Despite their offensive prowess, the Chiefs have been a hit or miss matchup for linebackers. If the game goes as expected, however, Kansas City will be running the ball often in the second half. Josh Bynes should be a quality play with this matchup but it might be a good idea to sit Hasaan Reddick if you have other quality options. He has the potential to put up good numbers in this game but with the Cardinals defense experimenting at linebacker much of the season, there is no guarantee Reddick will have the same role coming out of the bye week.
Deion Jones was on the practice field last week and is thought close to making a return to game action. He has not yet been activated from IR but that could happen as early as this week. For those in leagues with tight rosters and/or no IR, Jones may be available on the waiver wire.
Julian Stanford finished 7-1-1 as the replacement for Tremaine Edmunds at middle linebacker last week. Edmunds sat out with a concussion and remains in protocol as of Wednesday morning. The Jets have been a poor matchup for linebackers on most weeks but picking a game script for this week’s matchup is a tough one. With four teams on bye, Stanford may be a worthy fill in for managers in a pinch. At least we know they will use him on the blitz so even if the tackle numbers are not great there is potential for a big play.
Watching Sunday’s contest between the Panthers and Buccaneers brought up the question, is James Bradberry becoming a shutdown corner? He has been matching up with opponents top receivers all season and managed to hold Mike Evans to one reception on ten targets. IDP managers would rather see a few of those targets turn into tackle opportunity but at least Bradberry was credited with a couple passes defended. This week he will match up with Antonio Brown so the opportunity will be there once again for solid numbers.
With Bradberry on Brown, rookie Donte Jackson will draw JuJu Smith-Schuster. One thing we know for certain, the Steelers are going to throw the ball and Ben Roethlisberger is not shy. Both Carolina corners should put up quality totals this week.
With the Lions giving up double-digit sacks to Minnesota last week, fantasy managers undoubtedly see Detroit as a juicy matchup for their Chicago pass rushers. There are some things to consider before you fall into that trap. Rarely does an NFL team fall apart like that two weeks in a row. Exhibit A, Tennessee allowed 11 sacks against Baltimore a couple weeks back. The following week they gave up two versus the Chargers. When a team is exposed like that it becomes a focal point of the next week’s practice and game plan to ensure it is not repeated. In the previous five games, Detroit allowed an average of two sacks per game, giving up no more than three in any of them. This is not to suggest sitting your Chicago pass rushers, just be careful how much last week’s debacle figures into your decision.
Cincinnati returns from their bye this week to face an uphill battle. The offense is missing A.J. Green while the defense may still be without Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil linebacker. Neither starter has returned to practice as of Tuesday so Jordan Evans may be in line for another start. Evans had a huge game (7-4-1.5 and a pick) versus Tampa Bay in week eight and is in line for another start. New Orleans has been an excellent matchup all season and even better since the return of Mark Ingram II. If you are looking for a stream or short-term answer at linebacker, Evans should be high on your target list.
The Browns put up a fight against Kansas City but came out of the week nine contest with a long list of injuries. Corner E.J. Gaines left in the first quarter with his second concussion in four games, fellow corner Denzel Ward left with a hip injury on the following play and did not return. A few plays later, it was linebacker Christian Kirksey limping off with a hamstring problem. Cleveland went into the game without middle linebacker Joe Schobert (hamstring) and free safety Damarious Randall (groin). As of Wednesday afternoon, it seems possible if not likely, they will be without all five starters for this week’s matchup with Atlanta.
Other than Gaines with the concussions, none of these injuries are likely to be long-term issues, but they could create opportunities for some short-term lineup fillers. Schobert has missed three games already and is probably getting close but with the bye coming up in week 11 they are not likely to push is with him. In the second half of Sunday’s game, the Browns lined up with Tanner Vallejo and Jamie Collins Sr as three-down outside linebackers while Genard Avery worked in base packages. In the secondary, they had Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Travis Carris at corner with Denzel Rice as the nickel back. For those in need at linebacker, Vallejo finished 5-1-0 on 39 plays (61%) against the Chiefs. Managers in corner required leagues could get some help from Carrie.
We never like to see a player get injured but we have come to expect it with Sean Lee who left Monday’s game with yet another hamstring problem. Lee was out three weeks last time this injury flared up so it is safe to expect Leighton Vander Esch to be a beast for the remainder of the fantasy regular season.
Randy Gregory was a genuine game-time decision for Monday night and was scratched after doing some pre-game work. Being that close is a good sign for his week ten availability. Taco Charlton left the game early with a shoulder injury so if Gregory is healthy look for him to start and have a heavy workload against the Eagles.
