1:00PM ET Games
Houston @ Baltimore
The Texans opened the season with back-to-back shootout-style games. They rallied from a 28-7 deficit in Week 1 to upend San Diego, 31-28. In Week 2, Houston trailed the division-rival Titans by eight points in the fourth quarter, again rallying to take the game to overtime and win 30-24. While it's certainly conceivable the defense simply isn't as good as expected, I struggle to believe a Texans team philosophically constructed around the run game and Wade Phillips' side of the ball is going to keep spraying opponents with passing-game points, and allowing them. So I find it hard to trust the Weeks 1-2 box scores when attempting to project Texans fantasy players. Matt Schaub ended Week 2 second in the NFL in pass attempts (93), fourth in touchdown passes (6), and eighth in yards (644). Start him if you think he'll keep it up. I don't. ... Owen Daniels is fifth in tight end scoring, albeit 17th in targets (12). You can see the regression coming. Sell high now, or immediately after Daniels faces a Ravens defense that coughed up 5-110-2 to Julius Thomas in Week 1, and 5-95 to Jordan Cameron in Week 2. Reeling at safety, Baltimore has already benched FS Michael Huff for rookie Matt Elam and will apparently continue to play SS James Ihedigbo, who is best suited to special teams. ... Through two weeks, Texans No. 2 TE Garrett Graham has played 64.4% of the snaps with back-to-back touchdowns inside opponents' ten-yard lines. Despite the early-season TDs, Graham is a clear TE2 in fantasy. He's also listed as questionable for Week 3 with injuries to his groin and hip.
A pressing concern for Schaub's outlook against a Ravens defense that ranks top-five in the NFL in sacks is the questionable status of LT Duane Brown (turf toe). Brown is one of the best three left tackles in football, and Terrell Suggs plays on his side. Pro Football Focus grades Suggs as a top-six 3-4 outside linebacker through two games. ... Andre Johnson's league-high 29 targets will regress, but he remains an every-week WR1. The Ravens are struggling at outside cornerback, shuffling RCB Jimmy Smith and LCB Corey Graham back and forth on the first team. Johnson's last three stat lines against Baltimore: 8-111, 9-140-2, 9-86. ... People will be excited about DeAndre Hopkins' breakout Week 2, but I think he's destined for inconsistency due to the nature of Houston's run-first offense. Already skewed by pass-happy comeback mode, 24% of Hopkins' 117 yards and his touchdown all came with Johnson out of the game due to a concussion. A.J. is back this week. Hopkins' outlook has not changed; he's a somewhat shaky WR3. ... Baltimore's revamped defensive front seven has shut down the Denver and Cleveland run games in back-to-back weeks, permitting a combined 130 scoreless yards on 43 carries (3.02 YPC). It's not a great week to flex Ben Tate. Arian Foster is averaging 22 touches per game and is a high-end RB2.
Despite an impressive combination of up-front and secondary talent, the Texans have sprung pass defense leaks. Philip Rivers and Jake Locker have combined for a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio on Houston, although peripheral stats like yards per attempt and completion rate allowed suggest the Texans are playing better than the touchdowns indicate. Still, I wouldn't view this as a prohibitive matchup for Torrey Smith, even with FS Ed Reed (hip) tentatively expected back. With Jacoby Jones shelved for Week 2, Smith's routes were noticeably different. He was peppered with targets -- 13, tying a career high -- and ran higher-percentage patterns designed to get Smith the football in Joe Haden's shadow. Smith plays on both sides of the formation, and should split time equally between LCB Kareem Jackson and RCB Johnathan Joseph's coverage. Joseph has been the weak link in Houston's secondary to this point. Consider Smith an every-week WR2/3. ... Marlon Brown is a big, lanky, smooth-moving receiver who's posted stat lines of 4-65-1 and 4-45-1 to open the season, seeing six targets in each game. It's worth noting Brown had CB Chris Owens beaten for a would-be 32-yard score in the first quarter last week, but dropped the pass and finished with just the 45 yards and one TD. He is an interesting, if back-end fantasy WR3.
Joe Flacco's target distribution through two weeks: Smith 21, Brandon Stokley 15, Ray Rice 14, Dallas Clark 13, Brown 12, Ed Dickson and Vonta Leach 6. ... Despite Stokley's high target total -- he's got more than No. 3 overall fantasy receiver Eddie Royal -- Baltimore's 37-year-old slot man has eight catches for 70 scoreless yards and isn't a realistic fantasy option. ... Clark and Dickson are ineffective real-life and fantasy players. Clark tallied 37.5% of the snaps in Week 2 and was a non-factor after an early-game shot to the head. He finished with eight yards. ... Despite an NFL-most 95 pass attempts, Flacco ranks 17th in fantasy quarterback scoring. He's a two-QB league option only. ... Nursing a strained hip flexor, Rice will be a game-time decision whose Week 3 availability may be determined during a pre-game workout. The Texans' run defense has been more-or-less stout, ranking 18th in rushing yards allowed but only dishing out 3.75 yards per carry. You know the drill if Rice is active; he's an every-week fantasy starter. If Rice is declared out Sunday morning, power back Bernard Pierce will get the nod and be a safe bet to approach 20 rushing attempts. Here's an offseason tape study I did on Pierce following his rookie season.
Friday Update: Rice is listed as doubtful on the injury report, which essentially means he's out. Look for Pierce to carry the mail as a high-volume workhorse. The matchup is less than ideal, but the Ravens are desperate for a run game because their pass-game personnel is very limited. OC Jim Caldwell won't hesitate to ride Pierce.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Texans 21
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $25,000 Fantasy Football league for Week 3. It's $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts Sunday at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
Detroit @ Washington
Robert Griffin III owners must stay the course, and at the same time consider themselves lucky back-to-back comeback modes have buoyed RG3's stats to the point he's eighth in fantasy QB scoring through two games. Still recovering from January's knee reconstruction, Griffin did take a noticeable step forward in Washington's Week 2 loss to Green Bay, delivering passes with more consistent location and velocity. Footwork and mechanics have limited RG3's on-field play, but they're fixable. While Detroit's front four is fearsome, expect another high-production game from Griffin against the Lions' work-in-progress secondary. Rookie RCB Darius Slay has been benched in consecutive games for 33-year-old Rashean Mathis. RG3 is playing well enough to exploit that matchup. ... And Griffin is most likely to exploit it with Pierre Garcon. Of Garcon's 24 targets, 22 have come versus right cornerbacks and over the middle. The Redskins' best offensive player through two weeks, Garcon is flirting with WR1 fantasy value. ... In nine career games with RG3, Fred Davis has 27 catches for 350 scoreless yards. Outplayed by rookie Jordan Reed in each of Washington's first two games, Davis can be dropped in 12-team leagues. OC Kyle Shanahan benched Davis last week for missed assignments. He's dropped two of his six targets so far.
RG3's target distribution: Garcon 24, Santana Moss 14, Josh Morgan 11, Leonard Hankerson 10, Reed 9, Davis 6, Aldrick Robinson 4, Alfred Morris and Roy Helu 3. ... Fourth receiver Hankerson predictably crashed back to Earth after his two-touchdown opener, catching 3-of-3 targets for 35 yards on 49% of the snaps at Green Bay. He's behind blocking receiver Morgan on the depth chart. ... Slot man Moss, passing-down rookie TE Reed, and streak-route specialist Robinson are rotational players and can't be trusted in fantasy lineups. ... Morris has the sieve-like Redskins defense to blame for his slightly slow start, although he scored a touchdown in the opener and topped 100 rushing yards in Week 2. Playing as well as ever, Alf is averaging 6.08 yards per carry and on Sunday faces a Lions defense that plays the run worse than its up-front talent suggests. Detroit ranks 15th against the run through two games, after finishing 2012 17th in that category. Morris is an RB1. ... Helu's ball-handling involvement has been surprisingly scant despite the Redskins' penchant for falling behind. He is Washington's passing-down back. Helu is getting a lot of field time, however -- 46% of the snaps -- primarily as a pass-protection specialist. He’s worth owning in all fantasy leagues as a potential every-down back if Morris ever missed time.
Based on Washington's sheer defensive ineptitude, Matthew Stafford is justifiable as a top-five fantasy quarterback start in Week 3. The Redskins are getting shelled. Jim Haslett's group ranks dead last in total defense and 23rd versus the pass, with a league-high 135.4 quarterback rating permitted to enemy passers, and 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio against. Fire up Stafford. ... Same goes for Calvin Johnson, who tattooed Patrick Peterson for 116 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2. In his last meeting with Washington (October 2010), Megatron dropped a 9/101/3 line, dismantling DeAngelo Hall. ... Lions OC Scott Linehan has understandably taken steps to weed tight ends out of his passing game after Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler's abominable 2012s. Scheffler played four Week 2 snaps and is catch-less on the year. Pettigrew gets a lot of playing time still because he's a fairly effective blocker, but he's a little-used safety valve as a receiver. He has ten targets through two games, securing five for 40 yards with a lost fumble. Drop him. ... UDFA Joseph Fauria doesn't warrant a re-draft roster spot, though it's worth noting he played ahead of Scheffler last week and merits a look in Dynasty leagues. He's coming off a Week 2 goose egg.
