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Inside the Matchup
Week 3

By: Bill Andereson | Sal Marcoccio | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith



BUF @ CLE | SF @ MIN | NE @ BAL | ATL @ SD

 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 8 1 88.9
2 Caron 5 3 62.5
3 Smith 4 4 50.0
4 Marcoccio 2 5 28.6

Giants @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning’s 510 yards through the air last week in New York’s wild win over the Buccaneers vaulted him to the league lead in passing yards with 723. Wideout Hakeem Nicks gained 199 of those yards, and Victor Cruz added 179, giving each 237 receiving yards for the season, which is tied for the most in the NFL. All three are lock-solid fantasy starters, however the foot injury that Nicks is dealing with will keep him out of this game. With the loss of Nicks, another player fantasy owners can start with confidence is tight end Martellus Bennett. He almost certainly wasn’t drafted to be a starter for fantasy owners, but he’s caught a touchdown in each of his first two games, and is an integral part of the Giants passing attack.

The G-Men will be facing a Carolina pass defense that is 13th in the league, but did allow 325 yards to Drew Brees last week, so invulnerable they are not. Still, it should be noted that opposing wideouts have failed to gain a cumulative total of 100 yards against the Panthers in their first two games, though that’s something we fully expect to change this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw had to leave the Giants game last week with what is being described as a neck injury, and unfortunately for his fantasy owners there was no indication he will not suit up. Andre Brown filled in admirably against the Bucs, with 71 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown and will start. First-round pick David Wilson had only three carries in the game, gaining six yards, as Giants coach Tom Coughlin apparently does not yet trust him after his lost fumble in Week 1.

The Panthers had a poor run defense last season, and haven’t started 2012 showing a whole lot of improvement. They are currently 28th in the NFL against the run, having given up 95 yards on the ground to Tampa’s Doug Martin in Week 1 and 110 last week to Pierre Thomas.

Eli Manning: 290 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Victor Cruz: 105 rec yds, TD
Ramses Barden: 70 rec yds, TD
Rueben Randle: 30 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 55 rec yds, TD
Andre Brown: 75 rush yds, TD / 20 rec yds
David Wilson: 20 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton threw for 303 yards with one touchdown and two picks in his team’s Week 1 loss to Tampa, and followed that up last week with 253 yards and a score against New Orleans. He’s eighth in the league in passing yards with 556, and 210 of those have gone to wideout and fantasy stalwart Steve Smith, who is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards. Smith doesn’t have a touchdown catch, but Brandon LaFell does. LaFell, who is 17th in the league in receiving yards, has looked like a legit No. 2 wideout, and is worthy of fantasy consideration this week.

One of the reasons that LaFell deserves contemplation for a start is the Giants pass defense. They are 22nd in the league in that department, and tied for 26th in passing scores allowed. Only Tampa Bay has allowed more receiving yards and fantasy points to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: After a mind-bogglingly dismal ground attack in Week 1, the Panthers reignited their running game against the Saints. Newton led the way with 71 yards and a score, DeAngelo Williams added 69 yards and a touchdown, and Jonathan Stewart ran for 51 yards. Stewart’s status for this week is similar to that of the aforementioned Bradshaw’s. Stewart has an ankle injury, did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday and his status for Thursday’s game is not known but we’re expecting him to be Inactive. If he can’t go, Mike Tolbert will be in line for more carries.

The Giants run defense is squarely in the middle of the NFL pack, ranking 16th out of 32 teams. They held Tampa’s Martin to 66 yards on 20 carries, which is 3.3 yards per carry. But that’s half of the average DeMarco Murray had against them in Week 1, when he ran for 131 yards on 20 carries.

Cam Newton: 280 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 45 rush yds, TD
Steve Smith: 110 rec yds, TD
Brandon LaFell: 80 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 45 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 70 rush yds, TD / 15 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Giants 28, Panthers 21 ^ Top

Lions @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Stafford’s 585 yards are fifth in the league through the season’s first two weeks, but he’s tied with Blaine Gabbert for 22nd among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring because he’s tossed four interceptions and only two touchdowns. Calvin Johnson is, of course, his main target, and while he’s compiled 205 receiving yards in two games, he has yet to score a touchdown. That should change in a hurry. Tight End Brandon Pettigrew does have a touchdown catch, and fantasy owners should be on the lookout for another one from him this week because the Titans have allowed a league-high five touchdowns to tight ends through two games.

Tennessee has struggled to defend the pass in the season’s first two weeks. They are 20th in the league in pass defense, tied for 26th in touchdown passes allowed, 29th in opponents’ passer rating allowed, and dead last in completion percentage allowed.

Running Game Thoughts: Kevin Smith has been solid for the Lions, and his fantasy owners, ranking 12th among running backs in fantasy scoring. But Mikel Leshoure will suit up for the first time this week, and is almost certain to slice into Smith’s numbers.

Tennessee hasn’t had difficulty just stopping the pass. They’re also 30th in the NFL in run defense, and it’s not liked they’ve faced overwhelming opposition. They allowed San Diego’s Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley to run for a combined 112 yards and two touchdowns last week, and gave up 125 yards and a score to Stevan Ridley in Week 1.

Matthew Stafford: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 115 rec yds, 2 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Titus Young: 50 rec yds
Nate Burleson: 35 rec yds
Tony Scheffler: 25 rec yds
Kevin Smith: 50 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 35 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Many fantasy owners figured Jake Locker would blossom this season, and give them the added bonus of rushing yards due to his athleticism, but he’s been a fantasy disaster so far – only Brandon Weeden has fewer fantasy points among starting quarterbacks than Locker. Wideout Kenny Britt returned last week but did little, catching only one pass for five yards and was targeted just twice. Nate Washington has only four catches so far this season, but Jared Cook has snared seven balls.

Though the Lions are 25th in opponents passer rating allowed, they are sixth in the league in pass defense. Detroit hasn’t allowed a receiver to gain more than 73 yards in either of their first two games, but it should be noted that the teams they’ve played – San Francisco and St. Louis – are not offenses that rely on a vertical passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: We told you that Locker has been a fantasy disaster, and he has, but his troubles pale in comparison to what Chris Johnson has done to his fantasy owners. A likely top-five pick in fantasy drafts, Johnson has all of 21 rushing yards and six fantasy points. Here are just a few running backs with more fantasy points than Johnson: Curtis Brinkley, Daryl Richardson, and Joique Bell. Need we say more?

Detroit’s run defense hasn’t been as stout as their pass defense, but they’ve been solid. The Lions rank 17th in the league against the run and 16th in yards per carry allowed. They held Steven Jackson to 53 yards in Week 1, but Frank Gore ran for 89 yards and a touchdown against them last week.

Jake Locker: 260 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Nate Washington: 65 rec yds
Kenny Britt: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 45 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 30 rec yds
Damian Williams: 20 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 65 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 34, Titans 20 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Though Blaine Gabbert had to leave last week’s game against the Texans, he is expected to play this week. Not that it matters to fantasy owners, because he’s a non-entity in fantasy football, with good reason. He had a good Week 1, but reverted to form last week, completing only seven of his 19 throws for 53 yards and a score. Gabbert threw for a total of 210 yards with two touchdowns and one pick in two games against the Colts last season. Among their receivers, only Laurent Robinson is fantasy-worthy, and that’s as a back-up. He has eight receptions for 115 yards this season.

We’ve discussed the fact that the Jaguars have little passing game to speak of, but if they are going to move the ball through the air, it should be this week against Indy. The Colts are 25th in the NFL in pass defense and 26th in completion percentage allowed.

