Most fan bases start the fresh season with dreams of contention, playoffs, maybe a Super Bowl trip.
Oakland Raiders fans? They’d just like their team to be relevant again. And it looks like they might be getting their wish.
It’s been a while since Oakland was taken seriously in the NFL landscape. The last winning Raiders season dates back to 2002, when they won the AFC Championship. Rich Gannon was the league’s MVP, Jerry Rice was still running around and past defenses, Charlie Garner was a revelation out of the backfield. Oakland was second in scoring, first in offensive yards, and just about unstoppable until their old coach, Jon Gruden, took them down in Super Bowl.
Fast forward to 2015, and it looks like the Raiders have hope again. The defense might not stop many opponents, but there’s a fun offense worth watching – for real fans and fantasy fans alike.
Oakland’s currently sitting at 2-1 after an entertaining 27-20 victory at Cleveland on Sunday. A shiny group of triplets led the Raiders attack – Derek Carr threw for 314 yards and two scores, Latavius Murray bobbed and weaved for 139 rushing yards, and Amari Cooper collected 134 yards through the air.
It wasn’t just the raw yardage totals that the trio put up, it was the efficiency along the way. Carr completed 20-of-32 passes, didn’t take a sack or throw an interception, and posted a snappy 115.9 rating. He was the fourth quarterback taken in the 2014 draft, but he might turn into the best of the lot.
Murray averaged 5.3 yards a tote on his 26 carries. Cooper secured eight of his 11 targets, and averaged 16.8 yards a grab – it’s hard to believe he’s just a rookie.
Oakland’s turned into our favorite type of fantasy team – a full-blown carnival. This is a team that can score on most teams, and can’t stop most teams. The Raiders somehow are 2-1 despite allowing 86 points in three weeks.
Cleveland journeyman QB Josh McCown threw for 341 yards in Sunday’s loss, while unheralded Gary Barnidge (6-105-1) became the third straight tight end to abuse Oakland’s linebackers and safeties. With due respect to Barnidge, Tyler Eifert and Crockett Gillmore, it’s not like the Raiders faced Gronkowski, Kelce and Olsen in their first three games. There’s a major coverage problem down the seam.
Make plans to watch the Raiders and Bears hook up next Sunday. It could go down as one of the more entertaining games of Week 4. And it might be a good week to dial up Martellus Bennett, be it for seasonal or DFS play.
In other Week 3 Booms (early games):
-- Falcons and Cowboys: You’ve seen the unstoppable Julio Jones story many times before: he torched the Cowboys for a 12-164-2 line on 20 targets, fueling a come-from-behind 39-28 victory. If Jones stays on the field for the complete season, he’s probably going to outscore everyone at the wideout position. There is no adequate defense for No. 11.
Devonta Freeman was a surprising boom out of the Atlanta backfield, collecting 193 total yards and three scores on 35 touches. Freeman took advantage of Tevin Coleman’s absence, and he rumbled through a defense that shut down the run over the first two weeks of the year. Freeman looks like a trustable back for Week 4’s game against Houston.
The three-headed monster in the Dallas backfield put up a bushel of stats: 245 total yards, four touchdowns. Miraculously, all of the runners carried a piece of flex value (or better) despite sharing the workload.
Joseph Randle scooted for 87 yards and three scores, though his third touchdown came a mere second before he coughed up the football and the game situation marginalized him in the second half. He also had a couple of short receptions. Lance Dunbar was PPR gold as the change-of-pace back, catching all 10 of his targets en route to 100 yards. And while Darren McFadden was limited to six carries, he turned them into 35 yards and a score.
Bottom line, the Dallas offensive line can still push people around, and it’s capable of working for a number of different running (and receiving) styles. And while quarterback Brandon Weeden had an up-and-down day in his first start of the year, it doesn’t look like his presence is going to completely torpedo this offense. The Cowboys are at New Orleans in Week 4.
-- A.J. Green & Steve Smith: It turned into an “anything you can do, I can to better” competition between Green and Smith, as both men tried to personally will their teams to the critical AFC North victory. Green ultimately had the last laugh, rolling 10 grabs for 227 yards and three scores, including the game-winning TD with 2:10 left to play.
The Bengals are now 3-0, while the scuffling Ravens have lost all their of their games, each by six points or less.