Keep a close eye on Ryan Broyles this week. Temporary third receiver Patrick Edwards has a potentially severe ankle injury, which forced the Lions to give special teamer Kris Durham 40 Week 2 offensive snaps. Durham went catch-less on two targets. Edwards' injury could be the Lions' impetus to reinvolve Broyles. A dynamic and highly efficient slot receiver pre-injury, Broyles is worth stashing as a wait-and-see WR4/5. The Lions' website hinted Broyles will be active in D.C. ... Nate Burleson is what he is -- an upside-lacking 32-year-old possession receiver -- but he couldn't ask for a better Week 3 matchup. Redskins slot corner Josh Wilson is struggling mightily. Burleson is still for WR3 desperados only. ... Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Redskins have allowed the most yards after contact (208) in football through two games. Pro Football Focus has charted Haslett's defense with a mind-blowing 30 missed tackles. They made a star out of plodding James Starks in Week 2. Although he's a game-time decision, Reggie Bush (knee) will be an obvious must-start RB1 if he's active against the NFL's worst run defense. If not, versatile Joique Bell will be a top-15 fantasy running back play. Over his last 14 games, Bell has rushed 83 times for 392 yards (4.72 YPC) with 50 catches. He's one of the most underrated backs in the league.
Friday Update: Bush returned to practice Friday, looking sharp. The Detroit Free Press expects him to start against the Redskins. I still wouldn't write off Bell as a fantasy option, as the two shared first-team snaps in Friday's session and Sunday's backfield could be closer to an even split. Confidently start Bush as a high-ceiling RB2. In a relatively desperate flex spot, you could do much worse than Bell.
Score Prediction: Redskins 30, Lions 27
San Diego @ Tennessee
On Tuesday, I went back and looked at every throw Philip Rivers has made to this point in the year. Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt have done a fabulous job of scheming an offense that gets the ball out of Rivers' hands quickly, compensating for a weak line and restoring his comfort zone. Rivers' arm has not regained velocity, but receivers are getting open in their short-depth routes. I still highly doubt Rivers will sustain his to-date production with such a talent-deprived supporting cast. Now minus RT D.J. Fluker due to an in-practice concussion, Tennessee's defense poses a fine litmus test. The Titans are bringing heavy pressure under blitz-happy senior assistant Gregg Williams, whose mark is indelible despite Jerry Gray's "coordinator" title. Consider Rivers a high-end QB2 until defenses begin clamping down on this offense. San Diego's lone vertical threat, Malcom Floyd, is out indefinitely with a neck injury. ... I also watched all of early-season sensation Eddie Royal and slow-starter Vincent Brown's targets. It's clear Brown is struggling because he's being asked to win outside the numbers. With 4.7 speed, Brown will be a statistical non-factor until the Chargers begin sending him on higher-percentage patterns. He's a fantasy WR4/5.
Royal has been San Diego's featured receiver through two games. His TD production is obviously unsustainable -- I wouldn't be shocked if he didn't score again all year -- but McCoy is calling plays designed to get him the ball. In the quick-out offense, Royal is being fed on screens and routes close to the line, where withered-arm Rivers can easily connect. I still think Royal maxes out as a WR3/flex -- he isn't an explosive or spectacular player by any stretch; he's the same old Eddie Royal -- but he's got a realistic chance to catch 75 balls in the revised attack. Royal is being used as the guy I thought before the season Brown would be. ... Keenan Allen will fill in for Floyd at X receiver. Allen has three targets on the year, catching two for 24 yards. He's not worth a 12-team league roster spot. ... Antonio Gates remains more likely to wear down than stay hot at age 33 1/2, but his 8-124 Week 2 line wasn't necessarily a fluke. Gates is moving well, and the offense suits him. He's a legit TE1 facing Tennessee's coverage-liability safeties. ... The Chargers are using Ryan Mathews in a rotation for two reasons: 1. They don't trust their line. 2. They don't trust Mathews in pass pro. So because Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead are superior blockers, San Diego's backfield timeshare isn't going away. Through two weeks, Mathews has played 47 snaps while Brown has played 40 and Danny Woodhead 52. It's a value-sapping RBBC.
Intent on minimizing Jake Locker's impact on games, the Titans lead the NFL in rushing attempts (75) through two weeks despite ranking 26th in yards per carry. In Week 3, they get an above-average matchup versus a San Diego defense that's surrendered 209 yards and a touchdown on 48 runs (4.35 YPC). Chris Johnson remains a largely boom-or-bust back dependent on long runs to pay fantasy dividends, but he's "due" after managing a long gain of 16 yards through the first two games. I like Johnson as a mid-range to low-end RB2 against San Diego. ... The Titans have stripped Johnson of goal-line work -- even with Shonn Greene (knee scope) sidelined -- which puts a lid on CJ?K's scoring upside. Fill-in vulture Jackie Battle scored a three-yard touchdown in Week 1 and had six more "big back" change-of-pace carries last week. Battle is still not worth a fantasy roster spot. ... Even when OC Dowell Loggains does let Locker make dropbacks, the Titans are not challenging deep or encouraging Locker to run. His YPA rests at a dink-and-dunkish 5.46 through two games, and Locker has scrambled only seven times for 13 yards. Consider Locker a low-end two-quarterback league option, even against San Diego's porous pass defense.
Last week's Titans box score was impacted by a shootout and overtime, and Loggains does not want to play that way. So to draw going-forward conclusions from the 30-24 loss to Houston would be impractical. Kendall Wright caught seven balls and scored his first TD since last November, but only played 33-of-72 snaps (46%) and benefited from Damian Williams' (hamstring) inactivity. With Williams back this week, Wright is a shaky WR3. ... Loggains benched Britt in Week 2 for poor blocking. He's committed three penalties and dropped a pass, seeing 11 targets through two weeks. Britt has cleared 70 receiving yards in one of his last 17 games. Britt is obviously not worth starting, but I'd hang onto him in fantasy in hopes of a pre-deadline trade, perhaps to a team like Baltimore. The Titans' coaching staff seems to be souring on Britt. ... Locker's targets in Weeks 1-2: Wright 15, Nate Washington 12, Britt 11, Delanie Walker 6, Craig Stevens and Williams 2, Johnson 1. ... Washington is a serviceable real-life player, but lacks fantasy value in Tennessee's run-heavy offense quarterbacked by a low-percentage passer not taking chances downfield. Just drop him.
Score Prediction: Titans 20, Chargers 17
NY Giants @ Carolina
The 0-2 Giants are entering a four-week stretch of three road games and the high-flying Eagles offense at home. Their quarterback leads the NFL in interceptions. Their defense has five sacks in its past seven games, and can't stop anyone because it is schematically reliant on up-front pressure to mask secondary deficiencies. Their offensive line is struggling to create room. There is one antidote and one antidote only to the Giants' woes: A foundation run game spearheaded by a space-creating running back. That back is David Wilson, in a perfect match of player and team. It's only a matter of time before the Giants recommit to their 2012 first-round pick as an offensive focal point, and Wilson cleared his first hurdle by displaying Week 2 ball security one Sunday after losing two fumbles. Carolina's talented but heavyweight defensive front had trouble containing a similarly skilled and elusive runner last week, allowing C.J. Spiller to pop off 129 total yards at a 6.44 per-carry clip. Wilson is the best buy-low in fantasy football. Get him before it's too late. ... The rest of New York's backfield is essentially unworthy of fantasy discussion. Pushing 270 pounds, Brandon Jacobs runs like a dad and is at best a goal-line vulture. Straight-linish scatback Da'Rel Scott is averaging 2.5 yards per carry on 10 runs. He's at 2.4 yards per carry in his career.
The Panthers' secondary was a MASH unit in Week 2. FS Charles Godfrey is gone for the year with a torn Achilles'. Nickel and dime backs Josh Norman and D.J. Moore each sprained MCLs. SS Quintin Mikell suffered a high ankle sprain, and LCB Josh Thomas was concussed. Eli Manning's seven picks look bad on paper, but he's still second in the NFL in passing yards (812), fifth in touchdowns (5), and second in 20-plus-yard completions (12). He's squarely on the QB1 radar this week. ... Hakeem Nicks has produced like a WR2 through two weeks, and Victor Cruz a WR1. Facing a Carolina defense that was short on talent even before injuries, both Giants first-team wideouts have favorable matchups and are recommended plays. ... After his 101-yard opener, Rueben Randle managed three catches for 14 yards in the Week 2 loss to Denver. Randle has a ton of talent, but he's a lock for inconsistency behind Nicks and Cruz. He'll be a better WR3 fill-in when the bye weeks arrive. ... Brandon Myers took a ton of big shots in Week 2 and was spotted in the Giants' dressing room Monday with his "ribs and abdominals heavily bandaged." Despite impressive Weeks 1-2 combined production, Myers will be a dicey TE1.