Running Game Thoughts: After no training camp to speak of, Maurice Jones-Drew has come in and done decently, considering his lack of preparation. He’s run for 137 yards and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but has yet to find the end zone. MJD thrashed the Indy run defense last year. He ran for 114 yards and a touchdown against them in Week 10, and 169 yards in Week 17.

Indianapolis has been solid against the run through their first two games, ranking 14th in the league in run defense and 10th in yards per carry allowed. They held Adrian Peterson to just 60 yards on 16 carries last week, though did allow three scores on the ground to the Bears in Week 1.

Blaine Gabbert: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Laurent Robinson: 70 rec yds
Justin Blackmon: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Thomas: 25 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After struggling in Week 1, Andrew Luck settled down last week against the Vikings and threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Most of Indy’s receiving corps from last season has departed, with the exception of Reggie Wayne. He’s started off the season rewarding his fantasy owners with a pair of games in which he’s amassed double-digit fantasy points. Last season, Wayne only had three receptions for 13 yards against the Jags in Week 10, but rebounded to post 72 yards on eight catches in Week 17.

The Jaguars are 17th in the league against the pass, but are the only squad that has not allowed a passing score in either of their first two games. They have been somewhat vulnerable to tight ends, as Owen Daniels led the Texans in receiving against them in Week 1, and Kyle Rudolph compiling 67 yards for the Vikings last week.

Running Game Thoughts: Donald Brown is finally the Colts’ feature back after sharing the load with Joseph Addai in previous seasons. His results have been mixed, rushing for 48 yards and a score on nine carries against the Bears but for just 45 yards on 16 carries last week. Brown didn’t have a lot of success in two games against the Jags last season, with only 77 yards on 23 carries.

Jacksonville’s run defense ranks 31st in the league so far, and they are tied for last (with New Orleans) in rushing scores allowed. But that shouldn’t come as a total shock considering they squared off against Adrian Peterson in Week 1 (84 yards, two touchdowns) and the Texans duo of Arian Foster (110 yards, one touchdown) and Ben Tate (74 yards, two touchdowns) last week.

Andrew Luck: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Reggie Wayne: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 45 rec yds
Kris Adams: 20 rec yds
Donald Brown: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 24, Jaguars 14 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Cassel has only tossed three touchdowns and has just as many interceptions this season, not to mention a pair of lost fumbles, but he’s currently 11th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, thanks in large part to his 45 rushing yards and one rushing score. Wideout Dwayne Bowe had 102 yards and even though his two touchdowns last week against Buffalo were in garbage time, it all counts the same to fantasy owners, and he continues to be an every week starter in fantasy leagues.

New Orleans is 26th in the NFL in passing yards given up, and is allowing 12.5 yards per pass attempt, which is nearly three yards more than any other team. They allowed Robert Griffin III the light them up for 320 yards and two scores in Week 1, and Cam Newton to beat them for 251 yards and a score last week, and have allowed a 100-yard receiver in each of their first two games (Pierre Garcon, Steve Smith).

Running Game Thoughts: Jamaal Charles got off to a good start in Week 1, running for 87 yards on 16 carries in his first game back since a knee injury last year. But he had only three yards on six carries before an injury took him out of last week’s game (he’s expected to play this week). That opened the door for Peyton Hillis, and he did gain 66 yards on 11 totes, but also lost a fumble.

No team has allowed more rushing yards through the season’s first two weeks than the Saints, who are also 20th in the league in yards per carry allowed and tied for last in rushing scores allowed. They allowed a trio of Panthers to run for at least 50 yards last week, and Washington’s Alfred Morris gained 96 yards with two scores in Week 1.

Matt Cassel: 260 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 85 rec yds
Jonathan Baldwin: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 40 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 25 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 95 rush yds, 2 TDs / 20 rec yds
Peyton Hillis: 40 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite throwing four interceptions in two games, Drew Brees is third in fantasy points among quarterbacks because he’s also thrown for at least 325 yards and four touchdowns. The team’s passing attack still has loads of weapons, with the most consistent being tight end Jimmy Graham, who has a touchdown in each of his first two games. But Brees spreads the ball around, and running back Darren Sproles led the team with 13 catches and 128 yards last week.

Kansas City’s pass defense ranks 18th in the league, but like the Saints, give up big plays, and are allowing 9.5 yards per pass attempt, which is 29th in the NFL. They’re also tied for 26th in touchdown throws allowed, are one of nine teams without an interception, and their one sack this season is the fewest in all of football.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints have a trio of running backs to choose from, but chose last week not to give Darren Sproles a single carry. But that was just fine with fantasy owners, because we mentioned how he did in the passing game, and it allowed Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram to split the load. Thomas ran for 110 yards on nine carries and Ingram ran for 53 yards and one score, getting the bulk of the work with 16 carries. We probably aren’t going to see too many games with Sproles not getting a single carry, so fantasy owners shouldn’t be concerned that last week was the start of a trend.

The run defense employed by the Chiefs has been even worse than their pass defense. They are 27th in the NFL against the run, 26th in yards per carry allowed, and tied for 23rd in rushing scores given up. Though they held Michael Turner in check during Week 1, C.J. Spiller destroyed them for 123 yards and two touchdowns a week ago.

Drew Brees: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 60 rec yds
Lance Moore: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 25 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 60 rush yds, 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 40 rush yds / 55 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 35 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 31, Chiefs 21 ^ Top

Jets @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: For a game and a half, the Jets passing attack was looking like the Joe Montana era 49ers. Then came the second half of the game at Heinz Field last weekend and it was the 2012 preseason all over again. After a perfect deep throw by Mark Sanchez to wide receiver Stephen Hill that went incomplete (but should have drew a pass interference flag), which would have put the team in position to take a 17-3 lead, the passing game fell apart. The Jets did not complete a pass to a wide receiver in the second half until their last drive of the game, as a harried Sanchez threw wobbly pass after wobbly pass. Santonio Holmes caught a nice first-quarter touchdown and drew some pass interference penalties but also had some untimely drops and ran a few bad routes as the game slipped away. Against a depleted Miami secondary, we should get a clearer picture of where the Jets and Sanchez really are.

Cornerback Vontae Davis was shipped off to Indianapolis for a second-round pick this offseason, and the pass defense of the Dolphins has suffered as a result. The unit is ranked 30th in the league right now, allowing 313.5 yards per game and two touchdowns over the first two weeks. They’ve faced two average passing attacks in Houston and Oakland and could be in real trouble when they face the league’s upper-level quarterbacks. Fortunately for them, that isn’t happening this week when Sanchez comes down to Florida.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets running game was also off to a good start in the first half at Pittsburgh, as Shonn Greene took advantage of the gaping holes his linemen were creating for him. He was forced to leave the game after taking a blow to the head and stumbling around before Sanchez directed him off the filed. Somehow, despite all the concussion concerns in the league, he was able to re-enter the game, but was totally ineffective. There’s been no word on his status for this week, but presumably he should be available. Don’t be surprised to see offensive coordinator Tony Sparano unleash the wildcard offense more extensively than he has during the first two weeks, as he makes his return to Miami on Sunday.

The Miami run defense has absolutely stymied two of the league’s most talented rushers in Arian Foster and Darren McFadden—while holding opponents to 2.2 ypc on the season. Opposing teams have averaged only 53 yards per game against the Dolphins to start the season. It’s unlikely an average runner like Greene will have much success in Miami this week.

