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Inside the Matchup
Week 4

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


TEN @ HOU | CIN @ JAX | WAS @ TB | SD @ KC



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 11 2 84.6
2 Caron 7 6 53.8
3 Smith 5 7 41.7
4 Marcoccio 4 6 40.0

Browns @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns passing game has been a rollercoaster ride; bad then good then bad again. It is certainly not for a lack of trying, as they are top 10 in passes attempted with 115 (38 avg. attempts per game). The bad part is, however, they are completing just 56.5 percent of their passes, with a league worst 5.9 yards per attempt and a tied-for-league-worst six interceptions. For the most part, Brandon Weeden has looked like a rookie, including last week’s performance against a below average Bills defense, where he threw two picks, was sacked four times, and threw for just 5.5 yards per attempt. In the receiving department, the only real news to report was a breakout game from Jordan Cameron, a raw pass-catching tight end who led the Browns with 45 yards on five catches. Cameron is someone worth watching but not adding yet, unless you are in a dynasty-type league. The rest of the receiving corps at this point is way too raw, young, inconsistent, or simply not talented enough to even be concerned with from a fantasy perspective.

The Ravens pass defense is far from elite, ranked 28th right now, though to be fair, they are coming off a game versus the elite, pass-heavy Patriots. Besides Ed Reed, the secondary is underwhelming and, as of yet, struggling to get a consistently good pass rush. While I don’t expect Cleveland to throw all over them, I expect good yardage numbers, especially since the Browns will most likely be playing from behind.

Running Game Thoughts: Much like the passing game (and in direct correlation with it), Trent Richardson’s season has been up and down thus far. When the Browns can get defenses to respect the pass, Richardson can be a beast, but making this happen might be easier said than done. It is also hard to run the ball consistently when the team is down, as they have been in each game thus far. The good news for fantasy owners of Richardson is that he continues to dominate the carries in the backfield, getting 50 of their 58 carries on the season. So far the Ravens rush defense is underachieving, but they are certainly talented enough to limit Richardson’s numbers, especially on a nationally televised home game. Richardson owners should give the rookie a start again this week, simply because of the opportunities he gets, although in a tough matchup I would not expect anything more than a low-end RB2 performance.

Brandon Weeden: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Trent Richardson: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Jordan Cameron: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Josh Gordon: 40 rec yds
Travis Benjamin: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: As Joe Flacco and the more aggressive Ravens passing game continued their successful start in Week 3, they are now a top 5 passing team, statistically speaking. Besides the big yardage numbers they are putting up (904, third in the NFL), the Ravens also boast a great 8.3 yards per attempt (fifth in the NFL), and six touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. While they still do not have an elite fantasy receiving threat, their No. 1 wide receiver, Torrey Smith, finally had a breakout game in Week 3, catching six balls for 127 yards and two touchdowns. I wouldn’t expect many weeks with that type of numbers, but he is a good bet against a still Joe Haden-less Browns secondary to break off at least one long gain for a touchdown this week. Dennis Pitta also remained a steady factor in Week 3 (5 rec, 50 yds, 1 TD) and continues to lead the team in targets, making him a safe low-end TE1 this week. Coming off an emotional win versus the Patriots in a short week, I would probably expect a bit of a letdown here, but Flacco, Smith, and Pitta are all good enough to get their numbers in a nice matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Much like the Browns, the Ravens run game is all about one guy, Ray Rice. While the Ravens are still not running the ball as frequently as in years past (just 70 attempts, 25th in the NFL), they are certainly running efficiently, as they are top 10 in yards (354) and top 5 in yards per attempt (5.1). With Rice getting 66 percent of the carries thus far, he is a very safe RB1 start, especially in this matchup, where the Browns are giving up an average of 122 yards per game (22nd in the NFL). The bonus in this matchup is that the Browns’ lack of offense may mean a run-the-clock-out game plan by the Ravens, possibly starting as early as the third quarter. Start Rice with confidence, as this home game matchup looks like an RB’s dream come true.

Joe Flacco: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Dennis Pitta: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 55 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 30, Browns 20 ^ Top

Vikings @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While the yardage numbers were not all that impressive last week (198), Christian Ponder, against one of the league’s very best defenses (the 49ers), managed to throw for two touchdowns and no interceptions while also completely avoiding getting sacked. While six different players caught passes, really only two, Percy Harvin (9 catches 89 yards) and Kyle Rudolph (5 catches, 36 yards, 2 TDs), made a significant impact. This may change as early as this week, however, with the return of Jerome Simpson from a three-game suspension. Simpson should immediately become the Vikings’ second-best receiver and could even be a consistent fantasy threat down the road. For this week, however, owners should be in wait-and-see mode before playing (or picking up) Simpson.

The good news in this matchup for the Vikings pass offense is that the Lions pass defense has been pretty horrible and is coming off a game against the Titans where Jake Locker threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns while throwing no picks and taking no sacks. Interesting note: The Vikings are just one of two teams to not yet throw an interception, and the Lions are just one of three teams to not yet register a pick . While the Vikings passing game is not elite just yet, this matchup may at times make it appear that way. Harvin and Rudolph are easy starts this week, and Ponder makes for an intriguing mid-range QB2 in a great matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week, against last year’s best rushing defense, Adrian Peterson put up a respectable 86 yards while the rest of the team put up an additional 60. Peterson should be approaching full health after shaking off the rust the first few weeks of the season—and looking pretty good doing so. From a yardage total number, the Lions rush defense is just a notch below the 49ers, although they are giving up about half a yard more per carry. Last week, the Lions held Chris Johnson to just 24 yards, though that does not seem too impressive, considering what he has done so far this season. The Lions do have a formidable defensive line, so I would not expect this matchup to be a cake-walk for the Vikings; however, they should be persistent enough with the run to put up decent yardage totals. Start Peterson with confidence, as he should at least match the respectable numbers he put up last week against the 49ers.

Christian Ponder: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Percy Harvin: 80 rec yds, 1 TD, 15 rush yds
Kyle Rudolph: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 55 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While Matthew Stafford is not yet living up to the “elite” status placed on him by many fantasy experts, he has helped the Lions lead the league in passing yardage. What seems to be missing is touchdowns, which he has only three of so far—a number that he matched or surpassed in seven games last year. While Stafford did leave last week’s game early with an apparent leg injury, as of this writing, the Lions do not seem too concerned and consider him day-to-day. Owners lacking better options should pick up Shaun Hill, as he filled in very well for Stafford after he left (10-13, 172 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) and would not be much of a drop-off if Stafford misses the game.

