This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Trades, trades, oh the trades!
In the spirit of one of the most exciting real life trade deadlines I can ever remember, I'll skip over any advice I might have given in years past and instead just tell you it's time to make some kind of trade. No matter what your record, be it 8-0 or 0-8, you can be better. Or at the very least, you can be more interesting.
So to spice up a Week 9 that already has plenty of bye week and player movement intrigue, here are my top Buy and Sell players.
Stefon Diggs – I don't care who winds up throwing him passes over the final eight weeks, I just love the talent. Diggs' owners surely have not forgotten the huge games he put up in September, but after doing virtually nothing for a full month while nursing a groin injury, perhaps they've grown impatient enough to cut bait. And while we don't care about the QB situation for Minny, maybe they do. Or maybe because he's on bye this week, the Diggs owner in your league just needs someone to throw in the flex for a crucial game. Maybe he or she is even desperate. Take advantage. Trust Diggs' health will be fine and sell that owner a bag of magic beans.
DeAndre Hopkins – Whatever it takes. Antonio Brown? Sure. Mike Evans plus a flex-worthy RB? Yes, please. Nothing is stopping Deshaun Watson, and Hopkins is going to remain the primary beneficiary. No other elite wide receiver has a quarterback playing on the same planet as him, so yeah, pay whatever it takes to get Hopkins.
Alshon Jeffery – Find the owner that is antsy about Diggs. Maybe the one tired of holding out for DeVante Parker or Corey Davis to be healthy and make an impact. Take your shot there on a No. 1 who might just make plays consistently. Otherwise, you might not get a chance before your league's trade deadline to shed this dead weight in your lineup. Some owners will look and just see that Jeffery is coming off a 14-point game (standard scoring) and not that he did it on two catches and a two-point conversion. Or that on his long touchdown grab the rookie corner on him was completely unaware of the ball. Or that Jeffery has caught a miserable eight of 24 targets over the last three weeks (spoiler alert for those reading on). Heck, I'd even feel justified prying Alvin Kamara or Alex Collins off the bench of an owner with good RB depth. Just sell now before he plays Denver and goes on his bye week. After that you're stuck.
Ty Montgomery – Montgomery is one more decisive Aaron Jones run away from being officially Wally Pipped. He had some productive moments in a world that was run by Aaron Rodgers, but a few cracked ribs later and a new Cheesehead under center and Montgomery is no better than any tailback or receiver with even a hint of upside – think Kenyan Drake, DeAndre Washington, Josh Doctson or Tyler Lockett. Young and relatively unproven with a particularly good athletic trait – speed, elusiveness, size, etc. – is what you should target. Send offers until something sticks and move along knowing we're all safe again in a world where wide receivers are not masquerading as running backs.
As always, this is not intended as a traditional start/sit piece. Upgrades are players you wouldn't roll out every week while Downgrades are generally lineup mainstays for whom you might want to consider an alternative based on elements of their opponent/situation. With that out of the way, let's get to it.
Jared Goff, LAR at NYG
Last year when the Giants picked off the Rams four times and sacked them another three in a London beating, Goff was on the sidelines, getting to observe what not to do against a defense that's been far less disruptive this season. Playing a few thousand miles closer to home, Goff and the Rams should fare much better versus Big Blue this time around. The Giants are among the bottom quarter in the league in both interceptions (three) and sacks (13), and they're also tied for the fourth most passing scores allowed (14) despite having already enjoyed their bye week. Outside of a 21-attempt defensive win over the Jaguars, Goff has been steady in the yardage department with at least 219 in every other contest, though his touchdown production has left owners wanting a bit more.
Josh McCown, NYJ vs. BUF
Though the Bills have snagged as many interceptions as they've allowed touchdown passes in their last three contests (five each), they've also bled yards through the air, having given up 1,025 in that stretch with the likes of Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Derek Carr each hitting at least 313. McCown may have struggled back in a Week 1 visit to Buffalo with easily his worst passing numbers of the season, but that performance can esentially be thrown out the window. Jermaine Kearse had just been traded to the team, Austin Seferian-Jenkins was suspended and it was McCown's first regular-season action with a new and developing group of weapons. With multiple scores in four straight games (10 total) and coming off a game in which he completed 78.8 percent of his throws for 257 yards and two TDs in a near monsoon, McCown's play couldn't be much hotter. Look for him to extend that into a Thursday night matchup that could feature plenty of fireworks.
