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Inside the Matchup
Week 4

By: Sal Marcoccio | Brian Thorne | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith



NE @ KC | GB @ CHI | CAR @ BAL | TB @ PIT

 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Marcoccio 10 2 83.3
2 Thorne 9 4 69.2
3 Caron 8 4 66.7
4 Smith 7 4 63.6

Giants at Redskins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: After two weeks of struggles the Giants either started clicking or finally faced a team who is in worse shape than they are. For all of the criticism that QB Eli Manning has received, he played as close to flawless as he has in a great number of games, completing 75 percent of his pass attempts and throwing for two touchdowns without committing a turnover. The offensive line was in incredible form against a front seven that wreaked havoc in both of the prior weeks, giving up only one sack and allowing just one ball to be batted at the line of scrimmage. Aside from the sack the defense didn’t record a single hit on Manning. On top of the significantly improved performance of the quarterback on O-line, another great positive rebound belonged to WR Victor Cruz, who found his way into the endzone and delighted Giants fans with his signature salsa dance on top of a 100-yard day – the first time in nearly a year and a half. The team still relies far too much on the tight end position, with TEs Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells combining for a perfect 8-for-8 on targets for 67 yards and a touchdown. With the exception of Cruz, the receiving corps and Manning put up mediocre numbers hardly worthy of fantasy consideration, but with the rushing attack working as well as it did there was little reason for New York to try to move the ball through the air.

The Giants may look to the air more frequently on Thursday with all of the injuries that befell Washington last week, and with only a few days to recover and get ready for the upcoming contest there’s even less likelihood that the front seven will be at full strength. Aside from the pass rushing struggles, which may come to fruition, the Redskins will be without two of their starting defensive backs who landed on Injured Reserve before the injury report came out on Tuesday. CB DeAngelo Hall (ruptured Achilles) and S Duke Ihenacho (fractured heel) are out for the season and will be hard to replace, particularly Hall who was both an emotional and physical leader for the defense. Washington is coming off another tough division rivalry game where they gave up 325 yards and three touchdowns through the air and didn’t record a sack in a losing effort. New York has a less open offense than the Redskins faced on Sunday, but with defensive depth growing ever thinner the Giants could be in line to take another significant step forward after struggling mightily in the first two games.

Running Game Thoughts: Much like how the aerial attack took great strides in Week 3, RB Rashad Jennings and the rushing attack put together quite a game on Sunday. The ball carrier recorded 176 rushing yards on 34 carries and also scored a touchdown, averaging 5.2 yards per touch despite not being involved in the passing game. After gaining 110 yards on the ground in Weeks 1 and 2 combined, the Week 3 outburst was a welcome surprise to fantasy owners and the Giants alike. The team used its dominance on the ground to control the pace of the game and to protect its quarterback who has come under much scrutiny after a mostly-forgettable 2013 season. Even with the significant yardage that Jennings gained he never broke a run for more than 18 yards. His rushing total was built up slowly with punishing runs, beating the defense into submission by halftime after largely being on the receiving end of similar beat downs in earlier weeks. As one of the few workhorse backs in the league Jennings is a rare fantasy player and its games like he had on Sunday which begin to make up for the inconsistencies he’s displayed through the first two contests.

The Redskins front seven is ailing after a physical matchup in Week 3. Already down a few men, LB Brian Orakpo (finger) will have to wear a hard cast for protection on Thursday but is expected to be available. Conversely LB Jason Hatcher (hamstring) is listed as Questionable but on a short week he may end up on the wrong side of that 50-50 chance to play. Even after facing two of the top rushing teams in the NFL in back-to-back weeks Washington has yet to give up a touchdown in the running game, making them just one of four teams to do so. The team also ranks incredibly well in respect to yards allowed per carry; its mark of 2.8 yards per attempt is fifth best in the league. After the recent rash of injuries at all levels of the defense the Redskins are at risk for both a statistical and on-field let down, and with only four days to adjust a Thursday night matchup may be too much to ask of a defense who is already shouldering the majority of the load in Washington.