Mark Sanchez: 265 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 15 rush yds
Tim Tebow: 35 rush yds, 1 TD
Santonio Holmes: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Stephen Hill: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Kerley: 30 rec yds
Dustin Keller: 20 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 45 rush yds / 5 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 10 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a much better showing in Week 2 than he did in his NFL debut. Tannehill completed 18 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown to tight end Anthony Fasano against the Raiders. He also ran in a touchdown. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was jettisoned over the offseason for two third-round picks, leaving role players like Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee as the top options at wideout, so it will be tough sledding for the rookie signal caller most weeks. It was Hartline that stepped it up last week, grabbing nine balls for 111 yards. And while he may be the best bet for production going forward, expectations should be tempered.

Darrelle Revis missed last week’s game with a concussion but has been cleared for contact and should return this week. Without a dominant receiver to worry about, however, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he were forced to sit one more week. The Jets pass rush had a tough time bringing down the big and mobile Ben Roethlisberger last week and will need to do a better job against a similarly big and athletic, but far less experienced, Tannehill.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush set a career high in rushing yards last season, finally producing like everyone thought he would when New Orleans made him the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. Last week, he rushed for a career high 172 yards (with two touchdowns) on 26 carries, further cementing his newfound feature-back status. Bush has learned to not dance around and bounce everything to the outside, with good results. He added weight and muscle tone, which has allowed him to successfully become an adequate North-South runner, while still possessing the straight-line speed to break big plays. Rookie runner Lamar Miller also showed some big-play ability, subbing in while Daniel Thomas sat with concussion issues. With his 65 yards with a touchdown performance last week, Miller just may have earned himself the right to be active on game days going forward.

Ryan Tannehill: 215 pass yds. 1 TD, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Legedu Naanee: 10 rec yds
Davone Bess: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Brian Hartline: 60 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 25 rec yds
Lamar Miller: 30 rush yds
Reggie Bush: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 30 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 27, Dolphins 17 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman followed up an efficient yet unexciting Week 1 with an up-and-down Week 2. Freeman threw for two touchdowns (one bouncing off an opponent's helmet into the arms of Mike Williams) and two interceptions while competing just over 50 percent of his passes against a depleted Giants secondary. Freeman at least took a few more chances downfield, connecting on long touchdowns to deep threat Vincent Jackson and the aforementioned one to Williams. However, he should not be on anyone’s fantasy radar as anything more than an adequate backup QB. Head Coach Greg Schiano plans to run a very conservative offense in Tampa Bay when his defense allows it, so fantasy owners should expect Vincent Jackson’s production to be inconsistent, as it was in San Diego. And they should probably not expect Jackson, in a conservative offense with subpar quarterback play, to very often surpass the 128 yards with a score that he racked up in the Meadowlands.

The Cowboys pass defense was not very good last season, allowing 244.1 ypg and 24 touchdowns, but they have performed much better in 2012. The team signed UFA Brandon Carr and drafted Morris Claiborne with their first-round pick in order to help keep opposing passing games in check. So far, so good, as the team is ranked third in passing yards against, allowing only 160 ypg, and has surrendered only one passing touchdown in each game.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie back Doug Martin looked fairly average against a poor Carolina run defense, and he didn’t fare much better in Week 2, despite finding the end zone on a nifty eight-yard cut-back run. Martin is averaging only 3.7 ypc through two weeks, but his owners are surely encouraged by the 44 carries that he has received so far through two games. Production is production, whether it's volume based or not, and is all fantasy owners ultimately care about. The loss of tackle Joseph Davin was a tough break for a team that wants to base its offense on a power rushing scheme, but the staff isn’t shying away from giving the ball to the rookie and being content with the modest results. Last year’s starting running back, LeGarrette Blount, was seldom used to spell Martin in Week 1 and did not see any carries at all in Week 2. Blount may not even be worth carrying as a handcuff for Martin owners, as former Giant D.J. Ware has seemed to surpass him in the running back pecking order.

The Cowboys have allowed 132 ypg on the ground through two weeks, so expect Tampa Bay to continue its focus on running the ball. Dallas will be hoping to get nose tackle Jay Ratliff back this week after he missed the first two games. While Ratliff is undersized for the position, he’s a disruptive force in the middle of the line and should help solve some of the issues the team has had stopping the run.

Josh Freeman: 195 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Vincent Jackson: 55 rec yds
Mike Williams: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 30 rec yds
Doug Martin: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: As good as Tony Romo and the Dallas passing game looked in Week 1 at the New York, they looked equally bad in Week 2 at Seattle. Tight end Jason Witten uncharacteristically dropped a few key passes, and wide receiver Dez Bryant could not get untracked against a big and physical Seattle secondary. Week 1 waiver-wire darling Kevin Ogletree crashed back to Earth hard, catching only one pass in Seattle. While a repeat of Week 1 should not be expected, Ogletree should not be immediately sent back to the wire, as better days will come when the team faces weaker defensive backs. Miles Austin scored for the second consecutive week, and has great chemistry with Romo. The former Monmouth College star should be in for another great season if he can stay healthy.

Tampa Bay’s pass defense wasn’t any good in 2011 (238.4 ypg, 30 TDs allowed) and may be worse in 2012. They allowed Cam Newton to throw for over 300 yards in Week 1 and Eli Manning to surpass 500 yards in Week 2. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were all able to run free against the outmanned secondary of the Buccaneers, so Bryant and Austin owners should be salivating.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray finished Week 1 with 144 yards on the ground but was kept under wraps in Week 2 as the Boys fell behind early to the Seahawks. Murray had only 12 carries and finished with 44 yards. He has been the only show in town for Dallas, however, as Felix Jones has hardly seen the field. As one of the few true workhorse backs in the league, the powerful and speedy Murray, in what is generally a high-powered offense, should not disappoint often.

The Buccaneers, who struggled mightily to stop the run in 2011 (156.1 ypg, 26 TDs allowed), held the Carolina rushing attack to a meager 10 yards on 13 carries in Week 1. However, they didn’t fare as well against journeyman fourth-year running back Andre Brown, who ran for 71 yards and a score on only 13 carries after replacing the injured Ahmad Bradshaw. Its looking like Week 1 may have been an aberration for Tampa Bay.

Tony Romo: 285 pass yds 2 TDs
Dez Bryant: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Miles Austin: 95 rec yds
Kevin Ogletree: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 55 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 95 rush yds, 1 TD / 30 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 21, Buccaneers 17 ^ Top

Bengals @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing attack seemed overwhelmed in their Week 1 matchup against Baltimore but bounced back quite nicely against in-state rival Cleveland, who were playing without their top cornerback in Joe Haden. Dalton finished with 318 yards and three touchdowns in his most productive outing as a professional. We all know about second-year mega-talent A.J. Green, but diminutive slot receiver Andrew Hawkins should be popping up on radars, especially in PPR leagues. Hawkins is small and quick, and he should continue being a frequent target of the weak-armed but smart and accurate Dalton. Hawkins has surely been added in most leagues by now, and he may start moving into starting lineups soon. The Bengals run a variation of the West Coast offense and are starting to accumulate the right parts to make it work effectively—a smart accurate quarterback, an explosive receiver that can gain yards after the catch, and a tough quick receiver that can make things happen in the middle of the field.

The Redskins defense took two huge hits this week, which should affect both their pass and run defense. The bigger blow was the loss of pass rush specialist Brian Orakpo, who was placed on the IR after blowing out his arm. The Skins' suspect secondary really needs the protection of an aggressive pass rush, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will now need to be a little more creative to make it work.