The Vikings pass defense, a major weakness last year, has performed admirably so far, giving up just 627 yards through the air, good for ninth in the league. A closer look at the numbers, though, is more revealing, as two of the Vikings’ opponents thus far are not quality passing teams (49ers and Jaguars), and their other opponent was starting a rookie quarterback in his second game (Colts). Also, the Minnesota defense currently ranks in the bottom half of the league in passing completion percentage and passer rating. With weapons like Calvin Johnson, Titus Young, and Brandon Pettigrew, the Lions should have no problem giving the Vikings pass defense the worst day of their season so far.

Running Game Thoughts: Welcome to the league Mikel Leshoure! In his first regular season game, Leshoure was assumed to have been worked in slowly, getting maybe a handful of touches. So much for that, as the Lions treated him like a workhorse, giving him 26 carries, which he turned into 100 yards and a score. In the process, Leshoure made every other Lions running back obsolete from a fantasy standpoint and made himself an instant hot commodity. Even though the Vikings rush defense is certainly a step or two above the Titans, I would ride the hot hand of Leshoure, at least as a flex option, until the Lions or Leshoure himself shows that his debut was a fluke. Minnesota has yet to give up a rushing touchdown on the year, but I would bet that Leshoure gets at least a couple of chances at the goal line, considering how good the rest of their offense is. Start Leshoure, and certainly pick him up if he is somehow still available in your league. As for the rest of the Lions’ RBs, they are nothing more than bench fodder or even waiver material in shallow leagues until further notice.

Matthew Stafford: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Titus Young: 50 rec yds
Nate Burleson: 50 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Mikel Leshoure: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 30, Vikings 28

Saints @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite their 0-3 start, the Saints passing game is, more or less, picking up where they left off last year, leading the league in passing attempts and currently fifth in passing yardage. The difference so far seems to be Drew Brees’ accuracy, which is near the bottom of the league with a completion percentage of 54 and five interceptions through three games. From a fantasy perspective, Brees is still a stud QB and Jimmy Graham, with three touchdowns, remains a top TE option, but the rest of the receiving corps has been up and down thus far. Their supposed No. 1 receiver, Marques Colston, has had three very pedestrian games so far, while Lance Moore has had two great games and one stinker. The good news for the Saints passing game (fantasy-wise) is that their defense is so bad they will be throwing all game long, increasing the likelihood of all their players producing quality numbers. The bad news for the Saints passing game is that the Packers defense, so far, ranks first against the pass, though to be fair, they also have had the fewest attempts against them. The Packers are decent in coverage but have been even better in pressuring the quarterback, registering 12 sacks in just three games. While I would not hesitate at all to start Brees and Graham this week, the WRs may have a tough time putting up good numbers versus this stingy pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Saints have three very talented running backs on their roster, they have yet to put up anything but mediocre rushing numbers. They have the third least rushing attempts in the league and still have not established a go-to guy in the backfield. Because they pass so much, and because their defense puts them in holes early, it will be very hard to trust any of their running backs going forward until one—or both—of those things change. Against the Packers, the running backs may find some holes early, as Green Bay’s rush defense (26th in yards given up) is much worse than their pass defense. The problem for fantasy owners is guessing which running back will get the bulk of the action, as the carries have been so inconsistently split the first three games. The other problem is, on a road game against one of the league’s better offenses, it may not take very long at all until the Saints are once again forced to abandon the run and play catch-up. In this matchup I would avoid any Saints RB all together.

Drew Brees: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Jimmy Graham: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 50 rec yds
Marques Colston: 45 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 35 rush yds
Pierre Thomas: 25 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 20 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Packers passing game isn’t tearing up the league like many thought they would, they are still putting up very respectable numbers. Rodgers’ completion percentage of 68 puts him seventh in the league, and yardage-wise they are about equal with the league average despite playing three very good defenses. On the downside, they have given up a league worst 16 sacks and have only thrown for four touchdowns through three games, exactly half the number Rodgers had at this time last year. From a receiving standpoint, nobody has really broken out this year, especially since Greg Jennings has been banged up and the ball has been spread around so much. In order to get that breakout passing game we have all been waiting for, the Packers are going to need a really good matchup at home to get them going… What’s that you say? The Saints are coming to Lambeau? Yes, that will do just fine! The Saints defense has been just terrible defending the pass, giving up nearly 800 passing yards in to three very underwhelming offenses. They are giving up 9.1 yards per attempt (second worst in the NFL), including allowing the league’s longest pass play so far this season. Rodgers is a top 3 play at QB this week, and Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley should all be started with confidence in this very juicy matchup at home.

Running Game Thoughts: As expected, the Packers run game is not exactly something to write home about. While Cedric Benson has shown a few flashes of power and burst, the pass-heavy game plan has severely limited the amount of opportunities (28th in rush attempts) that any Packers rusher will have. For Benson owners, there are two things going in his favor this week: carry distribution and matchup. So far this season, Benson has carried the ball over 70 percent of the time, and with no other legit option in the backfield, this trend is very likely to continue. Perhaps more importantly, the Saints run defense is dead last in the league, giving up a league worst 645 yards on the ground in addition to allowing the longest run of the year (91 yds) and the most touchdowns on the ground (6). At home against a terrible run defense, Benson may not see a better matchup all season long, so start him with confidence as a high-end RB2.

Aaron Rodgers: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Greg Jennings: 80 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 35 rec yds
Randall Cobb: 30 rec yds, 15 rush yds
Cedric Benson: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 34, Saints 24

Panthers @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite his 81 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Cam Newton is tied for 14th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks because his passing numbers are pedestrian, at best. He’s thrown for 798 yards with only a pair of touchdowns and five interceptions. Neither of those touchdowns have gone to wideout Steve Smith, who is tied for third in the league in receiving yards, but tied for 21st in fantasy points at his position. Tight end Greg Olsen hasn’t done much of anything either, and things aren’t going to get any easier for that trio this week against Atlanta.

The Falcons are eighth in the league in pass defense, tied for first in fewest touchdown throws allowed and have held opposing quarterbacks to the second-lowest QB rating in the league. Only two teams have allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers, and just five have allowed fewer fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Stewart has been practicing, and indications are that he’ll return to the Panthers lineup after missing two of Carolina’s three games this season. He and DeAngelo Williams would be a fantasy beast if they were one person, but they split carries, and as such are no better than flex plays most weeks.

Atlanta’s run defense hasn’t been anywhere near as good as their pass defense. The Falcons are 24th in the NFL against the rush, and second-to-last in yards per carry allowed. They have given up the eighth-most fantasy points in the league to opposing running backs and allowed 100 rushing yards in each of their three games this season.

Cam Newton: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 30 rush yds
Steve Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 50 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 40 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 55 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 45 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan is just 15th in passing yards through the season’s first three weeks, but the eight touchdowns and one interception he’s thrown has propelled him to the number two spot in fantasy scoring at the position. He’s aided by a triumvirate of weapons in wideouts Julio Jones (fourth in fantasy scoring among receivers) and Roddy White (tied for 18th), as well as tight end Tony Gonzalez, who has scored in each of his games this season and is second at his position in fantasy scoring.