It's not necessarily two weeks of mediocre fantasy stats that is worrisome with Cam Newton. It's the fact that the Panthers seem intent on making him a conventional pocket passer. First-year OC Mike Shula has all but eliminated zone-read plays and discouraged Cam from running. Carolina's offense has done a full 180 from old OC Rob Chudzinski, who essentially ran read option on every snap. Newton had 18 scrambles after Week 2 as a rookie, and 18 at this time last season. He's rushed nine times for 53 yards this year. Newton certainly has a plus Week 3 matchup -- the Giants can’t get to the passer and are pass-coverage deficient -- but perhaps his 2013 fantasy expectations need to be reset. Newton will not dominate the stat sheet without rushing for yards and scores. ... Newton's target distribution so far in '13: Steve Smith 19, Greg Olsen 18, Ted Ginn 9, Brandon LaFell 6, Mike Tolbert 4, DeAngelo Williams 3. So at least we know where the balls are going. ... LaFell went catch-less in the opener and had 13 scoreless yards in Week 2. Far behind Olsen and Smith, LaFell can safely be ignored in fantasy leagues.
Perennially among the NFL's leakiest defenses in tight end coverage, the Giants coughed up nine catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns to Dallas tight ends on Opening Day before Denver tight ends dropped a combined 7-52-1 line on them in Week 2. Only five defenses have allowed more fantasy points to tight ends through two weeks. This is a plus matchup for Olsen, who not coincidentally led Carolina in receiving when these two teams squared off early last year. ... The Giants' defense has been generous to ground games as well, allowing Broncos and Cowboys backs to combine for 200 yards and two TDs on 47 carries (4.26 YPC), including Knowshon Moreno's Week 2 breakout game. Fantasy owners should still be looking to sell high on Williams at their first opportunity. The Panthers' offensive line is a mess, and Williams lacks difference-making talent at this stage of his career. 30 1/2 years old and averaging over 20 touches a week, Williams is more likely to wear down than regain his early-career explosiveness. Up to this point, Tolbert (13 touches, 47 total yards) has only been a change-of-pace back.
Score Prediction: Giants 27, Panthers 23
Arizona @ New Orleans
Cardinals-Saints has a relatively modest over-under at 48.5 points, in what I think has a sneaky chance to be Week 3's highest-scoring affair. Drew Brees only sits 15th in fantasy quarterback scoring through two games, a ranking guaranteed to rise. Arizona generates little defensive pressure, managing one early-season sack while allowing opponents to complete 68.9% of their throws with a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio. They've been carved up in consecutive weeks by Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford. Brees is an assassin with a clean pocket. ... Jimmy Graham was the No. 1 fantasy tight end in 2012. He's leading the field in scoring again this season, and Graham's 23 targets also rank first. Graham is already paying major dividends for owners who recognized supply and demand in fantasy drafts and took him in the first two rounds. ... Saints pass catchers move around the formation so much that one is difficult for defenses to "shadow." For instance, Darrelle Revis saw time on Graham, Kenny Stills and Marques Colston in Week 2, depending on coverages and offensive alignment. Cardinals top CB Patrick Peterson figures to do the same. Primarily a slot player -- Peterson plays outside the numbers -- Colston is safe to start as a WR2.
Brees' 2013 target distribution so far: Graham 23, Darren Sproles 14, Colston 13, Pierre Thomas 9, Lance Moore 8, Stills 6, Ben Watson 3. ... Stills and Moore are counteracting each other in weekly box scores. Neither is usable until bye weeks hit. ... Suspended ILB Daryl Washington would've come in awfully handy in this game for the Cardinals. 32-year-old replacement 'backer Karlos Dansby is struggling in pass coverage, and fellow inside thumper Jasper Brinkley leaves the field in all passing situations. Averaging 13.5 touches per game and constantly out in space, Sproles should tear this defense up. ... Regardless of matchups, Mark Ingram will be off the fantasy-start radar at least until bye-week crunches. Averaging 1.82 YPC with zero targets in the passing game, Ingram remains both a real-life and fantasy non-factor. ... Thomas is receiving 11 touches for 53.5 scoreless yards per game. Unlike Ingram, Thomas is an effective real-life player. But Thomas lacks Sproles' explosiveness and doesn't score touchdowns. He's an RB3.
Friday Update: Ingram didn't practice all week and is likely to miss Sunday's game with a toe injury. He can be dropped in 12-team leagues. Ingram's absence could translate to a handful more carries for Thomas, who is also positioned for additional red-zone work. The Ingram injury makes Thomas an intriguing flex play. I don't think the Saints will have any trouble moving the ball and entering scoring position against the Cardinals' defense in the Superdome.
I've been down on Rashard Mendenhall and still don't think he'll offer more than fringe flex value over the season's course, but this is a nice week to play him. Having lost more than half of their defensive front seven due to injury, the Saints are coughing up 5.28 yards per carry. Typically pass-happy Bruce Arians has thus far made a commitment to the run, as Arizona is averaging over 25 rush attempts per game. Consider Mendenhall a low-end RB2/flex in this cake matchup, then sell him high next week. ... Andre Ellington fits Arians' offense as a change-of-pace back and poor man's Sproles. The rookie played 21-of-75 snaps (28%) in Week 2 and turned six touches into 62 yards with a 36-yard touchdown on a wheel route. He's worth a speculative add in PPR leagues as a bench stash, but will probably never be a realistic option to carry the mail in Arizona. ... Rob Housler is expected to make his season debut Sunday after missing the first two games with a high ankle sprain. He's worth a look for tight end-desperate owners, but Arians has long underutilized tight ends in his passing attack. Arians is a decidedly wideout-oriented coach.
Larry Fitzgerald turned in a disappointing Week 2, attempting to play through a hamstring injury and managing 33 yards on two catches before sitting out the fourth quarter. He did not suffer a setback, however, and begged Arians to practice this week, suggesting the hamstring feels good again. Arians smartly resisted. Fitz is still going to play Sunday, and he's a WR1 whenever he dresses despite last week's bump in the road. ... With Fitz not 100 percent and shelved late against Detroit, nine Cardinals players finished with double-digit yards but none with more than Ellington's 42. Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd are fine complementary wideouts, but can't carry an offense. View Roberts and Floyd both as respectable WR3 plays in this possible shootout. ... The Saints' defense has played better than its talent suggests, but remains an unimposing matchup for run and pass games. Through two weeks, Carson Palmer ranks 12th in the NFL in pass attempts. He's a recommended two-QB league starter in Week 3, and viable standard-league streamer. Expect Palmer's pass-attempts ranking to jump on Sunday.
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Cardinals 24
Tampa Bay @ New England
Over his last five games, Josh Freeman has completed 99-of-189 throws (52.4%) for 1,208 yards (6.39 YPA) and a 4:11 TD-to-INT ratio with four lost fumbles. He's absorbed 11 sacks. This is a good week to play the Patriots' fantasy defense, which quietly ranks fourth against the pass and tied for fourth in interceptions. ... Amid poor quarterbacking, Vincent Jackson has maintained WR2 production because he's being peppered with targets in Tampa's downfield attack. Jackson ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and had a 73-yard touchdown negated by an illegal formation penalty in last week's loss to the Saints. He's an every-week starter. ... Remaining a touchdown-dependent fantasy commodity, No. 2 receiver Mike Williams has posted Weeks 1-2 stat lines of 4-52-1 and 2-9. I suspect we'll see Patriots top CB Aqib Talib shadow V-Jax and usual RCB Alfonzo Dennard take Williams in Sunday's game. Dennard isn't an easy draw; Pro Football Focus has graded the press-man specialist as a top-five cornerback and No. 4 overall in pass coverage. ... Tampa Bay is otherwise devoid of fantasy-viable pass catchers. Freeman has targeted Jackson 24 times, and Williams 14. Tailback Doug Martin is next closest on the team with seven early-season targets.
I know there is some concern in the fantasy community about the Bucs' franchise and a potential uprising against Greg Schiano. The one Bucs skill player I'd least worry about is Martin. A virtual lock for 20-plus carries per game behind the league's highest-paid offensive line, Martin will pay fantasy dividends regardless of the situation around him based purely on volume and ability. He's a playmaker getting the ball a lot. Defenses can sell out to stop him all they want; they already are and Martin ranks second in the league in rushing with an NFL-high 53 carries and a passing-game role that will only rise. The Pats have played somewhat leaky rush defense through two weeks, ranking 28th versus the run. Lock in Martin as an every-week fantasy starter and ride him.
Friday Update: A big plus for Martin's outlook is the return of LG Carl Nicks from a staph infection. Nicks practiced this week and will start Sunday at Foxboro. It'll be his first game since Week 8 of 2012. Nicks is an All Pro-caliber left guard, and his activity should go a long way toward helping the Bucs remove Pats NT Vince Wilfork from run plays.