Running Game Thoughts: Many predicted that BenJarvus Green-Ellis would fail outside of the friendly confines of the explosive New England offense. However, the hard-charging, sure-handed back has fit in nicely into the Bengals offense and has produced well, averaging 4.3 ypc for 166 yards and a score through two games. He’s even chipped in a few receptions, something he wasn’t asked to do in New England. BJGE isn’t flashy and will seldom break a big play, but he follows a long tradition of straight-ahead, pound-the-rock runners in the Marvin Lewis era in the Queen City.

The Redskins have handled opposing runners fairly well so far this season, allowing only 91.5 ypg with no rushing touchdowns. The loss of defensive end Adam Carriker is a blow to the run defense, but it should not be a devastating one. Amazingly, 37-year-old middle linebacker London Fletcher keeps plugging away and playing at a high level for the Skins. Still, this is a matchup that probably favors the Skins, especially if the Bengals are forced to keep up with the suddenly high-powered Washington offense.

Andy Dalton: 245 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 75 rec yds, 2 TDs
Andrew Hawkins: 40 rec yds
Armon Binns: 50 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 30 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 55 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: As a fellow “III”, it’s great to see Robert Griffin III playing beyond what anyone could have expected from the rookie. The youngster has shown tremendous poise, accuracy, and athleticism and is likely finding his way into starting lineups after being drafted as a high-upside backup. Griffin is a perfect fit in a Shanahan passing offense that relies on the quarterback rolling out of the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. The team has also packaged some designed quarterback runs into the offense, which allowed Griffin to rush for 82 yards and two scores in a loss to the Rams. Griffin was without top wide-out Pierre Garcon in Week 2, and its up in the air whether Garcon will return this week. Rookie Aldrick Robinson moved into the starting lineup after Garcon left in Week 1 and has looked the part, despite his lack of pedigree. Second-year wide receiver Leonard Hankerson hauled in a 68-yard strike for Griffin’s lone passing touchdown against St. Louis and could find his role increased, especially if Garcon sits again. Veteran Santana Moss has mostly been employed out of the slot, and because the team has not run a lot of three-wide receiver sets, he’s not produced much during the first two weeks. He may find himself on the waiver wire in most leagues if he fails to get involved again this week.

Cincinnati has been abused by division rivals Joe Flacco and rookie Brandon Weeden the last two weeks and will look to right the ship against the rookie Griffin this week. Opponents have averaged 308 passing yards and two touchdowns per game against the Bengals over the first two weeks, so Griffin is set up to keep his hot streak going.

Running Game Thoughts: If you read this piece last season, you know that I practically gave up trying to predict what Shanahanigans would happen on a week-to-week basis with the Redskin rushing attack. The team has been more predictable so far, and it’s hard to imagine that they will move on from sixth-round rookie Alfred Morris anytime soon, as long as he keeps producing. In typical Shanahan fashion, the late-round afterthought moved up the depth chart ahead of last season’s productive tandem of Roy Helu and Evan Royster and has been a success thus far. The hard charging Morris has little wiggle or deception in his running style, but with his one cut and go mentality, he fits well in the zone blocking scheme. It would be nothing short of shocking if Morris wasn’t the bell cow this week, after coming close to 100 yards rushing in each of the first two games and finding the end zone twice.

Cincinnati has allowed 126 ypg and three touchdowns over the first two weeks, which bodes well for Morris keeping the job at least one more week. The team was hit hard by offseason injuries to its defense, and a turnaround seems unlikely.

Robert Griffin III: 285 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT / 35 rush yds
Aldrick Robinson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 35 rec yds
Leonard Hankerson: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Fred Davis: 25 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 95 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Redskins 24, Bengals 21 ^ Top

Rams @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a mediocre passing attack in Week 1, the Rams blew up in Week 2 against the Redskins to the tune of 310 yards and three touchdowns (with one interception). The star of the Rams' air-show was receiver Danny Amendola, who recorded an eye-popping 15 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. Sam Bradford was accurate and, for the most part, not under too much pressure. While this pass offense will not explode most weeks, thanks to a lack of elite playmakers and a semi-conservative game plan, the receiving corps is fairly deep and Bradford is smart enough to find the mismatches the defense presents. Speaking of defenses, the Bears' pass defense put up a fairly good showing against the Packers' elite passing game this past Sunday, allowing just 219 yards through the air and a single touchdown while picking off a pass and sacking Aaron Rodgers five times. While it is still early, the Bears are tied for second in sacks and now face a below-average Rams offensive line. Look for the Rams to throw a ton of dump-offs, screens, and short passes in order to keep Bradford upright for most of the game. The beneficiary of this plan should once again be Amendola, a decent WR3 this week, though do not expect double-digit catches again this time. No other Rams passing game player is recommended in this matchup in most standard leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Against the Skins last week the Rams put up a very respectable 151 yards while averaging a healthy 5.6 ypc. This was not only on the back of Steven Jackson (58 yards). Rookie Daryl Richardson (83 yards) filled in admirably when SJax went down with a groin injury. Word out of St. Louis is that Jackson could have gone back in if he needed to, so look for him to start this week, although Richardson has probably earned an increased role. The Bears, on the other hand, let up just over a hundred yards to the Packers last week and have looked pretty stout in run defense thus far. The difference here is that the Bears have not faced a running back as talented as Jackson, and so I see the Rams being pretty successful on the ground (think 125-plus yards) as long as the game does not get out of hand early. Jackson should be a very good RB2 in this matchup, unless he has an unforeseen setback with his injury this week. In the very slight chance that Jackson does not suit up, Richardson would make a very intriguing high-end RB3 or flex choice.

Sam Bradford: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Danny Amendola: 85 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 40 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Anyone who watched the Bears play last week knows their passing game was plain awful. There were dropped passes, lots of interceptions (4), lots of sacks (7), and little yardage and touchdowns (126/1). It was a totally different look then their very productive Week 1 performance over the Colts (333 yards, 2 TDs). In this matchup, I look for something right down the middle of the first two weeks. The Rams have an emerging defensive line that can certainly put pressure on the awful Bears line, but the defense as a whole still gives up passing yardage in chunks and is prone to giving up big plays through the air (two plays of over 50 yards in two games). Look for a slight rebound from Cutler and Brandon Marshall in this matchup, although there is still no other Bears passing game player on the fantasy radar as of yet.

Running Game Thoughts: The big news here of course is that Matt Forte is out of this contest, and probably the next few as well. The good news for the Bears is that Michael Bush is talented enough to not allow much of a drop-off. In limited action, Bush has put up 96 yards on 26 carries (3.7 ypc), while adding two touchdowns. The Rams are coming off a game where they gave up 176 yards on the ground to the Skins, and are now averaging a league worst 5.5 ypc to opposing offenses. On their home turf, I expect the Bears to run more than usual in order to exploit the defense and take some pressure off Cutler. Bush is certainly a recommended start here and should put up low-end RB1 numbers this week.

Jay Cutler: 225 pass yds. 2 TD, 2 INT
Brandon Marshall: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Earl Bennett: 45 rec yds
Alshon Jeffery: 35 rec yds
Michael Bush: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 27, Rams 23 ^ Top

Bills @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Bills passing offense is not putting a ton of yards on the stat sheet yet this year (373 yards total), they are somewhat surprisingly tied for the league lead in passing touchdowns so far with five. Starting any member of the Bills passing offense is a risky proposition again this year, although Stevie Johnson is off to a decent start with 111 yards and two touchdowns—but just six catches through two games. The Browns passing defense, especially without Joe Haden (out again this week), was atrocious versus the Bengals last week, giving up 318 yards and three touchdowns, although they did pick off one pass and register six sacks in the process. I look for this matchup to be the Bills' best so far, as I envision a back-and-forth type of game, where Fitzpatrick should take advantage of an over-matched secondary while dumping off a bunch of passes to C.J. Spiller. While it is still hard to recommend starting Fitzpatrick in all but the largest (or 2-QB) leagues, Stevie Johnson should certainly have another productive day, and even Scott Chandler makes an interesting sleeper at tight end, especially in TD-heavy formats.

