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Inside the Matchup
Week 3

By: Bill Andereson | Brian Thorne | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith

KC @ PHI | JAx @ SEA | IND @ SF | OAK @ DEN



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 6 2 75.0
2 Smith 6 2 75.0
2 Thorne 5 3 62.5
4 Caron 5 3 62.5

Chiefs at Eagles - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Only two teams have yet to commit a turnover this season and one of them is the Kansas City Chiefs (other is Tennessee Titans). The plan for QB Alex Smith involves good decision-making and game management and so far he’s delivered beautifully in guiding the Chiefs to a 2-0 start. He has also led his team to a touchdown on all five of their red zone appearances, four of which were TD passes. Smith averages roughly 200 yards passing and two touchdowns per game with a 60% completion rate; he’s not blowing anyone away with those numbers but he is efficient, protects the football, and continues to put his team in a position to win. The top targets in Kansas City are WR Dwayne Bowe and RB Jamaal Charles but Smith has done well to spread the ball around to at least six other receivers. Defenses that prey on mistakes, such as Dallas in game two, will be disappointed against the Chiefs.

The Kansas City offense doesn’t throw interceptions and the Philadelphia defense doesn’t create any unless the opposing quarterback makes a serious mistake, so on paper the Chiefs passing game should be in good shape on tonight. The Eagles surrendered over 325 yards to a rusty and out-of-sync Robert Griffin III and over 400 yards to Philip Rivers in consecutive weeks. Smith doesn’t throw as frequently as either of those two QBs but he should expect to see just as much success as they did. Philadelphia hasn’t been able to generate much of a pass rush and the Kansas City offensive line has done a reasonable job keeping Smith upright. Look for all of these trends to continue into week three as the Eagles have shown no signs of improvement defensively and the Chiefs continue to play mistake-free.

Running Game Thoughts: Similar to the passing game, the Chiefs rushing attack has been statistically underwhelming but has also been equally free of turnovers. Unlike the player throwing the ball though the man at the middle of the running game is a star with phenomenal potential, so the mediocre numbers on the ground come almost as a disappointment. RB Jamaal Charles has yet to record a gain over 20 yards though he’s had several plays which have gained 15-18. He has recorded back-to-back games with 16 carries in addition to several touches in the passing game. While he isn’t turning in big games or busting off huge gains he is staying fresh and healthy and not being asked to shoulder the load for Kansas City. As defenses begin to respect the passing attach more, Charles will see additional opportunities on the ground and will be able to take advantage of those holes thanks to the way he is being managed in the Chiefs game plan.

By default, the area of defensive strength for the Eagles is against the rush. In each of the first two games they’ve allowed an average of 4.1 yards per rush, though considering the sieve-like quality to the secondary, this should be considered an excellent mark. With so much attention paid to the Eagles new offense it is often overlooked that they are extremely poor on defense. Kansas City was able to rush reasonably well against Dallas, even if half of their rushing yards did come from Smith, and they should expect to see even more success against the suspect Eagles defense. The most significant difference between the Chiefs and the prior two Philadelphia opponents is the lack of an established tight end as an additional passing threat to keep the defense balanced, though based on performances from the first two weeks it is hard to imagine that any sort of change could possibly work out in favor of the Eagles.

Alex Smith: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs / 40 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 130 rush yds, 1 TD / 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Bowe: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The good news for Philadelphia is that the new offense works spectacularly and when run optimally, it is almost a thing of beauty. The bad news is that no matter how many points they score they’re going to have a hard time putting up more points than their defense gives up. But for now, focus on the good news. After the week one victory Coach Kelly expressed displeasure in the speed of the game and in week two the Eagles got plays off roughly five seconds quicker than the week before. It was a personal best day for QB Michael Vick who threw for 428 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The top receiver is far and away WR DeSean Jackson who had another monster game, recording nine catches for 193 yards and a touchdown. The combination of player speed, quick decisions, creative movement, and rapid play calling have made it nearly impossible for defenses to disrupt the Vick to Jackson connection. As if that weren’t enough, RB LeSean McCoy erupted for a career high 114 receiving yards out of the backfield on five catches, including a 70 catch and run. As predicted, teams still don’t have an answer for the Eagles up-tempo offense.

Vick and Jackson have to be chomping at the bit heading into Thursday after the Chiefs surrendered nine catches for 141 yards and a touchdown to WR Dez Bryant in Week 2. He did the majority of his damage in the first half but until significant adjustments were made there seemed to be no stopping the star receiver. Jackson isn’t the physical presence that Bryant is but he is lightning quick to make up for it. Kansas City Coach Andy Reid is familiar with Vick and Jackson from his time as the Eagles head coach, but under the new Chip Kelly system I’m not sure how much good that prior experience will be to the Chiefs. The matchup to watch for will be the pass rush of Kansas City against the offensive line of Philadelphia; through two games the Chiefs have recorded nine sacks and the Eagles have only surrendered four. The ability (or inability) to pressure the QB will go a long way to dictate the success that Vick will (or won’t) have.

Running Game Thoughts: At the risk of meaningless over-generalization, Philadelphia is a better team when they run the ball effectively. Comparing the rushing statistics from games one and two confirms this assessment, whereas in the victory they averaged 5.4 yards per carry and totaled over 260 yards on the ground and in defeat they averaged 4.5 yards per carry and gained less than 90 yards rushing. The Eagles defense isn’t good enough to succeed with an average or slightly better-than-average rushing attack; it needs a stellar run game to be able to stand a fighting chance of earning the win. McCoy has all the physical tools needed to propel the Eagles ground game to greatness but he needs to be given the opportunity to do so. He only saw 11 carries in the game two loss and despite the number of receptions he has it is imperative that he carry the ball frequently. A more substantial rushing attack will also give the defense a chance to rest. The only thing worse than a bad defense is a bad defense that is tired; McCoy is the answer to that problem.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia on Sunday they’ll face one of the top rushing defenses of the early 2013 season. Kansas City has allowed only two rushes of 10 yards or greater, held RB Maurice Jones-Drew below 50 yards, and didn’t permit 40 yards to the entire Cowboys team. Additionally, on the longest run they allowed the Chiefs forced a fumble so the play resulted in a net gain for the defense because of the turnover. Compared to those two teams however the Eagles ought to have a better, or at least less injured, offensive line and thus should stand a better chance of being able to make something work on the ground. The Chip Kelly offense is built around running the ball and the plethora of options that opens up, facing the strength of the Chiefs run defense will be the first true test to the new system.

Michael Vick: 220 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 30 rush yds, 1 fumble
LeSean McCoy: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 40 rec yds, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 100 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Chiefs 27, Eagles 24 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chad Henne Project didn’t fare much better than the Blaine Gabbert Project last week as the Jaguars were once again trounced, this time on the road in Oakland by a final score of 19-9. Through the first two games of the season, the Raiders have scored just 11 total points: one safety, one field goal and one garbage-time touchdown (which they then failed to convert a two-point conversion). To say that things have gotten off to a horrendous start for Jacksonville would be an understatement. The only player in the entire offense who has performed even close to par so far has been wide receiver Cecil Shorts, who caught eight passes for 93 yards in Week 2. Until Justin Blackmon returns, Shorts is the only player in the passing game who should even be considered for fantasy purposes.

There might not be a worse offense-versus-defense matchup this season than the Jaguars offense against the Seahawks—one of the league’s best secondaries—in Seattle. This gigantic, physical group of corners and safeties shut down opposing passing games a season ago when they averaged allowing just 10.2 fantasy points per game to opposing QB’s. They’re already off to a great start in 2013, having allowed just 252 yards passing so far this season with one touchdown while forcing three interceptions. As said above, the only player worth any fantasy consideration for the Jaguars passing game is Cecil Shorts. Even then, he will almost certainly be blanketed all day by Richard Sherman, so temper your expectations.

Running Game Thoughts: As bad as their passing game has been in recent seasons, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has somehow remained productive. But through two weeks so far in 2013, it looks as if the lack of production around him, combined with a multitude of injuries, might have finally caught up to him. Jones-Drew has rushed for just 72 yards this season and hasn’t done much as a receiver. Not only that, he hasn’t been able to get into the end zone and given how bad the Jaguars offense as a whole has been, it’s hard to believe that he’ll have many opportunities this season.

Jones-Drew is, at best, an RB3 this week against a very good Seattle defense. The Seahawks have allowed just 109 yards on the ground to running backs so far this year and have yet to allow a touchdown to the position. With the Jaguars unlikely to be able to keep up with the Seattle offense, it seems very possible that they will be passing for most of the afternoon. Worse yet, Jones-Drew has missed time in practice this week and we still don’t know if he’s going to be ready to suit up this week. If he doesn’t play, it is likely that backups Jordan Todman and Justin Forsett will split snaps, effectively making them completely useless.

Chad Henne: 160 pass yds, 1 INT
Maurice Jones-Drew: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It hasn’t been a great start to the season for second-year starter Russell Wilson who has thrown just two touchdowns in two games so far. It’s hard to blame him for lack of production against a very good 49ers defense a week ago and the fact that the team is 2-0 has kept Wilson from getting much heat from the media, but fantasy owners should be a little worried. One of the better running QB’s in the league, Wilson hasn’t been particularly effective with his feet either, having rushed for just 40 yards so far. What’s been even more frustrating for fantasy owners is the complete disappearance of Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, who have combined for just eight catches for 118 yards and no touchdowns. In fact, the team’s most productive receiver has been Doug Baldwin, who himself has eight catches for 142 yards, including a big 51-yard catch a week ago against the 49ers. None of these receivers is too enticing in fantasy at the moment and until we start to see Wilson key in on one receiver more than the others, it will probably remain that way.

Jacksonville has been awful on offense so far this year, but their defense has actually been pretty good. While they’ve gone against two weak passing attacks in Kansas City and Oakland, the fact that they’ve allowed just 299 yards passing in two games has to be considered a big win for the defense. In Week 3, they’ll have to try to stop a mobile quarterback who can also throw the ball, in Russell Wilson. We have to assume that Wilson will be more effective than Terrelle Pryor was a week ago, but given the fact that this game could be out of control by the end of the first half and the Seahawks are known for running the clock out with their rushing attack, Wilson’s attempts could be limited in this one. He’s unlikely to drop a terrible game on you, but a big game from the Seattle quarterback might be asking a bit much.

Running Game Thoughts: After a mediocre Week 1 caused some fantasy owners to panic on running back Marshawn Lynch, those concerns were put to rest in Week 2 when he went “beast mode” for 135 total yards and two touchdowns, one as a runner and one as a receiver. The Seahawks got up on the 49ers early and in typical Seahawks fashion, they smashed their way to a victory on the back of Lynch who touched the ball 31 times. Lynch isn’t always going to have these huge games, but he is about as consistent of a runner as it gets. Since Week 7 of the 2012 season, Lynch has only missed hitting double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) twice.