Eli Manning: 245 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rashad Jennings: 85 rush yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 70 rec yds
Rueben Randle: 45 rec yds
Larry Donnell: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: For the second time in as many seasons a backup quarterback from the NFC East is taking the fantasy world by storm and is definitively improving the outlook of his team as the team’s new signal caller. With just a fraction less than two games under his belt QB Kirk Cousins is outperforming the 17 other starting quarterbacks in the league, even though the other quarterbacks have played three full games. As a team the Redskins have the third most passing yards in the NFL and are averaging 309 per game through the air. Their five touchdowns are tied for eighth best and only four teams have thrown fewer interceptions (1) than Washington. That pick was an untimely one as it cost the Redskins dearly last week, with Cousins and TE Niles Paul failing to connect on a route up the seam. The pass ultimately missed its target and landed in the waiting arms of the defense as Washington was mounting a late game drive to at least tie the game and force overtime. No doubt it cost the team on the field, but Cousins still put together a phenomenal fantasy stat line with 427 passing yards and three scores. Top WRs Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson each had over 100 yards and scored a touchdown, though Garcon was still the more reliable receiver with more yardage, more receptions and a higher percentage of catches on his higher number of targets. Paul again replaced TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) and recorded nearly 70 yards on six receptions. With Reed slated to miss the Thursday night matchup Paul once again deserves strong fantasy consideration. Now that bye weeks have started and several other tight ends around the league are dealing with injuries, Paul continues to reward fantasy owners who grabbed him early from the waiver wire.

In order for Cousins to have the success he did on Sunday the offensive line had to deliver an equally impressive performance, and considering how not one sack was surrendered, no passes were disrupted at the line of scrimmage and no defender recorded a hit on the quarterback it’s clear that the O-line did quite well. The Giants are coming off a game where they dominated the line of scrimmage, recorded two sacks, forced three interceptions and reached the quarterback five times. Albeit against the worst team from 2013 the New York defense finally stepped up and performed the way they’re expected to, with the veteran in the trenches and in secondary leading the way. They jumped out to a 17-0 lead before giving up their first points 39 minutes into the game and as such forced their opponent into passing situations. While they gave up nearly 300 yards through the air the Giants forced turnovers when they were needed and held strong on third down, allowing a conversion on only two of 12 attempts. This matches much of what they’ve done up through this point in the season, giving up yardage but not the score. They’re ranked 22nd against the pass but are one of only six teams to have not given up more touchdowns than interceptions. For the first time all season the Giants won the turnover battle and in turn won their first game, a trend which will need to continue if they’re to secure a road victory on Thursday night.

Running Game Thoughts: No one in the league has scored more rushing touchdowns than Washington, but of the five times they’ve rushed for a score RB Alfred Morris has been the ball carrier only twice. In the two receiving touchdowns that went to a running back, Morris wasn’t involved in either of those either. In fact, Morris has yet to be targeted out of the backfield, let alone actually get his hands on the ball. The leading scorer from the Redskins ground game is actually RB Darrel Young with three touchdowns, followed by Morris at two and two more backs at one each. Of the rushing touchdowns not scored during garbage time, Morris has only two of the six applicable rushes and each of those came in a blowout win in Week 2. Fantasy owners are hoping this trend changes, but as he doesn’t contribute in the passing game his lack of versatility can hinder the team in the redzone and thus may ultimately limit his scoring opportunities. Regardless he’s averaging nearly 85 yards per game and has two scores in three contests. That’s hardly a cause for complaint but certainly it warrants close observation. For Thursday there is some concern that G Shawn Lauvau could be out after reaggravating a right knee injury that caused him to miss time in Week 2. In that contest Morris turned 33 carries into 77 yards, at only 3.3 gained per attempt. In that game RB Roy Helu vultured a one-yard touchdown run on his only carry of the game. Going forward Morris is undoubtedly the workhorse of the backfield between the 20s. In deep scoring territory, the worry will continue to persist about him losing scores to his backups, which are currently used significantly more frequently than he is.