Running Game Thoughts: Unless you have been living under a rock you know the Bills run game this year has been all about C.J. Spiller—since the moment Fred Jackson left the first game with a knee injury. Compiling nearly 300 yards over two games with a league-leading 10.1 ypc average, Spiller has also added three rushing touchdowns thus far. In both games, Spiller has finally shown the world why he was a top 10 NFL draft pick a few years back, displaying burst, speed, decisiveness, and cutback ability. The Bills currently lead the NFL in rushing, and this matchup should mean a hold on that lead by the time the week is over. While the Browns rush defense has been about average the first two games, they were mostly being attacked through the air, so it is not really a true measure. Look for Spiller to get another 15-plus rushes in this contest and put up decent RB1 numbers again, especially if the Browns can’t keep pace with the Bills and Buffalo goes into a run-the-clock-out game plan.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Steve Johnson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 30 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 115 rush yds, 1 TD, 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns passing attack did a complete 180 from the previous awful week, putting up 322 yards through the air and scoring two touchdowns, while not turning it over at all. Brandon Weeden looked poised and decisive as he spread the ball around to eight different receivers, including yardage and target leader Mohammed Massaquoi (5 catches, 90 yards). While the Browns are at least a few more good games away from recommending anyone in their passing game, they have shown signs of life and have put Massaquoi and Greg Little (5 catches, 57 yards) back on the fantasy radar, even as tiny blips for the time being. The better news for the Browns passing attack is that the Bills pass defense has been well below average (23rd in passing yards allowed), even though they have faced two teams who have more conservative, run-based attacks (Jets and Chiefs). While I am not expecting record-breaking numbers from the Browns passing game, they should put up decent numbers as a whole and remain the game for most, if not all, of the four quarters.

Running Game Thoughts: In his second NFL start, Trent Richardson had a coming-out party that made the people that drafted him early breathe a big sigh of relief. Richardson racked up 109 yards on the ground, a healthy 5.7 ypc average, and added a touchdown to his resume. He looked much more explosive in his second game and found plenty more holes, thanks in large part to the Bengals defense being forced to, at least moderately, respect the passing game. The other good news for Richardson owners was that he was the only running back to actually get a carry in the game, making him a true workhorse. The Bills rush defense has been inept this season, letting up an average of 134 yards per contest, good for 24th in the league. Look for Richardson to have another borderline RB1 game, as the score should be close and the Browns should lean on their most talented weapon.

Brandon Weeden: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mohamed Massaquoi: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Little: 45 rec yds
Josh Gordon: 30 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bills 28, Browns 24 ^ Top

49ers @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: If there were one word to describe the 49ers passing game so far this year it would be efficient. While they are not putting up huge yardage (392) or touchdown (4) numbers thus far, they are not turning the ball over (not once) and they are completing a high number of passes (70%). In the receiving department, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree have been the stars, both totaling over 100 yards so far. The Vikings, who last year were among the league leaders in sacks, have been relatively good against the pass early on, but they have not played their best competition so far—only the Jaguars and Colts. Their pass defense was very bad last year, and I expect them to regress as the year goes along. In this matchup, I look for the 49ers to exploit a relatively weak pass defense early on and let their elite defense put the game out of reach. I’m still not recommending Alex Smith as a fantasy starter, simply because the 49ers' game plan is too conservative, but Davis makes a great TE1 and Crabtree I believe can be counted on for decent WR3 numbers this week.

Running Game Thoughts: So far, so good for Frank Gore, who many owners passed over in drafts this summer because of his age and injury history. In two games, Gore has amassed over 200 yards on the ground and scored twice, averaging a healthy 6 ypc, albeit against mediocre defenses. As one of the better fantasy handcuffs, Kendall Hunter has also looked good in limited action, piling up 64 yards. While the Vikings run defense is above average, the 49ers game plan will not change drastically, they will run and run some more throughout all four quarters. Because their defense should easily keep them in this game, I see another nice running day for the Niners and would certainly recommend Gore as a top 15 option at RB this week.

Alex Smith: 215 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vernon Davis: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Crabtree: 65 rec yds
Mario Manningham: 40 rec yds
Frank Gore: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: I really believe the Vikings passing offense will eventually be a good unit, but this is a bad matchup for them in both real life and fantasy football. Besides not throwing an interception this year, Ponder has also put up decent yardage numbers (515) and looked very accurate, completing an amazing 75 percent of his passes. What is deceiving about these numbers is that the Vikings have played some bad teams so far (JAX and IND), and his longest pass completion has only been for 29 yards (tied for 27th in NFL). On the other side of the ball, the 49ers have faced two of the league’s most potent passing offenses (Green Bay and Detroit) and have still held their own, rating right around the middle in most passing defense categories. In this matchup, I look for the front seven of San Francisco to pressure Ponder and force him into some tough throws, decreasing his accuracy and limiting his yardage totals. Even though I do not expect big numbers from the Vikings pass game overall this week, I would still start Harvin as a low-end WR2 and perhaps even Kyle Rudolph as a decent top 12 option at TE.

Running Game Thoughts: This matchup may be the most intriguing to watch, as one of the league’s best running backs face off against perhaps the league’s best rush defense. Adrian Peterson stunned some people, as he not only played in the Vikings first two games, but played very well. This week Peterson has stated that he feels better than he did the previous two weeks, and he will no doubt carry a big load at home as the Vikings' best weapon. While the 49ers have once again started off as a stingy run defense (sixth in yards allowed), they have not played an offense or a player that runs as well as the Vikings and Adrian Peterson do. While I do not expect Peterson to break 100 yards, as very few do against San Fran, I do expect him to get more carries than he has the first two weeks and put up low-end RB1 numbers. Start Peterson with confidence unless you somehow have other RB options on your team who are in the top 8.

Christian Ponder: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 10 rush yds
Percy Harvin: 70 rec yds, 15 rush yds
Kyle Rudolph: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Jenkins: 35 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Toby Gerhart: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 30, Vikings 20 ^ Top

Patriots @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While they may not be putting up numbers like many people expected in the passing game, the Patriots are still a pass-first team and are still going to be very effective at doing it. While only scoring one touchdown against Arizona last week, the Pats still managed 316 yards and now have well over 500 on the year. Tom Brady is still completing passes at a high rate (66%), and is still spreading the ball around to five or six receivers each game. With Aaron Hernandez out of this game, there are three main guys to watch for: Welker, Lloyd, and Gronkowski. While Welker has been getting the attention for not being involved as much as in previous years, he still led the team in yardage last week and has a respectable eight catches for 109 yards so far. To me, the bigger surprise is Brandon Lloyd, who is getting a ton of targets but has yet to catch the long ball or score a touchdown. Of course Gronk is still Gronk, catching a touchdown in both games and leading the team in yardage. While the Ravens do put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and almost always create a turnover or two, they also tend to let up big chunks of yardage through the air. While sacking and intercepting Michael Vick twice last week, they also let him throw for 371 yards and complete nearly 72 percent of his passes. I expect similar results this week from Brady, although the Ravens home field advantage may help slow down the Pats a bit. Start Brady, Welker, Gronk, and Lloyd with confidence, as the yardage should be there even if a lot of touchdowns are not.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Pats have, in recent years, split a lot of the carries in the backfield, Stevan Ridley has thus far received over 66 percent of the carries in their run game. He has done so quite effectively as well, running for nearly 200 yards at a rate of 5 ypc. While the Pats remain a pass-happy team, the coaching staff seems to trust Ridley, and he should at least have the opportunity to run in all four quarters of this game since the Pats offense should keep it close, if not obtain a flat-out lead. While run defense has traditionally been one of the Ravens' strengths, this year Baltimore has given up over a hundred yards in each of the first two weeks. While they may not be as stingy as years past, their defense will be fired up at home against a bitter rival, so I would look for the Pats run game to be slowed down significantly. I’d consider Ridley a low-end RB2 in this matchup, based on the volume of touches he may get, but I wouldn’t expect huge numbers this week.