The fickle fantasy owner declares Stevan Ridley a bust after two slow weeks. The forward thinker takes Ridley off the fickle owner's hands. Although New England's feature back has disappointed statistically in a small sample and draws a top-flight run defense in Week 3, the best approach for Ridley owners is to stay the course, and the best approach for non-Ridley owners is to buy low. The Patriots' offense will only get better, and Ridley the back looks exactly the same as last year, running with violence between the tackles and adding yardage to runs with quick feet for a 225-pound man. Consider Ridley a high-end RB2 and good bet for a goal-line plunge or two against the reeling Bucs. ... Although Rob Gronkowski is expected to miss one more game, forward thinkers should be excited about his forthcoming impact. Even if Gronk returns at 70-80% of the old Gronk, he'll be an impact in-line run blocker and command double and triple teams, making the players around him better. Consider Tom Brady a low-end QB1 against Tampa Bay, but he'll be back in the high-end QB1 mix shortly. He's the best buy-low quarterback in fantasy football.
The Patriots had ten days to fix their offense after managing a 13-10 Thursday night win over the Jets in Week 2. Believe, you, me: They're every bit as aware of their issues as you and I. After showing an obvious inability to run the complex option routes required of Pats receivers, I certainly wouldn't expect to see Aaron Dobson play significant snaps again. We could see more of Zach Sudfeld and Josh Boyce. Monitor these players; don't start them. ... Julian Edelman is headed for another huge game as the lone reliable wideout in Foxboro, at least until Danny Amendola (groin) returns. I still feel like Edelman is being undervalued in the fantasy world. His short-area quicks are on par with Amendola's, and Edelman is playing the Wes Welker role. He'll push for 15 targets and is an obvious plug-and-play starter. ... The Bucs have almost strictly used Darrelle Revis to shadow perimeter receivers. Per PFF's Mike Clay, just one of Revis' 120 defensive snaps has come in the slot. I expect Revis to be assigned to Kenbrell Thompkins for the majority of Sunday's game. I wouldn't start Thompkins due to the brutal matchup, but I do think he's played better than given credit for, and we'd probably be having an entirely different discussion of him had Thompkins' 27-yard touchdown catch stood against the Jets. Keep him rostered as a WR4.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Bucs 17
Green Bay @ Cincinnati
I hope you didn't rush to spend an early waiver pick or free agent bucks on James Starks. Starks has a forbidding matchup at Cincinnati in Week 3, the Packers have a bye in Week 4, and Eddie Lacy (concussion) is due back in Week 5. Through two weeks, the Bengals have permitted 125 yards on 44 carries (2.84 YPC), and the Packers lack adept run-blocking personnel. Look for Green Bay to attack Cincinnati with the pass, and Starks to disappoint as a short-term flex play. He just doesn't have much talent, which is why the Packers tried to get rid of him this offseason and drafted two backs. ... Jordy Nelson has 15 TDs over his last 17 regular season games and will run most of his routes into Bengals 35-year-old LCB Terence Newman's coverage. Nelson is a WR1. ... Aaron Rodgers is going to be under heavy duress versus Mike Zimmer's Geno Atkins- and Carlos Dunlap-led defense, but is an every-week fantasy starter, even if he's not quite a top-five play in this particular week. He's second in quarterback scoring behind only Peyton Manning entering Week 3. ... Rodgers' target distribution through two games: Randall Cobb 22, Jermichael Finley 15, Nelson and James Jones 14, Starks 6, Andrew Quarless 3, Lacy 2, John Kuhn 1.
I still believe Jones is destined for inconsistency as Rodgers' No. 4 pass option, but the likelihood of Week 3 run-game woes helps his cause, and Jones has a plus matchup with Pacman Jones, who plays right corner in Cincinnati's sub-packages. Jones runs most of his routes against RCBs. Consider Jones a boom-or-bust WR3. ... Cobb gets the toughest draw of Pack wideouts against slot CB Leon Hall, but is fifth in fantasy receiver scoring and paces a Rodgers-quarterbacked offense in targets. Start 'em. ... Finley is playing well enough to trust as a TE1, but expectations may need to be checked in Week 3. Packers OTs David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay will not be able to block Bengals DEs Dunlap and Michael Johnson one on one, so coach Mike McCarthy is going to have to take precautions. That said, I had the same concern for Finley in Week 1 at San Francisco, and he wound up running routes on 60% of his snaps. PFF has charted Finley with only six pass-block attempts on the year, and he's seventh in standard-league tight end points. ... The one thing I'm not worried about with Starks is "sharing the load." Kuhn didn't practice this week with a hamstring injury. Rookie Johnathan Franklin has yet to play a down.
Giovani Bernard's time is coming; he's just not there yet. Confirming his playmaking ability on a national stage last Monday, Gio parlayed nine touches into 65 yards, scoring touchdowns in both the run and pass games. He's now averaging 5.00 YPC compared to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2.8. Unfortunately, Bernard still hasn't received double-digit touches in either of the first two games, and only played 29-of-84 snaps (34.5%) against the Steelers in Week 2. Bernard will be an every-week RB2 sooner rather than later, but remains a flex-starter only until we see his role and workloads rise. ... Because he lacks any semblance of big-play run skills, Green-Ellis' flex start-ability depends entirely on his chances of getting week-to-week goal-line scores. BJGE carried the rock 22 times versus Pittsburgh, but gained 75 scoreless yards and was essentially "vultured" on Bernard's seven-yard first-quarter touchdown run. The Law Firm will soon be droppable in fantasy leagues, if he isn't already. ... Dalton sits 16th in fantasy quarterback points through two games after finishing 2012 14th in per-game scoring. He's a clear-cut fantasy backup, although Dalton has additional appeal this week in a possible shootout as he goes toe to toe with Rodgers.
Dalton's target allocation through two games: A.J. Green 27, Jermaine Gresham 14, Mohamed Sanu 13, Tyler Eifert 10, Marvin Jones 6, Bernard 4, Green-Ellis 2. ... No. 1 wide receivers are throttling the Packers, who might consider demoting either Tramon Williams or Sam Shields were Casey Hayward (hamstring) healthy. Hayward won't return until after Green Bay's Week 4 bye. Anquan Boldin toasted the Pack for 13-208-1 in Week 1, and Pierre Garcon followed that up last week with an 8-143-1 bonanza. Only Megatron should be higher in this week's fantasy wideout rankings than Green. ... This game's high-scoring potential gives Cincinnati's complementary pass catchers increased Week 3 appeal, but they're still all game-to-game shots in the dark. Sanu will hurt your fantasy team if he doesn't catch a red-zone touchdown. Gresham and Eifert's weekly box-score stats have been similar to this point, with neither separating from the two-tight end cancellation. Fourth receiver Jones is only playing 29.4% of the snaps. Best of luck picking one.
Score Prediction: Packers 28, Bengals 24
St. Louis @ Dallas
In Week 2, Falcons DC Mike Nolan provided the NFL a blueprint for rendering Jared Cook a non-factor by beating him up at the line of scrimmage with a linebacker and showing a safety over the top. After his Week 1 explosion (7-141-2), Cook was limited to one catch for ten yards. Of course, these things tend to be cyclical. Doubling Cook led to stat lines of 5-105, 8-78-1, and 6-47-2 for Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, and Tavon Austin, respectively, and a near-comeback win for St. Louis. So Cowboys DC Monte Kiffin won't necessarily copy Nolan’s approach. Kiffin's Tampa 2 was touched up by pedestrian Brandon Myers for 9-66-1 in Week 1 and plodding Chiefs TEs Sean McGrath and Anthony Fasano for four catches and 57 yards last Sunday. Cook will remain inconsistent because his skill set is somewhat limited -- he doesn't do anything underneath -- but I'd be excited to start him at Dallas. ... Austin's role is already growing. The rookie slot receiver played 75% of St. Louis' Week 2 snaps and will be worth every-week WR3 consideration going forward. ... Pettis' 78-yard game against the Falcons was the first over 55 of his three-year career. Look elsewhere for fantasy sleepers. Pettis will begin losing snaps to more explosive Brian Quick sooner rather than later. ... Sam Bradford's 2013 target distribution so far: Austin 19, Pettis 17, Cook 16, Daryl Richardson 12, Givens 11, Lance Kendricks 7, Isaiah Pead 4, Quick 3.
Bradford quietly ranks fifth in fantasy quarterback points through two games, although he's in for a difficult test Sunday. The Rams will be without RT Rodger Saffold (MCL sprain), replaced by journeyman Joseph Barksdale. The Cowboys are moving usual RE DeMarcus Ware around more this year, and per PFF's Mike Clay Ware has played 22 snaps rushing off the left edge. Barksdale will get creamed if/when they match up one on one. I like Bradford in two-QB leagues because this game has some high-scoring potential, but would shy away in standard settings. Kiffin's defense has seven sacks, three picks, and three forced fumbles through two weeks. ... Givens got back on track in Atlanta, though he's not being heavily targeted. He'll be a boom-or-bust weekly proposition at this rate. I do like Givens' Week 3 matchup with disappointing Cowboys RCB Morris Claiborne, who's playing through several shoulder separations. ... Historically Kiffin's defenses have never played the run especially well. This year, Dallas ranks 11th in run defense but is permitting a fairly generous 4.21 YPC. Richardson is a respectable flex option, but Pead is worth rostering in all leagues. Failing to gain more than what's blocked, Richardson lacks job security.
