Facts vs. Feelings: Burrow is back, Miles Sanders is not and other trends to consider for Week 9

Fantasy football is a passion for many. Sometimes that passion causes fantasy managers to make emotional decisions even when the data suggest otherwise. Each week during the 2023 NFL season, Liz Loza will attempt to strike a balance between what the data states and what the heart wants. This is called Facts vs. Feelings.

I know you're reading this on Nov. 1, but as I type, it's Halloween. This morning was a full tornado of activity. In addition to the regular breakfast-eating, lunch-making, bag-packing chaos there was, of course, the costume crafting and curating. From triple-fastening Velcro and negotiating an acceptable number of plastic swordlike accessories to applying green-colored hair spray and demanding extra-good tooth brushing, I zipped around the house like one of Cinderella's caffeine-fueled mice.

And I crushed it. No one turned into a pumpkin. In fact, I got my Samurai and Pink Power Ranger out the door and to school with time to spare. I even managed to snap a few pics for the grandparents (which means avoiding getting tagged on Facebook in a stranger's feed because some niece of a friend of a former co-worker not only curated a bespoke photo sesh, but also posted on social media with alarming alacrity and the boomers just wanted let me know that I could be doing better).

The day had been defeated before 8:30 a.m. Except, it hadn't even started yet. I still had to run to the grocery store to pick up candy for trick-or-treaters and grab milk for tomorrow and ... and ... and. It never stops! In fact, the unending cadence of the required magic making was made crystal clear when, as I navigated the aisles of said supermarket, I spotted Christmas decorations... on HALLOWEEN!!!

Nope. Not today.

The whole "how soon is too soon for a Christmas tree" debate is a tired trope. I don't really care. Start playing Mariah when you want to play Mariah. But do not force the rest of us to speed to the next tentpole event without allowing room for an exhalation as well as a little time to enjoy the moment we're not even through yet.

What is the rush??

The answer probably has something to do with late-stage capitalism and short attention spans, but since I am neither an economist nor a neurologist, I'm just going to shake my head and say "enough." There's no denying that life in the modern age is dizzying. That shouldn't, however, prevent our experiences from being satisfying. After all, how can we prepare for the future if we haven't yet processed the present (let alone the past)?

The mental gymnastics of the holidays will, undoubtedly, consume me. Discussions (likely tense ones) about airline flights and dinner menus and broken ornaments and other people's expectations will eventually fill my days, but not today. Because so much can happen between now and two weeks (or even two months) from now.

It's not so different from football.

We all passionately ranked Garrett Wilson as a top-12 wide receiver only to see his star QB go down on the fourth snap of the season opener. Alvin Kamara fell to the sixth round of many drafts while Chris Olave was heralded as a must-have player. Now those roles have seemingly reversed. Takes decrying Jordan Addison as a second-half savior have gone cold in the wake of Kirk Cousins' season-ending injury. The list goes on ... and on.

Looking forward is fine. Beneficial, even. But it's important to pause before turbocharging onward. Soak up the feelings associated with the win or loss that your team secured in Week 8 before weighing all of the facts presented ahead of Week 9. There's a reason broadcasters lean into the whole "Not For Long" bit during games. Fantasy football is a week-to-week proposition. Give yourself some time to appreciate the ride.

Joe Burrow, QB, Bengals: Joe Cool certainly used his time off effectively, taking to the field with previously yet-to-be-seen gusto in Week 8. Burrow completed a season-high 87.5% of his passes while averaging 8.8 yards per attempt in the Bengals' decisive win over the 49ers last Sunday. Despite taking three sacks, Joe stayed on-brand cool, seemingly healed from the preseason calf strain that hampered him over the first half of his fourth pro campaign.

He had managed a 58% completion percentage, 2 passing scores, 2 INTs and a Total QBR of 34 over the first four games of 2023. Those numbers began trending upward since early October, however, as Burrow has registered a 78% completion percentage (best in NFL), 8 TDs, 2 INTs, and 68 Total QBR over his past three efforts. He has additionally recorded multi-touchdown efforts for three consecutive games.

