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Inside the Matchup
Week 3

By: Damon Autry | Sal Marcoccio | Chris Eakin | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 7 1 87.5
2 Marcoccio 7 2 77.8
3 Autry 3 4 42.9
4 Smith 3 5 37.5

Texans @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has had a somewhat slow start to the season, at least when compared to some of the other quarterbacks around the league. He threw for 220 yards in Week 1, and for 230 yards last week. Both numbers are respectable, but his total of 450 passing yards ranks just 21st in the NFL. Schaub has also tossed just a pair of touchdowns, and fantasy owners have been expecting more. He should be able to fulfill their wishes this week against the Saints.

New Orleans is 18th in the league in pass defense, and is one of just six NFL teams who have yet to record an interception. That said, they put great pressure on Bears signal caller Jay Cutler last week, and have eight sacks on the season, which is third in all of football. Still, you have to figure that they’ll be hard-pressed to stop Andre Johnson and Co. this week in a game that should be a shootout.

Running Game Thoughts: It looks as if Arian Foster could be out this week, and even if he does play, he’ll likely be limited. That means more touches for Ben Tate, but that would be just fine for Tate’s owners. The second-year back has 219 rushing yards in the season’s first two weeks, a number that places him third in the NFL in rushing yards. He’s also four passes for 32 yards, and is effective in that capacity out of the backfield.

The Saints will have their hands full with the Texans’ zone-blocking scheme, but their run defense has handled itself well in in the season’s first two weeks. New Orleans is eighth in the league in run defense, but that comes with a disclaimer in that the Bears only attempted 11 running plays last week, and averaged 5.0 yards per carry in those attempts.

Matt Schaub: 310 yds passing, 2 TD, INT
Andre Johnson: 115 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 60 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 45 yds receiving
Owen Daniels: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ben Tate: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 25 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees is fourth in the league in passing yards, with 689, and is also fourth in the NFL with six touchdown passes, having tossed three in each of his two games this year. Brees is third in fantasy points among all quarterbacks, and has options to throw to at each position. Marques Colston remains out, but Devery Henderson had 103 receiving yards last week, and Brees also has the option of throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles, so it will be difficult for Houston to clamp down on the Saints’ passing attack.

The Texans are actually first in the NFL in pass defense, but their two opponents so far have offered little in the way of resistance. In Week 1, Houston played Indianapolis and quarterback Kerry Collins, who had just gotten the playbook weeks earlier, and in Week 2, the Texans squared off against the Dolphins and quarterback Chad Henne, who is anything but reliable. You have to respect the fact that they’re the only NFL team who has held opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage under 50, but remember that this is a secondary that was just horrific in recent years. They’ll get a truer test of their ability this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints are about in the middle of the pack in terms of rushing yards, with 199 through two games. They have a triumvirate of runners in Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, with Ingram getting the bulk of the work. He’s been okay, with 91 yards on 27 attempts, but he has been unable to pound the ball into the end zone, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners. Pierre Thomas has actually been the better runner, averaging 5.1 yards per carry with his 14 totes, for a total of 72 yards. Sproles is simply a change-of-pace back who has just six rushes all season.

Houston is one of just four defensive clubs who have yet to allow a rushing score this season, but part of that is due to the fact that Indy hasn’t had a running game in years. Miami actually gashed the Texans for 153 yards and 5.5 yards per carry, and Houston is 26th in the league in yards per carry allowed, as opponents are running for 4.9 yards per clip. The two-game streak of not allowing a rushing score is likely stop in the Superdome.

Drew Brees: 285 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Robert Meachem: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 60 yds receiving
Jimmy Graham: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 35 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 60 yds rushing, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 45 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 15 yds rushing / 40 yds receiving

Prediction: Saints 31, Texans 24 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie Blaine Gabbert will be making his first NFL start in this contest after Luke McCown looked incapable of running a high school team last week against the Jets. Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft, is someone who still needs a lot of development, and he should struggle in the early going, especially due to the lack of receiving weapons that the Jaguars have. That’ll be especially true if tight end Marcedes Lewis does not play. Gabbert was 5-for-6 in garbage time against the Jets last week, but Carolina will have all week to prepare for him.

The Panthers have not been good defensively against the pass, ranking 26th in the league in that statistic through the season’s first couple of weeks. Maybe more troubling, they are allowing 10.8 yards per attempt, which is last in the NFL by more than a full yard, and that means they’ve given up too many big plays. Jacksonville doesn’t really have the personnel for that, though, so that number will almost assuredly go down after this contest.

Running Game Thoughts: In order to protect Gabbert as much as possible, the Jaguars will almost certainly look to their running game, which goes by the name of Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD is seventh in the league in rushing yards with 185, and Jacksonville is sixth in the NFL in total rushing yards. However, they are only running the ball for 3.7 yards per carry, in part because their backup, Deji Karim, has 20 rushes this season for only 48 yards, an average of 2.4 yards per carry.

Carolina is 19th in the NFL in rushing defense, and they’ve allowed opponents to run the rock for 4.8 yards per carry, a number that is tied for 25th in the league. In fact, in each of their first two games, they’ve allowed the opposition’s lead rushers to each average at least 5.0 yards per tote, with Arizona’s Beanie Wells running for 90 yards on 18 carries and Green Bay’s James Starks rushing for 85 yards on just nine carries. This should spell good things for Jones-Drew if Gabbert can get any semblance of a passing game going.

Blaine Gabbert: 155 yds passing, 1 INT
Mike Thomas: 45 yds receiving, TD
Marcedes Lewis: 35 yds receiving
Zach Miller: 25 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Deji Karim: 25 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has had a remarkable start to his career, with a pair of 400-yard passing games in his first two contests, a feat that has been unmatched in the history of the league. He’s thrown for three scores, but he has also thrown four interceptions, including three last week against the Packers. He’s currently second among all fantasy quarterbacks in points, though his rushing total has a lot to do with that (more on that in a moment). Newton has utilized his weapons very well, as wideout Steve Smith is first in the league in receiving yards so far with 334, which is 63 more than the man who trails him in that category, AFC South counterpart Kenny Britt. Newton’s streak of big games is going to come to an end sometime, and we’re not exactly going out on a limb to tell you we think it’ll be this week against the Jaguars.

Yes, Jacksonville has had a terrible secondary in recent seasons, but it’s naïve to think that Newton will continue to put up the kind of numbers he has in the season’s first two weeks. Jacksonville hasn’t played any high-powered passing attacks this season, facing off against the Titans and Jets, but they’ve held their own in pass defense in each contest. The Jags are 14th in the league against the pass, and also have three interceptions, which is tied for fourth in the NFL.

Running Game Thoughts: With a solid trio like DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Newton running the ball, you would think that the Panthers would be among the league’s elite in rushing offense. But you’d be wrong. Very wrong. In fact, Carolina is just 30th in the NFL in rushing yards, and have run for an embarrassing 3.0 yards per carry, an inexcusable number considering their personnel in this regard. Fantasy owners have to be highly disappointed with the Williams/Stewart combination, as neither player has run for more than 30 yards in a game. However, Newton has been very good in this area, to the benefit of his fantasy owners. He’s run the ball 18 times for 79 yards and has scored twice, with a touchdown in each of his first two games.

The Panthers will have a difficult time getting their tepid running attack going in this contest, because the Jaguars have done an excellent job against the run so far this season. They are fifth in the NFL in run defense, and have given up just 3.2 yards per carry, which ranks sixth in the league. Eventually Williams and Stewart will contribute more, but this may not be the contest in which they take off.