Tyrod Taylor, BUF at NYJ
Taylor had one of his best overall performances of the season in a Week 1 win over the Jets, throwing for over 200 yards and two scores while adding 38 yards on the ground. With the Jets having now allowed two passing scores to five quarterbacks in their last FOUR games, it's safe to expect Taylor to experience déjà vu. After all, the Jets – who have allowed a league-high 17 touchdown passes – have now let Kevin Hogan, Jay Cutler and Matt Moore each toss two TDs in one half of football, also giving up two scores to an ice-cold Matt Ryan in a rainstorm, all within their last 14 quarters of action. Plus, when the Bills reach the red zone they can now trot out the 6-foot-5 behemoth Kelvin Benjamin to make it easier for Taylor to seal the deal.
Jacoby Brissett, IND at HOU
Two-QB league alert! The Texans lead the NFL in scoring, but they're also 29th in points allowed (26.9 per game to be exact) and have given up 15 total touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks in their last five games. Granted, Tom Brady, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson accounted for 12 of those, but the point remains. They struggle to defend the pass and with six teams on bye one could do worse for a second QB than Brissett, who has produced at least 200 yards passing and a score in three of his last four games, with the only exception being against the newly-minted defensive juggernaut known as "Sacksonville."
Alex Collins, BAL at TEN
Sitting among the top ten defenses in rushing yards per game (100.1), yards per carry (3.6) and touchdowns (three) allowed, it would stand to reason that the Titans are a group to avoid with tailbacks that have not established themselves as matchup proof. Heck, even Leonard Fournette had his worst game of a scintillating rookie season against Tennessee in Week 2 when he notched just 40 yards on the ground. Upon further inspection, however, the Titans actually look like one of the safest teams to start your running backs against. Every No. 1 tailback to face them has produced at least 67 scrimmage yards or a score, and that includes a game in which Chris Carson broke his leg after finding the end zone early. Collins, coming off his first career 100-yard effort, leads the league in YPC at 6.0 and will extend his strong play and the streak of flex-worthy performances against the Titans.
Alfred Morris, DAL vs. KC
Just because it's obvious does not make it any less true. With Ezekiel Elliott finally set to begin a six-game suspension, Morris has been named the starter with perfect timing. The Chiefs defense suits his hard-charging running skill better than any of the other Cowboys backs. While Kansas City has been among the best at limiting receiving production to tailbacks (only 25.1 receiving yards per game, zero scores), they've conversely been among the most generous to them on the ground. At a clip of 4.5 YPC the Chiefs are one of only four defenses to have allowed at least 850 rushing yards to running backs. For a career banger like Morris, who has just 51 catches in 84 games, that suits him just fine.
Orleans Darkwa, NYG vs. LAR
What the heck else are the Giants going to do but run the ball when the second-highest scoring team is coming to town? They'll certainly want to win the possession battle versus a Rams team averaging 30.3 points a game, and given their decimated receiving corps, the obvious way to do that is lean on Darkwa, much in the way they did in their one victory. If Darkwa can truck his way to 117 yards at 5.6 per tote on a Denver defense that has limited tailbacks to a measly 62.4 yards per game and 2.9 YPC, it stands to reason that he can also find some wiggle room against a Rams group that's allowed a very healthy 107.6 rushing yards per contest and 4.5 YPC to running backs.
Kenyon Drake, MIA vs. OAK
Since limiting a two-headed monster Titans backfield in Week 1, the worst fantasy performance by a leading tailback against the Raiders is the 91 scrimmage yards Matt Forte put up the very next week. Chris Thompson, Melvin Gordon and LeSean McCoy absolutely blasted them, each posting at least 150 scrimmage yards and a score. Kareem Hunt and C.J. Anderson both topped 110 scrimmage yards, and even Javorius Allen notched 85 yards and a touchdown against this soft front seven that both reads and reacts slowly. For his part, there's little cause to believe in Drake aside from an impressive 5.4 YPC on his 33 totes as a rookie last year. The likeliest candidate to see 15-plus carries in Jay Ajayi's absence, Drake's explosive 4.45-speed could be on display in an ideal matchup this week, making him at least flex worthy on a bye-heavy weekend.
T.Y. Hilton, IND at HOU
One thing is for absolute sure: the Colts will be playing from behind. And when that happens, the Texans will bleed yards. In their last five games, three different receivers have taken advantage of those circumstances to post over 100 yards, and all of them share a distinct defining characteristic with Hilton: they're smaller, speedy wideouts. Brandin Cooks, Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett combined for 17 catches, 358 yards (at 21.1 yards per reception) and four touchdowns in comeback efforts. Sure, those guys all catch balls from Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, but… oh wait… technically Brissett is also a Super Bowl winning quarterback. And he's beaten Houston before as a starter when he took the reins of the Patriots offense in an emergency last year. So, yeah, Hilton's recent play does nothing to inspire a starting nod, but the matchup is ripe and his targets will certainly be there against a team susceptible to the big play. So there. That's it. Confidently roll him out.
