With passing numbers gone wild through the first two weeks of the 2011 campaign, it sure seems like the usable waiver wire running back pickup is a vanishing species. In my 12-team buddy league, there's only one running back available that has amassed more than 100 yards from scrimmage – Roy Helu(notes). And in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, you can't find a running back on waivers that's owned in more than 19 percent of Yahoo! leagues – Ricky Williams(notes). This dearth of running back help is going to be particularly troubling for those with RB issues come bye weeks. Sure, injuries always present opportunities, but times are tough enough right now that even a Jamaal Charles(notes) season-ender does little to ripple the waiver pool – Dexter McCluster(notes) and Thomas Jones(notes) were already on rosters in most of my leagues. I suspect that it's going to continue to take a shrewder eye than usual to find useable RB help this season, although I think we might see some backfield sleepers emerge from the woodwork in Week 3.
With that in mind, let's assess all the Week 3 matchups, Skinny-style:
Total Week 3 green-light plays by position: 11 QBs; 24 RBs; 21 WRs; 9 TEs; 8 Defenses
Although Carolina has allowed back-to-back 300-yard passing games, its pass defense isn't quite as bad as the numbers indicate. This is a defense that is truly awful against the run, and that's a perfect set-up for the Jags offense that is truly a passing nightmare – the only team in the league sans a TD pass. WR Mike Thomas(notes) has the sixth-most targets in the league, but has little to show for it. His high-target role is worthy of yellow-light consideration this week, but the Jags should be all about MoJo and the running game this week. … Well, it took all of two games for Cam Newton to establish himself as must-start material. Many owners will have a conundrum with him as he's likely paired on a lot of rosters to a pre-existing top 12 QB commodity. Insurance at QB is an unnecessary luxury in this passing rich season, so those owners should look to deal one of their arms. At any rate, this is a great matchup for Newton and the Panthers passing game. WR Steve Smith, also back in the must-start circle, and TE Greg Olsen(notes) should have plenty of opportunities. However, forget about the Carolina running game – head coach Ron Rivera certainly has. And the Jags, with several quality offseason additions, have really looked like a legit run defense in the first couple weeks.
Headline: Newton's 400-yard streak over, but he's no less impressive in first career victory
Alex Smith has not thrown for more than 179 yards in either of his first two games and none of his receivers have topped 38 yards in a game. There's still reasons to be optimistic for RB Frank Gore(notes) and TE Vernon Davis(notes) against what has been a hit-and-miss Bengals defense, thus far, but I'm not going to try to talk you into WR Braylon Edwards(notes) or the rest of an anemic 49ers offense. … Andy Dalton(notes) has looked good in his six quarters of play, but he caught a break last week against a Broncos defense without Champ Bailey(notes) or Elvis Dumervil(notes). The 49ers will bring pressure like he's yet to see, and they have been second-best in fantasy against RBs, so this won't be a case where Dalton can simply lean on Cedric Benson(notes). And the 49ers have, arguably, been the top defense at defending TEs for the past three-plus years – safety valve Jermaine Gresham(notes) could have a hard time finding daylight, as well. Which means that Dalton is going to have to rely on rookie A.J. Green(notes) and Jerome Simpson(notes) – the loss of slot man Jordan Shipley(notes) hurts particularly this week. The hugely-talented Green is in line for another 100-yard performance, though I think the Bengals offense will stumble as a whole in this one.
Frank Gore; A.J. Green; Vernon Davis; San Francisco Defense
Andy Dalton; Cedric Benson; Jerome Simpson; Cincinnati Defense
Alex Smith; San Francisco WRs; Jermaine Gresham
Headline: Niners' gold rush too much for Dalton, Bengals
We all love Adrian Peterson, but he's especially dreamy when facing the Lions at home – he's ran for more than 110 yards in all four home meetings with Detroit, scoring two touchdowns in three of those contests. Detroit has been second-best in fantasy against QBs, thus far, and Minnesota has looked as bad as anyone in the passing game, so a healthy dose of AP should be just fine by the Vikings. … Surprisingly, Minnesota has been worst in fantasy against RBs while ranking among the best at shutting down WRs, not its normal MO. Obviously, you never sit Calvin Johnson(notes). But I'm not expecting another aerial assault from QB Matthew Stafford(notes). He'll still be worth top 12 consideration, but I think his numbers will come from the short game this week – emphasis on RB Jahvid Best(notes) out of the backfield in addition to his TEs Brandon Pettigrew(notes) and Tony Scheffler(notes).