Cam Newton: 265 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 25 yds rushing
Steve Smith: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 70 yds receiving
Jeremy Shockey: 40 yds receiving
Brandon LaFell: 30 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 45 yds rushing / 15 receiving yds
Jonathan Stewart: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving

Prediction: Panthers 20, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Broncos @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Kyle Orton has a decent total of passing yards, with 499, but he’s only thrown three touchdowns, and has only completed 54.9 percent of his passes. Then again, the weapons that he’s working with are pedestrian, at best. Eddie Royal was injured last week, and former first-round pick Demaryius Thomas is also hurt, and won’t be back for a month or so. Eric Decker stepped up with over 100 receiving yards and two scores last week in the team’s narrow win over the Bengals, but the Titans have proven to be much better against the pass than anyone may have thought.

Tennessee is currently third in the NFL in pass defense, and shut down Joe Flacco and the Ravens last week, holding Flacco to under 200 yards and one touchdown while intercepting him twice. The Titans have allowed just a single touchdown thrown through the season’s first couple of weeks, and with Orton working with a limited amount of playmakers, it will be tough for him to make much happen.

Running Game Thoughts: So while the passing game might struggle against Tennessee, there is good news concerning the team’s ground attack, which is that Knowshon Moreno is looking like he might play after missing last week. In Moreno’s stead, Willis McGahee had a busy day, rushing for 101 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown. Should Moreno indeed come back, the two will almost certainly split carries, making Moreno’s fantasy prospects somewhat limited.

Tennessee will make the task of running the ball difficult as well, as they are allowing opponents to rush for only 3.3 yards per carry, which is seventh in the NFL. They held the combination of Ray Rice and Ricky Williams to just 45 yards on 17 carries last week, so Moreno and McGahee could be in for a challenging day.

Kyle Orton: 180 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Lloyd: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 55 yds receiving
Matt Willis: 30 yds receiving
Knowshon Moreno: 45 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 35 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been surprisingly effective throwing the ball through the first two games of the year, slicing up the Ravens for 358 passing yards and one score (along with one interception), a week after throwing for over 260 yards against the Jaguars. Certainly, Kenny Britt has been one of the main reasons why. The fantasy owners who took a chance on the oft-troubled Britt have seen their faith in him pay off, as the big wideout is second in the league with 271 receiving yards. He’s had over 130 yards and at least one touchdown in each of the team’s first two games.

The Broncos rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense, despite being one of only six teams who have yet to register an interception. Then again, they were carved up by rookie Andy Dalton last week, as Dalton threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns. Denver struggled to contain Cincinnati’s big-play wideouts, A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson, which is yet another reason for fantasy owners to get excited about Britt’s chances this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson’s holdout clearly affected the speedy back, as he’s rushed for only 77 yards on 33 carries this season. He has yet to rush for a touchdown, and even more troubling is the fact that not once during any of those 77 carries does he rushed for at least 10 yards. But he will certainly climb his way out of this hole, and there isn’t a much better defense to do it against than Denver’s.

The Broncos are 28th in the NFL in run defense, and opponents are rushing for 4.4 yards per carry. This is just a continuation of last season’s poor effort by Denver to stop the run, as the Broncos were 31st in the league in that statistic in 2010. Johnson has too much talent and the Broncos have too little of it to believe that they’ll be the third team in a row to hold him down. Fantasy owners should be excited about his prospects in this contest.

Matt Hasselbeck: 245 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kenny Britt: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 65 yds receiving
Jared Cook: 45 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 105 yds rushing, 2 TD / 30 yds receiving

Prediction: Titans 24, Broncos 17 ^ Top

Falcons @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Though Matt Ryan threw for only 195 yards last week, he also tossed four touchdown passes (and two interceptions), helping vault the Falcons to a win over the Eagles. He has thrown for 514 yards on the season, and should continue to climb the statistical rankings considering what he has to work with. Roddy White has 11 receptions on the year, but for a pedestrian 84 yards, including just 23 yards against the Eagles, though he did snare a touchdown in that game to help his fantasy owners. Rookie Julio Jones only had two receptions for 29 yards despite receiving eight targets, but tight end Tony Gonzalez has shown he still has plenty left in the tank after catching a pair of touchdowns as part of a seven-catch, 83-yard game.

The Buccaneers are 19th in the league in pass defense, and despite not allowing Donovan McNabb to throw for any touchdowns, they also didn’t pick off any passes in their win over the Vikings, and McNabb threw for 228 yards after failing to break 90 yards against the Chargers.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles, and he’s sixth in the league in rushing yards through the season’s first two games, but leads all NFL running backs with a yards per carry average of 6.9. That won’t last through the season, but he should be in store for another big game against the Buccaneers, who have been inept against the run this season.

Tampa is 31st in the NFL in rushing defense, and is one of just two teams who have allowed more than 300 yards on the ground so far. Adrian Peterson gashed them for 120 yards and two scores last week, and in Week 1, Jahvid Best and Jerome Harrison of the Lions combined to run for 99 yards. Turner should have another 100-yard game up his sleeve in this contest.

Matt Ryan: 285 yds passing, 2 TD
Roddy White: 100 yds receiving, 1 TD
Julio Jones: 70 yds receiving
Tony Gonzalez: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 25 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 110 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Jason Snelling: 20 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Tampa signal caller Josh Freeman has been average in the season’s first couple of games, throwing for a total of 502 yards, and tossing a touchdown and an interception in both of Tampa’s games this year. Preston Parker has been a nice surprise at wideout for the club, as he went for 98 yards on six catches last week, but Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams have been disappointments. Benn has only five catches in two games, and Williams has the same amount, but he was awful against Minnesota, with just one catch that actually lost four yards.

We could see Freeman and his complement of receivers do better this week, however, because the Falcons have been one of the worst teams in the league against the pass so far this season. Atlanta is currently 27th in the NFL in pass defense, and they’ve given up far too many big plays, as evidenced by the fact that opponents are throwing for 9.1 yards per attempt, which is the third-worst mark in football.

Running Game Thoughts: After receiving only five carries in Week 1, and not being happy about it, LeGarrette Blount ran the rock 13 times last week against the Vikings, and gathered 71 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. We still don’t think this is enough carries for the behemoth back, and if fantasy owners had their druthers, they’d like to see him get even more touches, especially because he’s a non-factor in the team’s passing attack.

Atlanta has been okay against the run this year, coming in at 18th in the NFL in rushing defense, but they’ve also given up just 3.9 yards per rush, and any team that holds their opponents to fewer than four yards per carry is doing something right. That said, LeSean McCoy ran for 93 yards and two scores last week against them, and Blount will offer them a challenge that will be difficult to shut down, assuming he gets enough carries.

Josh Freeman: 265 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 20 yds rushing
Mike Williams: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kellen Winslow: 80 yds receiving
Arrelious Benn: 35 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 30 yds receiving
Dezmon Briscoe: 15 yds receiving
LeGarrette Blount: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD
Earnest Graham: 20 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Falcons 27, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Steelers @ Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Against a very bad Seattle team, Ben Roethlisberger was efficient, completing 22 of his 30 throws for 298 yards and one touchdown without throwing an interception. This was a big departure from his turnover-laden Week 1 contest against the Ravens, a game that put him behind the eight-ball in terms of fantasy scoring, where he is currently just the 27th-ranked quarterback, and barely ahead of his counterpart in last week’s game, Tarvaris Jackson. But the Steelers have plenty of options for Big Ben to throw to, and Mike Wallace continues to burn up the league, as he caught a touchdown pass last week to go with his 126 receiving yards.

The Colts are a mess in nearly every way, and though they are 10th in the NFL against the pass, there are legitimate reasons for that which doesn’t necessarily reflect their true talent. Houston was up so big against Indy in Week 1 that they stopped throwing the ball like they would have, and their Week 2 opponent, Cleveland, has a mediocre pass attack with very few weapons. Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense shouldn’t have a tough go of it in this contest.

Running Game Thoughts: Rashard Mendenhall chugged for just 66 yards on 19 carries against Seattle, but he did score a touchdown in that game, and has a touchdown in each of his team’s games this season. Isaac Redman also ran for a score, and had a nice day overall with 49 yards on 10 carries. The running game continues to be the bread and butter of the Steelers, and there’s no doubt that will be their focus this week against a Colts team that is deficient in stopping the run.

