproles, but Thomas will be good enough to use as a bye-week replacement.
Sproles might not be out the full four-to-six weeks a broken bone usually requires, but it's hard to imagine him being a productive pass-catcher while wearing a cast. Expect him to be out until at least the Thanksgiving night, and monitor the other New Orleans weapons accordingly.
4. Expect a big day from the Dolphins' runners.
Brian Hartline is questionable with a groin, but is expected to play. It looks like quarterback Ryan Tannehill is too, after missing time with a knee and leg injury. The Colts are going to be one of the few teams capable of posting points against the surprising Miami defense, so expect the Dolphins to play a more up-tempo game if Tannehill gets the start over backup Matt Moore, who was serviceable but not spectacular against the Jets last week.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, though, the Dolphins will feature their run game. Reggie Bush hasn't produced a big fantasy day since Week 2 versus Oakland, when he delivered 172 yards and two touchdowns, but the Colts are seventh-worst in fantasy against running backs.
Bush should be good for 100 yards and a touchdown. Goal-line back Daniel Thomas is also a viable play capable of punching in a score or two. Only the Bills, who are last in fantasy versus running backs, have given up more rushing touchdowns to running backs (11) than the Colts' eight.
On the Colts' side, Donald Brown (knee) looks like he will be handing the feature-back role over to Vick Ballard again. The Dolphins run defense is an elite one, so don't trust Ballard as anything more than a flex option in PPR formats for his receiving out of the backfield. Also, the stiffness of the Dolphins run defense should keep you from considering backup/goal-line back Delone Carter all together.
5. Isaac Redman is the only Pittsburgh back safe to start.
It's election week, so should you like Ike? Yes, but only because you can't expect anything out of the banged up Jonathan Dwyer (quadriceps, doubtful) and the still-ailing Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles, doubtful). That makes Redman, who is probable after practicing despite a sore ankle, the likely feature back. He should play, start and get plenty of touches.
The Giants have a decent run defense, but they have holes in the secondary, a real problem against Ben Roethlisberger and his full complement of receivers in tight end Heath Miller and wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. That should allow the Steelers to move the ball into the red zone and get Redman some scoring opportunities.
Redman is also an impact receiver out of the backfield. The last time he was healthy enough to play, he caught four passes for 105 yards at Tennessee in Week 6.
6. Put 'em in a full Nelson? Packers WR Jordy Nelson will be active and start today -- which means you have to use him -- even against a Cardinals defense that is third-best in fantasy against QBs and in the top half against WRs.
His presence won't affect the decisions on Randall Cobb or James Jones as much tight end Jermichael Finley. Start Cobb and Jones, but be wary of trusting Finley -- particularly if you have a backup TE on your roster.
7. Cam Newton won't let RGIII hog the stage.
We promised this would be Redemption Week, and the disappointing Newton figures to be a big reason why.
He'll have limited receiving weapons, as Brandon LaFell is doubtful with a concussion, and the running game is still a mess with the rare midseason switch from a zone-read running scheme to an inside power game. But Newton faces a Redskins defense that is second-worst in fantasy against quarterbacks and wide receivers. It's a dream matchup for Newton, the revived Steve Smith (who will snap his touchdown-less streak) and tight end Greg Olsen.
Expect a high-scoring bit of "Can You Top This?" between Newton and Robert Griffin III. The promise of a shootout is enough to consider Jonathan Stewart, who catches passes out of the Panthers' backfield, and some of RGIII's targets, like Santana Moss and the drop-prone Leonard Hankerson.
8. Cowboy up: Tony Romo and his receivers will put up points.
Dez Bryant is questionable with a hip, but the guess here is that he'll play. He stands to be pretty productive in a Sunday night game at Atlanta that may get a little loose late. It might not be a full-fledged shootout, but it could start to feel like one.
The Cowboys are a ripe 'dog in prime time against the NFL's lone unbeaten, and they'll live or die by the pass with their backs banged up. DeMarco Murray (ankle) has been ruled out, while Felix Jones (knee, shoulder) is probable but not 100 percent.
This looks like another 50-attempt game for Tony Romo. That makes red-hot targets Miles Austin and Jason Witten great plays, and the disappointing Romo a sleeper by the transitive property.
9. Ahmad Bradshaw is injured -- and a Giant risk this week.
Ahmad Bradshaw should start despite a sore foot, but his owners have to be worried about him being below 100 percent against the Steelers. They aren't what they used to be, but the Steelers remain the fifth-best defense in fantasy against running backs.
Bradshaw's question marks make Andre Brown a more viable flex option in deeper leagues, especially since he can get some touches near the goal line.
Don't wait to hear if Bradshaw plays. Find another option instead.
10. Some bold Monday Night Football predictions:
If Newton is going to have his redemption against the second-worst secondary in football, you have to figure the almost-benched Vick is going to have a huge rebound against a Saints defense that is dead-last in fantasy versus quarterbacks and receivers. The Saints also happen to be second-worst in fantasy against running backs, so the real McCoy of 2011 is going to emerge.
Some bold predictions for the Monday night game: McCoy will rush for 120 yards and two touchdowns; Vick will throw for 300 and three; and Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek will all perform like fantasy starters.
Andy Reid better hope for that, or he'll be joining his fired defensive coordinator on the unemployment line and looking for his own redemption with another franchise next season.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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