Look for that number to continue in Week 3 as Lynch will be up against a Jacksonville defense that will likely spend a lot of the day on the field. Although they’ve played better than these numbers indicate, the Jaguars have struggled to shut down opposing running backs so far this season. They’ve already allowed 273 yards on the ground, 108 yards receiving and two scores to opposing running backs this season, making them one of the worst statistical run defenses in the league. Lynch will be licking his chops on this matchup and provided that the game doesn’t get so out of control that the Seahawks begin playing their backups. There is real possibility that Lynch touches the ball more times than any other running back in Week 3. We’ve seen Robert Turbin get a few touches but this is still the Marshawn Lynch show and he could put up monster numbers against this Jaguars defense.

Russell Wilson: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 15 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 135 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds
Golden Tate: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Jaguars 6 ^ Top

Colts @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: One of the most highly touted quarterback prospects of the past 20 years, Andrew Luck is really starting to come into his own in his second season as a pro. Luck has thrown for nearly 500 yards with three touchdowns and only one interception thus far, also adding 76 yards and a touchdown as a runner. Luck’s top receiver, Reggie Wayne, had a weak performance in Week 2, but big days from T.Y. Hilton and tight end Coby Fleener helped make up for that as the two of them combined for nearly 200 yards against the Dolphins. Hilton is one of the league’s emerging deep threats and could be having a huge year right now if it wasn’t for a few mis-throws from Luck in Week 1. Rumors of Darrius Heyward-Bey overtaking him as the second-best option in the Colts offense have been greatly exaggerated as the former Raiders first round pick has just 43 yards receiving thus far in 2013.

This week Luck will face what will likely be the toughest matchup he will be up against all season as he and the Colts travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers. San Francisco is excellent everywhere on defense, but their secondary isn’t quite as good as their front seven. Aaron Rodgers attacked them for 333 yards and three touchdowns through the air in Week 1. While they were significantly better in Week 2 when they held Russell Wilson to just 142 yards and one touchdown, those numbers were a bit skewed considering how far up Seattle was in the second half, thus they didn’t need to throw the ball much. The skills of Andrew Luck, combined with the weapons he has at his disposal, make him a threat to put up 300+ yards every week, even against good pass defenses like this. We don’t predict that he’ll quite get to that number, but don’t be scared off by a tough matchup. If you drafted Luck to be your starter, stick with him.

Running Game Thoughts: It has been an absolutely crazy week for the Colts as we learned on Wednesday afternoon that the team had traded their 2014 first round draft pick for the No. 3 pick of the 2012 NFL draft, running back Trent Richardson. The move caught the entire league by surprise as Richardson hasn’t gotten off to a great start in 2013, but did have a nice rookie campaign that saw him get into the end zone 12 times. Richardson will step in and immediately assume the role of the Colts’ primary runner with Vick Ballard having hit the IR and Ahmad Bradshaw’s failing to live up to expectations thus far. He is a dynamic, playmaking runner who can also produce at a high level as a receiver out of the backfield; something that Bradshaw has failed to do.

His first test in the new offense will be about as difficult as it gets as he will be up against a San Francisco 49ers run defense that allowed the second-fewest amount of fantasy points to opposing running backs a season ago. They have been beaten up a bit on the ground, allowing a total of four touchdowns to opposing running backs already through two games this year, but one has to expect that trend won’t continue. The biggest question in this matchup may be how much Richardson will play in his first game on the team. He will be learning an entirely new playbook with new assignments in pass protection, which could limit him to being mostly a first and second down contributor until he gets the offense down. This might be more of a 60/40 split to start with Bradshaw still seeing significant snaps, but don’t bank on Bradshaw being much of a fantasy producer, at least this week. He has not been great in his limited work as the Colts’ primary back and trusting him against a very good San Francisco run defense isn’t worth it.

Andrew Luck: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Trent Richardson: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 30 rush yds
T.Y. Hilton: 80 rec yds
Reggie Wayne: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 25 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 20 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: A magnificent Week 1 performance followed by a disappointing Week 2 performance helps highlight what can oftentimes be the frustrations of owning a young quarterback like Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three scores and no picks in Week 1, but flipped those stats upside down in Week 2 when he threw for just 127 yards with no touchdowns and three picks against the Seahawks. Not only did Kaepernick struggle against Seattle, but so did his receivers. After a ridiculous Week 1 in his new home of San Francisco where he caught 13 passes for 208 yards, Anquan Boldin was held to just one catch for 7 yards in Week 2. It was an embarrassing performance all around for the 49ers and one which they will look to bounce back from as they head back home in Week 3.

Kaepernick owners shouldn’t panic too much after his Week 2 line. He has traditionally struggled so far in his career against Seattle, as many quarterbacks do, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t bounce back against the Colts this weekend. Indianapolis has allowed 536 yards through the air already this year against the likes of Ryan Tannehill and Terrelle Pryor. What’s probably more intriguing for Kaepernick owners, however, is that the team looked completely overmatched when trying to stop Pryor as a runner. The third-year quarterback roasted the Colts, nearly single-handedly causing a Week 1 upset, when he tacked on 112 yards on the ground to his 217 passing yards. Kaepernick looked a little reluctant to run in Week 1 against Green Bay, but saved his fantasy owners from what could have been negative points at their quarterback position when he ran for 87 yards against the Seahawks a week ago. If the Colts don’t watch their assignments closely, Kaepernick could torture them all day both through the air and on the ground. Even if you feel burned by him based on what he did a week ago, I urge you to give Kaepernick another shot this week against Indianapolis.

Running Game Thoughts: We’ve been hearing about the inevitable collapse of Frank Gore for years now, but until 2013, we hadn’t really seen many signs of it. Now in his 9th NFL season, however, it appears that Gore may finally be hitting the wall. Disappointed fantasy owners have watched him run for just 60 yards so far this season and with only three receptions, he hasn’t been doing much for PPR formats either. It’s hard to believe that he would have fallen off so harshly, so quickly, but we’ve seen it time after time with these running backs who get to around 30 years old and lose that extra burst that made them great. Gore saw the field on roughly 70% of the team’s snaps a week ago, with Kendall Hunter seeing the field on the majority of the other snaps, so there’s no reason to think that a change is coming at running back, but if he doesn’t begin to produce, San Francisco might have to start looking elsewhere.

He’ll have a chance to get things going in Week 3 as he’ll be up against one of the worst run defenses in the league from a season ago. The Colts allowed the third-most rushing yards against them and with nearly a touchdown per game average on the ground allowed to opposing running backs, they were a fantasy dream in 2012. They have played better so far on defense in 2013, but they’ve also been up against Oakland and Miami, who do not have great offensive lines. Still, they have allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back in each of those two games, leaving open the possibility that Gore might be able to make it three in a row. If he throws up another stinker this week, fantasy owners should begin to get very worried about a guy who they expected to be a solid, week-to-week RB2. This is the kind of matchup that he can and should produce respectable numbers in.

Colin Kaepernick: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 60 rush yds, 1 TD
Frank Gore: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 80 rec yds
Kyle Williams: 30 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 30, Colts 24 ^ Top

Raiders @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Much like other run-first quarterbacks, there are going to be up and down weeks for Terrelle Pryor. Week 2 was definitely “down” as Pryor passed for just 126 yards and no touchdowns against a bad Jacksonville team in a blowout win. He did add 50 yards as a runner, but it wasn’t quite enough to make him a quality fantasy starter. Of course, the success that Oakland had with its power running attack made for fewer opportunities for Pryor who threw the ball just 24 times on the day, but fantasy owners can’t really expect that the Raiders are going to win many blowouts. We still haven’t seen any receiver get comfortable with Pryor quite yet. It looked as if Denarius Moore might be the receiver to own in this offense after he caught five passes and a touchdown in Week 1, but he was held without a catch in Week 2. Rod Streater does have eight catches so far on the year including five in Week 1 and three in Week 2, but you’d really need to be digging deep to consider putting him in your lineup.

As of right now, the only player who appears to be a worthwhile fantasy option in this passing game is Pryor himself, whose owners shouldn’t have to worry about his team getting up multiple scores and then not passing the ball. Pryor and the Raiders will head into Denver on Monday night, in what could be one of the most lopsided games we see all season. With Denver’s offense clicking as well as it is, they should be lighting up the scoreboard, leaving Pryor plenty of opportunities to pick up those always valuable “garbage time” fantasy points. Despite winning each of their first two games by multiple scores, the Broncos conceded exactly 362 passing yards to both Joe Flacco and Eli Manning. Then again, they’ve also forced twice as many interceptions (6) as they’ve allowed touchdowns (3) through the air, so Pryor’s numbers might take a bit of a hit if he can’t keep the ball under control. Still, Pryor is an interesting fantasy option this week as he will almost certainly contribute something as a runner and could also put up some nice numbers as a passer.

Running Game Thoughts: The return to a power running scheme has already paid off for the Oakland Raiders and owners of running back Darren McFadden. McFadden blew up in Week 2, rushing for 129 yards and adding 28 more as a receiver in his team’s win over the Jaguars. He looked like his old self as he found the holes in the defense and ran through them time and time again. He is also being used more in the passing game both as a check-down in the passing game and as a straight up wide receiver. He nearly made an amazing catch down the field in the corner of the end zone in Week 1, but the pass was just off target. Rashad Jennings did get involved as he rushed for 32 yards in Week 2, but fantasy owners need not be worried. McFadden is the focal point of this offense and as long as he touches the ball, he should produce decent enough fantasy points to be considered a solid RB2 or low-end RB1 almost every week.

The question for Week 3 will be how many touches McFadden will get in what could very well be an ugly, blowout loss to the Broncos. Denver has allowed just 81 rushing yards on 40 carries against them this amazing number for a team that is without Von Miller, one of their best defensive players. Yes, the Broncos have allowed four total touchdowns to running backs in their two games against Baltimore and New York, but that’s not really something that McFadden owners should be banking on. While he is an extremely skilled player, McFadden has never been much of a touchdown scorer. He has only scored more than five total touchdowns in a season once in his entire career. It is worth noting, however, that he has scored more than twice as many touchdowns against the Broncos (7) than any other team he has faced throughout his career. If you have him rostered, you probably need to have him in your lineup this week against Denver. Just don’t be too surprised if he barely surpasses single digits in terms of total touches.

Terrelle Pryor: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 50 rush yds
Darren McFadden: 40 rush yds, 1 TD, 50 rec yds
Rod Streater: 60 rush yds
Denarius Moore: 70 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: With nine touchdown passes and 769 passing yards in just two games, Peyton Manning is well on his way to winning his NFL record fifth league MVP award. Denver looks to be the class of the AFC and their offense looks almost completely unstoppable. The addition of Wes Welker and the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas, who have combined to catch six of Manning’s nine touchdown passes, have bolstered what was already one of the league’s best passing attacks a season ago. There was some worry as to Eric Decker’s role in the offense after a two-catch performance in Week 1, but Decker showed up in Week 2, catching a team-high nine passes on 13 targets, for 87 yards. There will likely be weeks where one or two of these players, including Demaryius Thomas, could seem to disappear. But rest assured that Peyton Manning is going to make it up to them when he gets the opportunity.