Su’a Cravens was a waiver target of many managers last week. Those managers were disappointed by his marginal production. This should not have been a surprise to anyone. Cravens was signed to be a role player as a third safety and/or nickel linebacker. He played 44% of the time in his season debut and may see a little more action in weeks to come, but it would be a big surprise if he sees much more than 60% of the snaps in any game this year.
Josey Jewell started for Brandon McDonald and played 48 of 62 snaps. Meanwhile, the coaching staff has been leaning harder on Todd Davis over the past few games. He logged 95% of the playing time in week eight and followed that with 84% and a 9-1-0 in week nine. Denver has a bye this week but they return with the Chargers, Steelers, Bengals, and 49ers in weeks 11 through 14. All those teams are quality matchups so Davis could prove a solid target for your stretch run.
Jarrad David gave us a one tackle stinker against the Vikings which is more than enough to shake our confidence in him as a starter. This was particularly surprising considering the solid matchup. Chalk this one up as a fluke and put him back in the lineup this week. Davis has been a consistently solid start prior to last week and at least one linebacker has recorded six or more solo stops against the Bears in every game since week two.
With the addition of Damon Harrison, the play of Romeo Okwara and A’Shawn Robinson, and the return of Ezekiel Ansah, the playing time of Da’Shawn Hand dropped by about 25% last week. Hand was on a hot streak leading up to the week six bye but has done little since. Managers in tackle required dynasty leagues may want to hold on to him, for everyone else it is time to move on.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers secondary was high on the week nine watch list. The way this game unfolded makes it hard to gain much from what we saw. Green Bay opened in a nickel with Kentrell Brice and Tramon Williams at safety, Jair Alexander and Bashaud Breeland at corner, and Kevin King in the nickel back slot. Jermaine Whitehead had a significant role as well playing 21 snaps before being ejected. Then both King (hamstring) and Brice (knee) were lost to injury within the next few plays. As a result, we did not get a big enough sample to fully decipher the plan, and it probably would have changed anyway with all the injuries.
Green Bay finished the game with Breeland and Alexander as outside corners, rookie Josh Jackson in the slot and Josh Jones alongside Williams at safety. While it is unclear what they will look like in the secondary week 10, Williams is the safe target at safety with both Alexander and Breeland solid targets in corner required leagues. Jones did not get on the field much before both Brice and Whitehead were gone but the surprising release of Whitehead on Tuesday should make him a starter and a top waiver target.
The even bigger injury development was an ankle injury suffered by Blake Martinez. Anyone watching the replay and seeing how far the ankle turned had to be shocked when Martinez returned late in the game. While that was an encouraging development, we should not count on him for week ten. These injuries often worsen in the following days and coach McCarthy said on Monday the ankle was very swollen. Antonio Morrison held down the fort when Martinez left and should get the start if Martinez misses time.
With Zach Cunningham out, Houston when to a nickel base defense against Denver. They are on bye this week so Cunningham could be available when they return to action against Washington in week 11.
Justin Reid has blown up for 40 fantasy points in the last two games. As the team’s full-time strong safety he is on the cusp of becoming an every-week must start.
Both the Colts and Jaguars had their issues heading into the bye week. For Indianapolis, most of the defensive problems had to do with banged up players dealing with nagging injuries. The week off should do wonders for several players including Denico Autry (ankle) and Margus Hunt (knee) up front, Darius Leonard (ankle) at linebacker and Clayton Geathers (neck), Malik Hooker (hip), Mike Mitchell (calf) in the secondary. All these players have fantasy value when the matchup is good. Hopefully, the Jaguars used the week off to right the ship offensively. At the least, it looks like they will have Leonard Fornette back which will help with the identity crisis that surfaced over the last several games.
Kansas City Chiefs
Anthony Hitchens proved his toughness by playing through the rib injury and posting surprisingly solid numbers (eight tackles). He missed some snaps after taking a hit in the first half but was able to return and finish. The ribs will be sore for a while but if he played last week there is no reason to believe he would not go against Arizona. The Cardinals are not a good matchup but then the Chiefs defensive struggles are enough to counter. Hitchens may not have a big game but he is a safe start none the less.
Strong safety Daniel Sorensen was activated from IR early this week and should be back in the lineup against the Cardinals.
Los Angeles Chargers
Jatavis Brown had a solid week nine going 7-4-0, but don’t be fooled by the numbers. Nothing has changed here. Brown saw 61% of the playing time as a two-down weakside backer with Adrian Phillips replacing him in nickel situations. Like many two down linebackers, Brown will have a good game here and there with consistency being a major issue.
Los Angeles Rams
Mark Barron is still not playing every snap, but his playing time continues to grow. He saw a season-high 87% of the action against New Orleans which coincided with his best tackle production of the year. Seattle has been a strong matchup for linebackers of late, making Barron a solid option as an LB3 in week ten.