Indianapolis is ranked 29th in the league in run defense, and fantasy owners will be very pleased to know that they have also allowed four touchdowns on the ground, which is more than any other NFL squad. After Ben Tate ran for over 100 yards against them in Week 1, Peyton Hillis did his own damage against them, rushing for 94 yards and two scores last week. They’ll be hard-pressed to stop Mendenhall in this contest.

Ben Roethlisberger: 295 yds passing, 2 TD
Mike Wallace: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Hines Ward: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 45 yds receiving
Emmanuel Sanders: 30 yds receiving
Heath Miller: 30 yds receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 110 yds rushing, 2 TD / 25 yds receiving
Isaac Redman: 35 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Colts quarterback Kerry Collins chucked the ball 38 times last week against the Browns, but managed just 191 passing yards in the game while throwing for one score and being picked off once. Peyton Manning he is not, and the Colts receivers (and their fantasy owners) are feeling the effects. Reggie Wayne had a good Week 1, but came up with just four catches for 66 yards against the Browns, while Dallas Clark had only 32 yards on four catches against Cleveland, though he did manage to score a touchdown. But Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie are the ones really hurting, as the two have combined to catch nine passes for 101 yards in the season’s first two weeks.

The Steelers dominated the Seahawks in every fashion last week, holding Tarvaris Jackson to 159 passing yards and no touchdowns, and as a result are fourth in the league in pass defense. They did struggle in Week 1 against Joe Flacco, allowing him to toss three touchdowns, but they also held him to 224 passing yards, and though they haven’t recorded an interception yet, that will almost assuredly change this week against Collins.

Running Game Thoughts: Running the ball is not the Colts’ strong suit, and hasn’t been for years. Joseph Addai had a solid outing last week, with 64 yards on 14 carries, and Delone Carter added 46 yards on 11 carries, but this is not a team set up to run the ball with efficiency, and as such they are just 23rd in the NFL in rushing offense, and are one of only five NFL teams who have yet to score a touchdown on the ground.

The Steelers won’t make things easy on them in that regard this week, as the team is 12th in the league in run defense, though most of that came in Week 1 against the Ravens. Pittsburgh held Seattle to a total of 31 yards on the ground last week, and controlled Marshawn Lynch, who gained just 11 yards on six carries.

Kerry Collins: 185 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Dallas Clark: 70 yds receiving
Reggie Wayne: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 30 yds receiving
Austin Collie: 20 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 40 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Delone Carter: 20 yds rushing

Prediction: Steelers 35, Colts 13 ^ Top

Giants @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning struggled for most of the game once again last week. His accuracy was very poor and early in the game he under-threw Mario Manningham on what would have been an easy touchdown, but which instead resulted in an interception. He eventually found his rhythm and ended the night throwing for 200 yards and two TDs, but the fact that he’s looked so poor for the entire offseason and most of the regular season thus far has to be disconcerting to Giants fans and fantasy owners. Manningham left the game in the second quarter with a concussion and his status for Week 3 is up in the air. Third-string wide receiver Dominick Hixon also left the game after experiencing some tightness in his surgically repaired knee; however, it was later found to be an ACL tear that will end his season prematurely for the second straight year. That potentially leaves the already struggling Manning with stud receiver Hakeem Nicks, the disappointing Victor Cruz, and the recently signed veteran Brandon Stokely as his only legit wide receivers. Former Redskins bust Devin Thomas is the Giants’ kick returner and may be forced into action against Philadelphia. While Nicks is a tough player to bench even in a difficult matchup, the rest of the Giants’ passing game participants should be avoided.

This offseason the Eagles signed shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha and traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who, when joined with incumbent Asante Samuel, form the best cornerback trio in the NFL. The new-look pass defense is allowing only 180.5 yards per game through two weeks, but they did allow Matt Ryan to throw four touchdown passes last week. The Giants’ rebuilt O-line has been shaky at times this season and will need to deal with rising star Trent Cole this Sunday as he attempts to disrupt the younger Manning brother in the City of Brotherly Love.

Running Game Thoughts: Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have both looked good thus far and should be relied on heavily this week if the Giants have any hope of beating Philly. Bradshaw has seen the greater number of touches between the two backs, but Jacobs’ role has increased since last season, as promised by head coach Tom Coughlin. The backs returned to their expected roles this week, as opposed to last week when Bradshaw was the one used in short-yardage situations. Bradshaw caught five balls and Jacobs was able to bull his way to a 9-yard touchdown run.

The Eagles have been susceptible to the power running game for the last couple of seasons, and it’s a safe bet that most teams will go that way against them in light of the deep secondary they now possess. They are currently the 30th-ranked run defense after allowing 146 yards per game and two rushing TDs through the first two weeks. Steve Jackson ran for a 46-yard touchdown against them on the first play of the season, and Cadillac Williams and Michael Turner both had their way with the soft middle of the defense. With the Giants’ receiving corps banged up and with Eli looking shaky, it would make sense to use their two runners early and often this week.

Eli Manning: 205 yds passing 1 TD, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 55 yds receiving
Victor Cruz: 30 yds receiving
Brandon Stokley: 20 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 15 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 75 yds rushing / 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon Jacobs: 65 yards rushing, 1 TD / 15 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: The big question this week for Philadelphia is which Mike will be under center when the team faces the rival New York Giants. Mike Vick suffered a mild concussion while banging heads with one of his O-linemen, but he has practiced this week and it appears he will get the start. Third-string quarterback Mike Kafka (out of Northwestern) is on deck since Vince Young is still recovering from a hamstring injury he suffered during the last preseason game. Kafka is smart, accurate, and mobile (when compared with an average NFL QB, not with Vick). He showed nice poise and played well in relief of Vick in Week 2, and the coaching staff has full confidence in him. Expect the game plan to incorporate more screen passes and short slant patterns if Kafka plays but don’t expect the team to shift away from their pass-first style of attack, even with the youngster at quarterback.

The Giants’ pass defense has looked overmatched against Rex Grossman and Sam Bradford the last two weeks. With the injuries suffered in the New York secondary and across their defensive line, Vick or Kafka will not be terribly challenged this week. Formerly promising cornerback Aaron Ross looked so poor against the Rams that he was benched at length during the contest. The speedy Eagles’ wideouts will cause the Giants fits this week whether they attack on short slants or deep patterns.

Running Game Thoughts: I can’t think of a recent player that has improved more since their rookie season than LeSean McCoy has. A back that was once a “dancer” who made moves just for the sake of making moves now runs decisively and looks about as quick as any player in the league when he turns upfield. He has seamlessly taken over Brian Westbrook’s vital role, upon which the success of Andy Reid’s offensive attack relies. McCoy is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has scored four total TDs during the first two weeks of the 2011 season. Anyone who passed on him to take Jamaal Charles in their drafts is surely kicking himself today—I can show you the bruise marks if you don’t believe me.

The Giants’ run defense has performed well so far, holding both Tim Hightower and Caddy Williams to less than four yards per carry. Greg Jones, a late-round 2011 draft pick, has performed admirably after being thrust prematurely into a starting role because of middle linebacker Jonathan Goff’s season-ending injury. However, with all due respect to Hightower and Williams, this game presents a totally different challenge for the unit. If Kafka is the starter, at least the Giants will be relieved from having to deal with Vick’s running ability and can play more guys in the box to stop McCoy. They won’t have to worry as much about being burned deep down the field since Kafka is more of a dink-and-dunk type quarterback who doesn’t have a strong arm like Vick.

