Week 3 feels like make or break week for several early round draft picks — Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Michael Turner, Jamaal Charles, Larry Fitzgerald, Eric Decker — another sub-par effort from any of those guys and their owners have every right to hit the panic button, not that they haven't already.
In the case of Johnson and Turner, you'll see below that I'm not holding out much hope for a turnaround. I said all preseason long that owning Johnson was the most miserable part of my '11 fantasy football experience. The complaints about his offensive line and him not hitting the hole decisive enough seem like deja vu all over again. As for Turner, the game tape has been an indictment against him. His 1.3 yards after contact rate ranks tied for last (with Run-DMC) among those RBs with at least 15 carries. By my estimation, there's at least 25 running backs better suited for your lineup this week. I've listed them below, along with my rankings at the other positions.
Take a look and let me know in the comments what you think about the new Skinny format. I'll be tweaking my weekly rankings up until kickoff, just like I do every week, but hopefully this gives you a good first take at what Week 3 has in store for us.
Total Week 3 green-light plays by position: 11 QB; 12 RB; 21 WR; 10 TE; 8 DST
• If you own Drew Brees or Matt Cassel, you couldn't ask for a much better matchup, as the Chiefs face the Saints. These two defenses have allowed the highest QB Rating in the league, the Saints have allowed the most fantasy points to QBs, and the Chiefs have allowed the 5th-most. Not only is Brees a slam dunk this week but Cassel, who is 6th in passing yards, also gets a green light.
• Tampa Bay has allowed an average of 406.5 passing yards per game and only New Orleans (12.5) has allowed more yards per pass attempt than the Bucs (9.7). Tony Romo has averaged over 300 yards and has a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio against TB in two meetings over the past three years. In his first home game of '12, another 300 yards and 3 TD passes is very possible for Romo.
• For many, Tom Brady holds "never bench" status, but the history card certainly does not favor him this week at Baltimore. The Ravens have limited Brady to an average of 236 passing yards and a combined 4:7 TD-to-INT ratio in the past four meetings (playoffs included) since '09. And it's worth noting that none of those previous meetings were held in Baltimore.
• Andy Dalton gets chartreuse status (for the uninitiated, that's somewhere between a green and yellow light play) this week following his 3-TD effort last week against Cleveland. Dalton faces the 2nd-most generous fantasy pass defense through two weeks in Washington, a team that lost front-7 defensive starters Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo for the season in Week 2 to injuries. The two combined for 14.5 sacks last season.
Most FAN PTS allowed to QB: New Orleans; Washington; Tampa Bay; St. Louis; Kansas City
Least FAN PTS allowed to QB: Houston; Jacksonville; Philadelphia; Dallas; Seattle
• To quote the Talking Heads, the Colts defense is the "same as it ever was" against the run. Indy has finished among the 12-most generous fantasy run defenses in each of the four previous seasons, and it has allowed the 8th-most fantasy points to RBs through the first two weeks of '12. It should also be the "same as it ever was" for Maurice Jones-Drew this week, as he's averaged nearly 130 yards from scrimmage and has 12 TDs in 12 career meetings with the Colts.
• The Chiefs were almost non-existent on some of C.J. Spiller's big plays last week, but you have to give credit to Fred Jackson's replacement, nonetheless. He's amassed at least 100 yards from scrimmage in five straight games, dating back to last season, and he's scored 7 TDs in that span. And, really, the level of competition hasn't mattered for Spiller, he's been crushing them all. I'm not expecting the Browns to slow his roll.
• Only one RB (Marshawn Lynch) has topped 76 rushing yards against San Francisco in its past 24 regular season games. After picking up just 60 rushing yards against the Colts last week, it's hard to imagine that Adrian Peterson will do much better against the Gold Rush defense.
• Marshawn Lynch was second in the league in missed tackles last season, behind Michael Turner (of all people). This season, he's leading the league with 14 missed tackles. With so many early round running backs fizzling out of the gate, you can make a case that Beast-Mode is a top-5 RB for the rest of the season. He's averaged 100 rushing yards in three career Monday night contests, and another 100 rushing yards and a TD against Green Bay on MNF in Week 3 would hardly be a surprise.
• Given Mike Shanahan's history of playing musical chairs in the backfield, Alfred Morris is a tough player to pledge allegiance to for the remainder of the season. But that's not a Week 3 concern as Cincinnati has allowed the 2nd-most fantasy points to RBs, thus far, and Morris has handled 44 of 51 carries by Redskins RBs this season. While he doesn't have the explosive upside of the other chartreuse RBs in front of him, he has a higher floor than all of them this week.