Tom Brady: 305 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rob Gronkowski: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Lloyd: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 75 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 45 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s obvious the Ravens are leaning a bit more on the pass this year compared to years past, as Joe Flacco has become more comfortable and more in control of this offense. Last week against the Eagles, one of the league’s better pass defenses, the Ravens still threw it 42 times, completing 22 for 232 yards. The Ravens have two decent receivers (Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin), along with Ray Rice coming out of the backfield, but it has actually been tight end Dennis Pitta, with 13 catches for 138 yards and a score, who is their early-season leader. While the Patriots pass defense has given up the seventh least pass yards thus far, this number is misleading because the two teams they’ve faced (Arizona and Tennessee) have weak to below-average offenses in general. The Pats pass defense last year was horrible, and while it looks to have improved some this year (especially the pass rush), I predict that they will begin to revert to their old ways against a more legit quarterback and offensive line. I see Flacco as a high-end QB2 this week and would also consider taking a small gamble on Torrey Smith to breakout, as the Pats defense has been prone to giving up the big play.

Running Game Thoughts: While the pass has become more prevalent in Baltimore, Ray Rice still remains their best weapon, and he is off to a good start with 167 yards(6.4 ypc) and two touchdowns. As a team, Baltimore is currently top 10 in rushing yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns. Against the rush, the Pats certainly do look improved and might actually be fairly stout this year, thanks to All-Pro Vince Wilfork and a few new rookies (Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones) that have contributed early up front. Currently the Pats have given up the 5th least yards on the ground and have been holding opposing runners to a very low 2.6 ypc, tied for second in the league. Much like their pass defense, the Pats have not yet faced a unit on the ground as strong as Rice and the Ravens offensive line, so I would still easily start Rice—just do not expect him to make your whole week this time, as New England should do a decent job against the run.

Joe Flacco: 265 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Dennis Pitta: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 50 rec yds
Ray Rice: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 40 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 30, Patriots 27 ^ Top

Falcons @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The highly touted Atlanta Falcons passing game hasn’t disappointed in 2012. Through two games, Matt Ryan has thrown for five touchdowns with no interceptions, dispersing the ball well to Roddy White, Julio Jones and even veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. Ryan, the second-highest scoring fantasy quarterback in the league thus far, hasn’t cracked the 300-yard mark yet, but that’s likely due to the Falcons having large leads during both games.

This week, Ryan and the high-flying Falcons offense will challenge a San Diego Chargers defense which has allowed just one passing touchdown in each of their first two contests. Though they have kept the opposing passing games out of the end zone, the Chargers haven’t been challenged by the Oakland or Tennessee passing games. Atlanta will be sure to test them early and often, so it will be interesting to see whether the Chargers are truly capable of containing a high quality passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: After years of being one of the league’s most consistent runners, it appears the wheels may finally be falling off “The Burner.” Michael Turner, who has run for over 1,300 yards in each of his three healthy seasons as a Falcon, has failed to reach 50 yards in either of his first two games. Though he did score a touchdown early against the Broncos, Turner hasn’t had the same type of power and speed that we’ve come to know him for. To make matters worse, Turner’s head could be in another world during this game due to a potential suspension following a drunk driving charge.

Turner and the Falcons running game could be in for a long day as they go up against a San Diego Chargers defense which has allowed just 62 yards on the ground through the first two games. In doing so, the Chargers have shut down two of the league’s most talented backs in Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson. Michael Turner could very well make it three in a row. Though McFadden did exploit a soft defensive scheme by the Chargers in Week 1 by cashing in with 15 receptions, Turner is notoriously bad in PPR leagues and most, if not all of the team’s passes to running backs will be headed toward Jacquizz Rodgers.

Matt Ryan: 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Julio Jones: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 40 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 20 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Michael Turner: 60 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: 2011 was a season to forget for four-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers who threw a career-worst 20 interceptions. Though it doesn’t look like the previously elite Rivers is back quite yet, his Week 2 performance against the Titans reminded fantasy owners that he can still produce some big numbers, especially against teams that don’t generate much of a pass rush. Rivers tossed three touchdown passes and added 284 yards through the air against Tennessee and will look to continue that hot streak in Week 3 when he stays home to face the Falcons.

The Atlanta defense, who without top corner Brent Grimes, intercepted future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning an astounding three times in just one quarter of play. Philip Rivers did look good in Week 2, but we still aren’t sure whether his days of throwing multiple interceptions in games are behind him, so it’s hard to trust that he won’t be another victim of the surprisingly pesky Atlanta secondary who have already intercepted five passes in two weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: The Chargers miss Ryan Mathews. Through two games, the team’s leading rusher is journeyman Jackie Battle whose two touchdowns are also a team-best. Unfortunately, Battle’s 69 yards on the ground aren’t much to write home about and his touchdowns came in a game when almost no one in the fantasy universe could’ve possibly had him in their lineup. On the bright side, it does sound like Mathews will be back this week and perhaps that will finally give the Chargers the balance they need.

Philip Rivers: 300 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Malcom Floyd: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 55 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 50 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Falcons 23, Chargers 20 ^ Top

Eagles @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It hasn’t been the prettiest start to the season for the Eagles and quarterback Mike Vick, but with two wins under their belt, the Philadelphia fans can’t complain too much. Vick’s six interceptions are a surprisingly high number, but his 688 yards passing are actually second-best in the league behind only Eli Manning and his monster Week 2 performance. Vick also continues to add yardage on the ground, which has helped make up for his mistakes. The biggest question for the Eagles passing game at the moment is whether or not wide receiver Jeremy Maclin will be able to suit up for Week 3. After battling through a hip injury last week, Maclin suffered another setback during the game and has been in and out of practice throughout the week.

If Maclin can’t play, the Eagles could be in for a long day through the air as the Arizona defense is coming off of an amazing Week 2 performance where they held the high-powered New England passing game to just one touchdown in an unexpected win in Foxboro. Patrick Peterson has made improvements in his game this season and Adrian Wilson remains one of the league’s most underappreciated, elite-level safeties. If Vick and his top targets in the passing game can’t get in sync early, look for them to lean heavily on the running game which could include an increased number of designed QB runs for Vick himself.

Running Game Thoughts: Coming off of a monster 2011 season, which saw him score 20 touchdowns, LeSean McCoy has started his 2012 campaign off strong with two solid performances. His 225 yards from scrimmage are a nice number and although he has gotten into the end zone once so far, one has to assume that more touchdowns are in line for this shifty young back as he and the Eagles offense still have some kinks to work out before they’re moving at full steam. McCoy, who touches the ball 20+ times almost every week, might be the single safest fantasy running back in the league right now.

Arizona’s run defense has been touched up over the first two weeks when it comes to yardage, but they still haven’t allowed anyone to crack 100 yards on their own and no opposing back has scored a touchdown. With Arizona’s pass defense as productive as it has been, Philadelphia will very likely be looking to run the ball in Week 3. That could mean upwards of 25 touches for LeSean McCoy and a potentially big day for one of the biggest fantasy studs in the league.