We knew the Rams' safeties would be a major weakness, but usual top CB Cortland Finnegan's glaring pass-coverage struggles were not expected. Pro Football Focus has charted Finnegan with 10 completions allowed into his coverage on 11 attempts for 156 yards and a touchdown. He's PFF's 93rd-rated corner out of 93. (Dead last for the math majors.) This is a matchup that should benefit both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, who is seeing more slot work of late. Dallas is moving its receivers around the formation. Finnegan is St. Louis' slot corner in all sub-packages. Consider Austin a strong WR3 play and Dez, per usual, an every-week WR1. ... Tony Romo's target distribution through two games: Bryant 21, Jason Witten 17, DeMarco Murray and Austin 16, Terrance Williams 7, James Hanna 5, Dwayne Harris 4. ... The Rams have defended tight ends well thus far -- Tony Gonzalez (4-33) and whomever Arizona trotted out can speak to that -- but it's likely only a matter of time before St. Louis' defense is dusted at the position. The Rams are weak at safety and outside linebacker, the positions most often tasked with covering tight ends. Witten is the No. 10 overall fantasy tight end at the moment. Look for that ranking to rise.
On paper at least, Romo has plus matchups throughout his pass-catching corps. The trench war still isn't in his favor. Rams LE Chris Long can handle Cowboys RT Doug Free, and RE Robert Quinn has been the NFC's premier edge presence early in the season. View Romo as a back-end QB1. ... St. Louis is also playing the toughest run defense it has in years. The Rams are sixth in the NFL versus the run, submitting only 2.90 yards per carry. One plus for Murray is the growing role of new RG Brian Waters, who may not start over Mackenzy Bernadeau but could end up with more snaps. Although Murray's straight-line stiffness and almost complete lack of elusiveness limit his effectiveness and solidify him as injury prone, he's an every-week RB2 starter when healthy. Murray essentially has zero competition for workloads in his own backfield. Phillip Tanner is just a guy. Change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar lost a fumble last week. Joseph Randle isn't playing. It's a tough matchup, but Murray could legitimately see 30 touches against the Rams.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 28, Rams 23
Cleveland @ Minnesota
With Brandon Weeden (thumb) shelved and Trent Richardson in Indy, the Browns are officially a dumpster-fire offense. Back from suspension, Josh Gordon couldn't have dreamed up a worse scenario. In an effort to mask protection woes, Cleveland has chosen noodle-armed Brian Hoyer to call signals on Sunday, essentially for the sole reason that he makes quick decisions and gets rid of the ball. Hoyer's skill set is wholly unconducive to Norv Turner’s vertical offense, and Gordon is a vertical receiver. It's a wait-and-see week for Gordon owners. ... Through two games, the Browns have scored 16 points and allowed 11 sacks. With Hoyer at the controls and Cleveland devoid of a run game, the Vikings are Week 3's best option for fantasy defense streamers. I'm starting Minnesota in two of my leagues. ... The one Browns skill-position player with a fighting chance of emerging from Week 3 with substantive box-score success is Jordan Cameron. Cameron plays in the slot, split from the formation, and runs high-percentage pass routes, where weak-armed Hoyer will have a chance to get him the football. The Browns are dialing up plenty of plays designed to feed Cameron; he leads all AFC tight ends in targets (20). Cameron certainly is a risk -- he's a low-end TE1 and not the high-end TE1 he's produced as -- but he at least has a chance to pay off.
While I don't anticipate a big-stat game from Gordon, the plus from his return is he's the kind of receiver who can tilt coverage, making life easier on players who work at the first and second levels. That's Cameron. ... Greg Little was a predictable dud during Gordon's two-game ban, and is now being demoted. Sluggish slot receiver Davone Bess will get the start in two-wide sets. Bess, and especially Little, are waiver-wire fodder facing off with long-armed, big-bodied Vikings CBs Xavier Rhodes and Chris Cook. ... Trent Richardson got no room behind Cleveland's O-Line through two games, so it would be preposterous to project any modicum of success for Chris Ogbonnaya, Bobby Rainey, and 32-year-old street free agent Willis McGahee in the same offense behind the same blockers. Following the Richardson trade, the Browns may have just bypassed Arizona as likeliest to rank dead last in the NFL in yards-per-carry efficiency. Obviously, none of Cleveland's backs are worth starting in Week 3. McGahee is the favorite for carries going forward.
Christian Ponder's stats over his last 15 games: 266-of-444 passing (59.9%) for 2,685 yards (6.05 YPA), and a 16:17 TD-to-INT ratio with six fumbles, losing four. NFL Films game-tape aficionado Greg Cosell has publicly compared Ponder to Mark Sanchez. ... Jerome Simpson was predictably exposed as this year's Frisman Jackson/Kevin Ogletree: A Week 1 box-score star (7-140) who flopped in Week 2 (2-49 on five targets) and probably will continue to flop the rest of the way. The Vikings' superior X receiver option is Cordarrelle Patterson, whom OC Bill Musgrave can't figure out how to involve in the offense. Musgrave once had the same perplexing problems keeping Percy Harvin on the field. Musgrave is one of the least imaginative playcallers in football. So far, Patterson has played 11-of-121 offensive snaps (9.1%). ... Browns DC Ray Horton has used top CB Joe Haden as a shadow corner in each of Cleveland's first two games. He held Mike Wallace to a 1-15 line in Week 1, although Torrey Smith touched up Haden for 7-85 on 13 targets last week. It's not clear whether the Browns will let Haden follow Greg Jennings into the slot, where he's seeing most of his targets. Either way, Jennings is a low-end WR3. Jennings has not been targeted quite as frequently as I anticipated, though he is coming off a five-catch, 84-yard game.
Ponder's Weeks 1-2 distribution of targets: Jennings and Simpson 13, Kyle Rudolph 10, Adrian Peterson 6, Jarius Wright 4, John Carlson and Patterson 3. ... Rudolph now has three or fewer receptions in 12 of his last 19 games. Rudolph will pay off as a fantasy start if and only if he scores a red-zone touchdown against the Browns, and he'll hurt you if he doesn't. Will he? Your guess is as good as mine. Opposing tight end stats versus Horton's defense so far: Charles Clay 5-54; Ed Dickson/Dallas Clark/Billy Bajema 2-26. ... The Browns have played stout early-season defense, ranking fourth in the league versus the run and permitting a league-low 1.95 YPC following formidable matchups with Lamar Miller and Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce. Look for that yards-per-attempt number to rise and Cleveland's run-defense ranking to drop after Sunday's date with Peterson. There's little analysis required with "A.D." You start him regardless of matchups.
Score Prediction: Vikings 17, Browns 6
4:05PM ET Game
Atlanta @ Miami
I love getting to bigger sample sizes because Week 1 games are the least predictable of any, all year, every year, and also least indicative of what's to come. After a Week 1 clunker, Lamar Miller rebounded to rack up 16 touches and average 4.93 yards per carry at Indianapolis, scoring a first-quarter touchdown from ten yards out. Miller demonstrated explosion on stretch-zone runs, where he repeatedly came within an arm tackle of busting a long one. Plodding rotational back Daniel Thomas had nine touches and is averaging 2.75 yards per carry on the year. Miller will separate from Thomas sooner rather than later, and is worth starting as a high-ceiling RB2/flex against Atlanta. Dealt enormous blows up front this week, the Falcons lost LE/SLB Kroy Biermann to a torn Achilles' and WLB Sean Weatherspoon (foot) to injured reserve/designated for return. Both Biermann and Weatherspoon were every-snap players in DC Mike Nolan's multiple defense. ... Through two games, Nolan's unit has been carved up to the tune of 64.4% completions, a 355 passing-yard average, and 5:2 TD-to-INT ratio. The Falcons have managed two sacks as a team, and Biermann's loss will be felt off the edge. Making obvious year-two strides, Ryan Tannehill outplayed Andrew Luck in Miami's Week 2 win and is emerging as a high-end QB2 in fantasy.
Tannehill's target distribution through two weeks: Brian Hartline 22, Mike Wallace 16, Charles Clay 13, Brandon Gibson 12, Miller 3. ... After being discouraged by Wallace's Week 1 usage as strictly an isolation runner down the sideline, I found his Week 2 route tree quite promising. Wallace ran patterns over the middle and caught his 18-yard touchdown on a receiver screen, appearing to be a true featured player. Wallace is sure to have ups and downs in a new offense, but he'll deliver WR2-caliber season stats if OC Mike Sherman continues to employ him in creative ways. ... Hartline and Gibson were Miami's primary means of ball movement in the opener. In Week 2, they took predictable backseats to a more involved Wallace and far more productive run game, as Hartline finished with five catches for 68 yards and Gibson one for 11 against the Colts. Hartline is a fantasy WR5. Gibson is off the radar. ... Clay vultured a goal-line score at Indianapolis and has secured 10 of his 13 targets for 163 yards. He's an underneath pass catcher, vying with Gibson for targets over the middle and serving as Tannehill's safety valve. Clay is not a fantasy TE1, though he could be worth a look during upcoming bye-week crunches.