Michael Vick: 225 yds passing, 2 TDs / 30 yards rushing
DeSean Jackson: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 80 yds receiving 1 TD
Jason Avant: 40 yards receiving
Brent Celek: 25 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 45 yds receiving
Ronnie Brown: 20 yds rushing

Prediction: Eagles 24, Giants 20 ^ Top

Patriots @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: While nothing Tom Brady does anymore should amaze anyone, the fact that he has already thrown for well over 900 yards and seven TDs after two weeks is unbelievable. Brady has been virtually unstoppable, and while Chad Ochocinco has not done much of anything on the football field, he was spot on when he described that Pats passing attack as “a video game.” Ochocinco, as mentioned, has only been a small part of the equation, as the team has run much of their offense through their two second-year tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The duo has been practically unstoppable in racking up high-yardage totals and multiple touchdowns; the sprained MCL Hernandez was diagnosed with after Week 2 has been the only thing capable of slowing them down thus far—and Hernandez could miss from two to six weeks. The arrival of Ochocinco was supposed to make veteran Deion Branch an afterthought, but don’t discount the love Brady has for his dependable target. Branch has quietly contributed 15 receptions for 222 yards through two weeks.

Buffalo’s pass defense was helped tremendously last season by the fact that teams were able to run at will against them. So far this season they have shut down the Kansas City passing game, which is starting to look like an easy task, but were lit up by Jason Campbell and an undermanned Oakland receiver corps. Rookie Denarius Moore, in particular, was consistently able to get deep on the Buffalo secondary. Brady and the boys should be able to have another field day through the air this week, especially if the Buffalo passing attack keeps them in the contest, forcing the Pats to answer back.

Running Game Thoughts: In Week 1 it was Danny Woodhead who garnered the lion’s share of handoffs. So we all know what that means, right? In typical Billy Belichick fashion, BenJarvis Green-Ellis was the Week 2 bellcow for the Pats. Neither back is going to be a mainstay in any fantasy owner’s lineup due to the unpredictability of their usage. Furthermore, the pie that needs to be split is a small one to start with, as the Pats are a pass-first offense. But both backs have their defined roles and are part of a prolific offense, so they do have their uses. From a real-life standpoint, they complement each other perfectly, with BJGE gaining the tough yards and running down the clock and Woodhead providing the spark and matchup problems with his elite speed.

The Buffalo run defense was the worst is the league last year, allowing 169.6 yards per game and 18 rushing TDs. Things have gone a little better so far this season, but their overall statistics may be misleading. Getting out to a big lead in Week 1 forced Kansas City into passing mode, keeping the Chiefs’ rushing totals relatively low. In Week 2, however, Oakland was able move the ball very effectively on the ground. Buffalo did make some moves to help out during the offseason, specifically in drafting defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and signing former Packer linebacker Nick Barnett, so things should only get better.

Tom Brady: 335 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 35 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 80 yds receiving
Deion Branch: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
BenJarvis Green-Ellis: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 35 yards rushing / 45 yards receiving, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The man with the best nickname in football, “the Amish Rifle” Ryan Fitzpatrick, just keeps getting the job done. He led a furious comeback in the closing minutes to knock off Oakland last week, and now the Bills sit at 2-0 as they welcome New England into Buffalo. Fitzpatrick is a gutsy player that refuses to slide when on the run, and with a Harvard education, you know he’s a shrewd player. There isn’t really anything that he excels at, but he’s the poster-boy for the old adage that the sum is greater than the parts. He’s blessed with the talented Stevie Johnson as his main weapon, but he’s also able to get good production out of no-name players such as Donald Jones, David Nelson, and Scott Chandler. It says a lot that the Bills are able to get top-end production from a collection of late-round draft picks and even undrafted players.

The Pats finished 2010 ranked 30th in pass defense after allowing 258.5 yards per game and 25 TDs, and they haven’t been much better to start this season. In fact, they’ve been far worse and are currently ranked 31st—allowing a shocking 381 yards per game—after Chad Henne and Phillip Rivers shredded the secondary to ribbons. In fairness to youngsters Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Sergio Brown, and Josh Bennett, the high-flying Pats offense requires opponents keep up through the air if they want to stay in the game. Even with that, though, they need to improve quickly if they hope to finally get back to the Super Bowl.

Running Game Thoughts: Fred Jackson continues to get the job done in spite of the Bills’ spending high, first-round draft picks on running backs in two out of the past three seasons. Like Fitzpatrick, he’s a guy that may not wow you with elite skills, but when you look at the stat sheet at the end of the day, it’s often filled up quite nicely. Backup C.J. Spiller is expected to spend some time running pass routes out of the slot due to the injuries sustained by Roscoe Parrish and Marcus Easley. And he could do some damage there, as he has the speed to take advantage in space.

As you would expect by the passing yards allowed listed above, the Pats don’t give up many yards on the ground. So far this year, their front seven have not really been tested on the ground, but with talent like Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, and Jarrod Mayo, they could most likely hold their own. While Fred Jackson has found success against New England in the past, my guess is that Buffalo will join the line of teams that are forced into airing it out early, just to try to keep up with Tom Brady.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 30 yards rushing
Steve Johnson: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 35 yds receiving
David Nelson: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 20 yds receiving
Fred Jackson: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yards receiving
C.J. Spiller: 25 yards rushing / 45 yards receiving

Prediction: Patriots 34, Bills 24 ^ Top

Redskins @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Bad Rex Grossman peaked out his ugly head early in last week’s game as he threw two first-half interceptions before Good Rex Grossman wrestled back control to lead the Redskins to their second victory in as many games. Grossman once again performed reasonably well, finishing with 291 yards and two TDs. His leash is now probably a little longer than it was to start the year, and he is now a fantasy option as a QB2 with some upside. Grossman has continued to make Santana Moss relevant and has even made Jabar Gafney a consideration in fantasy circles. However, the real breakout star is tight end Fred Davis, who has accumulated close to 200 yards receiving through the first two weeks. The Skins run plenty of two-tight-end sets, so even when Chris Cooley is back to full health, Davis should still be a key member of the Washington passing attack. Davis has great downfield speed for his size and more athleticism than the aging Cooley, but don’t count Cooley out as a contributor down the line either. The Skins’ passing attack seems to be for real, and they go into Dallas looking at a banged-up Cowboys secondary.

How bad has the Cowboys’ secondary looked this year? Well, let’s just say that two average to below-average NFL quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith, have combined for 514 passing yards and four TDs against them. The team will need to get Michael Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick healthy in order to turn things around and take advantage of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s attacking style of defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Tim Hightower hasn’t been as effective as he was during his stellar preseason, but he is getting the job done with 203 total yards and a rushing score on the season. However, Mike Shanahan discovered in Week 2 what rookie Roy Helu, who only saw one carry in Week 1, is capable of. Helu rushed for 74 yards on only 10 carries and is much quicker and more fluid than Hightower. This should still be Tim Hightower’s gig as long as he keeps running hard and excels in pass protection, but it’s a situation to monitor as the season progresses.

The Cowboys’ aggressive run blitzes kept Shonn Greene and Frank Gore mostly in check over the first two weeks. They are currently the second-ranked run defense, giving up only 59.5 yards per game and only a single rushing TD (to Gore). This may be another week that falls on the not-so-strong shoulders of Rex Grossman if the Skins O-line doesn’t get enough push against the aggressive Dallas front seven.

Rex Grossman: 265 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 10 yards rushing
Santana Moss: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Anthony Armstrong: 30 yards receiving
Chris Cooley: 25 yards receiving
Jabar Gaffney: 35 yds receiving
Fred Davis: 85 yds receiving
Tim Hightower: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving
Roy Helu: 30 yds rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: By now everyone is aware of Tony Romo’s heroic Week 2 performance where he returned to the game to lead the Cowboys to victory after suffering a broken rib and punctured lung in the first half. Romo is expected to be under center when the Redskins come to town on Monday Night, but the real star of the Week 2 contest, Miles Austin (9-143-3), won’t be so lucky. Austin pulled his hamstring in the last game and is expected to miss the next three weeks. Should Dez Bryant not be able to play as well, after sitting out Week 2, the Cowboys’ wide receiver corps is looking pretty ugly. Kevin Ogletree would move up to the No. 1 slot, and while he has some skills, he’d be over-matched in that role. Expect Bryant to make a real effort to suit up and for tight end Jason Witten to be Romo’s first look if Bryant doesn’t find his way onto the field.