In Week 3, Manning will be up against an Oakland Raiders secondary that is among the very worst in the league. After getting abused for three total touchdowns by Andrew Luck in Week 1, the Raiders just got done allowing 241 yards and a touchdown to Jacksonville’s Chad Henne a week ago and have still not forced an interception. That trend will very likely continue this week as they go up against a future first ballot Hall of Famer and a player who recently tied the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single game. Manning dominated the Raiders last year in his two games against them, throwing for over 300 yards in both contests with four total touchdowns and only one interception. There is some concern that Manning will be under more pressure given the injury to Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, but Manning gets rid of the ball so quickly that it’s hard to imagine that being a regular problem. The biggest question about Manning’s production against Oakland on Monday night is probably more about when the Broncos will call off the dogs. This game shouldn’t be close, so Manning could be handing the ball off a lot in the second half. Still, he will likely put up enough fantasy points in limited work to make him worth a start in any format.

Running Game Thoughts: The running back controversy in Denver appears to be getting clearer in Denver after a nice performance by Knowshon Moreno a week ago. Ronnie Hillman was deemed the team’s “starter” going into the year, but has already fallen completely off the face of the planet as he saw the field for only two snaps during Denver’s blowout win over the Giants in Week 2. Instead it was Knowshon Moreno who saw nearly 60% of the team’s snaps as a running back, with rookie Montee Ball spelling him about 40% of the time. What they did with their opportunities was the real story as Ball rushed for just 14 yards on 12 carries with a fumble. Meanwhile, Moreno had one of his best games as a pro, rushing for 93 yards on 13 carries, including two nice touchdown runs. Moreno appears to be the team’s most trusted runner and given his production compared to Ball’s, it’d be hard to blame the coaching staff if they ended up giving Moreno more than 70% of the snaps in Week 3.

Given the possibility of the game getting out of control early, Moreno should see plenty of action against the Raiders on Monday night. As crazy as it might sound, Oakland has actually been great against the run so far this season. They’ve allowed only 123 yards on 36 carries against them, but they’ve also not allowed a single touchdown to an opposing running back yet this season. There might be something to the new defense starting to play together as a unit, but it’d be very tough to believe that they can sustain this kind of stonewall defense all year. Oakland allowed exactly 2,400 total yards and 16 touchdowns to opposing running backs in 2012, making them the fifth-worst defense in fantasy points allowed to the position. In two games against the Broncos in 2012, they allowed a total of 413 total yards and three touchdowns to running backs. Moreno himself put up 167 yards and one of those touchdowns in their Week 14 contest alone. Some might worry about Moreno conceding touches to Montee Ball or even Ronnie Hillman, but he should continue to see the lion’s share of the carries as long as he doesn’t put the ball on the ground. Start him with confidence this week as a RB2.

Peyton Manning: 265 pass yds, 3 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 110 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Montee Ball: 40 rush yds
Demaryius Thomas: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 70 rec yds
Julius Thomas: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 41, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Rams at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: The offseason buying spree has paid off so far for St. Louis despite their having a 1-1 record. Two major deficiencies from 2012 have dramatically improved, with pass protection and receiving weapons both making statements through two games this season. The Rams have yet to surrender a sack, partly because of the presence and play of left tackle Jake Long. At tight end, free agent acquisition Jared Cook has over 150 yards and two touchdowns, and at wide receiver, first-round pick Tavon Austin also has two touchdowns to go along with almost 90 yards. The organization believes in quarterback Sam Bradford, and their faith in him is paying off, as he’s averaging a 64 percent completion rate and more than 325 yards per game. He has thrown two interceptions, though neither have come from a defensive back, so it appears he is not forcing bad throws into coverage. This may be the first year that Bradford truly lives up to his billing as a No. 1 overall draft pick.

The Cowboys are best described as having an opportunistic defense. Against the Giants they benefitted from three interceptions, most (if not all) of which could be attributed to bad throws from the quarterback. Against Kansas City and a less gifted quarterback, the Dallas secondary was unable to force any interceptions, clearly not able to capitalize on the conservative game plan of the Chiefs offense. Dallas has injury concerns along the defensive line, a gifted set of linebackers, and an athletic but unproven secondary. Despite those three interceptions, on top of three more fumbles, the Cowboys gave up 450 passing yards to New York and allowed three different receivers to record more than 100 yards each. As a unit the Cowboys have recorded seven sacks this season, and they continue to improve under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. But if Bradford and the Rams are able to avoid mistakes, St. Louis should overmatch the Dallas defense through the air as the new playmakers continue to demonstrate their value to the team.

Running Game Thoughts: For all of the preseason talk about a backfield committee, Daryl Richardson sure has handled the lion’s share of carries for St. Louis; his 30 carries for 98 yards are more than the rest of the team combined (12 carries for 38 yards on rushes from five other players). Both the team and Richardson average approximately 3.2 yards per attempt, ranking them in the bottom third of the league in that particular category. They’re also one of only nine teams to have not scored a rushing touchdown in either of their first two games. Clearly the emphasis has been placed on bolstering the passing game, in addition to maintaining their steadfast defense, but if the Rams are able to become an assertive rushing threat, they will be one of the most complete teams in the league. Without that running presence, however, opposing defenses can key on their receivers and attempt to limit offensive production that way, since St. Louis has yet to capitalize on opportunities in the ground game.

For all of their defensive insufficiencies Dallas has done reasonably well against the run, holding running back Jamaal Charles to only 55 yards on 16 carries and limiting the entire Giants team to 50 yards on 14 attempts. Their biggest vulnerability appears to be against an opportunistic quarterback who can gain 10-15 yards on a scramble when the field opens up in front of him. Bradford has shown this ability at times so if the defense is caught chasing receivers the Rams quarterback may make them pay for it. The rest of the running game isn’t likely to be particularly successful, as the weakness of the St. Louis offense is going against the strength of the Dallas defense. On Sunday the Rams will need to run enough that the play action pass fake looks legitimate, keeping the Cowboys honest , but beyond that gamesmanship, not much effort should be poured into pounding the ball on the ground when there will be so many openings through the air.

Sam Bradford: 330 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Daryl Richardson: 50 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 70 rec yds, 1 TD / 20 rush yds
Jared Cook: 100 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite completing more than 71 percent of his passes and connecting on at least 30 attempts in each of the first two games, Tony Romo has yet to surpass the 300-yard mark this season and has only recorded three total touchdowns along with one interception. These numbers are hard to believe when you consider that Dallas has one of the league’s premier receivers in Dez Bryant, along with Jason Witten, one of the most prolific tight ends in NFL history. Ultimately it comes down to pass protection, and in that area the Cowboys are not a gifted team. In all, they’ve surrendered five sacks, roughly average for the league, but the game plan has included a majority of short, quick passing routes so the offensive line is not asked to block for very long. So far the pass protection is working fairly well, but the yardage and points aren’t reflecting it, and even if the sack numbers aren’t a problem, Romo is taking hits much like he was last year. He’s already been taken out of one game (very briefly) because of a hit and played through rib/chest discomfort in Week 2 that was a direct result of the beating he took in Week 1.

Romo will need to be prepared for a third game in a row of pressures, hits, and sacks when he faces off against the Rams and their talented pass rushers; the St. Louis front seven has recorded six sacks already this season. On the back end, however, they give up a completion rate of over 70 percent and more than 330 yards per game through the air. When the Rams aren’t recording sacks or forcing turnovers, they’re probably getting beaten in pass coverage and surrendering large chunks of yardage. The strength of Dallas is their pass catchers and the quarterback throwing to them, and they should see good production against the St. Louis secondary on Sunday. Unfortunately the weakness along the offensive line will be challenged frequently by the talented D-line and linebackers, so the outcome of the game will likely depend on the Cowboys protecting Romo and giving him time to throw downfield, an area where they’ve already struggled.

Running Game Thoughts: Compared to their opponent, Dallas may actually have an advantage on the ground this week, though statistically they trail just behind the Rams in that area. The Cowboys are averaging only 62 rushing yards per game, putting them in the bottom third of NFL teams. The offensive line is mostly to blame for this, as injuries and inexperience have made it difficult to establish substantial running lanes. Some of the futility can also be attributed to play calling, as Dallas has run only 39 rushing plays, nearly 13 fewer than the league average. Through two games, running back DeMarco Murray has stayed healthy, which has traditionally been the knock on him, as his physical talents and playmaking abilities have never been cause for concern. As linemen recover and become active again, the Dallas running game should improve, and if Murray can avoid the injury report, the Cowboys will improve statistically.

Much like their opponent, Dallas faces a difficult task along the line of scrimmage, especially with respect to a rushing attack. St. Louis ranks near the top of the league in both yards allowed and in yards per carry, two areas where the Cowboys certainly struggle already. Against Atlanta last week the Rams gave up just one rushing yard in the first half, held Steven Jackson to zero yards (3 carries), and surrendered a meager 2.3 yards per carry throughout the entire contest. The silver lining to this gloomy cloud is that Dallas has a more dynamic playmaker than the Rams have faced so far this season, so if the offensive line is able to get any traction, Murray may have the chance to do something special.

Tony Romo: 260 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
DeMarco Murray: 40 rush yds / 40 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Miles Austin: 40 rec yds
Jason Witten: 70 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Rams 24, Cowboys 23 ^ Top

Buccaneers at Patriots - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Word around the water cooler is that quarterback Josh Freeman is looking to be traded, though both he and the team deny that report. The bigger issue, however, is his performance on the field, not the rumors off of it. His best game so far was Week 1, where he threw for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception on less than a 50 percent completion rate. Week 2 was significantly worse, with 80 fewer yards, one more turnover, and less than 41 percent passing. Both of those games resulted in last-minute losses and were marred by personal foul penalties, but the utter futility from Freeman is the most glaring concern for Tampa Bay. The only marginally positive thing is that he hasn’t thrown more interceptions or committed more fumbles. He needs a bounce-back game in a big way on the road this Sunday. Primary receiver Vincent Jackson continues to be the lone bright spot in the passing game, accounting for 231 (69%) of Freeman’s 335 passing yards, 12 of his 24 completions, and 24 targets of Freeman's 53 total passes , including throw-aways.

Statistically the Patriots have put forth a top four defense against the pass in terms of yardage and touchdowns. This may be more of a reflection on their competition than their defense, though, as they’ve faced two rookie quarterbacks and a pair of offenses that aren’t particularly overpowering. Given the mistakes made against them New England has capitalized on the opportunities presented by those quarterbacks, but with few exceptions they have not manufactured their own turnovers or defensive stops. Against the Bills they did not record a sack, but in Week 2 they were able to get to Geno Smith on four separate occasions, in addition to a number of other pressures and hurries. Tampa Bay, by virtue of not having a rookie signal caller, is in a better offensive situation than either of New England’s first two opponents, but without noticeable improvement from Freeman, radically different results would come only as a surprise.