The Falcons enter Week 2 with a depleted rushing attack in a matchup annually unkind to ball carriers. Through two weeks, Miami's deep, stout defensive front has permitted 142 yards on 35 carries (4.06 YPC) to opposing tailbacks, and those numbers are likely generous in predictive terms. Atlanta won't be able to run in this game. Expect a pass-happy approach from the Falcons, which is typical for pass-happy OC Dirk Koetter anyway. The Fins' weakness is in the secondary, where they play burnable Nolan Carroll at right corner with Brent Grimes on the left side and Dimitri Patterson in the slot. Matt Ryan is a strong QB1. ... Julio Jones has seen all but one of his 23 targets on the season against right corners and over the middle. He will feast on Carroll. ... The Dolphins also struggle in tight end coverage, which has become an annual theme. Browns TEs tagged Miami for a combined 10-117-1 line on Opening Day, and Colts TEs followed up with 5-82-1, despite the fact that Coby Fleener had a would-be second touchdown catch negated on an illegal shift penalty away from the play. Tony Gonzalez has started somewhat slow after skipping over half of training camp on an agreement with team management. This'll be his breakout game.
Friday Update: There's good news and bad news for Ryan. Fins slot CB Patterson (groin) has been ruled out, but so has Falcons LT Sam Baker (knee/foot), which means Atlanta will start RT Lamar Holmes on Ryan's blindside and eighth-year journeyman Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle. Ryan is going to have to get rid of the football quickly. I would still start him due to a near-inevitable high volume of pass attempts, and Julio and Gonzo's very favorable matchups. The Falcons may struggle, but Ryan will put up numbers.
Fantasy owners' best strategy with Roddy White is to put him on "prove-it" weeks until he resumes producing, and consider it a plus the first game he does, despite being on your bench. Because you'll then know he's safe to play going forward. White can't be trusted on a high ankle sprain. He's only played 59.5% of the snaps so far, and is sixth on the team in targets. ... Harry Douglas has been a 79% player with White nursing the injury, but lacks playmaking ability and is coming off a scoreless 43-yard game. He's a fantasy WR4/5 with an arrow pointing down. Douglas' role will decrease sooner rather than later, as White's involvement inevitably, eventually rises. ... Look for Atlanta's run-game volume to be scaled back in the absence of Steven Jackson (thigh). With Jackson missing all but nine downs in Week 2, Jacquizz Rodgers played 40 snaps and received 15 touches. Jason Snelling played 30 downs and got six touches, although some fantasy owners will see his fourth-quarter 11-yard touchdown and rush to add him. Rodgers is the better flex play against the Dolphins. The only way Atlanta will have backfield success versus this stout, oft-immovable defensive front is by getting Quizz into space. Big back Snelling isn't going anywhere.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 27, Falcons 24
4:25PM ET Games
Buffalo @ NY Jets
Invigorated by the Week 3 return of end-backer Quinton Coples (ankle), the Jets' revamped front seven gets its third consecutive shot to shut down a premier NFL back after bottling up Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley in Weeks 1-2. Through two games, Rex Ryan's defense has permitted 119 yards on 49 carries (2.43 YPC). While this is inarguably a trying matchup for C.J. Spiller, it's worth noting he presents different issues than 220-plus-pound downhill backs Martin and Ridley. Spiller is a jump-cutting slasher who consistently outruns defenders to the corner, and is coming off a Week 2 game where he shredded Carolina's similarly imposing defensive front for 129 total yards, averaging 6.44 yards per carry. Spiller is a top-ten fantasy running back play in Week 3. ... The run-first Bills are indeed employing a committee backfield, although Spiller has played 82 snaps to Fred Jackson's 57, and has 42 touches to F-Jax's 33. Consider Jackson a low-end flex with the possibility of random goal-line scores. Jackson scored a touchdown from four yards out in Week 2, although Spiller also had a carry at the Panthers' six-yard line earlier in the game that got Buffalo's offense down to the Carolina two. So the Bills' lead back is certainly not out of the scoring-position mix.
Under rookie offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, the Bills continue to employ a dink-and-dunk, high-percentage passing attack that takes what defenses give it. E.J. Manuel has a 68.2 completion rate, although he's averaging under seven yards per attempt and has done surprisingly little running (seven scrambles, 36 yards). Consider Manuel a low-end fantasy backup until Hackett opens up the offense. This energetic and exotic Jets defense is not a matchup for standard leaguers to get cute with, trying to start Manuel. ... Manuel's target distribution through two starts: Stevie Johnson 16, Scott Chandler 12, Jackson and Spiller 11, Robert Woods 8, T.J. Graham 4. ... Expect Johnson to match up with Antonio Cromartie on virtually every snap Johnson plays outside the numbers, but keep in mind he's doing a lot of slot work this season, too, and Cromartie almost never follows receivers inside. Seven of Johnson's 16 targets so far have come as a slot receiver. Despite last week's 8-111-1 outburst, Johnson is no more than a middling to low-end fantasy WR3 against the Jets. ... Headlined by Chandler -- who has 48 yards on the season -- the rest of Buffalo's pass catchers are role players unworthy of fantasy roster spots.
Although it's clear Chris Ivory is the Jets' best ball carrier, Bilal Powell is going to stay involved due to superior passing-game chops. OC Marty Mornhinweg is a pass-obsessed playcaller -- rookie QB Geno Smith already ranks in the top half of the NFL in pass attempts -- and Powell is New York's best receiving and blocking back. Expect a timeshare moving forward, leaving Ivory in RB3 territory with talent-deficient Powell as an RB4. Ivory is worth flex consideration this week because Buffalo's defense lacks stoutness up front. The Bills have allowed 272 yards on 58 carries (4.69 YPC) to enemy tailbacks through two games. ... Smith went 1-of-6 on throws of ten-plus yards in Week 2 against the Patriots. His play thus far has been uneven at best, turning the ball over five times through two games with Mornhinweg clearly asking too much of the organization's second-round pick. Even in a plus matchup with a banged-up Buffalo pass defense, Smith is a fantasy QB3. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last week that there is already support among Jets brass for backup Matt Simms to play over Geno. Simms didn't commit a single turnover on 67 preseason dropbacks, and it's conceivable he'd be a better option to manage games than Smith.
Smith's target distribution through two starts: Stephen Hill 17, Kellen Winslow 14, Clyde Gates 12, Powell 10, Santonio Holmes 9, Jeremy Kerley 4. ... The Jets' starting receivers are Hill at Z and Holmes at X, although Kerley is back from a concussion that cost him Week 2 and will shake up the corps. Kerley is the Jets' best possession receiver and does his work inside the numbers, where Winslow also operates. With a struggling rookie quarterback in a game with a low-scoring projection, Jets pass catchers are best left avoided in fantasy lineups this week. At 39 points, Bills-Jets has the lowest over-under of all Week 3 games. It's the lowest of any 2013 game so far.
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Bills 17
Indianapolis @ San Francisco
Wednesday's acquisition of Trent Richardson bodes well for Indy's ability to keep the chains moving, setting up scoring chances. At the same time, the Richardson move reinforces what the Colts were selling all offseason: rookie OC Pep Hamilton wants balance and a foundation power run game. Andrew Luck's pass attempts are going to take a hit. The development limits Luck's statistical passing ceiling, so he'll have to compensate with sheer playmaking ability. Thus far Luck has done just that, ranking seventh in fantasy quarterback scoring despite sitting 23rd in the NFL in pass attempts through two weeks. Luck is a bit of a tough sell as more than a back-end QB1 at Candlestick, but I wouldn't be opposed to starting him. The 49ers' secondary is their most glaring roster weakness, and San Francisco may be without stud rookie FS Eric Reid after last week's concussion. If Colin Kaepernick lights up Indy's defense -- and that's a strong possibility -- Luck's pass attempts won't be a Week 3 issue. He's a top-dozen quarterback play for me. ... T-Rich owners are understandably excited about his new digs, and I would be, too. He will be in the mix to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns over the season's final 14 weeks. I'd still think twice about playing him in a brutal road matchup where Richardson may only see a handful of carries. He has two practices as a Colt, and is still getting familiar with the offense and his new blockers. View Richardson as a Week 3 flex option, and top-five RB1 play in Week 4 against Jacksonville.
