Game Previews: All Fantasy Relevant Players For Week 9

Lions vs. Vikings

Lions

The Lions face down division rival Minnesota this week in essentially a must-win to remain in the playoff race. Although five losses wouldn’t end the season, the combination of an incredibly difficult schedule down the stretch and an already tight division race would put things a bit too far out of reach for the Lions to retain playoff hope.

Does Stafford bounce back after last week’s loss to Seattle?

Interestingly enough, I’m not sure he has to. Matthew Stafford posted a pretty solid stat line overall last week, although the late game turnovers ruined his potentially great day and kept him to a fantasy average week.

That being said, this week is built for high pass attempts and a high ceiling. The Vikings run defense is far better than the Seattle defense that stuffed the Lions’ run game last week, and we saw very quickly how the Lions offense reverts to revolving around Stafford when that happens. The 40 pass attempts in a comeback are exactly what you want to see from Stafford.

Although this sounds like it’s building up the ideal situation, it’s far from being that straightforward. The Vikings defense has been dealing with odd combinations of injury and missing personnel throughout the season, and they’re closing in on full health this week. Although linebacker Anthony Barr will be out, Xavier Rhodes and Andrew Sendejo are both leaning towards playing. It’s worth monitoring the situation up until game time if you’re choosing between Stafford and another quarterback.

Who does the passing offense turn to?

When we first started the Jim Bob Cooter system of offense, we adopted a new phrase: ‘passing as running.’ The personnel at the time didn’t allow for runs, so he designed short passes to Golden Tate in running situations to pick up the same sort of 3-4 yard gains to keep our second and third downs manageable. Now, there is no Tate. Frankly, I don’t know if there’s anyone outside of the Lions’ coaching offices that knows what Cooter is going to do to replace that.

The general consensus is that Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are going to receive more targets. While that’s probably true, I don’t think it’s going to be as drastic as some people believe it to be. With a stout Vikings defense, Cooter isn’t going to be able to simply hand the ball off as a replacement for throws to Tate. Instead, I’m leaning toward running back routes.

Theo Riddick is back off of injury, and has been used far less this season than in the past. However, he has always graded out as one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL. Stafford is comfortable with him, Cooter is comfortable with him, and although he doesn’t often line up in the slot (or anywhere other than the back field) to run routes, he has something that the other running backs don’t: designed plays. The norm for most passing offenses is to use a pass-blocking running back as a check down late in the play when the receivers have moved the coverage downfield. However, the Lions have always had a large number of designed plays to Riddick when he’s on the field, especially in late game situations. Last week, we saw a ton of them being run by Kerryon Johnson late in the game when the Lions were trying to mount a comeback. As much as I’d love to get excited about Kerryon moving forward as a pass catcher, those will likely go to Riddick when he’s healthy (and he is this week).

One of the main reasons for this is Riddick’s ability as a pass blocker. Kerryon has little feel for the NFL pocket in terms of protecting Stafford, so when he lines up back there you’re not expecting much from him as he goes out on a route. Riddick, on the other hand, is incredible at it. During long, sustained passing drives you can expect him to be on the field for most of it. Without Tate in the middle of the field, my expectation is for Riddick to receive most of the attention.

Is Kerryon still startable if he isn’t receiving the passes?

Startable, yes, especially in this bye week mania. However, I’m not expecting a top tier week from him. Unless he finds the end zone or has one breakaway play (not unimaginable in the least), I wouldn’t put him down for more than an RB2 sort of week.

Does anyone else on the team become startable in the absence of Tate?

The hope for most fantasy football fanatics is that a tight end emerges, maybe Luke Willson (who we’ve taken to calling Lluke in my household, as he should be in yours) or one-game-phenom Michael Roberts. However, I doubt it. TJ Jones has been a mainstay WR4 on the team for a few years now, and he’s the most likely to get slot reps. He has shown pretty decent ability when targeted in the past, but he’s unlikely to be much more than the third or fourth target this week or at all.

Who draws Xavier Rhodes?

The Vikings have a pretty well known guy by the name of Xavier Rhodes who likes to live in wide receiver’s attics and haunt them throughout the game. Rhodes shadows a player nearly every week, and they rarely do better than a couple catches and a sub-50 yardage total. This week, I expect it to be Marvin rather than Golladay. Either player can run routes from the slot at any time, and have been doing so multiple times per game, but Jones represents the bigger breakaway deep threat. If you’re setting Rhodes on a receiver, the goal is to shut them down entirely. Removing the deep ball to Marvin without a dedicated safety is huge for your middle of the field coverage, something the Vikings are sure to want to have covered heavily due to the unknown nature of the Lions post-Tate scheme. If Rhodes shadows Marvin, the rest of the defense can double Golladay for most of the game and make things a nightmare for him and the Lions offense.

So, is Jones startable? Of course. But I wouldn’t be too excited about it, as he’s always going to be a deep ball dependent sort of player.

Lions D/ST? Matt Prater?

Prater is a go, despite last week. The field position battle was dominated by the Seahawks last week, so even on moderately long drives the Lions couldn’t get into field goal position. I don’t think we see that this week nearly as much, and he’ll be back to his Matt Greater self.

Meanwhile, if you start the Lions D/ST, you deserve to lose. That is all.

-Ian Rye

Vikings

The Vikings are coming off a loss to the Saints after winning 3 straight to face off against the Detroit Lions. Luckily for the Vikings, the Lions just got rid of one of the best slot wide receivers in the game in Golden Tate so their defensive assignments may be a little easier. They still have to deal with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, but two is better than three in this scenario. As the Vikings try and keep in the thick of things in the division, let’s hop into some questions to see where this week takes us.

Will Kirk Cousins hold on to the football?

Last week, Kirk Cousins threw a pick-six and it is no secret that turnovers have been a tough thing for Captain Kirk. You see it here every week. Cousins has lost games or made games too close due to his carelessness with the football. This week, he faces the Lions who have elite corner Darius Slay. He has a nose for the football and Cousins needs to be careful that he doesn’t get careless when Slay is in the vicinity. This one has shootout potential, but with shootouts come more potential to turn the ball over because the ball is in the quarterback’s hand. All of Skol Nation is hoping that Cousins is getting more comfortable with the routes that his outside receivers are running and more comfortable with the high volume of passes and that leads to no turnovers in a big matchup.

What does the running game look like this week?

Dalvin Cook is slated to be back on the field, but only for 8-12 plays, not touches. With that said, he needs to be on your bench. As for Latavius Murray, you can still feel confident starting him and banking on falling into the endzone. He has also shown the ability to pile on yards, so don’t be too surprised if he has a decent day on the ground. Dalvin is still at least a week away from being startable, assuming he doesn’t aggravate the hamstring injury again.

Will Adam Thielen again be the star?

WR Stefon Diggs is expected to be limited at best. Even if he doesn’t play, Darius Slay won’t be shadowing Adam Thielen anyways as he doesn’t roam over to the slot much. Also, no corner in the league has been able to stop Thielen as he has now tied Calvin Johnson for most consecutive games with 100 yards receiving at eight games. He is currently the top WR in fantasy for good reason and you should continue to roll him out as such. I project that he breaks the record this week, especially if Diggs is forced to miss the game.

-Matt Dean

Ben Palmer

Lifelong Orioles fan (which can be....painful at times) and a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music and watch way too many movies.

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