The Panthers are 18th in the NFL against the pass, but opposing quarterbacks are completing 68.2 percent of their throws against them, which is 30th in the league. Carolina hasn’t allowed a quarterback to throw for more than one touchdown in a game in the season’s first three weeks, and only the Cowboys have given up fewer fantasy points to wideouts than they have.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner got off to a slow start for his fantasy owners, running for a combined 74 yards in Weeks 1 and 2, but he turned it up last week, running for 80 yards and a score against San Diego. His days of being a fantasy stalwart are over, but ranks as a solid RB2 this week against the Panthers and their below average rush defense.

Carolina’s struggles against the run have carried over from last year, as they rank 27th in the league in run defense, tied for 22nd in rushing scores allowed and 26th in yards per carry given up. So it probably comes as no surprise to learn that they have allowed the third-most fantasy points in the league to opposing running backs.

Matt Ryan: 250 pass yds, 2 TD
Julio Jones: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 55 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 15 rec yds
Michael Turner: 85 rush yds, 1 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 24, Panthers 17

Titans @ Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker got off to a poor start, but had 24 fantasy points last week in Tennessee’s wild win over Detroit, and he now has more fantasy points for the season than Matthew Stafford, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo. He has a plethora of weapons to throw to in receivers Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, as well as underrated tight end Jared Cook. But don’t look for Locker or any of those players to have a big game this week against Houston.

The Texans employ one of the best defenses in the league – they are fourth in pass defense, fourth in quarterback rating allowed and are holding the opposition to a 50.5 completion percentage, which is the best mark in the NFL. Houston has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and receivers, and the fifth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson has been an unmitigated catastrophe for fantasy owners who took him with a top-five pick. Here are his rushing totals through each game this season: four yards, 17 yards, 24 yards. We have to believe that he’ll eventually right the ship, but in all likelihood, it won’t be against the Texans, who held Johnson to 79 yards in two games last season.

Houston’s run defense is playing as well as their pass defense, and rank fifth in the NFL against the run. They’ve held opposing runners to 3.8 yards per carry (10th in the league), and are one of four teams who have yet to allow a rushing score this season. But they are just 13th in fantasy points allowed to running backs because they’ve allowed them to gain 133 receiving yards, but much of that came in Week 1 against Miami.

Jake Locker: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Kenny Britt: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 35 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 30 rec yds
Damian Williams: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 35 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Texans aren’t a pass-first team, so Matt Schaub isn’t going to put up huge numbers for his fantasy owners. He’s 17th in the league in passing yards, but tied for seventh in touchdown throws. Two of those scoring passes have gone to wideout Andre Johnson, and even though his season hasn’t put him among the league leaders in fantasy points, he’s registered double-digit point totals in two of his three games this season, so he hasn’t been a disappointment and is primed to do damage against Tennessee this week.

Through three games, the Titans have been arguably the worst team in the NFL against the pass. They are 30th in the league in passing yards allowed, tied for 28th in passing scores given up, last in opposing quarterback rating allowed, and opposing quarterbacks have completed 76.3 percent of their throws against the Titans, which is by far the worst in the NFL. As you may expect, they’ve allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than any other team in the league, as well as the most points to tight ends and ninth-most to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry, but is sixth in the NFL in rushing and tied for first in rushing scores. That’s put him second at his position in fantasy points, and the Titans are in no position to slow him down on Sunday.

Tennessee hasn’t had trouble just stopping the pass – the opposition’s ground game has given them fits as well. The Titans are 29th in the league in run defense, tied for 22nd in rushing scores allowed, and have given up the third-most fantasy points in the NFL to opposing running backs.

Matt Schaub: 310 pass yds, 2 TD
Andre Johnson: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 60 rec yds
Keshawn Martin: 15 rec yds
Arian Foster: 125 rush yds, 2 TD / 30 rec yds
Ben Tate: 35 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 31, Titans 20

Bengals @ Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Andy Dalton is eighth in passing yards and tied for fifth in touchdown throws this year, and fantasy owners who expected him to take another step forward have been rewarded for their belief. Dalton is helped immensely by having a receiver like A.J. Green to throw to – Green is second in the league in receiving yards, but leads all wideouts in fantasy points this year. The Bengals and Jags played last year as well, and Green had 90 receiving yards and a score in that game, and fantasy owners can expect similar numbers in this match-up.

The Jaguars have been solid against the pass, ranking 21st in the league in pass defense, but have given up just two touchdown passes, which is tied for fewest in the league. They have given up the 10th-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to both quarterbacks and wideouts, and ninth-fewest to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: BenJarvus Green-Ellis has done a solid job replacing Cedric Benson as the Bengals primary ball-carrier. He’s 17th in the league in rushing yards and tied for 15th in fantasy points among running backs, and while more of a flex play than RB2 most weeks, he has a good enough match-up with the Jaguars on Sunday that fantasy owners should feel comfortable enough to place him as their second running back.

Jacksonville has struggled mightily to contain the run this season, and are 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. They are tied for 28th in rushing scores given up, are 24th in yards per carry allowed, and only New Orleans has allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Jaguars.

Andy Dalton: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Andrew Hawkins: 50 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Armon Binns: 25 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 90 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Before Blaine Gabbert’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with 0:45 remaining in the game last week, he was 9-for-20 for 75 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. That one throw masked the inefficiency of the team’s passing offense, which is really non-existent. Fantasy owners simply shouldn’t have any Jacksonville skill position player on their roster other than Maurice Jones-Drew.

The Bengals have been below average when defending the pass this season, and are tied for 22nd in passing yards allowed, but 29th in completion percentage allowed and 30th in quarterback rating allowed. Only three teams have given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks than Cincinnati, and just five have allowed more to tight ends, though they are a respectable 14th in points allowed to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: We mentioned above that Maurice Jones-Drew should be the only player on the Jaguars offense that fantasy owners should have on their roster, and there’s good reason. He’s their entire offense, and despite missing all of training camp has played very well, ranking second in the league in rushing and fifth in fantasy points. He has every chance to move up the ranks this week against the Bengals and their pillow-soft run defense.

Cincinnati has been hideous against the run this season – they are 31st in the league in run defense, tied for 28th in rushing scores allowed, and have given up 5.8 yards per carry. For some perspective on that, consider that no other team is allowing more than 5.0 yards per carry. Just four teams in the NFL have allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Bengals.