The ageless Smith was gallant in defeat, turning in 13 catches for 186 yards and two scores, a ridiculous day on 17 targets. Someone remind Smith that 36-year-old receivers aren’t supposed to be major factors on an NFL Sunday. He should find plenty of running room against Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Speed Round: Marcus Mariota didn’t play a perfect game, but he still collected 367 yards passing and two scores as the Titans almost stole one from the Colts. Kendall Wright (7-95-1) made good use of his 12 targets . . . Frank Gore got off the mat, rushing for 86 yards and two short scores on 14 carries . . . It was Dion Lewis early (67 total yards, one score) and LeGarrette Blount late (18-78, three plunges) as the Patriots rocked the Jags, 51-17. Tom Brady’s two touchdowns went to non-fantasy factors, not that Rob Gronkowski (4-101-0, seven targets) and Julian Edelman (8-85-0, 11 targets) were completely silent. Tennessee and New England are the two teams off in Week 4 . . . Allen Hurns had just four looks, but one of them turned into a 60-yard touchdown . . . A 20-126-2 line from Adrian Peterson doesn’t even raise an eyebrow these days. Keenan Allen scored twice in San Diego's 31-14 defeat . . . Greg Olsen's quiet Week 1 debut is old news now: he was uncoverable (8-134-2) as the Panthers held off the Saints. Cam Newton did his usual bit: 315 and two scores through the air, and 33 yards (and another score) on the ground. The Cats are at Tampa Bay next week . . . I thought Travis Benjamin (4-45-1) played better than the boxscore indicated; he was open (but McCown misfired) on some of those 10 targets. And at least he managed to score for the third straight week. I still think Johnny Manziel should be Cleveland's quarterback (develop and evaluate), but Mike Pettine has his own ideas . . . Brandon Marshall was the first read all day for the Jets, finishing with a 10-109-1 line on 14 looks. New York is at Miami next Sunday.
In Week 3 Busts (early games):
-- Steelers and Rams: I don’t have any Ben Roethlisberger shares this year (unintentionally), but nonetheless I felt a kick in the stomach when he suffered a second-half knee injury at St. Louis. No one wants to see one of the best players in the league knocked out of action. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, it sounds like Big Ben will be out a minimum of four weeks.
The Steelers still survived Sunday’s visit to St. Louis, but no one expected this to be a 12-6 game.
Maybe the Michael Vick offense will find a way to get things going in the weeks ahead. Throwing to Antonio Brown (11-108 on 13 targets) is generally an unstoppable thing, and Le’Veon Bell (132 yards, 3.3 YPC, one touchdown) will have better games ahead. Also consider the Martavis Bryant suspension has just one more game to run. Then Steelers need to get Vick up to speed quickly, as they play Baltimore on Thursday.
Given how messy the Pittsburgh defense played in the opening two weeks, the Rams laid a complete egg in Sunday's home defeat.
Nick Foles was something of a DFS darling pick, but he finished the day with 197 passing yards, no touchdowns against one pick, and a piddly 73.1 rating. Todd Gurley’s NFL debut was a flop as well: six carries for nine yards, and one catch for five yards. Things won’t get easier at Arizona in Week 4.
-- Andrew Luck: For a lot of quarterbacks, a 260-yard, two-touchdown day isn’t a bad return, especially when it’s packaged with a come-from-behind victory. But anyone who selected Luck with an early 2015 selection has to be disappointed with the early returns.
Luck threw two picks in the game and still hasn’t clicked with new receiver Andre Johnson (zero catches on one target). Maybe it was a good year to wait on quarterback? Indianapolis hosts Jacksonville in Week 4.
Speed Round: You can give Jonathan Stewart a perfect game script and still it rarely seems to work out. He ran 14 times for a measly 52 yards in Sunday’s win over New Orleans . . . The Saints haven’t unlocked C.J. Spiller yet. He had three touches at Carolina, for all of 26 yards . . . Spin the Mike Evans performance any way you like. You love a 7-101-0 line, though it took 17 targets to get there and he didn’t have a gain over 20 yards. Jameis Winston completed just 17-of-36 passes, and finished with a 69.3 rating. Vincent Jackson (2-40-0, four targets) was hardly heard from . . . No one made up ground in the San Diego backfield: Melvin Gordon collected just 51 yards on 14 carries, while eight Danny Woodhead touches netted just 43 yards. San Diego hosts Cleveland in Week 4 . . . Roddy White went catchless (and was largely ignored) for the second straight game . . . While Ryan Mathews sparked the Philly offense (128 yards) to an upset victory at the Jets, Sam Bradford was largely a bystander (14-for-28, 112 yards, one score). No one on the Eagles had more than 49 receiving yards . . . Chris Ivory was in uniform but did not play for New York.