Matthew Stafford; Adrian Peterson; Jahvid Best; Calvin Johnson
Headline: Vikings cut down in waning moments yet again
Matt Hasselbeck(notes) is enjoying a late-career revival in Tennessee, where he has averaged 310 yards passing per game in his first two outings and ranks among the top three in ESPN's new, advanced Total QBR rating – Tom Brady(notes) and Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) are the top two. How easy life will be for Hasselbeck on Sunday will depend on whether Broncos defensive studs Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervill play or not. Denver is soft enough with those guys, and completely inept without them. This should be the game that Chris Johnson starts paying back his owners. The Broncos have allowed 98-plus rushing yards to a RB in 11 of its past 19 contests. … Tennessee has faced Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice(notes) this season and denied both of 100 yards from scrimmage. At home, I would expect them to do a solid number on RB Willis McGahee(notes) and force Denver to, once again, lean on Kyle Orton's(notes) arm. That said, the Titans haven't allowed a TD pass to a WR or a TE, yet, and rank No. 1 in fantasy against WRs. I'd play Brandon Lloyd(notes) if he's healthy because I do think Orton will throw a good amount and Lloyd is his favorite target. But temper expectations across the board for the Broncos offense.
Headline: Johnson finally starts delivering on his new contract as Titans whip the Broncos
Cleveland has faced a couple aerial softies, but it deserves credit for ranking No. 2 in the league against the pass (165.5 pass yards per game). CB Joe Haden(notes) is emerging as one of those cover corners that fantasy owners need to account for, and there's solid talent surrounding Haden. I've long been in the camp that doesn't sit WR Brandon Marshall(notes), but QB Chad Henne(notes) and the rest of the Dolphins passing game is likely to be no more than ordinary. RB Daniel Thomas(notes) finally stepped up in Week 2 after a disappointing preseason. His 100-yard performance against Houston last week has pushed him into no less than a platoon split with Reggie Bush(notes), though you can count on Thomas to easily earn the majority of the carries going forward. I'm not the biggest fan of Thomas' overall talent set, but he's got good vision, he makes decisive moves and Miami opened some nice holes for him last week. Against a Cleveland run defense that has had some issues this season, Thomas could have a similar fantasy impact this week as he had in Week 2 – I've got a chartreuse feeling about him. … Outside Peyton Hillis(notes), Cleveland's offensive entities are always a risky fantasy proposition. QB Colt McCoy(notes) should deliver his typical solid, yet very conservative, fantasy line, and there's no consistency established among his WRs to buy into any of them – although Greg Little(notes) is one to watch going forward. But it's worth noting that TE Benjamin Watson(notes) had 10 catches, 100 yards and a TD at Miami last season and the Dolphins have yielded the most fantasy points to the TE position this season – most coming from the Pats' vaunted duo. I'm listing RB Montario Hardesty(notes) as a sleeper this week after OC Pat Shurmur talked about lightening Hillis' load a bit.
Peyton Hillis; Daniel Thomas; Brandon Marshall; Benjamin Watson
Headline: Henne's three turnovers too much for Miami to overcome
I don't like the matchup this week for Eli Manning(notes). His last four trips to Philly have been no better than forgettable, and Philly has only improved its pass defense personnel. If you watched the Monday night game, the Rams' heavy-blitz package was giving Manning plenty of problems, and Philly will employ the same attack with better coverage on the Giants wideouts. Philly did a good job of shutting down Atlanta's dynamic WR duo in Week 2, and the Giants WRs could be in trouble this week, especially when you consider mostly all of them are less than 100 percent healthy – consider Hakeem Nicks(notes) in chartreuse light. Look for the Giants to lean extensively on its backfield platoon, and Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) is likely to once again play a big role in the passing game as a dump-off option against the blitz. Give him a bump in PPR leagues. … It's not yet known whether Michael Vick(notes) will be able to play on Sunday (concussion), though he was trying to argue his way back into the game on Monday night, so you know what he thinks. Backup Mike Kafka(notes) looked solid as a replacement, though he only had eyes for Jeremy Maclin(notes) and LeSean McCoy(notes) on Monday night. If Kafka goes, you have to de-value DeSean Jackson(notes) a bit – I'd fly him under the yellow caution flag if Kafka gets the nod.