Marvin Jones, DET at GB
Six. Six. Six. Jones snagged six passes for the third straight game the weekend prior to Halloween, and his devilishly good play (okay, I know that's terrible, but gotta get punny sometimes to slog through the middle of the season) should only continue against a Packers secondary that's allowed 406 yards to wide receivers the last two games despite getting healthier. After increasing his yards in three straight outings to a season-high mark of 128 last week, Jones is rising at just the right time for a Lions offense that can't run the ball (averaging a paltry 82.1 yards per game).
Devin Funchess, CAR vs. ATL
After starting October with three touchdowns in two games, the now lone tower in the Carolina passing attack has fallen on hard times, catching just 9 of 23 targets for 88 yards and no scores over the last three weeks. Fortunately for him and his owners, a "get right" game is on tap. With Kelvin Benjamin exiled to Buffalo, it's tough to imagine the 6-foot-4 Funchess failing to approach double-digit targets in a meeting with a Falcons team that has quietly allowed at least 70 yards or a touchdown to a wide receiver in six straight games. In fact, eight different players accomplished one or the other in that stretch, culminating with Robby Anderson torching Atlanta for 104 and a score on six catches in a rainstorm.
Ted Ginn, NO vs. TB
Ginn's last three games: 15 targets, 13 catches, 275 yards, 21.2 yards per catch and a score. Drew Brees may spread the ball around, but he always looks Ginn's way a few times a game to try hitting a big play, and lately it's been working. The Buccaneers are fresh off holding the molasses slow Panthers receivers to just 79 yards as a group, and yet they STILL lead the league in receiving yards allowed per game to wideouts at a generous 195.3 per. Can you say bye-week fill in?
Jack Doyle, IND at HOU
Houston, Jacoby Brissett has a favorite receiver. And lately his name has not been T.Y. Hilton (though you've already read why I like him too this week). Through eight games, however, Doyle is tied with last year's NFL receiving champion atop the team leaderboard in targets. They both have 55, but they've been going in opposite directions, as Doyle has posted a monstrous 32 over the last three games. The results: 25 grabs, 215 yards and two TDs, including last week's career highs in receptions (12) and yards (121). The Texans, meanwhile, have allowed at least 50 yards or a touchdown to a tight end in five straight games, with four total scores allowed to the position in that stretch.
Tyler Higbee, LAR at NYG
The Giants are on a mission to raise the fantasy roof for tight ends this year, and Higbee is the next logical man up. So although he's done almost nothing individually to inspire confidence – outside of an out-of-nowhere 98-yard performance against Seattle that equals 54.7 percent of his yards – Higbee has more than doubled up any other Rams tight end in targets this year. Now he gets to be that top guy against a Giants D that's allowed at least 40 yards and a touchdown to the tight end position in all seven of their games.
Delanie Walker, TEN vs. BAL
This is an injury report to monitor. Walker was able to tough it out versus the Browns prior to the Titans' bye and would have been rewarded for his grit with a short touchdown if Marcus Mariota hadn't dreadfully short-armed the throw. If the extra days of rest have Walker ready to suit up though, he could redeem himself with his first receiving score of the season. Only the Giants have allowed more scores to tight ends than the Ravens, whose six TDs surrendered to the position are twice as many as they've given up to wide receivers.
Cam Newton, CAR vs. ATL
Prior to last week when Kelvin Benjamin caught Newton's only touchdown pass, the mammoth receiver's 326 yards from Weeks 4-7 were second to only Antonio Brown's 411 during that stretch. With Greg Olsen (foot) still sidelined, Newton simply doesn't have the weapons to be productive enough this week. And that would be the case even if he were playing well – the Falcons have allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards to quarterbacks and have given up just 218.4 passing yards per game, after all. Coming off a three-game stretch against three mediocre-to-bad pass defenses in which he failed to top 240 yards and threw two touchdowns to six interceptions, the Benjamin trade is a death knell for Newton's immediate fantasy prospects.
Carson Wentz, PHI vs. DEN
The Denver "No Fly Zone" secondary and pass rush of Von Miller and a now-healthy Shane Ray just knocked another MVP campaign slightly off course by holding Alex Smith to 14-of-31 passing for 202 yards, a score and a lost fumble. Now the strength of the Broncos will try doing the same to Wentz. Given that Denver's offense has gotten so out of sync that they're turning things over to Brock Osweiler at quarterback, it seems entirely possible that Wentz's numbers won't look much different than Smith's did, with Philadelphia's stout front seven leading the way to an easy victory that requires little of their star quarterback.