The Redskins’ secondary has shown some signs of improvement since last season but is still not a unit that opposing pass offenses or fantasy owners need to take special heed of. They have been solid, however, allowing 235.5 yards per game and two TDs on the season. They also have the ability to apply pressure on quarterbacks with seven sacks so far in 2011. If they keep applying consistent pressure with their D-line and the occasional blitz, the team should continue to be an average pass defense at the least, as there is some talent in the secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Felix Jones separated his shoulder last week, allowing Tashard Choice and Demarco Murray to see more carries than in Week 1. Jones is expected to play on Monday Night, but the injury should cause owners some concern as Choice and Murray will probably be worked in a lot again to help ease the burden on the struggling Jones. Those that expected a breakout campaign from Jones based on how he looked this preseason may need to be patient for a few more weeks while he recovers. Shoulder injuries are difficult for a running back to deal with because they take many blows to the shoulder area during a game.

Washington held Beanie Wells to six first-half yards last week before he came on strong in the final two quarters. Overall, the Redskins’ defense is ranked eighth, allowing 84 yards per game and three TDs through two weeks as they further adjust to their new 3-4 scheme. Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher are solid veterans and play the run well. The unit gets a boost this week with the return of safety LeRon Landry, who plays like a fifth linebacker in the box on running downs.

Tony Romo: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 20 yards rushing
Kevin Ogletree: 45 yds receiving
Dez Bryant: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Felix Jones: 45 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 35 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving

Prediction: Cowboys 20, Redskins 14 ^ Top

Ravens @ Rams - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: The offense could take a step back this week without the services of deep threat WR Lee Evans who is suffering from a foot injury. The Ravens will need their young TE tandem Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson to step up in his absence. Dickson has enough speed to beat the Rams LBs distracted in stopping Rice. Boldin will work the middle and move chains, but with less room to roam. The good news is that the Rams are decimated at cornerback position. They did a good job protecting their backend against the Giants last week with pressure. Safety Quentin Mikell could spend most of the game near the line of scrimmage. He is an effective blitzer when called upon and will require QB Joe Flacco’s attention every snap.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice should have yet another big day as he has several things going for him. The Rams defense represents a positive match-up allowing 27% more fantasy points than the league average and he loss of Lee Evans will mean they will lean on him more. I think Rice is the odds on favorite to lead all RBs in yards from scrimmage... improving the offensive line, bringing in the best blocking fullback, and giving him goal line carries make him a fantasy juggernaut. The match-up to watch here is MLB James Lauriniatis v. Rice. Lauriniatis is a great field general for them on defense and has will rack up the tackles with his good range and efficiency. He needs more help from teammates to right the ship on their disappointing run defense thus far.

Joe Flacco: 220 yds passing 1 TD / 1 Int
Anquan Boldin: 85 yds receiving
Torrey Smith: 40 yds receiving
Ed Dickson: 50 yds receiving
Ray Rice: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: The Rams have a promising young team and really need to find their first win after a slow start. There’s no doubt QB Sam Bradford has what it takes. Mike Sims-Walker had a nice game against the Giants with 6 catches for 92 yards but needs to be more consistent. We will find out soon enough if that was due to David Garrard or his own short comings. The deep threat is Danario Alexander - great athlete, college stud, balky knees. It was good to see him break out with his 3 catches, 122 yards and a score Monday night. He’s intriguing as a fantasy prospect but a risky homer run hitter in the mold of Devery Henderson. You never know when the 50-yard bomb will hit and when it doesn’t, there’s a zero in the FF points column. Through two games he has shown well, so keep an eye out as a future pick up. TE Lance Kendricks created a lot of buzz this preseason as a possible favorite new weapon for Bradford, has done little. This group as a whole leads the league in drops, which is amplified when the bell cow starting RB Steven Jackson is missing. The way to beat Baltimore, as shown by Kenny Britt and Matt Hasselbeck last week, is through the air. The Ravens are short handed in the secondary, with rookie CB Jimmy Smith inactive. The Rams have been able to move the ball despite learning a new system on the fly. Their trouble has been the red zone. With all these new parts, they need to establish some go-to options in close.

Running Game Thoughts: There were signs of promise Steven Jackson could return as he was a game time decision last week, but little good news has come out since. Cadillac Williams did poorly in his place, and faces perhaps an even stiffer run defense with the Ravens. This is not a game to play any Rams RBs if you have better options, which would include just about anyone with a pulse.

Sam Bradford: 315 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Mike Sims-Walker: 60 yds receiving
Brandon Gibson: 45 yds receiving
Danario Alexander: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Lance Kendricks: 45 yds rushing / 1 TD
Cadillac Williams: 55 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Ravens 20, Rams 17 ^ Top

Jets @ Raiders - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: As much as the Jets would love to be a smash mouth football team they have been more of a passing team this year. Part of that could be due to the growth of Mark Sanchez and part the inability of the Jets to run the ball consistently. In the passing game, WR Santonio Holmes and TE Dustin Keller are the leaders. Keller is off to a great start and will finish as a top 10 fantasy TE if he stays on pace. Holmes is a terrific talent that leads the receiving corps in targets and yards. The only thing that keeps him from being an elite fantasy wideout is the conservative offense and his size. Plaxico Burress is a bit of an enigma. He’s shown flashes in one brilliant quarter where he caught four balls and a score, but hasn’t made a play the other 7 quarters thus far. I like all of the Jets receivers to have above average outing this week with the Raiders defense struggling to defend the pass. Holmes should have a big day and open Keller and Plaxico for increased scoring chances. QB Mark Sanchez still makes an occasional lapse in judgment, but as a whole he is progressing. He has a tendency to get hot when the Jets abandon the run and I think they will based on Oakland’s inability to defend the pass.

Running Game Thoughts: I’m on the side of the pundits that say Shonn Greene is not a starting caliber running back in fantasy or real football for now. He has benefitted from excellent blocking which is no longer available with the retirement of Damien Woody and the high ankle sprain of all pro center Nick Mangold. There is talk of Mangold playing but a high ankle sprain is very limiting. Greene doesn’t make people miss or ad-lib. Despite the Raiders statistically poor run defense, I think the Jets will struggle to move the ball on the ground. Buffalo gouged the Raiders front seven last week but Greene is not as elusive as Spiller or Jackson. At some point I expect Rookie Bilal Powell to get a shot. When he does, there is a good chance he impresses enough to take Greene’s job partially if not outright. I would be selling had I drafted Greene, which I did not in any of my leagues.

Mark Sanchez: 280 yds passing 2 TD / 1 Int
Santonio Holmes: 95 yds receiving / 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 60 yds receiving
Dustin Keller: 70 yds receiving /1 TD
Shonn Greene: 75 yds rushing
LaDainian Tomlinson: 35 yds rushing / 40 Rec / 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The Raiders may have finally stumbled upon a number one receiver in rookie Denarius Moore. He consistently received rave reviews for killing the Raiders secondary in practice, dominated in preseason, then gets his first start and puts up 150 yards and a score. The Jets will welcome him to the NFL by introducing him to Revis Island. Yikes. He will have quite a burden on his shoulders carrying the load for a Raiders team missing starters Darius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford. TE acquisition Kevin Boss injured a knee in the preseason but is probable to make his debut, and they will need him. The biggest passing factor in this game could be RB Darren McFadden. If the run game sputters, they will look to get McFadden some short passes in space. He can flex to avoid their lethal secondary, and has the skills to beat the Jets linebackers as they struggle in coverage.