As impressive as Morris has been through three games this season he’s historically been even better against the Giants, averaging 13 more yards per game than he is already this season. With additional efficiency per carry that opens the door for longer rushes and potentially a long scoring run, something the Redskins haven’t seen yet this season. New York will look to ride Sunday’s victory up until kickoff and continue the success they saw in Week 3 into primetime Thursday. Aside from a late 48-yard rush when the game was already out of hand, the Giants held one of the top rushing teams in the league to just 73 yards on 24 carries, an average just barely over three yards per touch. The team was without its star running back, but the New York defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and made gains in the rushing game all but impossible. Twenty percent of the Giants’ opponent’s rushing plays were stopped for zero or negative yardage and just that one rush gained more than 11 yards. For the season the Giants have been relatively unremarkable in run defense, allowing 106 yards per game and four rushing touchdowns. Keeping Morris and the bevy of Redskins ball carriers in check will be a tough task, but the return of LB Jon Beason (foot) to the heart of the New York defense could go a long way. He has been limited in practice this week to try to have him ready for Thursday night but will likely be a game-time decision. His participation and effectiveness, or lack thereof, should contribute significantly to determining the outcome of this Week 4 rivalry game.

Kirk Cousins: 285 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Alfred Morris: 90 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 50 rec yds
Niles Paul: 60 rec yds

Prediction: Redskins 24, Giants 20 ^ Top

Lions at Jets - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Perhaps the bar was set too high in Week 1, but after a seven-catch, 164-yard, two-touchdown performance the fantasy world was set abuzz discussing the continued dominance of the league’s best receiver, WR Calvin Johnson. By comparison the following two games were letdowns, totaling 83 and 82 yards respectively, each on six catches. Opposite Johnson on the field is WR Golden Tate who is converting 76% of his targets into receptions and averaging better than 65 receiving yards per game. He has panned out to be very much the complement to Johnson he was expected to be. Much like the standout pass catcher, the man throwing him the ball started the season with a bang and has since calmed to a soft fizzle in the box scores. Despite being fourth in passing yards, QB Matthew Stafford has seen his yardage decrease by roughly 50 in each subsequent game, he has scored fewer touchdowns in each successive contest, and from Week 1 to week three his turnovers have continued to increase. Last Sunday he threw for only 246 yards, tossed two interceptions, and also lost a fumble on a sack. Aside from yardage, Detroit is somewhere between ho-hum and oh-no in most passing categories, but this early in the season it only takes one good game to turn things around on paper.

There are six teams in the league who have not yet forced an interception on defense, and of those only the Jets given up more than six touchdowns through the air. Though as poor as that ratio is New York is tied for the most sacks recorded, further confirming that the strength of the defense is in their front seven and the secondary is merely along for the ride hoping to stumble upon good fortune. Pressure from the defensive line has enabled the team to hold opponents to respectable marks in both completion percentage and yards per attempt, but when the quarterback is given time to throw there is little that the rest of the defense is doing to disrupt the play. Injuries in the secondary haven’t helped this, but even at full strength the back four are almost an afterthought compared to the attention that is paid to the Jets pass rushers. On Monday night New York was able to hold their opponent to only 225 passing yards on 60.5% passing. They forced four sacks and a quarterback fumble in addition to having consistent pressure throughout the game, but they gave up two touchdowns to one receiver and over 100 yards to another. It was a mixed bag performance in the primetime loss, but the defense did enough to give the Jets offense a chance at the end of the game to force overtime. Though the efforts were ultimately in vein, the pass rush held their own against a formidable NFC North opponent.

Running Game Thoughts: Coming into the season the expectations out of Detroit were that their two-headed monster of RB Reggie Bush and RB Joique Bell would combine to start taking over the offense, transforming the Lions into a run-centered team with phenomenal receiving talents. In fact the reverse has mostly come true, where the team is still based around the passing game but has a pair of stud running backs lurking behind the O-line as highly paid decoys. To date Detroit has attempted 86 rushes in three games, tucked snugly into the middle of the rankings, but they’ve gained only 261 yards, putting them in the bottom quarter of the league. Between the two dynamic backs the Lions have still only managed three yards per carry, better than just one other team. From a fantasy perspective Bush and Bell would combine to make a respectable starter, but dividing their totals between them calls into question their viability on a weekly basis. They’ve each scored one touchdown and both average 40 yards or less per game, though that is somewhat bolstered by 20 or more receiving yards per contest. Until last week Bell was the fantasy back to own, but with Bush gaining nearly 100 total yards and finding the endzone last week he’s moved ahead in season totals.