Blaine Gabbert: 165 pass yds, 1 INT
Laurent Robinson: 40 rec yds
Justin Blackmon: 30 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 25 rec yds
Mike Thomas: 20 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 125 rush yds, 2 TD / 25 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 27, Jaguars 17

Redskins @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III is just 18th in passing yards and has thrown only four touchdowns, but he’s the leader in fantasy points at the quarterback position due to his 209 rushing yards (16th in the league) and three rushing scores (tied for first). His passing numbers are more than adequate when you look at his receiving corps, which doesn’t have anybody on it that’s worth more than a reserve fantasy roster spot, with the exception of tight end Fred Davis, who struggled in Weeks 1 and 2.

Tampa is allowing more than 350 passing yards per game, and while Eli Manning’s 500+ yards in Week 2 skews that number somewhat, it should be noted that the Bucs have allowed at least 280 passing yards in all three of their games this season. They are 14th in touchdown throws allowed, but held Tony Romo to zero touchdowns last week and are tied for 12th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. But receivers have scalded them, with only their opposition this week, the Redskins, having allowed more fantasy points to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: There’s only one thing to say to those fantasy owners who selected Roy Helu in the early-middle portion of their drafts: you should have known better. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is notorious for switching running backs, and Helu, who recently went on IR, was the latest victim. The team’s top back is rookie Alfred Morris, who is ninth in the league in rushing and seventh in fantasy points, but who will have a tough go of it this weekend.

The Bucs have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, and are giving up just 2.3 yards per carry, which is also the best mark in the league. Only four teams have allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs than Tampa.

Robert Griffin III: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT / 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Fred Davis: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 70 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 40 rec yds
Josh Morgan: 25 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 45 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Among quarterbacks who started in Week 1, only Blaine Gabbert and Russell Wilson have fewer passing yards than Freeman’s 491. He’s completing 51.3 percent of his throws this season, which is better than only Gabbert and Mark Sanchez, and has thrown four touchdowns and three interceptions. Needless to say, he isn’t even a fantasy backup at this point. Receiver Vincent Jackson should be more than a backup for fantasy owners, even though he’s had just one productive game. But Jackson could have his best game of the season this week against Washington, who have an aversion to pass defense.

The Redskins have one of the worst defenses in the league, and it shows in the numbers. They are 31st against the pass, and no team has given up more touchdown throws than they have. Washington is tied with Kansas City for second-most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, they have given up the most fantasy points in the NFL to wide receivers and the third-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Tampa is feeding rookie Doug Martin the rock often, and his 63 carries are the third-most in the league. Unfortunately, he’s only averaging 3.4 yards per rush and has scored just one time, placing him 18th among running backs in fantasy scoring.

Washington is ninth in the NFL against the run, but that shouldn’t fool fantasy owners. Their pass defense is so bad that teams don’t bother running much on them, and when they do, average 4.2 yards per carry, which is 21st in the league.

Josh Freeman : 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 40 rec yds
Arrelious Benn: 25 rec yds
Doug Martin: 90 rush yds, 2 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Redskins 28

Chargers @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After two games where it looked like Philip Rivers might be getting back into the groove of being a top-tier NFL quarterback, he seemed to crumble to the ground in Week 3 against an Atlanta Falcons defense which held him to just 173 yards passing, no touchdowns and two interceptions. For Rivers, it was the worst fantasy performance he has given since the 2008 season. It doesn’t seem like this passing attack, without Vincent Jackson, is working.

If Rivers, Gates and the rest of the Chargers offense is going to get back on pace, they’re going to need to do it this week against a Kansas City secondary that has been destroyed by opposing quarterbacks. Even with top cornerback Brandon Flowers back, the Chiefs have conceded five touchdowns over the past two weeks, bringing their season total to eight passing touchdowns allowed. They’ve given up the second-most points to opposing quarterbacks this season and have allowed a touchdown to an opposing tight end in every game this season, so don’t give up on Rivers and Gates quite yet. Unfortunately, no one else in the passing game seems to be consistent enough to be excited about.

Running Game Thoughts: Two weeks of a terrible running attack didn’t exactly make fans excited about the Chargers offense, but the return of Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) last week certainly will give this offense a much-needed jump-start. Curtis Brinkley, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown simply don’t have Mathews’ versatility. Re-injuring his shoulder isn’t a concern but Mathews needs to clean up his fumbling problems or he’ll find himself on the bench.

Mathews, who was limited to just 10 carries in Week 3, figures to see significantly more touches going forward, perhaps starting in Week 4 when his team heads to Kansas City to challenge the Chiefs. His five catches against the Falcons did make PPR owners a bit happier about the lack of a touchdown and the 76 yards he produced, but they certainly will be looking for more going forward. Although former goal line back Mike Tolbert is now in Carolina, Mathews may not have fully taken over that job in this offense. Running back Jackie Battle did score two touchdowns in Week 2 and could turn into a goal line vulture causing headaches for Mathews owners.

Philip Rivers: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Malcom Floyd: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 50 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 60 rush yds, 50 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 20 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: It may not be a high-powered passing attack, but the Kansas City Chiefs aerial attack hasn’t been a complete disaster this season as it was a year ago. Quarterback Matt Cassel has only thrown three touchdowns, but he did also run for a score and has averaged 269 yards passing yards per game through the first three weeks. Only one receiver, Dwayne Bowe, has showed up in the passing game, catching 15 passes over the past two weeks, making him an intriguing fantasy starter once again.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, as they host their division rivals the Chargers, Bowe (groin) might be a gametime decision going into Sunday’s game. If the team’s top target is out, Dexter McCluster (elbow) and Steve Breaston, who have just 16 combined catches through the first three weeks, will have to step up in order to give Matt Cassel a chance. On the bright side, the Chargers did concede three touchdowns a week ago against Matt Ryan and the Falcons, so if Bowe is ready to go, don’t feel shy about getting him in your lineup. Matt Cassel might even be a spot-start.

Running Game Thoughts: He tore his ACL in the opening week of the 2011 season, but Jamaal Charles officially had his return to fantasy excellence party in Week 3 when he soared past an exasperated New Orleans defense to the tune of 233 yards on 33 carries, adding 55 yards as a receiver. Certainly we can’t expect Charles to have another near-300 yard game this season, but it is now time to begin feeling confident about this former first round pick.

The Chargers almost completely shut down Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson on the ground in Weeks 1 and 2, but the Falcons broke that trend in Week 3 when Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 149 total yards and two scores in their blowout victory in San Diego. Charles and Shaun Draughn could very well duplicate that success this week as the Chiefs offense seems to be functioning much more efficiently now than they were early in the season.

Matt Cassel: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Jamaal Charles: 100 rec yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Shaun Draughn: 30 rush yds, 5 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Baldwin: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 24, Chiefs 20

Seahawks @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: As the beneficiary of perhaps the most outrageous call in recent memory, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson saved what would have otherwise been an embarrassing fantasy day. Even given the touchdown on the final play, Wilson finished with just 130 yards through the air and while he did get two scores, fantasy owners simply can’t be comfortable starting him at this point. The receivers, including Sidney Rice who had just one catch for 22 yards in Week 3, just aren’t getting open for him and he is reserved to a game manager role.