Running Game Thoughts: Great match-up of strength on strength. The Raiders are built to run the ball. The Jets are built to stop it. While this could limit McFadden, I still expect the Raiders to get some movement with the emotional high of playing their home opener and a Jets team that is traveling across the country for a potential let down game. McFadden is the unquestioned lead dog and is among the top 5 fantasy backs early this season. That said, the Raiders brass announced this week that Bullish Michael Bush will take over goal line duties moving forward. This news places a slight cap on McFadden’s value, but he is still a dominant force with the ability to score from range.

Jason Campbell: 225 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 40 yds receiving
Chaz Schilens: 55 yds receiving
Kevin Boss: 35 yds receiving
Darren McFadden: 65 yds rushing / 45 receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Jets 21, Raiders 16 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Chargers - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chiefs are a team stuck in reverse and decimated by injuries. The loss of Jamaal Charles slightly raises the value of Dwayne Bowe, and possibly Matt Cassel as their run game could be less effective. There are enough moving parts here though it may be best to avoid all offensive players until the dust settles. That dust could include head coach Todd Haley. The Chargers aren’t a great match-up for KC as they have a pair of good cover corners that can stick with Bowe and Urban. There should be a good match-up between Safety Bob Sanders and Matt Cassel. Sanders can play center field and try to read Cassel if he forces it Bowe too often. Bowe is one of the better receivers in the league at jump balls. They are going to have to take some shots and let him make a play.

Running Game Thoughts: The plan for replacing Jamaal Charles will begin as a committee approach. Sharing the load will be lead back but aging Thomas Jones, FB/RB hybrid Le’Ron McClain, scat back Dexter McCluster. Third stringer Jackie Battle will get an occasional carry or two. McCluster is intriguing because his skill set is the most versatile. Coach Haley suggested he will get 10-15 touches in a combination of running and passing plays. This could work out well for leagues where McCluster is listed as a receiver. He has potential for a nice WR3/flex play in PPR scoring systems. Thomas Jones will get first crack as the between the tackles guy. He is past his prime (33) but the man is in excellent shape and doesn’t look washed up to me. That could change if he gets worn down with carries as the season goes on. This offense has looked abysmal though and it’s hard to see anyone excelling. The Chargers run defense held Adrian Peterson under 100 yards in week one, and has the tools to handle the Chiefs, though they are not a dominant run stopping team. They have good veteran leadership in newly acquired Takeo Spikes in the middle who will be responsible for keeping the foot on the throat of their hard luck division foe.

Matt Cassel: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Steve Breaston: 45 yds receiving
Leonard Pope: 35 yds receiving
Thomas Jones: 75 yds rushing /1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 35 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chargers are an elite passing unit with a great matchup facing a Chiefs defense that made Ryan Fitzpatrick a household name. Missing from the secondary is their young all-pro safety Eric Berry. They plug in a veteran Todd McGraw who doesn’t have the speed to cover on the backend. Philip Rivers and company will be ready roll after a disappointing loss to the Patriots which saw Vincent Jackson go off to the tune of 10 catches for 172 yards and two scores. He could repeat those numbers against the Chiefs. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers are above average in coverage but the size of Jackson and Gates are a mismatch. The Chargers will be without Malcom Floyd but Patrick Crayton is capable of filling in effectively. A bigger concern is the health of Antonio Gates. He hasn’t practiced this week, and while it could simply be rest, he has a long history of foot ailments that may be acting up. The Chargers have put a heavy emphasis in passing to their tailbacks and as a result both Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have done big damage in the passing game. They will be a difficult draw for the Chiefs LBs that are built to rush the passer.

Running Game Thoughts: It looks like Ryan Mathews is finally starting to get a larger foothold after struggling his rookie year. He’s running the ball better than Tolbert and getting used in the passing game, which is a significant change in preseason speculation where Tolbert was the 3rd down back. Tolbert isn’t going to go away, as he is a talent in his own right, but this if Mathews begins to see a 60/40 or better share of the load, he will be the kind of guy that wins fantasy championships. For this game the he is safely a RB2 and Tolbert a solid flex play. They will dominate possession, and get out to a large lead which should allow both backs plenty of opportunities.

Philip Rivers: 315 yds passing, 3 TDs
Vincent Jackson: 125 yds receiving, 1 TD
Patrick Crayton: 65 yds receiving
Antonio Gates: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 75 yds rushing / 40 yds receiving / 1 TD
Mike Tolbert: 35 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving

Prediction: Chargers 34, Chiefs 17 ^ Top

Cardinals @ Seahawks - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Cardinals look like the clear favorite but inner division games on the road are tough victories, especially in Seattle which boasts one of the loudest stadiums in league. The Seahawks will be playing for their season after a 0-2 start. The Cardinals have a much improved pass offense with Kevin Kolb at the helm and their main focus will be getting Larry Fitzgerald free. He has a distinct size advantage on CB Marcus Trufant, who is beginning to decline. The Seahawks may try using Brandon Browner on him, being that Browner is one of the biggest CBs in the league, but Browner was torched a few times by the Steelers and Fitz could be too much for him. Look for Arizona to try to spread the field with three and four receivers in order to get him one on one. When not getting it to Fitz, the Cards have gotten good production from the backup tandem of Early Doucet and Andre Roberts. Both are capable of getting deep when teams give too much attention elsewhere.

Running Game Thoughts: Beanie Wells is enjoying a good start to the season averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He has just missed 100-yd hundred days both weeks. He will have difficult matchup as the only thing the Seahawks have done well thus far is holding teams to 3.2 yards per carry. Further bad news is that Wells reportedly didn’t finish practice Thursday due to hamstring tightness. Keep an eye out on how that progresses. Either way, not an ideal week to play Wells with other options available.

The Seahawks success at stopping the run is in large part to their young mammoth defensive front of Brandon Mebane, Allan Branch, Red Bryant, and Chris Clemons. Few team plays the 4-3 with essentially four defensive tackles in the same manner. That size has a draw back in the pass rush though. They have managed just two sacks and none from the front four down linemen.

Kevin Kolb: 320 yds passing / 3 TDs / 1 Int
Larry Fitzgerald: 95 yds receiving / 2 TDs
Early Doucet: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 50 yds receiving
Chris Wells: 65 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving / 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Seattle has been inept in their passing game. They have a young offensive line geared towards running more than pass blocking. They are a work in progress. Missing top WR Sydney Rice hasn’t helped. He could make his debut this week in an unexpected turn around from a shoulder problem that was rumored to possibly be long term. Mike Williams is a big target with no speed and for an inaccurate QB like Tarvaris Jackson, he needs Rice’s range gives to give him greater room for error. The Seahawks spent a lot of money to acquire TE Zach Miller but have failed to get him going. He has been forced to block due to offensive line struggles but he could see action in the passing game this week as Arizona hasn’t fared well in covering the tight end position.

Running Game Thoughts: As I mentioned earlier when discussing their offensive line, Pete Carroll is a coach that wants to begin and end with the run. They are winless because they haven’t had any success running the football. The Steelers held them to an embarrassing 33 yards last week. Marshawn Lynch is a tough inside runner capable of grinding out yards only when his front is getting push. They also have to keep from falling behind early in games. The Seahawks brought in Robert Gallery to bolster their run blocking and provide some experience to the young line but he is now out 4-5 weeks.

The Cardinals have allowed 4 yards per carry giving up 115 yards per game to opposing rushers – they should be better. They are not getting the quality of play they are accustomed to from their big name defensive linemen - Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, and Dan Williams. When the Cards run their base 3-4 defense they use those three to occupy blockers while relying on the Linebackers to fly around freely and make plays. They have really suffered without blossoming young LB Daryl Washington. He is expected to return and play a key role in keeping Lynch from getting off.