Regardless of which back performs better this week it’s unlikely that either will warrant a start against a brutally tough Jets defense which is allowing a meager 55 rushing yards per game and only 2.8 per carry. No running back has gained more than 43 rushing yards against the Jets this season, and only in Week 3 did one gain more than 18 yards through the air. Considering Detroit’s preference to throw rather than run and their previous inability to achieve sustained success in the run game, the Jets defense will look even more formidable against the rushing attack that the Lions will put forth. New York is one of only four teams that have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown and unless the visitors dramatically revise their game plan this stat is incredibly unlikely to change on Sunday. The greatest hope for Detroit is that the home team will be a bit sluggish after playing on Monday night in Week 3, but since they were at home then and are there again the odds aren’t particularly high for that to occur.

Matthew Stafford: 245 pass yds, 2 TD
Reggie Bush: 25 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Joique Bell: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Calvin Johnson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 65 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Although a number of other teams have tied the mark, no one else in the league has thrown more interceptions than QB Geno Smith. Rubbing preverbal salt into that wound is the fact that no team has thrown fewer touchdowns than the Jets. Amazingly the combination of four interceptions and three touchdowns is common to New York and five more teams, and without naming individual names that group isn’t one that NFL teams wish to be a part of. Even within that downtrodden sextet the Jets cannot claim the most passing yards, best completion percentage, or greatest mark for yards per attempt. By all objective measures the Jets have one of the least inspiring aerial attacks in the NFL but without the critical errors from Smith they could conceivably be wonderfully mediocre. Fighting back to that benchmark will be tough in Week 4 with WR Eric Decker (hamstring) still ailing after being limited to only 12 snaps on Monday night. Without him in the lineup New York will be without their leading receiver, leaving Jeremy Kerley and Greg Salas as the team’s top wide outs and TEs Jeff Cumberland and Jace Amaro as the only remaining pass catchers with more than six completions and 25 receiving yards. On Monday night with Decker hobbled, Kerley, Salas, and Amaro were the three leading receivers as the Jets were forced to spread the ball around to nine targets. While Smith put up over 315 passing yards only two players recorded more than three receptions, Kerley and RB Chris Ivory. The dilution of yardage made most of the Jets receivers nearly-worthless fantasy players, though the touchdown and 81 yards for Kerley clearly made him the shining jewel in an otherwise dull collection.

The biggest surprise in Week 3 may have been the defensive performance put together by Detroit when they hosted the Packers and held one of the league’s elite quarterbacks to 162 yards passing and only one touchdown while allowing him to complete less than 60% of his passes. A repeat performance would all but cripple their opponent this week, as New York has significantly less receiving talent and the signal callers could hardly be more unalike. The Lions have played only one road game this season and in it they were defeated by a team with a strong defense and a mobile quarterback, so perhaps there is something for Smith and company to learn from the success of a prior opponent. The front four of Detroit is arguably the best in the league and the secondary is highly experienced with only one starter having less than six years of NFL experience. By disrupting the line of scrimmage and winning most matchups in the secondary the Lions can wreak havoc in the passing game for even the best quarterbacks in the league, and considering Smith’s propensity for making youthful mistakes the Jets have a difficult task set ahead of them this weekend if they’re to overcome their woes through the air.