It’s hard to count on Wilson or any member of the Seattle passing game as trustworthy starters in Week 3 against a St. Louis Rams defense which has held opposing quarterbacks to just two passing touchdowns through the first three weeks of the season. That list includes Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III and Jay Cutler. Needless to say, Wilson is not on that level and unless you’re in an incredibly desperate situation, no wide receiver on this roster is worth starting. Sorry Golden Tate owners, the real referees are back now.

Running Game Thoughts: It hasn’t been an amazing start to the season for the Seattle offense, but for Marshawn Lynch owners, it has been one they can deal with. The Seahawks running back has received more than 20 touches in every game this season, which has led to 97 or more total yards in every game. Though he has only one touchdown thus far, the offense firmly runs through him and when the team gets down into the red zone, they will be looking Lynch’s way.

The St. Louis Rams defense has already conceded four scores to opposing running backs this season, and Lynch ran for over 200 yards and two touchdowns against them in 2011 (two games). Given the number of touches he gets per game, Lynch is as consistent as it gets at the position and is very unlikely to give his fantasy owners a game they will be upset about.

Russell Wilson: 150 pass yds, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 60 rush yds
Zach Miller: 20 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 5 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: He looked amazing in Week 2, throwing for over 300 yards and three scores against a porous Redskins defense, but Sam Bradford came crashing back to reality in an ugly Week 3 performance that saw him pass for just 152 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions against the Bears. Receiver Danny Amendola remains the only consistent part of this offense as he has already notched 25 receptions through three weeks. It may not be accompanied by a score, but Amendola is a viable fantasy wide receiver, particularly in three wide receiver leagues.

In four career games against the Seahawks, Bradford is sporting an embarrassing 50.7 completion percentage with just three touchdowns and four interceptions. Though he does have Amendola to help avoid the pass rush, expect Bradford to be pressured early and often by a Seahawks defense that completely destroyed the Packers offensive line during the first half of Monday Night Football.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson has been dealing with nagging injuries already this season. Currently it’s a groin strain which has slowed the former first round fantasy pick and he has received just 20 carries over the past two weeks while backup running back Daryl Richardson has 19 of his own. Don’t expect this to be a timeshare of any kind when Jackson is healthy, but for now, Richardson could see anywhere between 25-50 percent of the team’s workload until Jackson is fully healthy.

With that in mind, it might be best to look elsewhere in Week 4 as the Rams host a Seahawks team that has allowed the fourth-least amount of fantasy points to running backs this season. Of course, some of that might be due to the fact that they’ve played against Arizona and Green Bay, two teams with struggling backfields, but the point remains that no opposing team has even reached 50 yards against them this season. While we should expect the Rams to achieve that mediocre plateau, expecting much more might be too much.

Sam Bradford: 170 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Danny Amendola: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Gibson: 40 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 50 rush yds, 15 rec yds, 1 TD
Daryl Richardson: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 20, Rams 17

Raiders @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It hasn’t always been pretty, but Carson Palmer has actually been a decent fantasy quarterback through the first three weeks of the season. Palmer has thrown five touchdowns while limiting his interceptions to just two, adding an average of 293 yards per game. What’s odd is, no wide receiver on the roster has even 10 receptions while running back Darren McFadden and tight end Brandon Myers lead the team with 17 and 15 catches respectively.

With Myers questionable due to a concussion and McFadden nursing a shoulder injury which held him to limited practice during the middle of the week, the Raiders receivers will need to step up in this game and become targets for Palmer that fantasy analysts expected them to be going into the season. They’ll have a chance against a Broncos defense, which has already conceded 520 yards and four touchdowns to opposing wide receivers through three games. In Week 9 of the 2011 season, the Raiders wide receivers combined for 237 of Carson Palmer’s 332 yards against the Broncos, so all hope may not be lost for this unit.

Running Game Thoughts: And so the injury concerns for Darren McFadden start again. McFadden, whose shoulder injury didn’t seem to affect him during the 113-yard beatdown he delivered against the Steelers, has battled injuries throughout his career. Thankfully, this one doesn’t look like it will keep him out of the game and it may not even limit him on game day, but those who have owned McFadden in the past are keeping a very close eye on this game as they hope that one of their top picks doesn’t miss time this season.

If he can play, McFadden does have a nice matchup against the Broncos, who allowed the Texans RBs to put up 134 total yards and a score against them in Week 3. While McFadden may not be on the level of Arian Foster, he is very close when he is healthy as he showed in Week 1 against the Broncos last season when he ran for 150 yards. He is capable of having huge games against this defense.

Carson Palmer: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Denarius Moore: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Rod Streater: 50 rec yds
Derek Hagan: 30 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 40 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 100 rush yds, 1 TD 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Perhaps “the old Peyton” isn’t back quite yet. Though he did produce the best fantasy day of the early season, Peyton Manning had an ugly first half once again, failing to throw a touchdown during that time. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had led the league in scoring in many fantasy formats through the first two weeks of the season, was held to just 34 yards on three catches and without a score, though Eric Decker did have a breakout game, catching eight passes for 136 yards.

He hasn’t been the former league MVP that he once was, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel, at least for this week as the Broncos match up against the Oakland Raiders who have already allowed opposing quarterbacks to torch them for six touchdown passes. They are also one of only three teams in the league (Cincinnati, Detroit) who have not yet intercepted a pass. Ben Roethlisberger torched the Raiders for four touchdowns in Week 3, so look for a big game from Peyton Manning.

Running Game Thoughts: Sore ribs have limited running back Willis McGahee in practice throughout the week and currently he’s noted as “day-to-day” by head coach John Fox. McGahee, who ran for just 36 yards on 12 carries against the Texans in Week 3, might play this week, but if he does he will likely be sporting extra padding to cover up the ribs, which could limit his already limited mobility.

If McGahee is unable to go, or even if he is, it will likely be backup running back Lance Ball who sees a significant increase in workload in Week 4 against Oakland. The Raiders haven’t been particularly great against the run this season, but much of that stems from a disastrous Week 2 game when Reggie Bush completely humiliated them in one of the biggest games of his career. Other than that, the Raiders have been decent against the less agile running backs on the Pittsburgh and San Diego rosters. The Broncos running game hasn’t been terrible this season and you could do worse than giving Lance Ball a chance if McGahee doesn’t play, but don’t feel too confident about the Denver running attack this week when Peyton Manning is behind center against this terrible secondary.