Burrow didn't just slay through the air -- he went ham on the ground, too. Carrying the ball six times, Burrow rushed for 43 gorgeous yards (his highest rushing output since Week 13 of 2022). That total is all the more impressive when noting he produced a paltry 14 rushing yards over his first six games combined.

The dude is back ... from head to toe! He's a locked-in top-10 fantasy QB play in what could be a high-scoring game versus Buffalo (the second-highest total of the week) on Sunday night.

Gabe Davis, WR, Bills Maybe the fantasy community wasn't wrong about Gabe Davis' breakout. Maybe we were just a year early in our prediction. Davis hasn't yet shed his boom-or-bust moniker, but he is demonstrating legit development. Coming off a career-best 9 catch effort, the 24-year-old drew a season-high 12 targets -- matching Stefon Diggs -- in Week 8. His 23.7 fantasy points were a relief to the 23% of fantasy managers brave enough to start him despite a pair of dud efforts over the two prior weeks.

That may read as the definition of boom or bust, but Davis' recent usage suggests a stretching of his skill set. The UCF product entered the season as the team's vertical threat, averaging 15+ yards per reception (six grabs of 20+ yards) from Weeks 1 through 5. His YPR dipped to the single digits (an average of 8.8 yards per reception), however, from Weeks 6 through 8. As his route tree has become more diverse, so has his deployment within the offense.

This is why we need to pause. So we can discover and sort nuggets that can shed light and shift strategy. Davis may not skim his ceiling in a challenging matchup at Cincy on Sunday. His floor, however, feels a heck of a lot higher knowing he's capable of volume that isn't solely of high-value variety.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams: The Cooper Kupp experience has been on full tilt for 2023. After vacuuming up 15 balls over his first two starts, the plucky slot man has recorded just six grabs in Weeks 7 and 8 combined.

It's not only the catches, though. In the 30 games in which Kupp and Matt Stafford have shared the field, Kupp's past two outings marked his lowest receiving totals (29, 21 yards) save the game in which he sprained his ankle (Week 10 of 2022). Additionally, his 6.9 and 6.1 fantasy point efforts exist as his only single-digit FF performances during the Stafford era (again, with the exception of the game in which he was injured).

The Rams have options. Puka Nacua led L.A.'s pass-catchers in targets (12), receptions (8), and yards (154) versus the Steelers. It was Darrell Henderson Jr. who ate via the air (54 receiving yards) at Dallas this past weekend. Adding to the anxiety surrounding Kupp's production potential is this issue of his QB's thumb. If Stafford can't go, then Brett Rypien will start under center at Green Bay. Rypien has managed a 4 TD: 8 INT ratio (on 140 attempts) over his four seasons in the NFL. Yeah, it's grim.

Here's the good news. Kupp is still seeing a ton of volume (9.3 looks per game). He's having trouble converting but he's not cooked. What goes up often comes down ... and then goes back up again. Rypien is not good for Kupp. But he's earned a spot in your starting lineup come Sunday. And even if he falters for a third straight game, take solace in knowing that he (and Stafford) have a chance to get right during the team's Week 10 bye.

Christian Watson, WR, Packers: The Cheeseheads seem to have disappeared from my mentions (though I've likely jinxed the silence by typing that sentence). I've never been a Christian Watson stan, but this is not a victory lap. No one wins when a talented player is consumed by a broken offense (the grace I am showing as a Bears fan right now is borderline holy, by the way).

Watson is currently fantasy's WR88 overall, logging 6.8 fantasy points (WR60) per game. He's averaged 6 targets per effort, but has yet to manage more than three grabs in any outing yet this season. He's also registered only one game over 40 yards. That's a whole lot of yikes. And it appears largely due to Jordan Love's downfield accuracy issues.

Love ranks dead last among qualified QBs in Completion Percentage Over Expected (completion percentage adjusted based on the difficulty of the throw). His 57.7% completion percentage is the lowest in the NFL, but it's also 6.1% worse than would be expected of an average quarterback. Additionally, Love's 17% off-target places him among the league's bottom-five passers.