Running Game Thoughts: Though the Monday night game will mostly be remembered for the mistakes made by the Jets quarterback, the most disappointing aspect of the offense may actually have been the rushing attack. The Jets trailed for all but 32 seconds of the game and were motivated to throw the ball to catch up, but at worst they were never more than two scores behind and desperately needed a stabilizing presence on the offense. The team rushed only 26 times compared to 34 and 37 in the first two contests. Totaling 114 yards on Monday yielded a respectable 4.4 yards per carry, but another 5-10 attempts would have encouraged the defense to stack the box more and thus open up the injured secondary more for Smith and the receivers. Nonetheless, RBs Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson each received 10 carries, with Ivory gaining 44 yards and Johnson earning 34. In each of the three games Ivory has outgained Johnson and on the season has picked up 76 more yards on the ground than his backfield counterpart. Additionally Ivory is potentially taking receptions away from Johnson as well as outrushing him; Johnson has zero yards on one catch and four targets in the last two games whereas Ivory has collected all five of his targets for a total of 55 yards in that same span. The final consistent contributor to rushing totals is Smith whose ability to scramble and create with his legs has led to him averaging 28 rushing yards per game in addition to rushing for a touchdown. When used appropriately these three ball carriers can overwhelm defenses, as evidenced by their current standing as the league’s second best rushing team with an average of 157 rushing yards per game and nearly five yards per carry.

If there’s a team that can defend against the run as well as the Jets can, Detroit may very well be that team. The Lions have the best mark for yards allowed per rush and are second in rushing yards allowed despite giving up two touchdowns already this season. In three games they have surrendered at least 35 yards to four different running backs but none of them have surpassed the 50-yard mark. Teams are averaging less than 65 rushing yards against Detroit and the only team to gain more than that was the team, which was held out of the endzone. So far opponents have been able to earn modest gains on the ground or they’ve been able to score, but no one has been able to achieve both. Now that LB Stephen Tulloch (ACL) is out for the year after injuring himself while celebrating a sack, Detroit will be without its on field leader, potentially opening the way for the Jets to find some semblance of success on the ground where others have been unable to do so. If New York remains dedicated to their rushing attack as expected, the line of scrimmage may start to resemble the titanic battles spoken of in Greek mythology, with unconquerable powers clashing against immoveable forces as the linemen from both teams endlessly struggle for superiority and control of the ground game.

Geno Smith: 170 pass yds, 15 rush yds, 1 INT
Chris Ivory: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 40 rush yds
Jeremy Kerley: 50 rec yds
Jace Amaro: 30 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 17, Jets 9

Saints at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: New Orleans enters Week 4 with the fifth highest passing total and QB Drew Brees has the highest completion percentage in the league. In three games the team has surrendered only three sacks on 117 pass attempts and Brees has thrown two interceptions compared to five touchdowns. Despite the statistical accolades, the team is winless on the road and leaves the comfort of the Super Dome for the third time in four weeks. As the fantasy world suspected, TE Jimmy Graham is once again demonstrating his superiority at the position, scoring two touchdowns, converting 77% of his targets, and averaging nearly 85 yards per game as the team’s leading receiver. Two others have also scored in addition to gaining over 130 yards, WRs Marques Colston and rookie Brandin Cooks. Out of the backfield RB Pierre Thomas has caught 12 of the 13 passes thrown his way and collected nearly 100 yards through the air. With the offense tending toward spread formations and Graham being almost impossible to defend one-on-one the Saints have one of the most wide open passing attacks in the league and a quarterback with the talent to spread the ball around to the open man.

Averaging better than 281 yards per game it will take a stellar secondary to slow down Brees and the multitude of capable receivers he has at his disposal. To date, Dallas has been decidedly sub-par, allowing backup quarterbacks and run-first teams to gain 250 passing yards per game and score six touchdowns. Though the defense has forced four interceptions they’ve sacked the quarterback only thrice and are allowing 7.7 yards per attempt despite a completion percentage below 65%. In Week 3 the Cowboys surrendered 327 passing yards and three touchdowns to a second year backup quarterback making his third career NFL appearance. They forced two interceptions but recorded no sacks and conceded over 71% in completions. Last week with the new drug policy in place, CB Orlando Scandrick had his suspension lifted and rotated in the secondary with CB Morris Claiborne. As of Tuesday it was shared that Scandrick would be inserted into the starting lineup ahead of Claiborne, and by his own admission the latter didn’t handle this well. He walked out on the team Tuesday afternoon when he was told of the change, but after a locker room apology he returned to practice about 24 hours later. Dissention is certainly not what the Cowboys need heading into the Sunday night game, as Brees has torched Dallas for over 350 yards in each of their last three meetings; all were wins for the Saints.