Michael Vick (?); LeSean McCoy; Ahmad Bradshaw; Jeremy Maclin; Hakeem Nicks; DeSean Jackson; Philadelphia Defense
Eli Manning; NY Giants tight end
Giants: Mario Manningham (concussion); TE Travis Beckum(notes) (hamstring); WR Domenik Hixon(notes) (knee)
Headline: Eagles throw the book at Eli in decisive win
Arian Foster(notes) handled 10 uneventful carries last week and he's clearly not out of the woods with his hamstring injury. Although he's being called day-to-day by Houston, it would not be surprising to see the Texans just give a full load to backup RB Ben Tate(notes) against the Saints and allow Foster to further rest the hammy. In this offense, a healthy Tate is easy RB2 material if he's going to get something close to 20 touches, which he should on Sunday. The Saints fared much better against the pass at home last week facing Chicago. They don't have anyone who can handle WR Andre Johnson(notes), but I'm not high on anyone else in the Texans' passing game. Tate is likely to get as much work as he can handle as the team tries to keep Drew Brees(notes) off the field. And something tells me RB Steve Slaton(notes) may finally get some play to help out in the passing game if Foster sits … Don't let Houston's strong numbers against RBs in fantasy fool you. The Texans have hardly been run on because they have enjoyed playing with a lead against two struggling teams in Indy and Miami. The fact is, Houston has allowed 4.8 yards per carry to RBs and this could be the game we finally see why the Saints made RB Mark Ingram(notes), who has faced two very good run defenses, their first-round pick. Houston has been solid against RBs in the passing game, and it will be on alert for RB Darren Sproles(notes). I expect Sproles to come up short in this one. In a passing game sans Marques Colston(notes), TE Jimmy Graham(notes) remains the best bet, and you always have to respect the potential for any of the receivers to go off, though I wish you luck guessing from week-to-week who that'll be. Consider them all in chartreuse light.
Drew Brees; Mark Ingram; Ben Tate; Andre Johnson; Jimmy Graham
Headline: Rookie Ingram leads Saints' march to victory
The Patriots have scored 30-plus points in 10 straight regular-season games, but it's the Bills who lead the NFL in scoring (39.5 ppg) after two weeks of the '11 season. There's good reason to expect an exploding scoreboard on Sunday. The Patriots have been particularly abused by RBs in the passing game, having allowed seven-plus catches to three different RBs this season. This was a huge problem area for the Pats last season – most receiving yards allowed to RBs – and that bodes well for versatile Buffalo RBs Fred Jackson(notes) and C.J. Spiller(notes). QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has fit like a glove in Chan Gailey's spread system, posting top 10 per game fantasy numbers at the position in his time as a Bills starter. He's to the point that he has to be at least considered as a QB1 every week, and he's turning (or already turned) NFL Draft afterthoughts Stevie Johnson(notes) and David Nelson(notes) into bankable fantasy commodities. … Don't expect the Pats to skip a beat without TE Aaron Hernandez(notes) (knee). TE Rob Gronkowski(notes) scored three times against the Bills last season and his role, as well others (like Chad Ochocinco(notes)), will likely expand sans Hernandez. Buffalo was third-worst against RBs in fantasy last season, and they sit second-worst through two games in '11. Both BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) and Danny Woodhead(notes) produced solidly against the Bills in both games last season and are worth strong consideration this time around.
Danny Woodhead; C.J. Spiller
Headline: No Hernandez, no problem for Brady's bunch
The Rams' pass protection is suspect, and it hasn't helped that Sam Bradford(notes) has had to face the aggressive Philly and Giants defense, thus far. Unfortunately, the Rams' schedule is brutal in that regard and it won't get any easier against a Ravens unit that is smarting from a letdown game in Week 2 at Tennessee. I can envision a similar type of performance for Bradford as what we saw last week – lots of pass attempts, plenty of yards but troubles in the red zone. Bradford clearly misses WR Danny Amendola(notes), who was able to do what his other receivers couldn't last week – get quick separation from coverage. Bradford also misses RB Steven Jackson, who hopes to come back from his quad injury this week. I'm skeptical. This could be a repeat of the Arian Foster situation, where you commit to him and then his workload is limited, and not productive, and there's the strong potential for a re-injury. I'm bearish on all of the Rams this week. … The Rams are a blitz-happy defense, as well, but they'll have to be on the lookout for RB Ray Rice out of the backfield, so they may dial that down a bit. The attacking nature of the Rams' defense left them vulnerable to big plays in the passing game last week against the Giants, although New York mostly missed on those opportunities. With WR Lee Evans(notes) expected to be out with an ankle injury, that means that rookie Torrey Smith(notes) is looking at his first NFL start, and the speedster is sure to get at least a couple deep opportunities. File him under deep sleeper.