Running Game Thoughts: Tampa Bay's best offensive lineman, guard Carl Nicks, has yet to play this season (foot), and Doug Martin has still managed to gain the second most rushing yards of any running back in the league, with 104 yards per game. His average isn’t great (3.9 yards per carry) and he’s scored only one touchdown, but the Buccaneers are committed to running the ball and giving him ample opportunities to be the centerpiece of the offense. The return of Nicks, whenever that may be, will only improve his production, but in the meantime Martin will continue to find running lanes behind whoever is there blocking for him. Even without the Pro Bowl guard, Tampa Bay was able to find decent success against a stout Jets front seven in the opening game, and last week they took advantage of the weaknesses in the New Orleans defense to allow Martin to rush for over 140 yards on 29 touches.

New England ranks as one of the league’s worst rushing defenses, allowing over 130 yards per game; in two games they’ve allowed four rushers to gain more than 40 yards a piece on the ground, two in each game. The Patriots defense is designed to be best when playing with a lead, when teams are forced to throw more and give up on the running game. Against a balanced attack, the pass rushers can’t key on the quarterback and have the tendency to get beat by moderate offensive lines as they run block and open up generous lanes for the ball carrier. On Sunday I expect to see Tampa Bay once again lean heavily on the running game and for Martin to tear up the defense with relative ease. If his team is able to string together several drives, he could be looking at a career day, and even if they continue to be stagnant offensively, he should still be able to turn in a very reasonable triple-digit yardage performance.

Josh Freeman: 150 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Doug Martin: 130 rushing / 30 rec yds
Vincent Jackson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Through two games, the Patriots offense has struggled mightily without its full complement of receiving options. Most notably, tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to play, and wide receiver Danny Amendola re-aggravated his groin in the middle of the first game and was then forced to miss Week two. Also, running back Shane Vereen broke his wrist in the first game and is out until Week 11. Their absences leave behind a pair of rookie receivers and Julian Edelman as the only true pass catchers in New England, though to be fair, only Edelman is doing any appreciable pass catching. Through two games, the rookies have combined for nine receptions on 31 targets (29%) for 145 yards and a touchdown, and if you exclude a woefully blown coverage against the Jets (39-yd TD pass) the numbers are even worse. Without experienced receivers around him, Tom Brady can only do so much, but as the health of Gronkowski (doubtful for Week 3) and Amendola (questionable) improve, so too should the Patriots offense. Lost in the drama surrounding his inexperienced receiving corps is the observation that Brady hasn’t been as deadly accurate as he has is traditionally known to be. Whether or not that improves could be the difference between a Super Bowl run and an early exit from the playoffs.

Compared to last season, having an average pass defense would be a vast improvement for Tampa Bay, and through the first two weeks of the 2013 season, they’ve managed to be just that, average. In yards allowed, yards per attempt, completion percentage, touchdowns allowed, and interceptions forced they’re hovering right around the middle of the pack thanks in large part to offseason acquisitions and rookies who have contributed immediately. Normally an average defense wouldn’t stand a chance against Brady and the New England passing attack, but so far the Patriots have been anything but their normal selves, so being average this Sunday may be just enough to give New England a run for their money. The Buccaneers are coming off of a game in New Orleans where they gave up a late drive to Drew Brees. And despite knowing that he was going to pass, they were unable to do anything to prevent their own defeat. If this week comes down to the Patriots' last possession, regardless of how the rest of the game has gone, optimism should be kept in check concerning the Buccaneers' ability to stop Brady from engineering a victory-clinching drive for New England.

Running Game Thoughts: At this point in the season it’s hard to feel confident in the identity of the New England rushing attack. Opening weekend saw starter Stevan Ridley benched because of fumbles and Shane Vereen go off for 101 yards on the ground plus another 58 through the air against a weak Buffalo defense. But Vereen broke his wrist, so Week 2 against the Jets put Ridley back in the driver’s seat, but he managed only 40 yards on 16 carries against a stout defense in sloppy weather. Like the rest of the offense, the running game suffers from the absence of the star receivers because continuity is broken and defenses are better able to stay balanced against both phases of the attack. Despite having Brady under center, the past several years have seen the Patriots become an effective rushing team, and there is reason to believe they will once again be that when Gronkowski and Amendola can both play a full game together.

Of all the teams to face while having issues with the running game, Tampa Bay may be one of the worst. Last season they were the league’s best rushing defense, and through two games of this season they don’t appear to have suffered any significant drop off. By the numbers, the Buccaneers defense and the Patriots offense are in the middle third of the league and therefore are expected to matchup fairly well, but unfortunately for New England, roughly 75 percent of their rushing production came in the season opener, and the leading rusher from that game (Vereen) is on Injured Reserve for the next two months. Ridley has technically been the starter in both games, but he has struggled with fumbles and ineffectiveness, though thankfully not at the same time. The Patriots will undoubtedly still run the ball and try to keep the Buccaneers defense balanced, but it is unlikely that they see particularly great gains on the ground.

Tom Brady: 250 pass yds, 2 TDs
Stevan Ridley: 50 rush yds / 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Julian Edelman: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 23, Buccaneers 10 ^ Top

Lions at Redskins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: In a Week 2 not lacking for storylines, the Detroit–Arizona duel in the desert lived up to its billing and the Lions aerial attack was on display early and often. Ultimately, Calvin Johnson would get the best of the Cardinals secondary even though he couldn’t lead his team to victory. The star receiver finished with his sixth career game of more than 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns, making six receptions on eight targets, including a fantastic 72-yard catch and run in which Matthew Stafford perfectly threaded the needle to get the ball into Johnson's hands. In all, Stafford has thrown for 630 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception through two weeks while only taking one sack and completing nearly 66 percent of his attempts. In training camp there were concerns about the quality of the offensive line, but clearly the unit is performing well enough to keep their quarterback upright and allow him to make plays. So far, the front-runner for the second wide receiver spot is far and away Nate Burleson, who has caught 13 of his 14 targets for a total of 123 yards. His emergence on the field and his leadership in the locker room are certainly a huge boost to Detroit.

If there is one thing Washington can’t do, it's defend against the pass. In consecutive weeks they’ve been burned by Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers for a total of 683 passing yards and six passing touchdowns while not recording an interception. In two games they’ve allowed three receivers to surpass 100 yards and allowed six different players to each record at least one gain of over 25 yards. Stafford and company should have a field day against the Redskins, and if the running back becomes actively involved in the passing game, Detroit could legitimately have three players go for 100 yards through the air. Washington has done well getting to the quarterback, coming up with seven sacks already this season, but despite the ability to create pressure, they’ve been little able to do much else.

Running Game Thoughts: The signing of running back Reggie Bush has been a great addition to the Lions. He gives them a great one-two punch when paired with Joique Bell, and there is the constant threat of Bush catching passes out of the backfield. Bush picked up a knee injury that limited him in Week 2, but Bell filled in nicely, so regardless of Bush's status against Washington, the Lions should be just fine. Despite the improvements in running the ball, Detroit mostly sees success through quantity, not quality, of their runs. As a team they rank 22nd in yards gained but 27th in yards per attempt. However, the primary utility of the running game is to give Stafford’s arm a rest and to prevent the defense from abandoning the run entirely. Because of the attention paid to their top wide receiver, most defenses aren’t stacking the box against Detroit, and with seven (or fewer) players focused on stopping the run, that will always give Bush or Bell the chance to take one the distance if they make it through the defensive line with a full head of steam.

Washington is only slightly better defending against the run than they are against the pass, but they’ve still surrendered over 400 yards through the first two games, including to the Packers' first 100-yard rusher in nearly three full seasons. They’re giving up an absurd 5.5 yards per rush, better than only one team in the league and considerably more than a full yard over the league average. In short, the Redskins have a few playmakers, but on the whole, they can be exploited through either phase of the offense. They frequently play from behind because of the inefficient offense and often find themselves out of position because they’re trying to manufacture a play rather than react to what they see in front of them. Whoever carries the ball for Detroit should expect to have a good game despite not getting many touches.

Matthew Stafford: 410 pass yds, 4 TDs
Reggie Bush: 40 rush yds / 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Joique Bell: 70 rush yds / 30 rec yds
Calvin Johnson: 130 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Looking only at statistics, it doesn’t appear that Robert Griffin III is particularly off his game, but after watching him play and noticing that the majority of his success comes late in the game after the outcome has already been decided, the opinion on his play begins to change. In two consecutive games, he’s gotten off to a particularly slow start, missing passes he didn’t last year, showing poor footwork as he prepares to throw, and generally lacking the quiet confidence that came from leading his team into the playoffs during his rookie season. Griffin doesn’t yet trust his surgically-repaired knee, and even though he physically has been cleared to play, there are still a number of mental obstacles he must overcome before returning to his full playing potential. He’s still managed to throw for over 320 yards in each game this season while also completing better than 61 percent of this throws. His five touchdown passes are tied for fifth best in the league, but his three interceptions has him tied for fourth worst. Expect more of the same going forward: a rollercoaster ride of success and shortcomings with inconsistency all along the way.

Sunday will go a long way in determining the outlook for Washington for the remainder of the year. The Lions have feasted on mistakes from opposing quarterbacks, forcing four interceptions while conceding only two touchdowns and giving up approximately 240 yards per game through the air. The biggest driver of their success is their defensive line, which is usually good enough to create pressure without sending extra rushers, therefore freeing up other defenders to drop into coverage or roll over the top of the biggest receiving threat. The best way to defeat the pass rush is to execute quick throws, but for the Redskins to be able to do that, their quarterback will have to trust his knee and fix his footwork.

Running Game Thoughts: When Griffin is healthy he is the ultimate dual treat quarterback, able to beat you from the pocket, scramble to keep plays alive, and burn you down the field when he decides to take off running. His presence usually commands the attention of one defender, if not two, and that allows his teammates to better take advantage of their matchups. The offensive line in Washington was credited with much of their success on the ground from last season when they opened up gaping holes for Alfred Morris on his way to a breakout rookie campaign. Against Green Bay, the line paved the way for Morris to gain 107 yards on only 13 carries, including a gain of over thirty yards. As Griffin better establishes himself as the run threat he was in 2012, Morris will continue to take advantage of his opportunities.

Excluding one rush from Adrian Peterson (a 78-yard touchdown) on his first touch of the season, the Lions have done well defending against the run. Against run-heavy Minnesota, they were able to limit the league’s best running back to one yard per carry after giving up that early touchdown. Week 2 against Arizona was less stellar but still good, and if Washington is able to reproduce some of what the Cardinals did previously, they’ll be in a position to run the ball with authority and disrupt the defensive plan. The Redskins offensive line matches up better than most will against the Detroit front four, so that leaves only the uninspiring linebackers between Morris and the open field. If Washington is able to control the line of scrimmage, that will not only open up massive gains on the ground but will also buy Griffin time in the pocket, thus allowing him to better execute his footwork and deliver strikes through the Lions secondary.