Michael Vick: 240 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 50 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 25 rec yds
Brent Celek: 50 rec yds
LeSean McCoy: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For a team that is 2-0, the Arizona Cardinals have been slow as molasses at moving the football on offense. Even with Larry Fitzgerald split out wide on every play, the Arizona QB tandem of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb have thrown for just 355 yards in two games. Despite the shocking win over the Patriots in Week 2, Kolb did not look good and head coach Ken Whisenhunt could have him on a short chain given that Skelton could be ready to play against the Eagles in Week 3.

Whoever is throwing the ball will have a tough matchup as they go up against one of the league’s most talented secondaries. Led by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles have completely shut down each of the first two quarterbacks they’ve played against. They’ve allowed just 350 passing yards and one touchdown while forcing an impressive five interceptions. Unfortunately, even Larry Fitzgerald can’t make the cut of being an automatic start this week because of how bad he Arizona passing game has been combined with the impressive Eagles pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Given the lackluster passing game, one would assume that a 2-0 team would have made up for it with an incredible rushing attack. That hasn’t been the case for Arizona. Through two games, starting running back Beanie Wells has rushed for just 58 yards. Second-year backup Ryan Williams hasn’t looked any better, adding just 22 yards of his own. Neither back has scored a touchdown nor have they contributed significantly in the passing game. To say that the Arizona running game has been pathetic would be an understatement. At this point, it’s practically non-existent.

Things don’t look much better on paper this week either, as Wells and Williams will look to break through an Eagles run defense that has taken a huge step forward from the abysmal performance they had in 2011. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans has made a world of difference for this unit and with the secondary playing better than ever, the Eagles’ front seven have been able to focus very intently on stopping the opposing running game. Though Ray Rice and the Ravens did break through with a nice Week 2 performance, we just have to look back one week to a game where the Eagles held Trent Richardson to just 39 yards on 19 carries. Richardson isn’t quite to Ray Rice’s talent level yet, but Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams can’t even hold a candle to Richardson. Until they prove otherwise, the Cardinals running game is really only a fantasy option for those in extremely deep leagues with significant injury problems.

Kevin Kolb: 165 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 40 rec yds
Early Doucet: 30 rec yds
Todd Heap: 25 rec yds
Beanie Wells: 30 rush yds
Ryan Williams: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Eagles 30, Cardinals 16 ^ Top

Steelers @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: With their top running back Rashard Mendenhall still recovering from a knee injury which knocked him out of the 2011 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have fully established themselves as a pass-first offense in 2012. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already thrown 71 passes in two games, finding receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace on a regular basis, even tossing a touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller in each of the first two games.

Oakland’s secondary has played surprisingly well this season despite being in their second season without one of the league’s top cornerbacks, Nnamdi Asomugha. Of course, it has helped that they’ve played against passing games that haven’t fully come into their own. Philip Rivers is just now learning how to move the ball consistently without Vincent Jackson while rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is learning how to run an NFL offense. Needless to say, the Steelers will be the most well oiled passing machine that the Raiders have gone up against this season.

Running Game Thoughts: With Rashard Mendenhall finally making strides to get back into the game, the duo of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer may be coming to an end. And for fantasy owners, it can’t come soon enough. Though they haven’t been a complete disaster like some other running games this season, the Steelers backs have combined for just 116 rushing yards and one touchdown through the first two weeks. Mendenhall, who will likely be eased back into playing time if he does get in the game this week, could provide a much-needed jump start to give the Steelers a more balanced offensive attack.

Perhaps the Steelers can get things going on the ground this week when they go up against a Raiders defense which surrendered 249 rushing yards and three touchdowns to the Dolphins backs in Week 2. While they did a nice job shutting down the Chargers RBs in Week 1, the fact that they were completely unable to contain Reggie Bush could have Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall licking their chops.

Ben Roethlisberger: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 10 rush yds
Mike Wallace: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 90 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 40 rec yds
Heath Miller: 25 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 60 rush yds
Jonathan Dwyer: 40 rush yds
Isaac Redman: 35 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: When the Raiders made a big trade to acquire Carson Palmer last season, they were hoping that the former Pro Bowler might be able to summon his inner-2006 when the former Bengal threw for over 4,000 yards with 28 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions. Though he has been a significant upgrade from what the team has had for the past few seasons, Palmer hasn’t delivered at quite the rate the black and silver had hoped for. With wide receiver Denarius Moore having missed time, Palmer hasn’t been able to get in-sync with any of his receivers on a consistent basis. He has thrown for an impressive number of yards, but Palmer has only thrown two touchdown passes in two weeks and unless the running game gets moving more consistently, it’s going to be tough for him to improve much on those numbers.

Palmer and the Raiders aerial attack will be matched up in Week 3 against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has traditionally been elite in just about every category. With pass rushers like Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers simply get after the opposing quarterbacks. It hasn’t translated to any turnovers through two weeks, but it is important to note that the Pittsburgh defense has allowed less than 400 yards passing and that includes a game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden is unquestionably one of the most physically talented running backs in the entire league. His explosiveness, lateral quickness and top-end speed are elite at his position. Unfortunately, two games into the 2012 season, it simply hasn’t translated to fantasy success. McFadden has rushed for a measly 54 rushing yards without getting into the end zone. At this point, even backup running back Mike Goodson, who scored a touchdown on a reception, has more fantasy points than the borderline first round pick, McFadden. In PPR leagues, McFadden did dazzle with 13 receptions in Week 1, but he came back to Earth in Week 2 with only two.

For now, McFadden figures to still see almost every carry for the Raiders offense which will make him hard to sit even against top-level defenses like Pittsburgh. The Steelers have allowed just 159 yards rushing to opposing backs through the first two weeks of the season and just one touchdown in the form of a Week 1 goal line score to the Broncos’ Knowshon Moreno. Pittsburgh’s run defense has long been elite and although McFadden has elite talent, it’s probably going to be tough for him to find much running room against this stingy defense. If McFadden is going to do any damage, it’s probably going to happen as a receiver. If the Raiders target him like they did in Week 1, he could be a very useful contributor particularly in PPR leagues.

Carson Palmer: 265 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Denarius Moore: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 40 rec yds
Rod Streater: 25 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 70 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 40 rush yds, 1 TD, 50 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 27, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Texans @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Sometimes it doesn’t have to be pretty in order to get the job done. That’s what owners of Houston quarterback Matt Schaub have begun to realize as the Texans’ gunslinger has thrown for just one touchdown pass and 461 total yards in the Texans’ two wins this season. A healthy Andre Johnson exploded in Week 1 with an eight catch, 119-yard performance that included a touchdown; but the receiver followed it up with just three catches for 21 yards in Week 2. With the Texans’ running game and defense working as well as they are, it could be a rollercoaster-like season for the passing game, which will likely cause fantasy owners many headaches.

If it wasn’t frustrating enough to be a Matt Schaub or Andre Johnson owner, Week 3 could be the worst yet as Johnson will almost certainly be shadowed by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Analysts keep waiting for the drop-off from Bailey, but he continues to play at an elite level year after year. Through two games, the opposing team’s perceived top receivers (Mike Wallace and Julio Jones) have combined for just 51 yards receiving. Though Bailey hasn’t been locked in on those receivers throughout the entire game, it’s his presence on the field that allows the Broncos to shift their defense toward the big play targets, taking away the long passes they make their money with. Andre Johnson could be in for a similar situation, so although it might be tempting to play your stud receiver, try to look elsewhere if you have any decent options.