Headline: Rice scores twice to lead Ravens past Rams
The Raiders flashed a little something in the passing game last week, but you'd best not bank on improbable Denarious Moore catches in double coverage this week against the Jets. For the Raiders, you're only considering Darren McFadden(notes), and even that is a bit perilous. … RB Shonn Greene(notes) found the end zone last week, but he managed just 49 yards on 16 carries after a 10/26 line in Week 1. The Raiders, per usual, have been generous to RBs, so you can justify going Greene this week, but another lackluster yardage return means Greene owners have a serious problem on their hands. Plaxico Burress(notes) was a surprise wallflower last week against the Jags, which promised to be a lucrative matchup for Burress. The Raiders have allowed three WRs to top 80 receiving yards this season, but Burress can't be trusted after last week's laid egg. WR Santonio Holmes(notes) and TE Dustin Keller(notes) are the only safe plays in the passing game.
Darren McFadden; Shonn Greene; Santonio Holmes; Dustin Keller; NY Jets Defense
Headline: Janikowski's late field goal shoots down Jets
The Chiefs are averaging 5.0 points through two games. And they've lost their best player in RB Jamaal Charles. And they face one of the top defenses in the league in the Chargers, a strong unit against both the rush and the pass. Last year, the Chiefs were shutout 31-0 at San Diego in Week 14. WR Dwayne Bowe(notes) has had a total of 4 catches for 27 yards in his past three games combined against the Chargers. There's really nothing to see here on the KC side, though I can certainly see how Dexter McCluster might be able to represent respectably in a PPR set-up. … The Chiefs are allowing 44.5 points per game. It's hard to make a case against any Charger this week. File them all under the "Looking Better Than Usual" category.
Dexter McCluster; Dwayne Bowe
Chiefs: RB Jamaal Charles (knee)
Headline: Mathews tops century mark, scores twice in route of Chiefs
RB Matt Forte(notes) is the best receiving back in the league and the matchup against Green Bay plays right into his talents as the Packers have allowed 235 receiving yards to RBs, 44 more yards than the runner-up in that category. I probably wouldn't mess with anyone else on the Bears side despite the fact that Green Bay has allowed back-to-back 400-yard passers. One of those outings was against Drew Brees, and the other was against Cam Newton, who we are learning might actually be that good. And, on the Bears side, their receivers are pedestrian, especially with Earl Bennett(notes) and Roy Williams dealing with injuries, and the pass blocking for QB Jay Cutler(notes) is still a serious failure. … You can expect the Bears to be tough up the middle against the run. And although RB James Starks(notes) is getting 6.8 yards per carry and deserves a much bigger role in the offense, it's hard to back him in a matchup like this without knowing if he'll actually touch the ball more than 12 times. I'd back the usuals in the Packers passing game, but 20-17 outcomes have been the norm in recent years between these two teams in Chicago, and I don't see the Packers offense supporting many outliers at their skill positions on Sunday.
Packers: DE Ryan Pickett(notes) (foot); CB Tramon Williams(notes) (shoulder); S Nick Collins(notes) (neck)
Headline: Cutler's pick-six sinks Bears
The Seahawks have held RBs Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall(notes) to a combined 41/125 rushing line (3.0 ypc). This is a good run defense, and it should be even better at home. RB Beanie Wells(notes) has had back-to-back 90-yard rushing games, but he's not a good bet to make it three in a row. QBs are completing 74 percent of their passes against Seattle, and that includes Alex Smith. QB Kevin Kolb(notes) has been solid in his first two games with Arizona and against the Seahawks' inexperienced secondary he should be able to post something close to last week's numbers (251 passing yards, 2 TDs). … If not for Kansas City, Seattle would have the worst offense in the league (8.5 ppg). Yes, it will face a much more pliable defense in Arizona than it has faced to date, but Arizona's biggest weakness is its inexperienced secondary. And you can't go into this game believing that QB Tarvaris Jackson(notes), with one of the worst offensive lines and a receiving corps that may still be without WR Sidney Rice(notes), will be able to take advantage of that situation. And with OG Robert Gallery(notes) out (groin), you can't expect RB Marshawn Lynch(notes) to get into Beast-Mode against a beatable Arizona defensive front. I do think Seattle will put extra emphasis on the running game this week, but I wouldn't count on Lynch scratching together much more than 60-70 yards.