Tarvaris Jackson: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Sidney Rice: 60 yds receiving
Mike Williams: 45 yds receiving
Zach Miller: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Tarvaris Jackson: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Sidney Rice: 60 yds receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 75 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Cardinals 31, Seahawks 20 ^ Top

Lions @ Vikings - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Someone on the FFToday Board started a thread during the early part of preseason asking what everyone thought of Matthew Stafford’s chances of doing anything of note in 2011. I chimed in and suggested that those with a gambling disposition should wait to draft Stafford in the 7th or 8th around as a QB1 after the balance of their roster is set. Case dismissed. Stafford enters Week 3 as the co-leader in TD passes with seven. It’s more than simply the number of scoring passes; it’s the way he’s looked. The command he has of the offense. The poise. I drafted him as my QB2 behind Matt Schaub, but suffice it to say, the starting gig is Stafford’s for the foreseeable future. This guy will end up as a top-5 fantasy (and NFL) QB by year’s end. No doubt.

Minnesota’s pass defense has been nothing special through two games. Both Philip Rivers and Josh Freeman had solid outings, and the Vikings defense even let a guy named Preston Parker get loose last week for six catches and 98 yards. Minnesota welcomes back DT Kevin Williams this week, so perhaps his presence will help put pressure on Stafford up the middle. Other than that, expect Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson to continue their productive ways in Minnesota.

Running Game Thoughts: Jahvid Best won’t wow you with his between-the-tackles running style; nor will he ever make his living exclusively running the ball. His value to his fantasy owners is his dual threat ability. Best actually has one more reception and only nine fewer receiving yards than Calvin Johnson, so Best’s role in this offense is huge. Expect a heavy dose of the quick-footed running back out of the backfield this week.

As mentioned above, Minnesota gets Williams back in the fold in Week 3. They are a top-10 run defense without him, so his return should certainly close the running lanes for Best. The Vikings have relinquished three rushing TDs—only five teams have given up more. But keep in mind Detroit will get the vast majority of their points via the air.

Matthew Stafford: 280 yards passing / 3 TDs
Calvin Johnson: 115 yards receiving / 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
Tony Scheffler: 30 yards receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 25 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jahvid Best: 45 yards rushing / 30 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Maybe ratman Mike Shanahan knew something about Donovan McNabb’s obvious dwindling skill set after all. Even with his solid game last week, it’s painful to watch McNabb play QB. Whether it’s him or the less-than-stellar receiving corp is debatable; the bottom line is McNabb’s migration to Minnesota hasn’t given produced the kind of results I’m sure many were hoping for. Not that fantasy players have McNabb in a position where they have to rely on him. Rather, his lack of productive play is affecting the sleeper value of players such as Percy Harvin and Visanthe Schiancoe. If Minnesota loses this game and drops to 0-3, when will the Christian Ponder countdown begin?

It won’t help McNabb’s case this week as he goes up against one of the up-and-coming defenses in the league. The Lions are currently the 7th-ranked pass defense, and they’ve only given up one passing TD. The secondary is nothing special, but Detroit’s front four is regarded as one of the league’s best. They will harass McNabb all game long and make his owners question his spot on their bench.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson entered the fantasy draft season as one of the top two RBs, but his production and the downfall of Arian Foster has made him—arguably—fantasy football’s undisputed RB king. He’s a beast in spite of the inept passing game surrounding him. The only minor disappointment about Peterson so far is his lack of participation in the passing game. Many thought McNabb’s penchant for checking the ball down would benefit A.P. It’s still early though. With the anticipated pressure the Lions are sure to put on McNabb, expect Peterson to get a handful of reception opportunities this week.

Detroit has given up 4.6 ypc, but they’ve yet to give up a rushing TD. With Peterson being the only sure thing offensively for the Vikings, expect that drought to change. Ndamakung Suh is a beast, we all know that. But so is Peterson. Expect Peterson to slither his way into the end zone on a short run while finishing with a nice yardage total to boot.

Donovan McNabb: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Percy Harvin: 80 yards receiving
Michael Jenkins: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Visanthe Shiancoe: 50 yards receiving
Adrian Peterson: 95 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 24, Vikings 20 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Browns - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Chad Henne’s play has been average, at best. His has only three TD passes through the first couple games with a pedestrian 53 percent completion percentage. These average numbers are put into greater perspective when you consider only four teams have more pass attempts than Miami’s 79. Henne is a fantasy afterthought who does nothing extraordinarily special. He’s probably best measured by how many times he throws the ball to Brandon Marshall, who, by the way, has gotten off to a solid start.

Thanks to playing against a rookie in his first NFL game in week 1 (Andy Dalton and Cincinnati), and a putrid Indianapolis offense, Cleveland has an inflated ranking of 2nd-best pass defense in the league. While Henne is far from a sure thing, he should at least be good enough to put a dent in Cleveland’s pass defense by tossing the rock to Marshall. CB Joe Haden is quietly coming into his own, so his battle against Marshall should be an interesting show. But start Marshall with confidence nonetheless.

Running Game Thoughts: I know it’s only one game, but maybe Miami found their bruising RB. Rookie Daniel Thomas abused the Houston defense last week to the tune of 107 yards on only 18 carries. His 5.9 ypc was impressive, and his performance probably rendered Reggie Bush useless once again as it relates to his ability to carry the football. Bush’s fantasy relevance, though, is not a complete loss. He still has 10 receptions this season, and with the Dolphins not having a true WR2, perhaps Bush could find a way into your line-up as a solid flex option.

Cleveland has given up more than 100 yards rushing in both games this season. This bodes well for Thomas to hit the century mark for a second straight week. Cedric Benson sliced Cleveland’s run defense in week one, going for 121 yards and a score. Expecting Thomas to mirror those numbers, I think, is not a huge stretch. Start the rookie as a low-end RB2.

Chad Henne: 235 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Brandon Marshall: 90 yards receiving / 1 TD
Davone Bess: 40 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 35 yards receiving
Daniel Thomas: 85 yards rushing / 2 TDs
Reggie Bush: 20 yards rushing / 50 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Count me as someone who continues to be amazed at Colt McCoy’s exploits so far in his NFL career. I got all the respect in the world for this kid. It was here in this space last year that I predicted McCoy’s demise at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was his first game in the league, on the road, against a tough divisional foe. All he did was come out and throw for 281 yards—a mark he hasn’t repeated. That performance showed his mettle and his ability long-term as an NFL QB. He still has a ways to go from a fantasy perspective. But Miami has struggled a bit against the pass, so maybe McCoy has a chance to eclipse that 281-yard performance.

Miami is the same team that gave up a ridiculous 500-plus yard passing day from Tom Brady. Sure it’s Brady, but 500 yards??? The Dolphins settled down last week against the Texans, giving up only 230 yards and two TDs to Matt Schaub. I think Schaub’s performance could be McCoy’s floor. If Cleveland is able to neutralize pass rushing specialists Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor, McCoy could be a deep sleeper in week 3, despite the dearth of talent at the wide-out position.

Running Game Thoughts: Head coach Pat Shurmur hinted that he’d like to rest Peyton Hillis more during games, getting Montario Hardesty a few more looks. While that sounds good, I think it’s hogwash. Hillis is the one true consistent player on this team, and this offense does little without his presence. Only Ben Tate and Tim Hightower have more rushing attempts than Hillis. Expect that heavy usage to continue into and through week 3, making him one of the most solid RB2 options.

Cleveland could very well take the blueprint used by Houston last week that called for Tate to serve as the battering ram against the Miami defense. The Texans as a team had 34 rushing attempts, with each one more punishing to the defense than the previous one. With Hillis as one of the league’s best power backs, that game plan is tailor-made for the Browns. I think the Browns get it done this week, both on the ground and through the air.