Donte Fowler had an underwhelming debut with the Rams but he did have a significant role. Fowler got on the field 44 of 71 defensive snaps and should see his role increase a bit going forward.
Reshad Jones left Sunday’s game after the second series but there is some mystery surrounding the circumstances. He has been battling a sore shoulder but that did not seem to be the issue. Then on Tuesday Coach Gase said he and Jones had talked and were on the same page, adding that any disciplinary action would be handled in-house. Maybe later in the week someone will explain what that is all about. At the moment it looks like business as usual in week ten.
We may not know what is going on with Jones but it is clear T.J. McDonald is trending up. The eight solo tackles in week nine were a season-high and probably has something to do with Jones not playing, but McDonald has now reached double-digit points in six of nine games including three of the last four.
The Vikings exploded for double-digit sacks against Detroit. Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen are, or at least should be, on rosters in every league. Managers in search of production from interior linemen should take notice of Tom Johnson who has been productive since rejoining the Vikings. Over the last three games, he has nine tackles, three assists, two and a half sacks, and a couple fumble recoveries. Johnson was a solid contributor for the Vikings earlier in his career as well, combining for 39-19-12 in 2014 and 2015, so there is no reason to see this as a fluke.
New England Patriots
The Patriots added free agents Obi Melifonwu and Albert McClellan this week. McClellan is unlikely to make an impact in the box scores but it will be interesting to see what they do with Melifonwu. He is a super-sized strong safety/hybrid nickel linebacker with a skill set that could give the Patriots some defensive options they have not had for a while.
The Raiders are using this year like an extended preseason. Every week they are looking at different guys or different situations as they are clearly evaluating for the future more than trying to win games. Just one example; Clinton McDonald played defensive end in week nine. This is a player that was a nose tackle not too long ago. At his point, there are no Oakland defenders we can put into our lineups.
Bradley McDougald should not have tried to play on his sore knee. He was obviously bothered by the injury and did not return for the second half. There is a good chance he will be inactive for week ten. If he does play it would be a good idea to sit him despite the quality matchup. Unless he comes a long way in a short time McDougald will not be close to 100%. Delano Hill played strong safety in the second half against the Chargers and will probably get the start versus the Rams.
San Francisco 49ers
Neither Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) nor Reuben Foster (hamstring) were able to go on the short week and with San Francisco off week 11 for the bye, there is a good chance they will both sit again this week even if they are close. Tartt has battled the sore shoulder nearly all season causing him to leave some games early. Even if he does try to play it would be a major risk to trust him in our lineups. Tyvis Powell started at strong safety against the Raiders. Oakland provided little opportunity for anyone lining up behind Fred Warner making it hard to tell if Powell has any IDP value going forward.
All the San Francisco pass rushers deserve starting consideration this week against a Giants offense allowing almost four sacks per game. DeForest Bucker is a must-start in this one considering almost half of those sacks have been recorded by interior linemen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kendell Beckwith returned to practice on a limited basis last week. He has not yet been activated from IR but there is a chance that will happen ahead of week ten. How quickly he can work into football shape is a big question but once he does there is a good chance he will take over at middle linebacker. If you have the room, it might be a good idea to slip him onto your roster now in preparation for the sprint to the finish.
The Titans continued to use a three-man rotation at inside linebacker on Monday night. Unlike their last game, however, Jayon Brown saw the most action of the three at 85%. His 50 plays were one more than Wesley Woodyard with 49 while Rashaan Evans played 27. It is hard to say if the playing time division was due to game script or by design but is an optimistic sign for those of us sitting on Brown.
If he could stay healthy Quinton Dunbar might be a top-five fantasy corner this year. He has at least five tackles in all six of the games he has played this year, adding eight passes defended and a couple interceptions. Dunbar left Sunday’s game with a leg injury, returned for a few plays then left again. He participated in a total of 26 plays producing five tackles, an assist, an interception and three passes defended for a total of 21 fantasy points. Washington has one of the premier matchups for corner this week in the Buccaneers. Keep a close eye on Dunbar’s status this week and if it looks good, get him in your lineup.
The coaching staff wasted no time getting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on the field. He started at strong safety versus Atlanta going 5-2-0 in a 48/22 play timeshare with Montae Nicholson. With a full week of practice, Clinton-Dix should play full time against Tampa Bay.
Sit Zach Brown this week against the wide open passing attack of the Buccaneers. He is still coming off the field in many passing situations so his opportunity could be limited in this one.
It’s hard to believe we are already in week ten. Best of luck to you as we all try to claw our way into the postseason.