Tarvaris Jackson; Seattle receivers;
Cards: None of significance
Headline: Fitzgerald strikes pay dirt twice as Cards pull out win at Seattle
With back-to-back 100-yard games, Michael Turner(notes) is already in mid-season form. He's broken off a run of 50-plus yards in each of his first two games, and he's added 30-plus receiving yards in each, as well. He averaged nearly 100 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in his two meetings with Tampa Bay last season, and you can bet that he'll be a big part of Atlanta's plans on Sunday. WR Roddy White(notes) has been limited to 74 yards or less 11 straight games against the Bucs' Cover-2. You don't sit White unless you are truly loaded at WR, but you have to temper your expectations. … This is a good week for QB Josh Freeman(notes) to get his groove back for other quarters besides just the fourth quarter, where he's thrown for 260 of his 502 total passing yards. And WR Mike Williams, who scored in each meeting with Atlanta last season, should rebound after -4 receiving yards in Week 2. Problems in the Falcons' pass defense have carried over to '11 as the team has allowed more than 300 yards passing in both games. And the Falcons haven't fared very well against the run this year, either. RB LeGarrette Blount(notes) found the end zone twice last week and showed off the power running style that carried him to prominence last season. But he still only carried 13 times and usage, given that he's out on all passing downs, is an issue. If Tampa Bay falls behind or can't continually get into manageable down/distance situations, Blount's going to be hard pressed to get more than 12-15 carries a week. I think the Bucs keep this one close, though, and I figure Blount will get somewhere between 15-20 carries.
Atlanta Defense; Tampa Bay Defense
Headline: Atlanta, Turner best Bucs, Blount in ground war
Indy's Cover-2 defense has been shutting down the deep ball for years. The Colts' longest pass play allowed, thus far, is 28 yards, one of only two teams to yet allow a 30-yard passing play. That will make it tough for speedster Mike Wallace(notes) to go nuts. And he really shouldn't have to as Indy has, perhaps, the most finesse run defense in the league. It's the kind of set-up that RB Rashard Mendenhall should have a field day against. Expect Pittsburgh to get ahead early and squat on the lead. If things get really comfortable, we could see RB Isaac Redman(notes) get 10-15 touches like last week (10/49/1) – he's certainly sleeper material. … It's hard to back anyone from the Colts offense when you don't expect them to score more than 10 points.
Rashard Mendenhall; Mike Wallace; Pittsburgh Defense
Headline: Colts physically overmatched in loss to Steelers
Losing Miles Austin(notes) (hamstring) is a big blow for Tony Romo(notes) this week. Austin has gone for 90-plus receiving yards in 10 of the past 13 full games with Romo at the helm. Of course, Romo is dealing with a punctured lung, so he's no certainty to play, either. Regardless, expect TE Jason Witten(notes) to pick up a lot of Austin's slack as Dez Bryant(notes) is not a middle-of-the-field type – in fact, backup QB Jon Kitna(notes) loves to utilize Witten, who went for 10/140 in the last meeting of these two teams (Week 15 of '10). The Redskins have allowed 4.9 ypc to RBs, so this is an opportunity for Dallas to lean on the running game with health issues in the passing game. That said, RB Felix Jones(notes) dislocated his shoulder in Week 2 and he's no slam dunk, although he's expected to play. Jones is at a put-up or shut-up crossroads like Shonn Greene. If he gets a full load, he needs to deliver solid returns in a beatable matchup or all the preseason breakout love will wash away rapidly. That said, keep tabs on rookie DeMarco Murray(notes). He could sneak his way into double digit carries this week if Jones is limited or a late scratch. … In terms of rushing yards allowed to RBs, only San Francisco has been stingier than Dallas. You can expect to see a lot of RB Tim Hightower(notes) again, but his production is likely to be more along the lines of Week 1 (2.9 ypc) rather than his Week 2 clip (4.8 ypc). QB Rex Grossman(notes) threw for 322 yards and 4 TDs at Dallas in Week 15 last season, and Dallas has had health issues in the secondary that has exposed them a bit in the passing game. But the team hopes to get CB Terrence Newman back for Monday night which makes the matchup daunting for WR Santana Moss(notes). Look for Grossman to continue working the Fred Davis(notes) line. The athletic tight end has played his way into being a fixture for the 'Skins offense.
Rex Grossman; Tim Hightower; Felix Jones; Dez Bryant; Santana Moss; Jason Witten; Fred Davis; Dallas Defense
DeMarco Murray; Roy Helu
Skins: SS LaRon Landry(notes) (achilles); CB Josh Wilson(notes) (back)
Headline: Turnovers prove costly for Cowboys in loss to Redskins