Robert Griffin III: 310 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Alfred Morris: 70 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 31, Redskins 21 ^ Top

Falcons at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s a good thing that wide receiver Julio Jones is insanely talented, because his presence alone is enough to unbalance a defense and create coverage issues. For Atlanta he was the only consistently open target in a game that saw wide receiver Roddy White continue to be limited (ankle), running back Steven Jackson go down (thigh), and tight end Tony Gonzalez be held to just 33 yards on four completions from eight targets. Jones tied a career high in receiving yards (184) and added a touchdown, accounting for big plays late in the game as the Falcons tried to run down the clock. Atlanta is currently sixth in passing yards per game, less than one yard behind New Orleans, and despite the acquisition of Jackson, they are still primarily a passing team. The largest area of concern is the offensive line, which in addition to giving up five sacks are also allowing far too much pressure to reach Matt Ryan, as he is frequently taking hits and being hurried in his throws. When protection holds up, the Falcons are one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL, but based on two games so far this season, it is hard to feel confident in their ability to keep Ryan upright.

In their most recent contest, Miami was able to limit the usually prolific Andrew Luck to 58 percent passing, but they were particularly disruptive on his longer attempts, where he was able to complete only seven of 20 throws longer than ten yards down field. While it is hard to see them limiting the Falcons in the same way, it does suggest that the vertical passing game may need to take a backseat to shorter throws and crossing routes. Miami is holding opponents to a little more than 300 yards passing per game, but Atlanta ought to be able to surpass that based on the weapons they have at their disposal and compared to the competition the Dolphins have faced recently. The matchup to watch will be the front seven of Miami against the offensive line of Atlanta plus Gonzalez. The veteran tight end may be the great equalizer, as he can block effectively as well as being one of the best receivers from that position. On paper the defensive line and linebackers ought to have the advantage here.

Running Game Thoughts: Veteran running back Steven Jackson has been ruled out for the game on Sunday, meaning Jason Snelling is the likely replacement, though Jacquizz Rodgers will certainly see touches as well. If previous games are any indication, there’s reason to suggest that abandoning the run altogether might be a good idea, as even with Jackson they ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of yards gained. Outside of one 50-yard rush (Jackson) against the mediocre Saints defense, there has been little production and a per-carry average of only 2.5 yards. Just as the O-line struggles in pass protection, so too do they have problems creating running lanes. Previously, they’ve had problems with rushing in the red zone, which nearly directly led to the acquisition of Jackson, but without improvement across the offensive line, not even an All-Pro running back can make up for those deficiencies. With Jackson out for Week 3, the rushing outlook is bleak.

Miami has gotten out to an early lead in each of their first two games and are tied for fewest rushing attempts against in the NFL. In the back-and-forth game against Indianapolis in Week 2, they saw exactly twice as many rush attempts than they had the previous week (26 vs. 13) and gave up 133 yards on the ground. A large chunk of those came from quarterback scrambles, but even excluding those, they surrendered an average of 4.3 yards per attempt. The Dolphins defensive front is built to rush the passer and drop into coverage, but the absence of Jackson will make it hard for Atlanta to take advantage of that potential opportunity. Other than out of necessity, I wouldn’t expect to see many runs on Sunday.

Matt Ryan: 330 pass yds, 2 TDs
Jason Snelling: 40 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Julio Jones: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 130 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: At 2-0 the Dolphins have to feel good about how their season has started, and since the running game isn’t exactly something to brag about, that means offensively their strength must be through the air. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is responsible for two touchdowns and two turnovers but has led his team with two performances of more than 270 yards and a completion rate of greater than 63 percent in each contest. Four different receivers have been targeted more than seven times in one game, and three of those four have gained over 100 yards in a game. Miami has given up nine sacks, however, tied for third worst in the league. Against two less than stellar defenses, the offensive line was unable to hold its own and is quickly becoming a liability. Tannehill is constantly under pressure even when he isn’t being sacked, and if that trend continues, they’ll be in a world of hurt against an elite pass rush.

Luckily this will be the third week in a row in which Miami doesn’t face a vaunted front seven, meaning that once again the offensive line will likely be beaten but not entirely broken. Atlanta has an average pass rush (5 sacks) but is toward the bottom of the league rankings in passing yards allowed. Cleveland and Indianapolis, Miami's last two opponents, both record more sacks and yield fewer yards, so comparatively this should be the least challenging defense that the Dolphins have faced. The strength of the Falcons defense actually lies in the fact that their offense is so potent, usually forcing opposing teams to lean on the passing game earlier than planned, which allows Atlanta to defend accordingly. If Miami is able to get an early lead like that have previously, they ought to see even more success offensively, as they can maintain balance and take what the defense gives.

Running Game Thoughts: Not surprisingly, the problem with the ground game in Miami starts with the offensive line; the unit that is having troubles in pass protection and isn’t particularly great at run blocking either. Lamar Miller, their breakout back from last season, currently holds a tenuous grasp on the starting role after a fierce training camp battle and mixed results so far this season. In their first game, the entire rushing attack was neutralized, and as a team the Dolphins recorded more rushes (23) than they did yards (20). The second game was much better, and Miller handled more than half of the backfield carries for 69 total yards on 14 touches, nearly five yards per attempt. It appears that the O-line's performance will go further to dictate the success of the running game than will the ball carrier.

Atlanta ranks in the top third of NFL teams against the rush, so any ineffectiveness from the offensive line will likely be magnified and could ultimately lead to a complete shutdown like it did for Miami in Week 1 against the Browns. The Falcons have yet to allow more than 80 yards on the ground to a team, and with the exception of one quarterback scramble, they’ve not had a rush against them go for more than 11 yards. If they’re going to be beaten by a rushing attack, it will be a slow and steady pounding and not from gashing runs and big plays. The first two weeks don’t suggest that Miami is set up to deliver a run game that will slowly wear down the opponent, so unless something changes dramatically, expectations for Sunday should be tempered appropriately.

Ryan Tannehill: 250 pass yds, 1 TD
Lamar Miller: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 30 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 100 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Falcons 20, Dolphins 14 ^ Top

Bills at Jets - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Between Week 1 and Week 2, quarterback E.J. Manuel nearly doubled his passing output from 150 yards in the opener to just shy of 300 the following week. While that sort of exponential improvement will not continue, it appears as though he’s growing more comfortable with the offense and is starting to emerge as a leader for the team. In an admittedly small sample size, he has completed 68 percent of his passes, connected with nine different receivers, and led a game-winning drive within the final two minutes of play. The offensive line has protected extremely well, allowing only one sack through the first two games against teams who were supposed to overpower them at the line of scrimmage. Steve Johnson is the clear No. 1 wide receiver in Buffalo and has already posted a 100-yard game and scored two touchdowns this season. Manuel’s ability to spread the ball around to a variety of receivers makes it difficult for defenses to key in on one guy, despite knowing that Johnson is far and away the biggest receiving threat.

In their most recent outing, the Jets were able to hold the Patriots to 185 passing yards, though the New England receivers are partially responsible for that low total, as they dropped several easy catches and failed to come down with several more passes that were contested. The most telling aspect of the Jets defense came late in the game as the Patriots were driving in need of a score. On third down they were unable to cover a receiver who had already seen fifteen or more targets in the game, and they were easily beat for a first down; that drive would ultimately seal the game. Week 1 and Week 2 both saw statistically strong performances defensively, holding opposing quarterbacks to roughly 50 percent passing and 200 yards while recording one total interception and surrendering only two touchdowns. Coach Rex Ryan typically puts the defense in positions where they can succeed, but it is still up to the players to perform and make the necessary plays; in most instances they execute well, but every so often they leave open a window of opportunity.

Running Game Thoughts: A strong rushing attack is a quarterback’s best friend, and that is even truer for a rookie quarterback. Buffalo has posted back-to-back games of at least 135 yards rushing and they average more than four yards per carry. The Bills have gotten production from both of running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and Manuel contributes with scrambles and improvised runs. Spiller is the more dynamic runner, but opposing defenses know this and tend to stack the box against him. Whether he or Jackson is the team’s leading rusher in a given week often comes down to defensive alignments rather than productivity. Coaches have expressed interest in repeatedly giving carries to Spiller, but as the game unfolds, sometimes plans change for matchup purposes. Whether one or both backs are actively involved, the result is generally the same and extremely positive. The offensive line has played well and continues to make life easier on the ball carrier, regardless of the caliber of competition they face.

Running the ball against New York will be extremely difficult if they continue to play as they have through the first two weeks. They have surrendered less than 120 total yards on the ground this season, averaging less than 60 per game. Opponents average a meager 2.4 yards per rush and have scored only one touchdown on the ground against them. The strength of the Jets defense is the front seven, with the defensive line being the strongest unit of all. Trying to run against them is akin to trying to run through a brick wall; eventually it will be done, but at a price that likely makes it an unfruitful venture. This will be by far the Bills' toughest task of the season, but to their credit, they have a better offensive line than the Jets have faced this year. While not overly likely, Buffalo does stand a chance of finding success from the run.

EJ Manuel: 200 pass yds, 1 INT
C.J. Spiller: 50 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 20 rush yds / 30 rec yds
Steve Johnson: 70 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The problem with rookie quarterbacks is that they often play like rookie quarterbacks, and Geno Smith did nothing against New England to suggest that his Week 1 victory wasn’t a fluke. If anything, he showed that if the defense isn’t making mistakes, he’s not yet at the level where he can manufacture production with his arm. His totals through two weeks are 470 yards on 39 of 73 passing (53%) with one touchdown and four interceptions. Unfortunately, the bulk of that positive production came at home against an improving Tampa Bay secondary. The most telling statistic, however, may be the nine sacks he’s taken, almost entirely because of holding on to the ball far too long and not because his offensive line has failed in protection. All four of his interceptions have come off of badly thrown balls; once he overthrew his running back coming out of the backfield and hit a linebacker in stride, and three times he dramatically underthrew vertical routes and the defending defensive back easily undercut the receiver. Smith's body of work from the preseason and through two regular season games suggests he isn’t yet comfortable with NFL speed or the Jets playbook.

Teams with concerns on the offensive line should be scared to throw against the Bills pass rushers; as a defense they have eight sacks, which is only one behind the league best. They’ve also recorded two interceptions but have conceded four touchdowns through the air in addition to more than 225 yards passing each game. Buffalo is dealing with a weak secondary to begin with, and injuries are making things worse, which in turn puts more emphasis on the front seven and tends to lead to more quarterback pressures. If opposing quarterbacks can get the ball out of their hands, there’s a decent chance it’ll end up as a positive play, but releasing the pass before being taken down by a blitzing linebacker has proven to be a difficult thing. Smith will be forced to make a number of throws sooner than he would like, and if he’s not careful with them, he’ll end up throwing interceptions because of those errant passes.

Running Game Thoughts: In a small sample size, the Jets are beginning to improve on the ground, having their running backs total 100 yards on 25 carries in the second game compared to only 44 yards on 24 carries in the first. Production and touches between Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory are almost identical, though Powell does have the lone touchdown. Interestingly, in the fourth quarter of the second game, where the Jets were desperately trying to mount a comeback, Ivory was on the field for only one snap. Powell has proven his effectiveness in the passing game both as a receiver and as a blocking back, and that may account for the discrepancy in late-game playing time. Against New England the Jets were able to win the battle for time of possession primarily through effectively running the ball as part of a balanced plan of attack. Look for this to continue as the season progresses as a way to protect the rookie quarterback as well as keep their defense appropriately rested.

