The Week Ahead: Week 9

Did you survive last week’s carnage?

Following a crazy week, we have to re-evaluate many areas we thought we understood halfway through the season. It was clear early that Week 8 would be defined by injuries and it turned out worse than we ever could have anticipated.

Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell and Baltimore receiver Steve Smith, two key contributors for the teams and fantasy players, were lost for the season. DeAngelo Williams should be able to somewhat fill Bell’s role after being an early-season standout when Bell missed time, but the Ravens likely don’t have an immediate answer for Smith’s absence.

Carlos Hyde was lost for some time before the games even started because of a foot injury, and then his backup, Reggie Bush, also suffered a season-ending injury. Along the way, injuries also claimed running backs Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and receivers Keenan Allen, Kendall Wright, Eddie Royal and Calvin Johnson.

This week, tight end Vernon Davis was traded to Denver, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was benched by San Francisco in favor of Blaine Gabbert and Tennessee fired coach Ken Whisenhunt on Tuesday morning.

Oh, and the games start back up in two days with Cincinnati hosting Cleveland on Thursday night. The Bengals will look to keep their undefeated start going against their in-state rival in what many expect will be a lopsided affair. The league’s third-highest scoring team in Cincinnati will face the Browns, who are giving up the league’s seventh-most points per game.

Another week has gone by and Cleveland still has the worst run defense in the NFL, which should allow Bengals running back Jeremy Hill to gain some traction in what’s been a disappointing season. Quarterback Andy Dalton should have opportunities to get the ball to receivers A.J. Green and Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert. Because of injuries, the Browns could also be without cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner.

But Cincinnati should establish the run and will Hill could even see more time in a blowout-type game. On Sunday, Hill took 15 carries to just one for Giovani Bernard.

Pick: Jeremy Hill will record at least 100 rushing yards.

We could see a throwback type game in Minnesota, where the Vikings host the St. Louis Rams. For good reason, this one is being billed as Adrian Peterson versus Todd Gurley. Peterson has been the standard bearer at the position since drafted by Minnesota with the seventh-overall pick in 2007. Coming out of Georgia this year, many billed Gurley as the best running back prospect since Peterson.

Gurley is living up to the billing, having recorded at least 128 yards rushing in the past four games, his first career starts. Peterson is third in the league in rushing with 633 yards, while Gurley is fifth with 575 yards, despite only playing five games. Minnesota and St. Louis have played good defense this year, particularly against the run (Rams are ninth while the Vikings are 15th). We’ll see strength against strength and I believe the elder statesman Peterson could have the better day on his home turf.

Pick: Adrian Peterson will record at least one touchdown.

One of the big changes is Mike Mularkey taking over for Whisenhunt in Tennesse. The Titans then have to go on the road to face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. After all the talk about the declining Brees, all he did was throw seven touchdown passes last week. Brees, and more importantly, New Orleans is showing it is still a team to be reckoned with, having won four of the last five games. Brees should have chances against Tennessee to find Brandin Cooks, Willie Sneed and emerging tight end Ben Watson.

No one will know what to expect from Tennessee, but the Saints’ defense is beatable. While Brees tossed seven touchdowns last week, Eli Manning threw six against New Orleans. Marcus Mariota should return at quarterback for the Titans. Wright’s status is uncertain as we enter the week, which could mean rookie Dorial Green-Beckham gets his biggest opportunity yet.

Pick: Marcus Mariota will record at least two touchdowns.

Perhaps the marquee matchup of the week will involve Green Bay for the second week in a row. The Packers suffered their first loss of the season on Sunday in Denver, where Aaron Rodgers and the offense were completely shut down by the Broncos’ suffocating defense. This week doesn’t get much easier for Green Bay and Rodgers facing Carolina and its 10th-ranked defense.

After taking their first loss, though, the Packers will have a chance to deal the Panthers their first loss. Cornerback Josh Norman is truly shutting down opposing receivers for Carolina, but Rodgers has plenty of options, particularly with Davante Adams back in the lineup. If there is one place Carolina is vulnerable, it’s against the run where they are 20th in the NFL and give up 113.7 yards per game. Green Bay could use a big game from running back Eddie Lacy. Offensively, the Panthers rely on quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart. That won’t change against the Packers.

Pick: Greg Olsen will record at least eight receptions.

In afternoon game on Sunday, Denver travels to Indianapolis. Offensively, these are two teams tough to peg down. Peyton Manning and the Broncos looked much better offensively on Sunday against Green Bay. The biggest aspect of the win was being able to run the ball with Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson. They helped take some pressure off Manning, who looked better than he has all season in finding his receiver Demaryius Thomas and his tight ends.

The Colts continue to struggle early in games and then put up points and yards late in games in catch-up mode. They weren’t able to come all the way back against the Panthers in the run on Monday night. Quarterback Andrew Luck threw three more interceptions and now has a league-high 12 on the season. Next up, Luck faces the top defense in the league. Denver has allowed a league-low 16 points per game and 261.1 passing yards per game. The Broncos are also tied for fifth in the NFL with nine interceptions, a mix that doesn’t seem to favor Luck’s turnover-prone ways.

Pick: Chris Harris Jr. will record at least one interception.

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Written by Brian Hall
Hall has spent the past 13 years as a reporter in the Twin Cities, covering every professional team along with the University of Minnesota. For the past four years, he was a regular beat reporter covering the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Wild for FoxSportsNorth.com. He's been an avid fantasy sports player for years and has caught the daily fantasy sports bug like so many others.