Colt McCoy: 255 yards / 2 TDs
Mohamed Massaquoi: 80 yards receiving
Greg Little: 45 yards receiving
Josh Cribbs: 30 yards receiving
Ben Watson: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Peyton Hillis: 95 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving / 1 receiving TD

Prediction: Browns 24, Dolphins 21 ^ Top

49ers @ Bengals - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Alex Smith. Has there been a player with more chances to succeed than this dude? He has survived three coaching regimes while being a player known only for being the #1 overall selection the same year Aaron Rodgers was drafted. He’s opened the season in typical Alex Smith fashion: 303 yards passing, two TDs and one INT through two games. His counterpart, rookie Andy Dalton has better numbers than that. Smith has way too many weapons to put up such pedestrian numbers year in and year out. Now with Braylon Edwards expected to miss at least several games, Smith’s prospects for production have taken a significant hit.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati has yet to give up more than 202 yards passing in a game. The Bengals have only four sacks and one INT, but Cleveland and Denver both found it difficult to throw downfield. Smith and the 49ers will almost assuredly encounter a similar fate. Even though he’s gotten off to another slow start—through no fault of his own—continue to put Vernon Davis in your line-up until further notice.

Running Game Thoughts: Frank Gore is averaging a mind-numbing 2.5 ypc. Yikes. The one saving grace for Gore owners is his role in the passing game. He’s second on the team with six receptions, and that role is almost certain to expand with Edwards’ absence. Another promising sign for Gore is the rest of the RBs on the roster have only three carries between them. So his role in the offense is secure; he just needs to start doing something that will allow fantasy owners to start him without having second thoughts. I’d start him, but I’d be really, really nervous about it.

The Bengals were able to hold Peyton Hillis and the Cleveland Browns to 83 yards rushing in week 1, but Willis McGahee looked like the McGahee of old in week 2, rushing 28 times for 101 yards and a score against them. Gore is not the bruiser that McGahee is, so don’t look for 28 rushing attempts. Instead, Gore’s production could reflect that of Hillis in week 2 against Cincy, when he finished with six receptions. Start Gore, but be mindful of the possible pitfalls that accompany that decision.

Alex Smith: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Josh Morgan: 60 yards receiving
Ted Ginn Jr.: 35 yards receiving
Vernon Davis: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Frank Gore: 65 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving / 1 rushing TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson who? The Cincinnati coaching staff thought enough of rookie Andy Dalton that they asked the rookie to exploit a depleted Denver secondary last week. He responded with a 332 yard, two TD, zero INT performance. Not bad. Certainly it’s too early to proclaim he’s the second coming, but there have been worse starts to an NFL career. Fellow rookie A.J. Green displayed his wares too—10 catches for 124 yards and a TD. Things are looking up for Cincy early in 2011. Jordan Shipley’s season-ending injury could affect the rookie, and Jerome Simpson’s marijuana delivery situation brings back conversations of the Jailbird Bengals, but those who remain should help assist the rookie mature and grow and an NFL QB.

San Francisco has been vulnerable through the air so far in 2011. They’re the 25th-ranked pass defense, and only two teams have given up more than the five passing TDs they’ve relinquished. The 49ers’ six sacks prove they can get after the QB as well, so the rookie had better have his head on a swivel. Green, however, should find holes in the secondary. He’s a good WR3 this week. And oh by the way, hold off on trying to prove to your league that you’re smarter than the average bear; keep Dalton planted on your bench for now.

Running Game Thoughts: Cedric Benson now has the specter of getting suspended hanging over his head. He should play this week, but a three-game suspension is a real possibility. As it relates to week 3, however, Benson may not find the running room he enjoyed in Week 1. Not that he was terrible last week; it’s just that the running game took a back seat to the emerging passing attack, which showed the Cincy brass that they may, in fact, have a keeper under center. But here’s the real reason why I’d have apprehension about starting Benson.

The 49ers have only given up 109 yards on the ground this year and have yet to have a rushing TD scored against them. Both are tops in the league. San Francisco will look to plug the running lanes and keep Benson and the running game from opening up throwing lanes. Benson is a tricking play this week. Not only does he have a tough defense to contend with, but who knows how his pending suspension will affect him? If you have a better option (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Fred Jackson?), go with that.

Andy Dalton: 210 yards passing / 2 TDs / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 80 yards receiving / 1 TD
Andre Caldwell: 50 yards receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
Cedric Benson: 65 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Bengals 21, 49ers 14 ^ Top

Packers @ Bears - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Aaron Rodgers is up to his old tricks again. Five TD passes, zero interceptions, 71 percent completion percentage through two games…ho hum. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in each game and given those who selected him early in the draft confidence in knowing they can always count on him as their one-man wrecking crew. He’s spreading the ball around to all of his weapons, to the extent that no receiver has more than nine receptions. Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley are both no-brainer starters each week, but the one wildcard is Jordy Nelson. Donald Driver is getting long in the tooth and Nelson is poised to take over his role. Nelson leads the team in receiving yards and could be one of those fantasy players that desperate owners look to when the roster options get too thin.

Any passing attack strategy against Chicago begins and ends with trying to stop DE Julius Peppers. He already has two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Green Bay has already passed the ball 25 percent more than they’ve run it, which is simply a continuation from 2010. With the Pack focused on moving the ball through the air, the Bears will try to pressure Rodgers into throwing his first pick of the season.

Running Game Thoughts: There’s an owner in my league who swore up and down that Ryan Grant would ultimately become the solid RB2 he once was in 2009. I had those sentiments but wasn’t so confident. Turns out the post-season that James Starks had last season was no fluke. Mike McCarthy believes in him so much that Grant is essentially an RB2 on his own team. Anybody with any knowledge of football can see that Starks runs with much more aggression than Grant. Starks has turned himself into a usable RB3 in fantasy football, with the potential to start occasionally should the match-up be in his favor. This week, though, is not one of those match-ups.

Chicago has yet to reach mid-season form defensively, especially against the run. Both Atlanta and New Orleans rushed for more than 100 yards as a team but neither was able to score on the ground. I say Green Bay puts the running game on the back burner and ask Rodgers to put the team on his shoulders once again. It’s simply a bad match-up for Green Bay’s RBs. Look elsewhere if you can.

Aaron Rodgers: 255 yards passing / 2 TDs
Greg Jennings: 90 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 55 yards receiving
Donald Driver: 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 60 yards receiving
James Starks: 50 yards rushing
Ryan Grant: 35 yards rushing

Passing Game Thoughts: Really, is there a WR corp anywhere in the league worse than in Chicago? Johnny Knox is okay; Earl Bennett’s nothing special; Devin Hester is a special teamer; Roy Williams? Don’t get me started on him. So for all the flack that Jay Cutler receives, and rightfully so in most cases, one look at his supporting cast should make us all scratch our head in amazement that he’s been as successful as he’s been. The biggest concern is the offensive line. Cutler still gets pummeled on a regular basis, as the six sack debacle in week 2 against New Orleans clearly demonstrates. Cutler is not a recommended start this week, but if you’re forced to do so, the best you can hope for is to him to keep his turnovers to a minimum.

If there’s any silver lining to Chicago’s passing woes this week it is Green Bay’s curiously bad pass defense. No team in the league has been thrown on more and for more yards than the Packers. They’re giving up 400 yards a game through the air. But I think this is a get-right game for the Packers defense. Expect a heavy dose of blitzes in an attempt to get Cutler to resort to his turnover-prone ways.

Running Game Thoughts: What does it say when your RB not only leads the team in both rushing and receiving, but has twice as many receptions as anyone else on the team? That’s the case with Matt Forte. He is what makes the Chicago offense go. Only Tom Brady is more important to his team than Forte. While that may be a bummer for the Bears from an NFL perspective, it’s money for fantasy owners that have Forte. He’s been extraordinary and one of the best and consistent options at RB so far. With the receiving options continuing to be a hindrance to the team, expect a continued Forte-led offensive game plan from the Bears.

The fact that the Packers are ranked 6th in the league against the run is a direct result of them getting torched through the air. Teams have found success throwing the ball, so why run it, they ask. That will assuredly be the case this week. Forte will be all over the field and be a solid RB1 for owners this week.

Jay Cutler: 235 yards / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Johnny Knox: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
Devin Hester: 50 yards receiving
Roy Williams: 35 yards receiving
Matt Forte: 70 yards rushing / 55 yards receiving / 1 rushing TD

Prediction: Packers 17, Bears 14 ^ Top