Ahmad Bradshaw is in the same Week 3 boat with an arrow pointing straight down. He may share Sunday's backfield with Richardson, but will be reduced to a handcuff/bench stash thereafter. ... Dwayne Allen's year-ending hip surgery locks in Coby Fleener as a high-ceiling TE1. With Allen out last week, Fleener played 83.6% of Indy's offensive snaps and registered a 4-69-1 stat line that would've been 5-84-2 if a Reggie Wayne illegal shift penalty hadn't nullified Fleener's third-quarter 15-yard score. ... Luck's target distribution through two weeks: T.Y. Hilton 17, Wayne 16, Fleener and Darrius Heyward-Bey 9, Bradshaw 4, Griff Whalen 3. ... Like Fleener, Hilton benefited from Allen's Week 2 absence and will continue to. The Colts' most explosive weapon racked up a career-high 124 yards -- all in the first half against the Dolphins -- and played 68.5% of the snaps after managing 45.6% in the opener. I still think Hilton should be playing more, but we'll take what we can get. Burner Hilton is a high-upside WR3 play versus 49ers LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, who lacks any semblance of recovery speed. ... As alluded to before, I like Luck this week because I like his receivers' matchups. Per PFF's Mike Clay, eight of Wayne's 16 targets have come in the slot, where he'll face off with 32-year-old 49ers slot CB Carlos Rogers. Wayne is a recommended WR2. ... Heyward-Bey's role is to be determined. He's coming off a Week 2 shoulder injury and has been severely outplayed by Hilton since preseason games. Consider DHB a WR5 for now.
The Colts' defense could not contain Terrelle Pryor's running ability in Week 1, and in Week 2 got shredded by Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace in the passing game. Despite playing average to below-average offenses, Indy ranks 23rd in total defense and 29th against the run, and has been mediocre defending the pass. They'll face the NFL's ultimate dual-threat quarterback on Sunday. Despite last week's slow game in Seattle, Colin Kaepernick is a top-five QB1 start in Week 3. ... The Seahawks used Richard Sherman differently than they historically have on Anquan Boldin. Instead of sticking to his typical LCB side, Sherman followed Boldin into the slot and shut him down, limiting San Francisco's top wideout to a seven-yard reception on four targets. Boldin is a strong bounce-back bet versus Colts LCB Greg Toler, whom much-less-physical Wallace torched a week ago. ... Kaepernick's early-season target distribution: Boldin 21, Vernon Davis 14, Kyle Williams 12, Bruce Miller 7, Frank Gore 5, Vance McDonald 4, Quinton Patton 0. ... Until one of San Francisco's complementary wideouts steps forward -- and it may not happen -- Williams, Patton, and Marlon Moore are unworthy of serious fantasy discussion. Williams remains the best long-shot bet of the group. He's playing 76% of the snaps and has 75 yards through two games.
Davis yanked his left hamstring late in last week's loss to Seattle, but rested it during the practice week and is fully expected to start. Indy got eaten alive by underwhelming Dolphins TE Charles Clay (5-109) in Week 2 and coughed up three catches for 67 yards to the Raiders' no-name tight ends on Opening Day, including a 41-yard gain by Jeron Mastrud (who?) where he got behind the entire defense, uncovered. Davis is a top-three tight end start. ... I encouraged fantasy owners on Twitter all week to buy low on Frank Gore, because that buy-low window is going to slam shut after Sunday's game. Perhaps 30-year-old Gore has lost half a step, but he still runs behind the most physical offensive line in the game and plays in the same backfield as the game's most explosive dual-threat quarterback, which will inevitably work to Angry Frank's benefit. Indianapolis ranks 29th versus the run and has already served up three rushing scores through two games as well as 4.53 yards per carry -- the eighth-worst mark in football.
Friday Update: Davis missed his third consecutive practice Friday, and Niner beat writers were not nearly as optimistic about his Week 3 availability as they were earlier in the week. Coach Jim Harbaugh deemed Davis -- as well as backup Vance McDonald (ankle) -- a game-time decision against the Colts. Keep it locked on Rotoworld Sunday morning for updates. Davis is a must-start if he looks poised to play.
Score Prediction: 49ers 30, Colts 23
Jacksonville @ Seattle
Maurice Jones-Drew's chances of playing are dicey after injuring the ankle tendon on the same left foot he had surgically repaired last winter. He'd be a poor fantasy option regardless. Seattle's defense has limited opposing backs to 109 scoreless yards on 32 carries (3.41 YPC), and MJD has struggled mightily coming off the 2012 Lisfranc tear, averaging 3.70 yards per preseason run and 2.88 YPC on 25 real-game attempts. On 35 combined preseason and regular season carries, Jones-Drew has a long gain of 10. I don't typically recommend selling "low" on fantasy players, but would consider it with MJD. He's not the same guy he was in 2011. ... Jones-Drew has no clear handcuff. Coach Gus Bradley has stated Jordan Todman and Justin Forsett would share the backfield if MJD doesn't play, with some Denard Robinson mixed in. Todman would figure to get the nominal start in an impossible matchup with an uncertain workload. Todman has six carries for nine yards on the season, and is on his third NFL team since the Vikings drafted him in the sixth round three Aprils ago. ... Marcedes Lewis is tentatively due back from his two-week calf injury, which means he'll be on the line helping OTs Luke Joeckel and Eugene Monroe block Cliff Avril, Red Bryant, Michael Bennett, and a returning Chris Clemons. Lewis could score a red-zone TD Sunday and still have no fantasy value.
Friday Update: Lewis practiced this week on a limited basis, but didn't make as much progress as the Jaguars hoped and was ruled out on Friday. Allen Reisner -- he of five catches for 40 scoreless yards -- will replace Lewis in the starting lineup again.
The Jags are a nightmare offensively. Joeckel has been noticeably overpowered as a run blocker, and Jacksonville has already experienced a quarterback switch. There is no running game until further notice. The Jaguars needed 25 offensive possessions before scoring their first touchdown of the 2013 season -- a garbage-time 13-yard "strike" from Chad Henne to reserve tight end Clay Harbor. The box-score beneficiary is Cecil Shorts, who through two games ranks fourth in the NFL in targets (25) and is coming off an eight-catch, 93-yard Week 2 effort in Oakland. Shorts' Week 3 concern is Seattle's physical press-man coverage, which disrupts routes at the line of scrimmage. Shorts' bread and butter is route precision. He remains on the WR3 radar with the potential to be saved by pass-happy catch-up mode. ... With Justin Blackmon suspended until Week 5 and Mike Brown nursing a back injury, Ace Sanders will start for the second straight week. The rookie slot receiver caught five balls for 64 yards against the Raiders, ranking second on the Jags in targets (7) behind Shorts. Sanders is perhaps worth a look in ultra-deep leagues.
The Seahawks should control this matchup from start to finish, imposing their will in the running game. Through two weeks, Jacksonville ranks last in the AFC in run defense and is permitting a league-high 5.69 yards per rush attempt. Look for a handful of BeastMode runs from Marshawn Lynch. ... While this is a favorable matchup for Russell Wilson, beware a blowout victory in which not much is asked of Seattle's quarterback. The Seahawks are staying true to run-first form, as Wilson ranks 30th in pass attempts behind the likes of Terrelle Pryor and Josh Freeman, and just ahead of Jake Locker. Seattle is a whopping 19.5-point favorite per Vegas' prognostications. Treat Wilson as a back-end QB1 with a touch more risk than meets the eye. Wilson won't meet fantasy expectations if the Seahawks continue to use him as they have. He's also without blindside tackle Russell Okung (turf toe), increasing the likelihood of a decidedly run-first Seahawks game plan.
Wilson's target distribution through two weeks: Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate 9, Sidney Rice and Zach Miller 8, Lynch 6, Robert Turbin and Derrick Coleman 3. ... The Seahawks are the only team in football without a pass catcher in double-digit targets. Wilson is throwing to the open man, and Seattle isn't throwing much overall. Particularly in a game where the Seahawks won't have to throw to win, Tate, Baldwin, Miller, and Rice are undesirable fantasy plays. Something will have to change for them to take statistical leaps. Tate is a WR4, Rice a WR5, and Miller a low-end TE2. ... Christine Michael was inactive for Week 2, which isn't a surprise because Turbin is Seattle's third-down and change-of-pace back, and Coleman is Lynch's lead blocker. Michael doesn't play on special teams. I still believe preseason standout Michael would be significantly involved were Lynch to miss time, and I'd bet on him leading Seattle in carries in that scenario. I like Michael as an RB5 lottery-ticket bench stash. I'd roster him over Turbin in a standard league.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 27, Jaguars 3
Sunday Night Football
Chicago @ Pittsburgh
The Steelers emerged from last Monday's loss to Cincinnati believing Felix Jones is their best tailback, which is problematic for two reasons: 1. Jones' burst evaporated several seasons ago, and 2. They're playing the Bears' run defense, which is permitting 3.44 yards per carry. "I was encouraged by Felix Jones and what he'll be able to do moving forward," said coach Mike Tomlin this week, after watching the Week 2 tape. "He knew when to bounce it and when to put his foot in the ground and get vertical. There were some things we can build upon." Consider Jones a shaky flex option versus Chicago. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have no fantasy value. ... Heath Miller will return from last year's triple-ligament knee tear against the Bears, which at least may give Pittsburgh's pass protection a puncher's chance. Miller is an excellent blocker. Practice observers noticed a "giddyup" in Miller's gait during the week, which suggests he may not be a passing-game asset for awhile, other than on desperation dump-offs. I expect he'll spend most of Sunday night helping LT Mike Adams and RT Marcus Gilbert block Bears RE Julius Peppers and LE Corey Wootton. Favoring Chicago, this is a major mismatch in the trenches.