Running Game Thoughts: What is there to say about this rushing attack that hasn’t already been said? Typically when we see dual-headed backfields, it leads to fantasy owners being furious about the production of both backs, neither of whom are producing at a high enough level to be starters. That’s not the case with the Texans. Through two games, Arian Foster has been his usual elite self, rushing for 189 yards and three touchdowns while Ben Tate has added 80 yards and two scores. Foster is certainly “the guy,” but when the Texans get up big in games, Tate has huge value and can be a decent flex play.

The dominating performances that the Texans have put in through the first two weeks of the season have contributed to the success that the running game has had as they’ve almost been exclusively running the ball in the second half of games, grinding out the clock in blowout victories. That’s unlikely to happen in Week 3 against the Broncos who, while still learning to gel together in a new offense, have been moving the ball well and throwing points on the board with relative ease. Not only that, but the Broncos have allowed just 114 yards and a single score against the Steelers and Falcons backs in the first two weeks of the season. Certainly Arian Foster is an every week must-start for fantasy owners regardless of the opponent, but we might not see as much of Ben Tate this week as we are accustomed to.

Matt Schaub: 240 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 50 rec yds
Kevin Walter: 25 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Arian Foster: 90 rush yds, 2 TD, 20 rec yds
Ben Tate: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After looking like the “Peyton of old” was back in Week 1, Manning came crashing back down into reality with an epically miserable first quarter of play against the Falcons in Week 2. Manning’s arm didn’t look like it had the same zip as it did even in Week 1 as he misfired numerous times, resulting in three interceptions before 15 minutes had even run off the clock. Though he and the Broncos offense did start clicking later in the game, the rust was very apparent for Manning who missed the entire 2011 season with a spinal injury.

If he’s hoping to get back on track, Peyton will have to do it against a defense which currently tops the league in the category of least fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks in 2012. Having held the Ryan Tannehill and Blaine Gabbert to just 295 yards and one touchdown between the two of them, the Texans secondary appears to be excellent this season. Of course, Peyton Manning and his receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are a very obvious upgrade from the mediocre groups that the Dolphins and Jaguars trot onto the field, so we may see the Texans’ ranking slip a bit following this week.

Running Game Thoughts: At 30 years old, tread should finally be wearing off on the tires of Broncos running back Willis McGahee. Somebody hasn’t told him that, though, as he ran around, past and through the Atlanta Falcons for 113 yards and two touchdowns in his team’s Week 2 loss. The loss is a key point in this equation as it showed the Broncos are not going to abandon the run. Better yet, the relative lack of success that Knowshon Moreno has had, makes McGahee’s job very safe for right now.

He’ll need all the touches he can get in Week 3, as he goes up against a Houston run defense which has allowed only 140 yards on the ground to opposing running backs this season. Oh, and they’ve yet to allow a rushing score. Given the Broncos’ play calling and Peyton Manning’s unique ability to find holes in opposing defenses, McGahee does have a chance to break that trend and get into the end zone this week, but to expect another two-touchdown performance out of him might be a bit much.

Peyton Manning: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Demaryius Thomas: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Stokley: 30 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 45 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 60 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Texans 30, Broncos 24 ^ Top

Packers @ Seahaws - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It has been a rough start to the season for fantasy owners who opted to snag Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a pick that may have been the first overall selection of their fantasy draft. Though he hasn’t been terrible, Rodgers has passed for 522 yards and three scores through two weeks of play, which puts him on pace for only 4,176 yards and 24 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. We certainly expect that Rodgers will get back to playing at an elite level, but at this point it is very obvious that the Packers’ offense, which missed Greg Jennings in Week 2, is not clicking at its usual rate.

Jennings (groin) may not be back in Week 3 when the team heads to Seattle to battle the Seahawks who are coming off of an impressive victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Known for having some of the most physically imposing defensive backs in the league, Seattle was able to shut down Romo and the Cowboys, holding them to just one touchdown through the air. Though Dallas does have some great weapons on offense, the Cowboys probably don’t quite match what the Packers have in terms of firepower. Expect a somewhat decent bounce-back week from the Green Bay passing game even in a tough environment.

Running Game Thoughts: When the Packers signed former Bengals running back Cedric Benson this off-season, many expected that the ground game might see an upgrade in 2012. Through two games so far, it hasn’t quite been that way. Though Benson did rush for 81 yards in Week 2 against the Bears, his Week 1 performance against the 49ers when he ran for just 18 yards was a reminder that this is still very much a pass-first offense even with the addition of Benson. With James Starks nearing his way back into the lineup, it could be an even more frustrating situation for owners of either back as it is unlikely either will consistently receive enough touches to be fantasy stars.

If Benson and Starks do get going, they’ll be doing it against a Seattle defense which has allowed a league-best 72 yards rushing on the season, with only one touchdown against them. Even Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray had major struggles against them as he rushed for less than 50 yards. Neither Benson nor Starks is much of a receiver, so don’t look for them to contribute in the passing game. At least for this week, it might be best to completely avoid the Packers backfield situation for fantasy purposes.

Aaron Rodgers: 300 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jordy Nelson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Randall Cobb: 70 rec yds
James Jones: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Cedric Benson: 50 rush yds
James Starks: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For a rookie quarterback taken in the third round, former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson has exceeded even the wildest expectations that his team could’ve possibly set for him coming into the season. His victory last week against the Cowboys was very impressive from a game management standpoint. Of course, fantasy owners will be looking for more production out of him if they want to consider taking a chance on him as their starter, but thankfully he probably hasn’t been in many lineups thus far as he learns the ropes in the NFL. Wilson has spread the ball around very well, completing no more than seven passes to any one receiver, but four or more to four different receivers.

It does appear that Wilson’s favorite target has been former Vikings standout Sidney Rice and that is likely the receiver that the Packers will be keying on in Week 3. A season ago, Green Bay ranked fifth-worst in the league in allowing points to opposing quarterbacks as they were torched for 29 touchdowns on the year and a league-worst 4,988 yards. It has only been two games, but in 2012, things seem to be completely flipped as the Packers have allowed just 337 yards passing while forcing four interceptions, good enough for fifth-best. Russell Wilson certainly has the potential to be a breakout star in the NFL this season, but for this week, he’s probably not the best fantasy play. Keep him on your bench for one more week before you consider throwing him in against the Saints in Week 4.

Running Game Thoughts: “Beast Mode” was on display in Week 2 as Marshawn Lynch sliced through the Cowboys defense for 122 yards and his first score of the season. Through two weeks, Lynch has already touched the ball 49 times, putting to rest any concerns that rookie running back Robert Turbin would see any significant touches early on. After exploding into the fantasy elite discussion in 2011, Lynch seems to be well on his way to repeating that success in 2012.

Lynch does have a favorable matchup this week, too, as he will be at home again against a Packers defense that has already surrendered 300 yards from scrimmage to opposing running backs. Lynch has been an absolute monster at home, rushing for an average of 118 yards and a touchdown in each of his past six games in Seattle. The main worry here is whether the Seahawks will be able to keep the Packers from scoring early because if they fall behind, it could mean significantly less touches for Lynch who is not much of a contributor in the passing game. Nevertheless, the matchup is good here and given his status as one of the few backs in the league who touches the ball 20+ times a game, he’s a must-start in almost every format.

Russell Wilson: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Sidney Rice: 40 rec yds
Braylon Edwards: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 25 rec yds
Zach Miller: 20 rec yds
Anthony McCoy: 25 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 110 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Packers 27, Seahawks 20 ^ Top