Kirk Cousins, WAS at SEA
Cousins is facing the trifecta of quarterback headaches this week. He gets a terrific defense – ignore what Deshaun Watson did to them – on the road in a miserable environment, and his offensive line is bordering on tragic after missing three starters last week. On top of that, his primary weapons are failing him. Jordan Reed is hurt again (surprise, surprise) and will likely sit with a bum hammy. Terrelle Pryor just isn't getting it, and Josh Doctson has all of eight catches on the season. Even Jamison Crowder's hamstring injury is flaring up again after he posted a career-high 123 receiving yards last week. The Washington offense is poised to bottom out.
C.J. Anderson, DEN at PHI
When Brock Osweiler is viewed by the head coach as an upgrade at the quarterback position, you know that an offense is in utter disarray. Making matter worse, a healthy Devontae Booker is now stealing passing-down work and looking physical and fluid in the process. Plus, the Broncos are traveling east to visit an Eagles defense that's allowed tailbacks to collectively rush for 226 yards in their last SIX games. It all adds up to a recipe for disaster.
Jay Ajayi, PHI vs. DEN
Let's math this one out. Ajayi averaged 3.4 YPC in seven games for Miami, just showed up to a backfield that's recently rotated four tailbacks behind an offensive line in flux due to losing a nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, and he now gets to face a Broncos defense that less than a week ago held Kareem Hunt, the league leader in rushing, to 46 yards on 22 carries (2.1). And for a bonus equation, add in the facts that Denver has allowed the second fewest rushing yards per game (72.9) and is the only defense that has yet to give up a rushing touchdown. Hmm… something doesn't compute here for Philly's new toy.
Devonta Freeman, ATL at CAR
Freeman left last week's win over the Jets with a shoulder stinger, but even before he did he was not performing well (he finished with 12 carries for 41 yards), while Tevin Coleman produced over 100 scrimmage yards for the second time in Atlanta's last four games. In fact, over those four contests Freeman has 308 scrimmage yards and one touchdown to Coleman's 298 and one touchdown. That type of yardage makes either a solid flex play, but the point is that this is quietly becoming more of an even timeshare than Freeman owners would like. Of particular note is how the red-zone distribution has changed. In the first four games of the season Freeman saw 14 carries in the red area to Coleman's two. In the last three games, Coleman has five to Freeman's four. Versus a loaded Carolina front seven, that timeshare spells danger for both backs' fantasy hopes.
A.J. Green, CIN at JAC
Green was easily one of the most reliable wideouts in the league prior to Cincinnati's Week 5 bye. Since then, however, he's struggled to connect with Andy Dalton, tallying just 68 yards on 14 targets over the last two outings. Part of those struggles are owed to the Steelers and Colts secondaries playing above their heads, but a big factor was also the pressure on Dalton, who was sacked or hit a combined 10 times in each contest. So what does the doctor order for this week? A "Sacksonville" defense that will batter Dalton and the best corner tandem in the league to erase Green's breathing room.
Mike Evans, TB at NO
It has taken less than half of his rookie season for Saints first-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore to blossom into one of the best playmaking DBs in football. According to Pro Football Focus, Lattimore has intercepted or defensed 29.2 percent of the targets he's faced, a mark that tops the league. Evans and his 6-foot-5 frame represents his biggest challenge yet – both literally and figuratively – but given the injury to Jameis Winston's throwing shoulder and his historically erratic play, here's betting that Lattimore keeps Evans on the other side of the century mark, where he's been all season despite an average of 9.6 targets per game.
Alshon Jeffery, PHI vs. DEN
The argument against him is not just that Jeffery has to tussle with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris this week. After all, this once-great contested catch maker has never really needed much space to operate. But this year something is off. Even in promising matchups, Jeffery is not himself. In six seasons in Chicago he hauled in 57.3 percent of his targets despite often living off of acrobatic grabs in traffic. That catch rate is at 45.2 percent halfway through his first year in Philly, and lately Jeffery has been even less in sync with Carson Wentz, bringing in just 8 of 24 looks the last three games. With that kind of inefficiency the new Eagle certainly is not flying against Denver's "No Fly Zone."
Demaryius Thomas, DEN at PHI
Brock Osweiler is not the solution. The end. That would be enough to bury Thomas on the bench, but it bears adding that in his last four games he's gone 11, 133, 9, 66 in the yardage department while battling a nagging calf injury. Oh, and he hasn't found the end zone yet this season. No ceiling. No consistency. No thank you.
Cameron Brate, TB at NO
Brate has been Jameis Winston's second best friend to Mike Evans since last year. That on-field chemistry (plus a nice fill-in job by Ryan Fitzpatrick) has led to five straight games with at least 60 yards. Keeping that pace could prove problematic this week, however. In the six games in which they were not blasted by Rob Gronkowski, who rolled them for 116 yards in Week 2, the Saints' vastly improved back seven has limited tight ends to a meager 24.0 yards per game. So unless Brate gets in the end zone in this one (and only two TEs not named Gronk have done so against the Saints), his day figures to underwhelm.