Running Game Thoughts: In the first game without RB Mark Ingram in the backfield the Saints were reasonably successful on the ground, totaling 108 rushing yards but requiring 32 attempts to reach that mark, and average of only 3.4 yards per carry. Four running backs recorded at least one carry, but the workload was primarily shared between Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas. The former had roughly twice as many carries and about twice as many yards, but the latter scored a touchdown and also contributed in the passing game with three catches for 21 receiving yards. With Ingram available, both Robinson and Thomas were relegated to the change-of-pace role, but now they split backfield duties amongst themselves at nearly a 2-1 rate favoring Robinson. However, only Thomas has contributed to the passing game at any point this season, so while his carry totals are lower his versatility gives him more impressive upside in scoring situations. The team ranks sixth in rushing yards and no team has scored more touchdowns on the ground than New Orleans, so if the two ball carriers are able to replicate the success of the injured Ingram, they could both be viable fantasy options this weekend.

Due largely in part to their struggles defending through the air Dallas has faced fewer rushing attempts than three quarters of the league and even so is surrendering 110 yards per game on the ground. Through three games the Cowboys have only yielded one rushing touchdown, so while they give up yardage between the 20s they tend to hold firm in the redzone. Last week Dallas faced three ball carriers who are all second year players or rookies, and on 26 rushing attempts the backfield trio gained 120 yards and averaged 4.6 per carry. This was in addition to giving up a tremendous day through the air to their second year backup quarterback. In all the Cowboys gave up nearly 450 yards to a 1-2 team which is expected to challenge for the number one overall draft pick in 2015. While Dallas has struggled with injuries since the preseason for once it appears that the team may be as close to full strength as they’ve been all year, and with the Saints expected to play most of the game in receiver-heavy sets that will give the depth in the Cowboys secondary a chance to make plays in both phases of the defense.

Drew Brees: 310 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Khiry Robinson: 75 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 40 rush yds, 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandin Cooks: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 65 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 95 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: On a per attempt basis QB Tony Romo is almost certainly the highest paid passer in the league; only four teams have thrown fewer passes than Dallas. The injury concerns related to his back have limited his effectiveness at times and is likely playing into the team’s desire to protect him from unnecessary exposure. As such the Cowboys rank in the bottom quarter of the league in passing yardage despite having a better than average mark for yards gained per pass attempt. Contributing to those struggles is an offensive line, which has allowed seven sacks in just three games and routinely allows defensive pressure to affect Romo, though by all accounts the unit is better than they were in 2013 and they continue to improve. There are few surprises with respect to who the top pass catchers are in Dallas, with WR Dez Bryant leading the way with 82 yards per game and two scores this season. Other than him only WR Terrance Williams and TE Jason Witten have gained more than 90 receiving yards, and just Bryant and Williams have found the endzone, creating a clear distinction in fantasy value between them and everyone else. In a Week 3 victory, Romo threw for only 217 yards despite completing 78% of his passes. He took no sacks and threw three touchdowns, though one of those actually went to a defender who returned it 25 yards for a pick-six. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Dallas put together a sustained drive, and fittingly it was capped off with a touchdown pass from Romo. The offense will need to be ready to play much sooner than the final quarter against a Saints team which is expected to score early and often on Sunday night.

Although fantasy football is a statistics-driven competition there are times when stats on paper take away from the truth on the field. The Saints have given up the fourth most passing yards in the league and are one of only six teams to have not forced an interception. Opposing quarterbacks have completed over 62% of their passes against them and in three games the defense has recorded only four sacks. However, after giving up nearly 450 passing yards to a division rival on opening night the defense has rebounded nicely, allowing 204 and 188 passing yards in the subsequent weeks while giving up only one touchdown through the air. All this week the reports out of New Orleans have been that the staff is stressing fundamentals and cautioning the team about overlooking the Cowboys; despite the trouncing that the Black and Gold delivered last year Dallas has a collection of offensive playmakers that the Saints are likely to have a hard time defending against on Sunday night. Built much like their Week 1 opponent Dallas has a stud wide receiver and a highly capable counterpart, a quarterback who is capable of putting up big numbers in any given weekend, and enough talent surrounding those players to force the defense into honest coverages to respect the ground game as well as the pass.