The best way to attack Buffalo is on the ground; they allow an average of 141 rushing yards each game and are surrendering 4.2 yards per carry. For all of that yardage, though, they’ve yet to give up a rushing touchdown, and the Jets certainly have their eyes on changing that. The Bills success in rushing the passer comes at the expense of stout run defense and defensive backs who are usually more preoccupied with protecting against the pass than helping in run support. All together that leads to opportunities for running backs to carve out big gains on the ground, and with the added dimension that Smith brings with his legs, those running lanes ought to be larger and more frequent than Buffalo has previously allowed.

Geno Smith: 230 pass yds, 1 INT / 40 rush yds
Bilal Powell: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Chris Ivory: 50 rush yds, 1 TD / 40 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 80 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 17, Bills 10 ^ Top

Packers @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Other than getting sacked four times last week, the Packers passing unit put on a clinic against the Redskins, piling up 480 yards through the air with four touchdowns and no interceptions. This week’s opponent, the Bengals, will surely not be as generous, yet a unit like this can be fantasy relevant even in tough matchups. Through two weeks, the Packers rank among the top three teams in passing touchdowns, completion percentage, yards, and yards per attempt. It is business as usual for Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley, who have each had very nice back-to-back games to start the season. Last week marked the return of receiver James Jones, who led the team in catches and yards just one week after going catch-less. Against a weak defense like the Redskins, four receivers and one quarterback all played like top-level options; however, that will change a bit this week. The Bengals are one of the better overall defenses in the NFL and are currently among the 12 toughest defenses for opposing fantasy QBs and WRs to score against. The good news for Packers player owners is that Green Bay is one of the most elite offenses in the NFL and, thus, even bad matchups can produce quality fantasy numbers. While the ceiling for the Packers passing attack is not as high as a normal or easy matchup, the floor certainly is not as low as some teams would be versus the Bengals. This week Rodgers is not a lock for 300-plus passing yards but should still get 250 and a couple of touchdowns because of the pure volume of passes he will throw, especially with running back Eddie Lacy most likely out with a concussion. The receiving pecking order is still a bit of a work in progress, but Cobb and Nelson are the two safest bets for being at least very high-end WR2 options this week. Finley has a history of being up-and-down, but coming off a great training camp and solid back-to-back games, there are not more than four or five other TEs I’d want right now, even in a tougher matchup like this one. While Jones is coming off an 11-catch performance, I still have him as the fourth option in the passing game, meaning he could be the one to suffer if a big-yardage day doesn't happen. I’d still start Jones this week but more as a low-end WR3 than the solid WR2 he can be in good matchups.

Running Game Thoughts: When Lacy left the game last week with a concussion, there was no doubt the Packers had faith in James Starks, as they did not give any other running back a carry and allowed Starks to tote the rock 20 times. With those 20 carries Starks put up 132 yards and a touchdown and will most certainly be a hot add this week from many waiver wires. While almost any running back with a full workload to himself is worthy of consideration in fantasy, there is reason to pause here. First, as of this writing, Lacy has not been officially ruled out and probably will not be until game day, if he is at all. If Lacy plays, he should get most of the workload, but any Packers running back would be extra risky because of the uncertainty in how much work each back will get. Secondly, let’s say Lacy is out and Starks is the man: the Packers still will throw it a ton, and they most likely gave Starks that much work last week only because they were blowing out the Skins and wanted to milk the clock. This brings me to my third point: the Bengals are not the Skins. This game will almost certainly not get out of hand either way, and not only will the Packers probably run less, it will be with less efficiency. The Bengals currently are the fifth toughest defense for opposing fantasy RBs to score against, and with an elite defensive line, that is not likely to change much this week, especially with Starks being just an average talent. In this matchup Starks is nothing more than a very low-end RB3 if he gets all the work, which I expect he will. If Lacy ends up playing, I personally would avoid the whole situation in a very tough matchup with an uncertain workload distribution.

Aaron Rodgers: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Randall Cobb: 70 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 55 rec yds
James Starks: 40 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Most of last week’s game versus Pittsburgh was what we have come to expect from the Bengals passing game. Dalton was fairly efficient and his end stats were ok but nothing amazing or exciting (280, 1/0); the two tight ends (Gresham and Eifert) split reps and had ok games (66 yds each) but hurt each other’s values; and the complimentary wide receivers (Sanu and Jones) caught a few balls but not enough to make them startable fantasy players. What was unusual was that stud wide receiver A.J. Green was held in check (6/41/0) by Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who has given Green problems in the past as well. While I do not expect much to change with Dalton, the two tight ends, and the complimentary wide receivers, I do fully expect Green to get back to where we all expect him to be, as the Packers do not have a cornerback as talented as Taylor on their roster. On the contrary, the Packers are not a very good pass defense and are actually among the worst in the NFL in passing yards allowed, passing yards per attempt allowed, and passing touchdowns allowed. In addition, the Packers are currently the fifth, third, and second easiest defenses for opposing fantasy quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends, respectively, to score against. While the Bengals passing unit, outside of A.J. Green, does not possess anywhere near elite talent, fantasy points should be abundant against one of the league’s weaker defenses, especially with the Bengals playing at home. While there should be better options out there in most 10- and 12-team leagues, this may actually be a nice week to start Dalton as a higher-end QB2 with a healthy squad around him, an easier matchup, and a game that may require the Bengals to throw a fair amount. Green is a must-start and probably among the best two or three options this week for WRs in a killer matchup. While the Packers do allow TEs a hefty scoring boost, it is tough to strongly recommend either TE right now, as they split the workload so much. However, after the top 7-8 sure things at fantasy TE, it is so wide open that either Bengals TE is a decent start, although I slightly prefer Eifert. No other Bengals receiver is worth a look, even in this juicy matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: I believe we are going to start seeing a trend that will increase more and more gradually as the season goes on—that is, Giovani Bernard slowly but surely becoming the main man in the Bengals backfield, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis slowly slipping into the background. Not only did Bernard get double the carries last week that he did the first week, but he also scored the only two Cincinnati touchdowns (1 receiving) and he out-averaged BJGE 4.8 to 3.4 on the ground. It is clear when watching the two backs that Bernard has way more burst and surprisingly not that less power compared to the Law Firm, and it is only a matter of time before he is out-touching Green-Ellis. Of course, it will almost certainly be a gradual not an immediate thing (especially because BJGE does not fumble much), and in that way, it is tough counting on either back right now as anything more than a flex player. The matchup with the Packers is good—not elite, but good—as the Pack rank in right about the middle of most defenses, both NFL-wise and fantasy-wise. While a superior, talented back (like AP, McCoy, Spiller, etc.) might have a field day with this defense, the Bengals run game is pretty much ordinary right now, so both Bengals backs are just moderately recommended (as RB3/flex), until one or the other really steps up, steps down, or gets hurt. I certainly prefer Bernard for the long haul, but with the workload being divided fairly right now, he is more of a hold-and-see rather than a must-start.

Andy Dalton: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 125 rec yds, 1 TD
Tyler Eifert: 70 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 55 rec yds
Mohamed Sanu: 45 rec yds
Giovani Bernard: 40 rush yds, 25 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 55 rush yds

Prediction: Packers 27, Bengals 24 ^ Top

Browns @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: What a crazy week for these Browns, huh? There are three big changes this week that will affect them and thus your fantasy decision-making. First, quarterback Brandon Weeden is hurt and starting in his place is Brian Hoyer, who has less of an arm than Weeden and has a very limited resume but is a favorite of the Browns general manager. Second, wide receiver Josh Gordon is back from suspension and will immediately start and become the Browns' best wide receiver by a wide margin. Finally, Trent Richardson was surprisingly traded to the Colts on Wednesday, so the Browns will roll with Bobby Rainey, Chris Ogbonnaya, and possibly Willis McGahee if he's signed in time. So with a new quarterback, a new running back, and a possibly rusty No. 1 receiver making his debut, the team is basically a mess this week from an offensive standpoint. You can throw out what the Browns have done so far this year because this offense will look totally different this week and it is hard to know what to expect. The Vikings pass defense has been generous through two weeks, both from a yardage perspective (641, 7th-most in NFL), and a fantasy perspective (8th-most generous to opposing QBs). So from a pure matchup perspective, this should be somewhat juicy for the Browns. The problem is that Hoyer is unproven and probably has very little chemistry with Gordon, Gordon himself is probably a bit rusty, and there is a big downgrade in running back talent this week. With all this being said, I expect the Vikings to blitz the heck out of the Browns, especially at home. And with the talented group they have as pass rushers, I expect a ton of pressure on Hoyer and probably a lot of three-and-outs and possibly a lot of turnovers. I like Gordon as a solid WR3 most weeks going forward, but I would not want to start him this week in his return unless you are a real gambler or have no other options. Hoyer is a must-sit, as we have no real idea what he will do but is probably a slight downgrade from Weeden, who was already below average at best. The only guy I’d consider starting this week would be tight end Jordan Cameron, as inexperienced quarterbacks often rely on their tight end as a safety valve, and with Cameron’s talent I would not be surprised if he caught five or more balls and racked up some garbage-time yardage. In my eyes, Cameron is a high-end TE2 in this matchup. No other Brown is even remotely startable this week, even in a plus matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: There was a time when writing about the Browns' run game was exciting, full of hope and promise. This time was exactly one week ago, but a new era has started, and that time has passed. With Trent Richardson gone, the run game has gone from a top 10 fantasy goldmine to a bottom five fantasy dumpster. This week may be epically bad, as Richardson was traded just five days before the game and the group behind him has just days to get their act together and prepare to start. Who will actually get the start and how the carries will be divided is totally up in the air, as Willis McGahee (still unsigned as of this writing) is expected to be signed—but who knows if he is in game shape or not—and Bobby Rainey and Chris Ogbonnaya are unproven and lacking as anything more than average talent. The Vikings have actually been quite generous to opposing fantasy RBs (most points allowed in the league), but most of that has to do with the fact that they let up a ton of yardage through the air to two of the NFL’s best receiving backs (Reggie Bush and Matt Forte). The Browns obviously have nobody close to those guys on their roster. On the ground the Vikings are actually quite good, giving up the seventh least rushing yards so far this year. In this game I expect the Browns to get shut down on the ground because of the lack of backfield talent and the Vikings' good rush defense. Therefore, no Browns running back is worth starting in any format, even if you are desperate. This unit will probably continue to be bad the rest of the season unless McGahee has a career resurgence, which I will not bet on.