That's particularly troublesome for a wideout whose big-play ability requires a higher degree of difficulty in order to be unlocked. As a result, Watson figures to languish in low-end flex-and-pray territory until discernable progress is made.

Miles Sanders, RB, Panthers: No one expected efficiency out of Miles Sanders this year. We did, however, anticipate volume. Unfortunately, neither appears to have materialized. Well, at least not since Week 3.

Sanders began the season with a tepid "meh," managing two double-digit fantasy point efforts (one of which was due to a score saving stat line) over his first three contests as a Panther. Since dealing with groin and shoulder injuries in Weeks 4 and 5, however, his opportunities and subsequent production have plummeted. Instead, third-year back Chuba Hubbard has worked ahead of Sanders, signaling a potential tweak in the team's depth chart.

Two weeks removed from a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined, Sanders struggled in Week 8. He was second in team snap share (18%) behind Hubbard (67%) and only slightly ahead of UDFA Raheem Blackshear (15%). Hubbard emerged as Carolina's most effective rusher, registering 3.9 yards per carry to Sanders' 3.0 YPC, 1.9 yards before contact to Sanders' 1.5 YBC, and 2.0 yards after contact to Sanders' 1.5 YAC. Even more concerning, Hubbard recorded a significantly superior catch rate (88% to 63%) and yard per target (5.0 YPT to 3.3 YPT) average.

It's possible that Sanders' volume (and proportional productivity) will increase as he gets closer to 100%. But this offense isn't worth the wait. Hubbard was the Panthers' RB1 in the team's first win of the season. That's likely to remain the case in the team's seventh loss of the year on Sunday versus the Colts.

Gus Edwards, RB, Ravens: Gus Edwards crept into more than a few start/sit questions last Sunday morning. I advised managers to steer clear of the veteran back, citing his limited use in the passing game and calling his 80-yard reception "fluky." I wasn't wrong. Edwards has drawn just 7 looks on the year, logging a super-low 3.2% target share. Moreover, his aforementioned 80-yard grab accounts for 27% of his career (five years!) receiving yardage.

And, yet, I was very not right. Gus the Bus showed me, closing out Week 8 as fantasy's RB3 overall and clearing 20 fantasy points in back-to-back outings. It's because of the TDs. Edwards has recorded 9 goal-to-go rushes (RB4) over the last four weeks. He's also tied for the most carries inside the five-yard line (5). Those high-value touches can translate into big points, particularly on an offense that's humming.

Baltimore heads into the weekend as 5.5-point favorites over Seattle. Seattle has fared well versus the position, however, allowing the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game (67.4) and the fewest yards per carry (3.1) to RBs. Still, with six scores allowed (seventh-most) to opposing rushers, I'm willing to gamble on Edwards as a low-end RB2 in Week 9.

David Njoku, TE, Browns: From injuries to quarterback instability, Njoku has navigated an impressive number of obstacles this season. His consistency despite the curve balls is laudable. The seven-year vet has recorded 10-plus fantasy points in three of his last four outings, drawing an average of seven targets per game over that span.

Interestingly, all 17 of his looks (27% target share) over the past two weeks have come with P.J. Walker under center. Deshaun Watson has already been ruled out, so Walker will start versus the Cardinals in Week 9.

Arizona hasn't been tested over the middle much, allowing 5.1 targets per game (third-fewest faced) to tight ends. As a result, the Cardinals have allowed just 8.2 fantasy points per game (second-fewest, only to Cleveland, ironically) to the position.

Yet, given Walker's rapport with Njoku, those numbers figure to increase.

While Mark Andrews was the first TE to score against the Cardinals last Sunday, Njoku could become the second. With four red zone targets over his past two games and coming off a season-best effort, Njoku figures to remain a focal point of the Browns passing attack. Consider the 27-year-old a top-10 fantasy play at the position this weekend.

Follow Liz on social @LizLoza_FF