• Michael Turner runs like someone that is trying not to fumble as they try to stay inbounds and keep the clock running. That's fine for late in a game with a big lead. But it's pretty frustrating to watch for an entire game. As mentioned above, Turner led the league in missed tackles last season, but he has just two in '12, good for 25th among RBs. San Diego should shutdown "The Burner" in Week 3, making it a hat trick for the Chargers against early bust RBs — San Diego has allowed a combined 49 rushing yards against Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson, thus far.
• According to ProFootballFocus, Pierre Thomas graded out as the No. 2 overall RB in combined run/pass/block evaluations in '11 behind Fred Jackson. This season, he's back at No. 2 behind C.J. Spiller. It's beyond frustrating to see his fantasy value watered down by the Saints' ridiculous three-RB system but Thomas only needed 14 touches to put up 143 YFS last week at Carolina and I'd still be looking to find a way to get PT in the lineup this week against a Chiefs defense that has been absolutely dreadful out of the gates.
Most FAN PTS allowed to RB: Jacksonville; Cincinnati; New Orleans; Tennessee; Oakland
Least FAN PTS allowed to RB: San Francisco; New England; San Diego; Tampa Bay; Denver
• Victor Cruz is the most-targeted player in the NFL through two weeks. He now has 1,756 receiving yards and 10 TDs over his past 16 regular season games. Many people still think there's an argument to be made that he's not the best fantasy receiver on his own team. That's ridiculous. Outside of Calvin Johnson, there's not a WR in the league I'd rather have. Don't sweat the matchup against a Carolina team that has slammed the door on Tampa Bay and New Orleans wideouts this season. Cruz has shown the ability to transcend even the toughest matchups.
• Baltimore and Cleveland employed two of the worst fantasy receiving corps in '11. Facing both of these teams in '12, Cincinnati has allowed the 9th-most fantasy points to wideouts, even allowing Brandon Weeden to come back from the dead with 322 passing yards and 2 TDs in Week 2 after throwing for 118 yards and 4 INTs in his Week 1 debut. All of this is to say that, if Pierre Garcon manages to return from a foot injury in Week 3, you'll definitely want him in there. Garcon went for over 100 receiving yards in 12 minutes with RGIII before leaving with the injury in Week 1.
• Larry Fitzgerald has earned a long leash and he'll get my green light courtesy this week. But he may not get such preferential treatment next week if he lays another egg — 1 catch, 4 yards in Week 2 at New England. He's been able to rise above his shoddy QB play in the past, but the offensive line and running game are so bad this year that it may be more than even Fitzgerald can overcome. And this week he faces a Philly secondary that is allowing a league-low 35.1 QB Rating. Without a doubt, this Eagles defense is miles better than the unit that allowed 146 yards and 2 TDs to Fitzgerald last season.
• New Dallas corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have been impressive, thus far, as no WR has scored a TD or reached the 60-yard mark against Dallas. Coming off an ugly loss in Seattle and playing at home for the first time, I like how this game sets up for the Cowboys. I'd be leery about Vincent Jackson. who I expect to finish closer to his Week 1 tally (4/47/0) than last week's breakout (5/128/1).
• Cincy mighty mouse Andrew Hawkins leads all receivers in yards after the catch (13.1). nearly three yards better than Steve Smith, who is No. 2 on the list. Hawkins, the No. 25 WR in fantasy through two weeks, would make for a nice sleeper play again in Week 3 if Redskins corner Josh Wilson sits after suffering a mild concussion in Week 2. He's been the teams best cover corner, thus far, as DeAngelo Hall and Cedric Griffin have rated out as negatives in that area, according to ProFootballFocus. The Redskins have allowed the 6th-most fantasy points to WRs.
• Wes Welker has caught just 8 of 16 targets this season, an unusually low target total and catch percentage for Welker. I was one of the more bearish experts in regards to Welker this preseason but even I am shocked by his usage pattern (losing snaps to Julian Edelman) in '12. Apparently injury is not the issue, so it's hard to say for sure what Bill Belichick has been thinking. But with TE Aaron Hernandez now out for 4-6 weeks, you can bet that New England will once again lean heavily on their slot machine. But it's worth noting that Welker hasn't topped 53 receiving yards and is scoreless in his four career meetings with Baltimore. Even with Hernandez's injury, he's still no sure thing this coming Sunday.