Brian Hoyer: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Josh Gordon: 50 rec yds
Jordan Cameron: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 45 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Chris Ogbonnaya: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder and the Vikings passing unit put on a pretty typical performance versus the Bears last week (that is, below average), and there is little reason to believe much will change this week versus a very good Browns defense. Ponder continues to miss open receivers and often fails to look more than 15 yards downfield, severely limiting the offense's effectiveness and attractiveness from a fantasy perspective. Wide receiver Greg Jennings did have a decent game last week (5/84) and tight end Kyle Rudolph caught a touchdown, but overall this unit is going to struggle mightily with consistency and explosiveness unless Ponder takes a big step forward, which is unlikely. On the other side of the ball, the Browns have been very good, ranking in the top 12 in passing yards allowed, passing yards per attempt allowed, and passing touchdowns allowed. First round rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo made his debut last week and made an immediate impact, getting one sack and a quarterback hurry. He will probably get the start this week. Besides having a stud cover cornerback in Joe Haden, the Browns are solid up front and should have little problem pressuring Ponder into quick throws and bad decisions. If the Vikings were a more talented unit, there would still be a good chance to make a fantasy impact, even in this tough matchup, but the fact is that Ponder is holding this team back and therefore no Vikings player can really be trusted (outside of AP) to be anything more than a low-end flex player. Ponder is way outside startable right now, Jennings is a decent WR3 in PPR but should not be much of a consideration in standard leagues this week, as he should garner most of Haden’s elite coverage attention. Rudolph is always a threat to get a touchdown, but the yardage is not there at all yet, and therefore he is a stretch to be anything more than a low-end TE2 this week (the Browns have given up fourth-lowest points to opposing fantasy TEs). Rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is set to get more playing time this week but is still probably a few weeks away from making a real impact, so no other players in this unit are anywhere near fantasy relevant at this time.

Running Game Thoughts: In a relatively tough matchup last week, Adrian Peterson still managed to hit the 100-yard mark, although it was the second week in a row where his day was basically salvaged by one long run. The good news with Peterson is that he is still getting almost every single carry and the Vikings are more than happy to keep feeding him the ball regardless of opponent or situation. The Browns' run defense provides perhaps his toughest matchup so far this year, as they rank fourth in the NFL in rush yards allowed and first in rush yards allowed per attempt at a very impressive 2.0. This has all the makings of a grind-it-out game, with lots of punts, little scoring, and some ugly offense. In this way, Peterson should at the very least get 25 touches, even if his average is kept in check by a tough front seven. Despite the tough matchup, Peterson is a must-start and should still approach 100 yards, and perhaps sneak in a close-range touchdown. Huge numbers should not be expected in this game, but as the focus of the offense, in a close, defense-oriented game, Peterson will get enough work to be a low-end RB1.

Christian Ponder: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Adrian Peterson: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 45 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Cordarrelle Patterson: 45 rec yds

Prediction: Vikings 20, Browns 16 ^ Top

Texans @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub has thrown for six touchdowns and more than 600 yards through two games and it looks like the Texans may have finally found a good compliment to wide receiver Andre Johnson in rookie DeAndre Hopkins, who has 12 catches, a touchdown, and almost 200 yards through two games. The Texans still rely a lot on the run game, so their upside is somewhat limited, but they are off to a hot start and their passing unit is much more intriguing this year from a fantasy perspective. Andre Johnson did sustain a concussion last week but has passed all his tests to this point and is considered likely to play. With Johnson, Hopkins, and reliable, safety-valve tight end Owen Daniels, the Texans have a trio of receivers who are all fantasy relevant, especially with the respect that their run game gets, which opens things up downfield. After a horrendous defensive performance the first week versus the Broncos, the Ravens held up strong against the much less talented Browns, allowing just 233 yards through the air and sacking quarterback Brandon Weeden five times. This week they will face a Texans team with much more talent, much more balance, and many more options to throw to. While the Ravens have the personnel to apply a lot of pressure to opposing quarterbacks, they do not have enough skill to cover more than one or two guys on a play-by-play basis. This week Schaub should be able to find an open man more times than not, even if the Ravens pressure him to throw it faster than he’d like. The guy I especially like this week for the Texans is Daniels, who should be a quick check-down option if Schaub is forced to throw it within 10 yards. I especially like Daniels because the Ravens have been burned bad by tight ends both weeks, first by Julius Thomas and last week by Jordan Cameron. So I like Daniels as a solid TE1. Schaub is not an elite fantasy option most weeks because of Houston's normally conservative game plan, but with the emergence of Hopkins and fairly solid offensive line play, I actually like Schaub this week as a high-end QB2 and a somewhat sneaky play to get close to 300 yards. As for the receivers, the Ravens do not have an elite cover guy, so Johnson should be deployed as usual as a low-end WR1 (as long as he plays, which he should) while Hopkins makes a solid WR3, with the obvious bump if Johnson misses miss the game. This is a fun unit to watch right now and their fantasy owners should be happy once again in this matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: The Texans currently have the third most rush yards in the league and are averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per carry. While the past two seasons have seen Arian Foster carry about 90 percent of the rushing load, Houston is mixing in Ben Tate more this year, and the split seems to now be more 70 to 30 percent in favor of Foster, with Tate actually gaining more yards on fewer carries through two games. Foster did miss a lot of the preseason and may still be shaking off some rust, or a changing of the guard may slowly be happening. Either way, there is little reason to expect much of a change in workload at this point for either back, as both are healthy and productive. The Ravens offer a tough matchup for the Texans, ranking eighth best in rushing yards allowed and being the eighth stingiest to opposing fantasy backs thus far. With a solid offensive line and two quality running backs, there is no way the Texans will simply give up on the run; but they will likely pass a bit more than usual to take advantage of a defense that is worse against the pass. I still like both backs to get more than 10 touches, with Foster probably approaching 20, meaning the volume of work should be there for Foster to be a high-end RB2 and Tate a low-end flex guy with some upside. While this is not an ideal matchup by any stretch, the Texans will be in this game the whole way through, so both Foster and Tate will be accumulating stats up to the final whistle.

Matt Schaub: 300 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Arian Foster: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Ben Tate: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Johnson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Ravens are an average offensive team right now, although they have faced two tough defenses in their first two games, so we may not see their true colors until they get a better matchup. Unfortunately for them, this is not the week, as Houston is among the top teams in passing yards allowed, sacks, completion percentage allowed, and yards per pass attempt allowed. If it was not for giving up six touchdowns through the air, the Texans may well be the best passing defense in the league through two weeks although, granted, their first two opponents were not exactly elite passing teams. It is obvious to anyone watching their games that the Ravens, and especially Joe Flacco, miss Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Although rookie Marlon Brown has had a decent start to his career (2 TDs), Torrey Smith remains the only legitimate option in the Ravens passing unit right now, and defenses have little problem covering guys like Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark, who the Ravens have been forced to rely on at this point. From a fantasy perspective, Smith is the only guy to get excited about at this point in the season, although Brown may emerge as a consistent threat over the course of the year. Flacco is consistently average and there are much better options out there as a starter unless you are in a 14-plus team league. This week, all the passing unit players get a downgrade in a tough matchup, with Smith being the best bet once again to be starter-worthy as a solid WR3 option. Eventually there will be better matchups and maybe Brown or another player will step up to be relevant, but for now this is a mediocre unit who will need a great matchup to really get truly excited about fantasy-wise.

Running Game Thoughts: The Ravens run game has gotten off to a bad start this year, averaging an awful 2.8 yards per carry and they now must deal with Ray Rice’s ailing hip, which will make him a game-time decision this week. Of course, some of the Ravens' woes can be blamed on their opponents, as Baltimore had to abandon the run in Week 1 while getting blown out by the Broncos, and Week 2 had them face one of the league's tougher defenses in the Browns. Still, it is troubling for a team with a decent offensive line and two talented backs to be struggling this much so early. The Texans will not be an easy opponent either, having not given up a rushing touchdown and being very strong up front, especially in the linebacking corps. While I expect this game to be close, and the Ravens should be able to run all four quarters, it will be a tough task for any Baltimore running back to put up a great statistical game. If Rice plays, he is a dicey RB2 option since it is a tough matchup—and who knows how his hip will hold up. In that scenario you probably still have to play Rice (and sit Pierce), but I would not count on a whole lot from Ray. If Rice sits, which I think is a decent chance, Pierce actually makes a fairly solid RB2 since he is healthy and should get 18-plus total touches with no other real competition in the Ravens backfield. For now, my projections will be based on Rice starting, but if you own Rice and hopefully handcuffed him, your best bet is to probably have him sit and start Pierce with confidence as a solid RB2.

Joe Flacco: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 75 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 30 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 45 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 30, Ravens 24 ^ Top

Bears @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: I watched the Bears game last week in its entirety and came away with the notion that this offense could be very very good once it stops making silly mistakes and shooting itself in the foot. Including running back Matt Forte, this unit has four very good options to throw to, making it difficult to stop a weapon at every level of the defense. Brandon Marshall is only slightly down in targets from last year’s pace but is probably more efficient with the targets he gets since he cannot be double teamed as much. That makes him a consistent WR1 each week. Tight end Martellus Bennett has three touchdowns in two games and just barely missed a fourth last week in the back of the end zone. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has not yet been great statistically, but he is getting some targets, and looking at him play you can tell he has the makings of a quality player given some time. While Jay Cutler did not break the 300-yard mark in either game, he has played two tough opponents, is getting better protection, and is finally looking at receivers besides Marshall, which makes him more difficult for defenses to prepare against. This week’s matchup is another tough one, especially playing at Pittsburgh, who have one of the better home field advantages and currently rank among the top 10 teams in most defensive passing categories, although they are not getting to the quarterback as much as in years past yet. Cornerback Ike Taylor is one of the tougher cover corners in the league and held A.J. Green to just 41 yards last week, making the assignment a tough matchup for Marshall, who will most likely get a lot of Taylor’s attention. While Marshall will still get a ton of looks, I like Bennett a lot in this game, as the Bengals' tight ends combined for 132 yards last week. I do not see the Bears putting up a ton of points or stats in this game, but they should get enough work to make Cutler a decent QB2, Marshall a low-end WR1, and Bennett a solid TE1. Jeffery is still a bit off the radar and not startable, but look for him to make a bigger impact later this year.

Running Game Thoughts: While last year there was always a fear in Forte owners of Michael Bush stealing touches, that does not seem to be the case this season, as Bush has just eight carries for 15 yards in two games and Forte is back to being used as an all-around running back. While the Bears seem to be more pass-heavy this year, that is actually good news for Forte, as the back has 15 catches, leading all NFL running backs and tying for sixth overall in receptions. Thanks to Forte’s dual ability, he is once again a borderline RB1 every week and should be a consistent option all year long. The Steelers, normally among the best run-defenders in the NFL, have struggled a bit in two games, giving up the seventh most yards on the ground and being the seventh most fantasy friendly to opposing RBs. While this is far from an ideal matchup, in a hostile environment against a solid defense, Forte has so much value and gets so much work both through the air and on the ground, that he has to be considered a low-end RB1. With a lot of defensive attention going to Marshall, look for a good number of check-downs to Forte, as another five or more catches is almost guaranteed. As one of the most used backs in the NFL through two weeks, Forte owners should continue to enjoy the ride and ride their bell cow for at least another week.