Peyton Manning: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Demaryius Thomas: 100 rec yds, 2 TD
Eric Decker: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacob Tamme: 50 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 30 rush yds
Lance Ball: 40 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 33, Raiders 24

Dolphins @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: When we look back, 2012 might just be the “year of the rookie quarterback” and Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill could play a big part of that picture. The former Texas A&M superstar and first round pick has only thrown for one touchdown this season with four interceptions, but if his kicker hadn’t missed two field goals, the Dolphins would be a 2-1 football team and would be sitting atop of the suddenly mediocre AFC East. Of course, none of that would help fantasy owners, but it does go to show that while he hasn’t been the league’s most efficient passer, a large part of that is due to the fact that his team hasn’t asked him to be a gunslinger yet, given Reggie Bush’s success on the ground so far this season.

However, with Bush injuring his knee during the Week 3 game against the Jets, Tannehill may be relied on more in Week 4 than he has been at any point thus far in his short NFL career. Unfortunately, it’ll come against an Arizona Cardinals defense that has looked downright scary at times, having allowed a league-best two touchdowns through the air. Not only that, they’ve held two of the league’s elite signal callers, Mike Vick and Tom Brady, to just one combined touchdown over the past two weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: As mentioned above, Reggie Bush’s knee knocked him out of last week’s close game against the Jets. Tests showed no significant damage to the knee and although he has been limited in practice during the early part of the week, Bush returned to practice on Thursday in full capacity, causing reporters to say that you wouldn’t have even known he was injured by looking at him. This all bodes well for Bush, who has averaged over six yards per carry this season and is finally living up to the hype that made him the No. 2 overall pick in 2006.

If Bush does play, he’ll be up against the Arizona defense which has not allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back this season and that list includes LeSean McCoy, Stevan Ridley and Marshawn Lynch. Bush is arguably playing better than any of those backs right now, but Arizona’s defense is unbelievably hot, so it’s hard to believe that any of the Dolphins, even Bush, are going to explode for a big game.

Ryan Tannehill: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Brian Hartline: 60 rec yds
Davone Bess: 40 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 30 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 70 rush yds, 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Lamar Miller: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Who would’ve thought that after three weeks that Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals would have victories over both Tom Brady’s Patriots and Mike Vick’s Eagles? The NFL truly is a crazy league and it has been Kolb who has carried the Cardinals offense. Kolb’s yardage totals haven’t been amazing, but it has been his ability to avoid interceptions that has kept his team in games and the surprisingly stout Cardinals defense that has put games away in the end. Larry Fitzgerald finally got on the board in Week 3 in a huge performance, catching 9 passes for 114 yards and a score during the victory over the Eagles, perhaps meaning that he and his quarterback are finally on the same page after a frustrating 2011 season.

As solid as Kolb has been since he relieved John Skelton in Week 1, he hasn’t put up amazing fantasy performances. He does have a chance this week against a Dolphins defense, which is currently averaging 315 yards allowed to opposing quarterbacks. However, the Dolphins have done a good job of keeping those quarterbacks from reaching the end zone, having allowed just one passing touchdown in each of the first three weeks. Kolb and Fitzgerald being on the same page is a scary thought for those who are going up against Fitz in their fantasy games, but it’s probably still too soon to be looking at Kolb as a legitimate fantasy QB.

Running Game Thoughts: With running back Chris “Beanie” Wells having been placed on the IR for at least the next eight weeks, those who took a chance on backup running back Ryan Williams may now have themselves a potential every week RB2 or FLEX option. Williams, who ran for 83 yards on just 13 carries during the Cardinals’ Week 3 beatdown on the Eagles, joined the team in 2011 with quite a bit of hype but missed the entire season due to injury. Now that he is back, he has a chance to permanently supplant Wells in the Arizona backfield on a team that may find themselves running the ball quite a bit more this season if their defense continues to keep them in games like they currently are.

Williams’ first test as the starter will come against one of the league’s stingiest run defenses, the Miami Dolphins, who have held opposing running backs to an average of just 2.53 yds per carry. While they did allow two touchdowns on the ground to the Houston backfield in Week 1, they have since punished the Raiders and Jets running games, allowing just 100 total rushing yards in those two games. Williams has shown that he does have explosiveness and that he can be an NFL back, but this might be a “prove it” week against a tough defense for fantasy owners before we feel confident to place him into our starting lineups going forward.

Kevin Kolb: 215 pass yds, 1 TD
Larry Fitzgerald: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 50 rec yds
Early Doucet: 30 rec yds
Ryan Williams: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Cardinals 20, Dolphins 17

49ers @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Last season, the previously much-maligned Alex Smith was resurrected under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Smith wasn’t chucking the ball all over the place and putting up the flashy numbers that his contemporaries were, but he was very efficient and won football games. This season has been more of the same, although he has been asked to do a little more than just manage the game. Smith has many weapons at his disposal, including the second-most talented tight end in the league in Vernon Davis, the ever-improving Michael Crabtree, and newly added veterans Randy Moss and Mario Manningham. The buzz all offseason was that Moss looked like the Moss of old; however, other than catching a touchdown pass on the first ball thrown to him, Moss has done little else, and his playing time has decreased with each passing week. It’s Vernon Davis that needs to be the focal point of any defense facing the Niners, as he possesses a size and speed combination that few players have. He’s already caught four touchdown passes in his first three weeks, and his touchdown streak should continue this week against a Jets team that has had trouble stopping tight ends for the last three seasons.

Darrelle Revis was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in Miami last week, and there could not have been a more devastating loss for the team. Rex Ryan’s defense is built around Revis single-handedly taking away the opposing offense’s best pass catcher, which frees up more players to use on blitz packages. Without a dominant wide receiver on the 49ers to worry about, it may not be a major issue this week, but going forward, it may be the straw that broke the camel’s back for a team with many other issues. The Jets may now be better prepared to stop Davis than they would have been in past seasons, as safety LaRon Landry has been healthy and has been a dominant force for New York. However, even at his best, he will need help dealing with the much faster Davis in order to completely shut him down.

Running Game Thoughts: I was one that thought running back Frank Gore looked close to extinction toward the end of last season, but he’s looked fresh and at times dominant in the early part of 2012. Gore has rushed for 264 yards at 5.9 ypc with two touchdowns. San Francisco failed to utilize him as a pass catcher last season—something he was always effective at—and so far that trend has continued, as he’s only caught four passes in his first three games. Behind Gore, the 49ers have second-year back Kendall Hunter, who is more explosive than the aging Gore but not as powerful or experienced. He’s the type of back that could give the Jets’ aging linebackers and safeties fits, though, if he gets past the initial front four.

The Jets allowed C.J. Spiller to run all over them for 169 yards in Week 1. They managed to hold the pedestrian Steelers running game in check in Week 2, but then allowed Miami's Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas to combine for 130 yards last week. Run-stopping linemen Sione Po’uha and Mike DeVito have been slowed by injuries thus far, while linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott have started slowing with age. The run-based San Fran offense should be able to move the ball effectively this week.