Most FAN PTS allowed to WR: Tampa Bay; NY Giants; Buffalo; Cleveland; Indianapolis
Least FAN PTS allowed to WR: Houston; Carolina; Tennessee; Dallas; Philly/Jacksonville
• Martellus Bennett is tied with Jimmy Graham and Heath Miller at the TE position in red zone targets (5). The Giants under Tom Coughlin have always done a good job of incorporating the tight end in the passing game, be it Kevin Boss, Jeremy Shockey or, now Bennett. Overall, only four tight ends have seen more targets than Bennett this season. Carolina is not a daunting matchup for Bennett on Thursday night, making him a borderline must-play.
• No tight end has seen more overall targets than Baltimore Dennis Pitta. The No. 9 fantasy tight end through two weeks has a tough matchup against a New England defense that, under Belichick, is always tough at defending the position. But Pitta put up a 5/41/1 line against the Pats in a playoff loss last January and the Pats have allowed 60-plus yards to Jared Cook and Todd Heap this season. In other words, Pitta is a defensible play in Week 3.
• Antonio Gates owners had to cringe at the sight of backup Dante Rosario scoring a TD hat trick last week. Gates was close to playing in the Chargers' route of Tennessee, making him a likely participant this week against Atlanta.
• While Gates is a must-start if he plays, Dustin Keller is another intriguing injury watch of the week at the tight end position. Keller has combined for 13 catches, 143 yards and 3 TDs in his two trips to South Beach the past two years, and the Dolphins have allowed 80-plus yards to a tight end in each of the first two games. A healthy Keller, who has been nursing a hamstring injury, would be a welcome addition for a Jets offense that has generated the fewest fantasy points from the TE position, thus far. If Keller ends up giving it a go in Week 3, consider him more chartreuse than his current yellow listing.
Most FAN PTS allowed to TE: Tennessee; Washington; Denver; Detroit; Kansas City
Least FAN PTS allowed to TE: Houston; NY Giants; New Orleans; Buffalo; Philadelphia
• The Kansas City offense has been the most generous unit to opposing defenses, thus far. But it's hard to get excited about New Orleans, the Chiefs upcoming opponent. The Saints defense has forced just one turnover and has recorded just two sacks, thus far. And it is allowing an NFL-high 37.5 points per game. Despite the potentially juicy set up, I'd keep New Orleans down this week.
• With 6 INTs, a fumble and four sacks through two games, Michael Vick has been an opposing fantasy defense's best friend. And if you've watched Arizona play this season, you know that defense is for real — how else do you go 2-0 with their QB and offensive line play? The Cardinals are a nice defensive waiver stream this week.
• The Cleveland Browns have been one of the top fantasy defenses of the early season, tied for the league-lead in INTs (5) and fifth in sacks (6). They face a Buffalo offense that has been the 5th-most generous in fantasy to opposing defenses. The Browns can be had in about 90 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Arizona can be had in about 80 percent of Y! leagues. If you need a defensive upgrade this week, you should have options.
• I like the Bears above all else at defense this week. Just like I liked the way the game set up for the Packers defense last week playing at home after a disappointing loss, I like the Bears being able to lick their wounds at home this week against the Rams. Chicago ranks second in the league in sacks and St. Louis hasn't done a very good job of protecting Sam Bradford, thus far. There should be some big play opportunities for Chicago this week.
Most FAN PTS allowed to RBs: Kansas City; Chicago; Philadelphia; Cincinnati; Buffalo
Least FAN PTS allowed to RBs: Atlanta; Washington; NY Jets; Oakland; SDG/NE/DAL/ARI/TB
WEEK 3 GAME PREDICTIONS
Carolina 28, NY Giants 26
Chicago 24, St. Louis 16
Buffalo 27, Cleveland 23
Indianapolis 24, Jacksonville 23
Dallas 34, Tampa Bay 22
Washington 20, Cincinnati 17
New Orleans 38, Kansas City 24
Miami 19, NY Jets 17
Detroit 30, Tennessee 23
San Francisco 24, Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 24, Arizona 20
Pittsburgh 23, Oakland 16
San Diego 28, Atlanta 25
Denver 24, Houston 23
New England 27, Baltimore 24
Green Bay 23, Seattle 20