The Steelers' offense is being torpedoed by protection woes, and they couldn't ask for a much more difficult Week 3 draw than the Bears' loaded front. Chicago goes six deep on the D-Line, with franchise player Henry Melton, 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin, trusty NT Stephen Paea, and gap-shooting sub rusher Nate Collins behind Peppers and Wootton. It's hard to imagine Ben Roethlisberger finding room in the pocket. He's a low-end QB2. ... Big Ben's targets through two games: Emmanuel Sanders 22, Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery 16, Redman 5, David Paulson 4, Jones 0. ... Perhaps the discussion of Brown would have a different tone had his 33-yard catch against the Bengals not been nullified by a Marcus Gilbert tripping flag back at the line of scrimmage, but it's pretty clear he's being miscast as an X-Iso receiver. Brown is a natural Z and underneath playmaker, where he can make defenders miss. He doesn't have Mike Wallace's long speed. Brown will likely struggle for big openings until the Steelers begin using more of Markus Wheaton at X, and moving Brown back to Z. ... Pittsburgh's current Z is Sanders, who has 12 catches for 135 yards on the season. Until the Steelers show tangible signs of pass-game competency, I'd be hard pressed to recommend Brown or Sanders as more than a shaky WR3 in forbidding matchups like this one, versus Bears lockdown CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
The Steelers are playing bottom-five offense, but Dick LeBeau's defense is as sharp and stout as ever. Pro Football Focus grades Pittsburgh as a top-ten pass rushing team, despite managing one sack through two games. What that tells me is the sacks are coming. Jay Cutler has flirted with early-season QB1 value and should be in that discussion most of the year, but I wouldn't start him outside of two-quarterback leagues Sunday night at Heinz Field. ... Steelers top CB Ike Taylor held A.J. Green to 41 yards on six catches in Week 2, but Brandon Marshall is a different, more physical animal. Marshall and Taylor have faced off twice before: With Kyle Orton calling Denver's signals in 2009, Marshall went off for 112 yards on 11 grabs. With Chad Henne quarterbacking the 2010 Dolphins, Marshall managed five receptions for 57 yards. I'd still consider him a top-ten fantasy wideout play in Week 3. ... Alshon Jeffery has been quiet on the other side, with 53 scoreless yards on six receptions to date. Wait for Jeffery to pick it up. He's a WR4.
Cutler's early-season target distribution: Marshall 20, Matt Forte 17, Martellus Bennett 15, Jeffery 13, Earl Bennett 3. ... I loved Martellus as a breakout candidate before training camp. His minimal preseason participation admittedly freaked me out, and I temporarily jumped off the train. I'm back on. Bennett has been Chicago's No. 3 option in the pass game and a red-zone monster, playing all but two of the offensive snaps thus far. Pro Football Focus has charted Bennett with running pass routes on 64.4% of his plays, which is a high number. For perspective, Jimmy Graham runs routes on 64.1% of his snaps. So Bennett is very involved in a production-friendly passing attack, and the Bears are trying to score with him. I'd start Bennett as a confident TE1 against a Steelers defense that coughed up nine receptions for 132 yards to Bengals tight ends last week. ... Forte probably won't have much room to run on the Steelers, who are allowing 3.14 yards per carry. He can compensate with all-purpose ability. Forte's 17 targets lead all NFL running backs through two weeks, and he's sixth in standard-league fantasy scoring at the position. Forte is worth starting every week, regardless of matchup. Onetime goal-line vulture Michael Bush is no longer a factor.
Score Prediction: Bears 20, Steelers 17
Monday Night Football
Oakland @ Denver
Broncos backfield roles have clarified just in time for a cake matchup with the Raiders. Clear lead runner Knowshon Moreno led Denver backs in snaps (46), touches (16), and yards (107) in Week 2 against the Giants, ripping off 20- and 25-yard TD runs in the 41-23 victory. Montee Ball will stay involved as a change-up back and red-zone option, but Moreno is set up for a hot stretch after sheer reliability earned him the spot atop the depth chart. Denver's next seven games: vs. OAK, vs. PHI, @ DAL, vs. JAX, @ IND, vs. WAS, @ SD. Ride Moreno as an RB2/flex. LT Ryan Clady's year-ending Lisfranc injury further solidifies Moreno, as he is Denver's top pass-protection back. ... Internally, Ball remains the Broncos' preferred long-term solution, but he's made zero headway. Averaging 2.0 YPC with a fumble lost, Ball is a mere bench stash in fantasy. For his part, Ball has graded out positively in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking charts. He's still worth rostering as an RB3/4. On Monday night, look for the Broncos to grab a big lead and ride the run game with Clady out of the lineup. Ball is going to keep getting opportunities. ... All but weeded out of Denver's offense, Ronnie Hillman played two Week 2 snaps and got one carry. He can be dropped in 12-team leagues. ... Peyton Manning is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback through two weeks, and the top QB play of Week 3. Already talent deficient throughout their pass defense, the Raiders lost top defensive back Tyvon Branch to a fractured fibula in Week 2. Oakland is going to get undressed.
The Raiders often used Branch to shadow opposing tight ends, so his absence upgrades Julius Thomas' matchup. Thomas has played 150-of-150 offensive snaps, and is a virtual lock to finish among the top 5-8 fantasy tight ends if he stays healthy. ... Including January's playoffs, Manning has a 49:13 TD-to-INT ratio in 19 games as a Bronco. One of Denver's top-four pass catchers will likely be left out of the weekly fantasy bonanzas, though the outsider will be virtually impossible to predict from game to game. They are all worth starting against the Raiders. ... As alluded to in the Week 2 Matchups column, Eric Decker rebounded to be Denver's most-targeted receiver against the Giants, after his Opening Day clunker versus Baltimore. Peyton unfailingly keeps his receivers happy. Decker's last three stat lines against the Raiders: 8-88, 7-79-1, 3-47-1. He's a strong WR3. ... At the opposite end of the spectrum, Demaryius Thomas saw six Week 2 targets to Decker's 13, finishing with a pedestrian 52 yards on five catches. So it'll probably be Thomas back in a leading role Monday night. Peyton should be able to do whatever he wants. ... Wes Welker's 19 targets rank second on the Broncos only to Decker's 20, and he's quietly scoring at a top-15 fantasy wideout clip. It goes without saying that you should start Welker against Oakland.
The talent differential between Denver and Oakland is so drastic that starting Raiders skill players on Monday night is a shot in the dark. Vegas prognosticators agree, installing the Broncos as 15-point favorites with a 49.5 over-under, Week 3's second highest sum. Terrelle Pryor paid off as a Week 1 streamer, scoring 19.9 standard-league points. He did not in Week 2, managing 10.04. Pryor is intriguing from the standpoint that Denver could grab a big lead, increasing his dropbacks and playmaking opportunities. If the Raiders keep the game closer than expected, however, Pryor probably won't pay off. Start him at your own risk. ... Pryor's dual-threat impact was felt by Darren McFadden in Week 2, as the Jags focused on confining Pryor to the pocket. DMC had several gaping holes, emerging with a 19-game high in rushing (129) and 157 yards from scrimmage. He'll have a much tougher go Monday. Broncos DC Jack Del Rio's defense bottled up McFadden for 84 innocuous yards on 24 carries (3.50 YPC) in these teams' two 2012 meetings, and there is obvious risk of the Raiders abandoning the run. Through two weeks, ground attacks have been a non-factor versus Denver. No. 1 versus the run, Del Rio's unit has held the Ravens and Giants to a combined 81 yards on 40 carries (2.03 YPC). Suffocating.
Pryor's to-date distribution of targets: Rod Streater 12, McFadden and Denarius Moore 9, Mychal Rivera 6, Jacoby Ford and Brice Butler 4, Marcel Reece 3, Jeron Mastrud 2. ... Fantasy owners who tried to chase Moore's Week 1 points into Week 2 were dealt a goose egg. Perhaps Moore could be buoyed by throw-happy comeback mode against the Broncos, but I wouldn't bank on it. He's going to continue to be inconsistent because he's an inconsistent player. ... Streater is slightly interesting. More the possession receiver of the two, Streater runs higher-percentage routes and has at least four receptions in five of his last six games, going back to last year. Though somewhat short on upside, Streater is a Week 3 PPR sleeper. ... If you're a deep leaguer attempting to handcuff oft-injured McFadden, Rashad Jennings is your best bet. Reece has touched the football just three times this season. Jennings has seven touches for 36 yards.
Score Prediction: Broncos 33, Raiders 17
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