Alex Smith: 225 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Randy Moss: 20 rec yds
Michael Crabtree: 55 rec yds
Mario Manningham: 20 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 40 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Frank Gore: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez finished with over 300 yards and a touchdown against the pathetic Dolphins secondary, but his two interceptions and a completion percentage of less than 50 tell the real story about how he performed in Miami. Wide receiver Stephen Hill was held without a catch for the second straight week, after bursting onto the scene with a dominating two-touchdown Week 1 performance. Santonio Holmes looked like the WR1 he’s being paid to be, grabbing nine balls for 147 yards last week. He will need to continue being a playmaker if the Jets have any chance of moving the ball against a tough Niners defense.

San Francisco will offer up much more resistance this week than the Dolphins did last week, however. The Niners are more well known for their ability to stop the run, but their pass defense can get the job done as well. On the season, they have allowed 230.3 ypg but only five touchdown passes. When you consider that they have faced Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford in two of their three games, those numbers look more impressive.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets running game has been going nowhere fast behind the pedestrian Shonn Greene. Rex Ryan hinted this week that second-year running back Bilal Powell, who has looked much quicker and has been more effective than Greene, could see his workload increase at Greene’s expense. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has yet to unleash the much ballyhooed Wildcat offense so far in 2012, but backup quarterback Tim Tebow’s insertion into more offensive plays last week could be a sign of things to come.

The Niners run defense has absolutely stymied opposing teams in 2012, much as they did in 2011. They have allowed only 91 yards per game with one touchdown on the season. It’s unlikely an average runner like Greene will have much success this week.

Mark Sanchez: 265 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 15 rush yds
Tim Tebow: 25 rush yds
Santonio Holmes: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Kerley: 55 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Shonn Greene: 35 rush yds / 5 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 40 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 20, Jets 17

Giants @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning was extremely efficient last Thursday night as he picked apart the Panthers defense to lead his team to a convincing victory. For the second time in three games, however, he failed to put up the monster statistics that his fantasy owners are looking for. Manning was missing his top weapon in Hakeem Nicks, so when the Panthers defense rolled coverage to Victor Cruz, Manning consistently moved the team downfield by taking advantage of fourth-year receiver Ramses Barden being single covered by a rookie corner. Martellus Bennett was also a frequent target for Manning, and the former Cowboy became the first Giant in team history to score three touchdowns in his first three games with the team. Bennett is a huge target and is more athletic than the serviceable tight end options (Jake Ballard and Kevin Boss) that Eli has made productive in past seasons. The Giants passing attack should be back at full strength, and they now have the knowledge that Barden can be a contributor along with Nicks and Cruz. Look for the passing game to hit on all cylinders, even with a tough matchup this week.

The Eagles secondary has lived up to its billing so far this season, having allowed only 172.1 ypg and three touchdowns, but it hasn’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of quarterbacks in Joe Flacco, Kevin Kolb, and rookie Brandon Weeden. Don’t forget, it was against Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 3 of last season that Victor Cruz emerged on the scene and on his way to a 1500-yard season.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw sat last week after suffering a Week 2 neck sprain, allowing journeyman Andre Brown to burst on the scene with over 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns against a poor Panthers run defense. Brown is a former New York draft pick who bounced around the league after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon during his first preseason with the Giants. He ran with power and determination last week and has likely worked his way into a significant role going forward. Rookie David Wilson, who was expected to be the one splitting carries with Bradshaw, is now third on the depth chart after his Week 1 fumble. He can probably be dropped in re-draft leagues.

The Eagles acquired former Texan DeMeco Ryans this offseason to solve the middle linebacker issues that have been plaguing them for a few years, and they have had good results with Ryans so far. The Eagles have allowed 103 rushing ypg and only one rushing touchdown through 3 weeks.

Eli Manning: 285 pass yds 3 TDs, 1 INT
Hakeem Nicks: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Ramses Barden: 30 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 55 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 55 rush yds / 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Brown: 30 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick has had a major issue with turnovers in the early season, with six interceptions and five fumbles (four lost). The fact that the Eagles sit at 2-1 has hidden the fact that Vick has been a problem thus far. Andy Reid gave a lukewarm endorsement of his quarterback when questions were raised this week, but with only rookie Nick Foles and journeyman Trent Edwards behind him, Vick should have a very long leash. Jeremy Maclin has been in and out of the lineup with a hip flexor injury but should be back this week. Rookie Damaris Johnson started in Maclin’s place, and the diminutive, undrafted receiver produced well, catching five balls for 84 yards. Brent Celek has been a reliable target for Vick thus far and has been one of the better tight ends in the league since the middle of last season.

The Giants secondary was depleted with injury the first two weeks but got second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara back in Week 3. They put heavy pressure on Cam Newton last week and kept the Carolina passing game in check, after having allowed big numbers through the first two weeks. The Panthers knocked Vick out of their first matchup last season, which likely cost the Eagles that game, as their young backup came in and tossed two interceptions. They will surely be looking to hit Vick often and hard throughout this week’s game.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy doesn’t need a lot of carries to be a big part of the offense, but Andy Reid would be well advised to give him more than the 13 carries he received last week. In order to protect Vick from a heavy pass rush, the Eagles must run the ball consistently. McCoy has all the quickness, lateral movement, and deceptive strength to be a feature back in this league, and his 20 total touchdowns last season show that he can and should be a focal point of the offense.

The Giants have fared well against the run so far this season despite facing teams that like to run the ball. They have allowed only 94 ypg and two rushing touchdowns on the season—one of which was to Newton last week.

Michael Vick: 225 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 35 rush yds, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 65 rec yds
Damaris Johnson: 35 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 105 rush yds / 20 yds receiving
Bryce Brown: 10 rush yds

Prediction: Giants 27, Eagles 24

Patriots @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady has been effective through the first three weeks, but he has not put up the gaudy statistics that his owners have come to expect. Uncharacteristically, his team now sits with a losing record at 1-2. The New England offense looked ineffective all preseason, but most experts wrote that off as a case of “preseason doesn’t matter,” a philosophy that I would generally tend to agree with. However, the Patriots O-line has continued to struggle with the retirement of Matt Light and the semi-retirement of Brian Waters, leaving Brady without the time in the pocket he’s accustomed to. In fact, poor O-line play lead to Rob Gronkowski having his quietest fantasy week in a long time, as he was often required to stay in and block against the blitzing Ravens last week. The loss of tight end Aaron Hernandez hasn’t helped matters, but I have the feeling that this will turn around quickly. We are talking about Tom Brady after all. Perhaps the most curious aspect of the passing game was that Wes Welker had been mysteriously benched in favor of Julian Edelman after Week 1. But the loss of Hernandez, allowing Welker to step up in Week 3, has at least temporarily salvaged what could have been a sticky situation for fantasy owners that spent a high pick on Welker.