Jay Cutler: 255 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Matt Forte: 75 rush yds, 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Marshall: 70 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Steelers offense looks very messy to say the least, there is some reason for hope for Pittsburg fans. First, tight end Heath Miller practiced this week and has a decent shot at playing, even if he is a bit rusty to start. Second, exciting rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton is supposedly going to get more action after two weeks of limited play. If Miller and Wheaton both play and Ben Roethlisberger can get a rhythm going, this passing attack actually has some really nice weapons to throw to. Right now Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are about all they have, and while they are both quality players, they are not elite and need others around them to take the pressure off so they can be productive. The Bears defense has been stronger against the run than the pass, and with no run game to speak of at this point, it would not surprise anyone if Roethlisberger threw the ball 40 times, therefore accumulating some decent stats. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, normally one of the league's better corners, is a bit banged up and has been burned the first two weeks, although it is not totally clear who he will cover in this game (probably Brown). While the Steelers and Big Ben should have more options this week with Miller returning, it is difficult to say who will get the most love from Ben, as Sanders, Brown, and Jerricho Cotchery all have a similar number of targets through two games. My guess is that Sanders, Brown, and Miller will get the most looks this week, in that order, but I doubt any of them will have a breakout or huge game statistically, as the ball will be spread around a lot. To me, Ben is a startable QB2 because of the probable return of Miller, the abandonment of the run game, and perhaps a small spark from Wheaton. Sanders and Brown are both useable as WR3s, and Miller (if he plays) should step right in as a low-end TE2 because of Roethlisberger’s rapport with him. While I like Wheaton a lot to eventually contribute, he, and all other passing unit players, are off the fantasy radar this week.

Running Game Thoughts: There is very little to say about this unit right now because they are doing very little on the field. The Steelers rank near or at the bottom of basically all major rushing statistics, and until LeVeon Bell makes his debut, this unit will continue to be boring, awful, and an after-thought, both in terms of NFL production and fantasy interest. Last week veteran Felix Jones got the start and racked up just 37 yards, with the rest of the gang adding just seven more. This week it sounds like Jones will again, start but unless you are in a 32team league that requires three starting RBs, you should not be going anywhere near this guy, or any Pittsburgh running back until Bell gets back from injury. The Steelers do not run enough at this point, the talent level is too low, and the matchup with the Bears is a bad one, as they rank as one of the 10 toughest defenses for opposing fantasy backs to go against. Once the passing game gains a bit more respect, Bell gets back, and they commit to the run more, there may be signs of life with this unit, but for now, do yourself a favor and pull the plug on this fantasy wasteland of a backfield.

Ben Roethlisberger: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Antonio Brown: 55 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 70 rec yds
Heath Miller: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Felix Jones: 25 rush yds

Prediction: Bears 27, Steelers 20 ^ Top

Chargers at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: After trending downward in recent seasons, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has resurfaced in the season’s first two games to become fantasy relevant once again. He is fourth among all QBs in fantasy points with seven touchdowns and just one interception. However, he is likely to be without leading receiver Malcolm Floyd (neck) this week and it’s hard to imagine Eddie Royal (five TDs) will continue at such a torrid pace. Fantasy owners should continue to rely on Antonio Gates, who is third among tight ends in receiving yards but has yet to find the end zone – something I think changes this week against the Titans.

Tennessee is 11th in the league in pass defense but their fantasy numbers tell a bit of a different story. Though they’ve allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to QBs, they have given up the 11th-most fantasy points to WRs and the 13th-most to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews continues to underwhelm both San Diego fans and his fantasy owners. He’s 20th among RBs in fantasy points and has run for just over 100 total yards, and is carrying the ball for an average of 3.7 yards. He also has just three receptions this year, though one of those did go for a score.

Mathews is not wowing anybody, but fantasy owners can plug him in as a RB2 or flex this week against Tennessee. The Titans are 19th in the NFL against the run but their competition needs to be kept in mind. In Week 1 they faced a woeful Steelers rushing attack and allowed their running backs to gain just 28 yards while last week the Texans’ duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate dashed for 172 yards.

Philip Rivers: 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Antonio Gates: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Vincent Brown: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Royal: 40 rec yds
Keenan Allen: 25 rec yds
Ryan Mathews: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 20 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: There is little to mention here about the Tennessee passing game, because it’s mostly non-existent. The team is last in the league in passing offense with Jake Locker ahead of only the Jacksonville duo of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne in fantasy points among QBs. The Titans have just one wideout, Kendall Wright, among the top 65 WRs in fantasy points and he is dealing with a concussion and may not be able to play this week.

If Wright does play, he could have a decent game because no team in the league has allowed more passing yards this year than the Chargers. They have given up the second-most fantasy points to QBs, the third-most to TEs, and the eighth-most to WRs. If there was ever a week to have a Titans pass-catcher on your fantasy roster this would be it, but I can’t imagine that being the case but in the deepest of leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson has been a workhorse this year, with his 50 rushing attempts being the second-most in the league behind Tampa’s Doug Martin. Unfortunately for Johnson’s fantasy owners, all those carries have not translated into points. He is 29th among running backs in fantasy points, is averaging just 3.3 yards per rush, has not scored a touchdown and has only a single catch for a single yard. Fantasy owners familiar with Johnson know he’s had slow starts before though, so there’s no reason to give up hope - he’ll turn it around. Facing the Chargers could help, as they’re 22nd in the league in rush defense, are allowing 4.7 yards per carry and only two teams have given up more receiving yards to RBs than they have.

Jake Locker: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kendall Wright: 60 rec yds
Nate Washington: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Britt: 35 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 25 rush yds

Prediction: Chargers 24, Titans 20 ^ Top

Cardinals at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: After having a pathetic passing attack last season with a mishmash of terrible quarterbacks, the Cardinals made a move to acquire Carson Palmer in the offseason and it’s seemingly paid off. Palmer is just 18th in fantasy points among QBs, but he’s made Larry Fitzgerald a top fantasy WR once again. Fitzgerald is 19th among WRs in fantasy points and he, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd each have over 100 receiving yards this season.

They face a Saints team that is eighth in the NFL against the pass this season but has seen wideouts have some success against them. They allowed Julio Jones to gain 76 yards (with a TD) and Harry Douglas to pick up 93 yards in Week 1 and last week gave up 77 yards to Vincent Jackson, though they did hold him and Mike Williams out of the end zone.

Running Game Thoughts: Rashard Mendenhall is Arizona’s top back, and though he is nobody’s idea of a RB1, he’s had more success than people thought he might so far. Mendenhall is 16th among RBs in fantasy scoring, is carrying the rock for 4.1 yards per tote and scored for the first time last week. A toe injury has kept Mendenhall out of practice Wednesday and Thursday so check his status before putting him in your lineup.

Against the Saints he should have similar success. New Orleans is 27th in the NFL against the rush and is giving up 5.3 yards per carry, which is the third-worst mark in the league. They have yet to allow a touchdown on the ground this season, which is surprising considering how poorly they’ve otherwise been against the run, and figures to change this week.

Carson Palmer: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 45 rec yds
Jim Dray: 15 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees has been unusually average so far in two games this season, ranking only 14th in fantasy points among quarterbacks. Though he’s thrown for more than 320 yards in both of his contests, he has just three touchdowns to go with three interceptions. The team’s WRs have not been kind to fantasy owners, with no wideout having even 10 catches so far, and only Marques Colston having scored. Lance Moore has been the biggest disappointment, with just three receptions though Darren Sproles is third among runners in receiving yards and Jimmy Graham leads all tight ends in fantasy points, and has a juicy match-up with the Cardinals.

Arizona has a true shutdown corner in Patrick Peterson, and as such has given up the ninth-fewest fantasy points to WRs, but is just 21st in the league in pass defense. The reason for that is they have allowed the sixth-most receiving yards in the NFL to running backs, and the sixth-most fantasy points to TEs, including 141 yards and two touchdowns to the Rams’ Jared Cook in Week 1.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram continues to show he is not a capable NFL runner but he nonetheless leads the Saints in carries with 17. Yet he is rushing for a pathetic 1.7 yards per carry and Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are just a few carries behind him for the team lead. They should get more carries in the future, though none will have an easy go of it this week against Arizona.

The Cardinals have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, ranking third in the league in that statistic while allowing a mere 2.6 yards per rush. They have yet to surrender a rushing score and have given up the ninth-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to RBs, so any fantasy owner thinking Ingram will have a breakout this week can forget about it.

Drew Brees: 330 pass yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Jimmy Graham: 105 rec yds, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 45 rec yds
Kenny Stills: 20 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 30 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 25 rush yds, 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Saints 31, Cardinals 24 ^ Top

Giants at Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Though Eli Manning is fifth among QBs in fantasy points, he leads the league in interceptions with seven, which is three more than any other signal caller. That number shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to fantasy owners who have had Eli in previous years. Fortunately, he does have two legit fantasy starters at wideout in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz is second at the position in fantasy points and Nicks is 26th despite not yet having caught a touchdown.

That trio, along with fairly productive tight end Brandon Myers, will face a Panthers pass defense that is ranked 22nd in the league, though they’ve given up just a pair of passing scores on the season. They’ve shut down opposing TEs, allowing the third-fewest fantasy points in the league to that position, but have had trouble with WRs, having allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to them, which means both Cruz and Nicks should be starting for their fantasy owners this week.

Running Game Thoughts: David Wilson has been bad for the Giants and worse for his fantasy owners, having run for a total of just 36 yards this year and has an equal amount of first downs picked up as fumbles lost (two). The team brought back Brandon Jacobs as a result of Wilson’s poor play and injuries and though he scored a touchdown last week he also picked up just four yards on seven carries. Carolina may be allowing the 10th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs but fantasy owners shouldn’t be playing Wilson or Jacobs at this point no matter what the matchup is.

Eli Manning: 265 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Victor Cruz: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 85 rec yds, 2 TD
Rueben Randle: 40 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 25 rec yds
David Wilson: 30 rush yds
Brandon Jacobs: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton is not passing for a lot of yards, with just 354 through two games and three TDs. Steve Smith is currently 36th among WRs in fantasy points, and the team has no other wideout among the top 45 fantasy scorers. However, TE Greg Olsen is ranked seventh at his position and should be considered a fantasy starter this week against the Giants.

New York is 19th in the league against the pass, 14th in fantasy points allowed to QBs, 19th in fantasy points allowed to WRs, but just six teams have given up more points to TEs. They’ve been burned for a touchdown by a tight end in each of their first two games, making Olsen a solid option this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With Jonathan Stewart still on the mend, the team has turned to DeAngelo Williams to carry the load and he’s responded with 171 yards in two games, though he has yet to find his way into the end zone. Newton has been somewhat of a disappointment for his fantasy owners in this aspect of his game, and though he’s averaging nearly six yards per rush, he has just nine carries all season. The Giants are square in the middle of the pack in rush defense, ranking 16th in the league, yet they have given up two scores on the ground and are allowing the ninth-most fantasy points in the NFL to RBs, so Williams makes for a solid RB2 this week.

Cam Newton: 245 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 35 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 80 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 35 rec yds
Ted Ginn Jr.: 30 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 25 rush yds

Prediction: Panthers 24, Giants 21 ^ Top