The Bills were the 19th-ranked pass defense in 2011 after allowing 232.0 ypg—while also giving up the third most passing touchdowns in the league with 30. They say things change quickly in this league, and with the offseason additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson expected to create serious pressure on opposing quarterbacks, one would have expected better results in 2012. Yet the Bills pass defense currently sits at 19th in the league (248.3 ypg allowed) once again, and they are on pace to allow 32 passing touchdowns. This could be the week that the Patriots passing attack gets back on track.

Running Game Thoughts: Former LSU running back Steven Ridley ran all over the Titans in Week 1 and followed it up with a second strong performance over the tough Cardinals defense in Week 2. So what does that tricky Bill Belichick do in Week 3? Well, he of course hands the ball off to Danny Woodhead 15 times at 2.27 ypc, leaving Ridley with a lesser snap count. After Woodhead's struggles, however, expect Ridley to dominate touches this week against a suspect Bills run defense.

The Bills presented an easy matchup for running backs all of last season, allowing 139 ypg on the ground and 19 rushing touchdowns. This season they’ve stepped it up a bit and sit at 14th in the league, having allowed 100.3 ypg and two scores on the ground. Nick Barnett leads the team in tackles and will be a big factor in trying the keep the Pats one dimensional.

Tom Brady: 325 pass yds 3 TDs
Brandon Lloyd: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 40 rec yds
Rob Gronkowski: 80 rec yds, 2 TDs
Julian Edelman: 60 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 75 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After his Week 1 horror show, Ryan Fitzpatrick has settled in and has been playing much better, as he currently leads the NFL in touchdown passes with eight . He still lacks the arm strength to move up to the elite level, but the Bills would likely be satisfied with his continuing to perform at an above-average level. David Nelson was lost for the season to a knee injury in Week 2, moving Donald Jones inside to the slot and allowing rookie T.J. Graham to man the spot opposite Johnson on the outside. Graham is raw but has top level speed. He was able to haul in a 9-yard touchdown last week and is a player that owners should keep an eye on. If Fitzpatrick learns to take advantage of his downfield skills, Graham could put up a few big games.

The Patriots did allow another small and speedy wide receiver in Torrey Smith to burn them for two touchdowns last week and are once again struggling with their pass defense. They have allowed 262 ypg and have given up five passing touchdowns through three weeks. Cornerback Devin McCourty showed promise as a rookie but has seemed to regress each year since his 2010 debut season.

Running Game Thoughts: At the time of publication, the Bills running back rotation is up in the air. Fred Jackson sprained his knee early in the Week 1 contest, which allowed C.J. Spiller to break out in a big way; however, Spiller sustained a sprained AC joint in his shoulder last week, causing him to leave the game in the first half. Jackson is now practicing ahead of schedule, and there is speculation that he may return to face the Patriots, a team he has been dominant against. There has also been some talk that Spiller may not miss any time at all after being expected to miss at least a week, and that his shoulder is already feeling better. Tashard Choice, perhaps the best third-string running back in the league, was a popular add this week, but he could be rendered useless should Jackson and Spiller take the field. Follow the latest news closely before making any lineup decisions if you own any of the Bills’ three running backs.

The Patriots have been a top 10 run defense so far this season and should offer more resistance than they have in past seasons. This tough matchup, combined with the recent health issues of the two main Buffalo RBs, is a good reason to avoid the situation completely, provided that you have decent options available.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 285 pass yds 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 20 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 115 rec yds
Donald Jones: 40 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Fred Jackson: 40 rush yds / 5 yds receiving
Tashard Choice: 45 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 27, Bills 24

Bears @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Outside of Week 1, the Cutler-Marshall reunion has not been as lucrative as predicted for either player. In fact, Brandon Marshall did not catch a pass at all during the Week 2 game against Green Bay. He did bounce back a bit in Week 3, catching five balls for 71 yards, but fantasy owners will be demanding a lot more production from the player that had three straight seasons with at least 100 catches the last time he played with Jay Cutler. The Bears O-line issues were neglected once again this offseason, and Cutler has had a tough time dealing with the constant pressure he faces. As a result, he has thrown for less than 200 yards in each of the last two games. When the Bears traded for Marshall and used their second-round pick on South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffrey, they surely pictured a more wide-open passing offense than they’ve shown so far.

Things will not get any easier this week when one of the league’s premier pass rushers lines up across from Cutler. DeMarcus Ware already has four sacks on the season and will cause nightmares for the Bear’s passing attack if they don’t find a way to get him blocked. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have done what they were brought in to do—make life difficult for opposing wide receivers. It may be worth tuning into Monday Night Football just to see Jay Cutler blow a fuse by the third quarter.

Running Game Thoughts: Matt Forte missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle, and while he fully expects to play on Monday night, it’s more likely that Michael Bush will get his second start of the season. Bush is a hard no-nonsense runner that can wear down a defense over the course of a game. He’s also a well-rounded back that can be used as a pass catcher as effectively as he can be used down near the goal line.

The Cowboys have allowed 113 ypg on the ground through three weeks with two touchdowns, so the Bears can find success on the ground if they have difficulties moving the ball through the air. Dallas will be hoping to get nose tackle Jay Ratliff back this week after he missed the first three 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.

Jay Cutler: 195 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 10 rush yds
Brandon Marshall: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 40 rec yds
Kellen Davis: 20 rec yds
Michael Bush: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo opened the season on fire, throwing for three touchdowns against the New York Giants, but he has thrown only one since. Tight end Jason Witten hasn’t been his reliable self after his preseason spleen injury, and mercurial wideout Dez Bryant has yet to get untracked. Other than Week 1 waiver-wire darling Kevin Ogletree, Miles Austin is the only Dallas WR producing for his owners. He has scored twice in three weeks, and he broke the 100-yard mark in the one game he failed to find the end zone.

Chicago’s pass defense, which is allowing only 203 ypg, provides a difficult opponent for Romo to get back on track against. With 14 sacks already on the season, they have proven they can bring the pressure, and they are able to create turnovers, having accrued six interceptions over the first three weeks. If Romo doesn’t stay focused, this could be a long night for Cowboys fans.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray has been the only show in town for Dallas on the ground, but he’s received an average of only 16 carries per game. With a respectable 4.3 ypc, Jason Garrett needs to formulate a game plan where the Boys look to establish the run early to keep the Chicago pass rush at bay.

The Bears will not make it easy for Murray to get anything going though. Chicago is allowing only 76 rushing yards per game and has allowed only one rushing touchdown.

Tony Romo: 245 pass yds 2 TDs
Dez Bryant: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Miles Austin: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Kevin Ogletree: 30 rec yds
Jason Witten: 35 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 55 rush yds / 30 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 17, Bears 14