Running Game Thoughts: It took until almost the 58th minute but RB DeMarco Murray hit triple digits for the third game in a row this year. He finished the contest with 100 yards and pushed his season average to 128 yards per game. He leads the NFL in both rushing average and in touchdowns scored (3) while leading the Cowboys to a top three run game ranking. Murray has scored in every game this season, carried the ball at least 22 times, caught at least one pass, and has never recorded less than 131 total yards from scrimmage. He has however also fumbled once in each game this season, twice from the run and once after a catch, and as such has put the team in tough positions on more than one occasion. The rest of the team has combined for 85 yards on 20 carries with no scores, less than Murray has recorded in any game this season. In addition to being an incredible talent with the ball in his hands the offensive line in front of him is creating excellent opportunities on the ground. Despite their struggles in the passing game the Dallas O-line is one of the best run blocking units in the NFL, finally reaping the benefits of the high draft picks they’ve invested in that area. Even though the passing game gets all of the attention it is Murray and the rushing attack that drive the offense.

The matchup along the line of scrimmage will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game, where a top three rushing attack will square off against a top ten run defense. The Saints allow just 101 rushing yards per game and a respectable 3.9 per carry. No ball carrier has broken a run of longer than 17 yards against New Orleans as the defense forces them to earn their yardage small bits at a time. For the most part that is how Murray has earned his yardage, in short but powerful bursts as he averaged better than 5.4 yards per carry in two games despite never having a run longer than 22 yards. The Saints have yet to face an elite running back or even a solid offensive line, so Murray and the front five from Dallas will be a true test. In their two losses, both on the road, New Orleans gave up over 120 rushing yards, but in victory last week they held their opponent to under 60. If the Cowboys are going to win on Sunday night they’ll need another strong performance from the best rusher in league.

Tony Romo: 245 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
DeMarco Murray: 95 rush yds, 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Terrance Williams: 45 rec yds
Jason Witten: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 35, Cowboys 31

Bills at Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Second-year Buffalo QB EJ Manuel is off to a solid, if unspectacular start to the 2014 NFL season. He’s 19th at his position in fantasy points with three touchdown passes and one interception while averaging 204 passing yards. Manuel continues to be a highly underwhelming fantasy option, just like the rest of the Bills’ passing game. Rookie WR Sammy Watkins seems destined to become a fantasy stud, but should be slotted as nothing more than a WR3 this week against Houston.

The Texans have been mostly mediocre on pass defense this season, having failed to stand out one-way or another. They’ve given up three scoring passes in their trio of games this year and rank 18th against the pass despite allowing the third-highest completion percentage in the league. Houston has surrendered the 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, but the 15th-most points to wide receivers and 11th-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bills’ duo of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller is effective, but neither does enough to be a reliable source of fantasy points. Though both backs have scored on receptions, neither has rushed for a touchdown or amassed 70 rushing yards in a single contest. They do have a good match-up this week against the Texans, with Spiller being the better option as a flex play simply because he gets more carries than Jackson.

Houston does a nice job of limiting the amount of yards running backs gain – receiving yards, that is. Just two teams have given up fewer receiving yards to backs than the Texans. But therein lies the only good news for the team when it comes to opposing players out of the backfield. Houston was torched for 176 rushing yards and a score last week by New York’s Rashad Jennings, and currently rank 25th in run defense and T-21st in rushing scores surrendered. The Texans have given up the 13th-most fantasy points to running backs, but the fifth-most rushing yards and have allowed every starting back they’ve faced to rush for a score.

EJ Manuel: 185 pass yds, 0 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
C.J. Spiller: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Sammy Watkins: 75 rec yds
Robert Woods: 40 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick is 12th among quarterbacks in fantasy points, even after throwing three interceptions with only one score in the Texans’ loss to the Giants last week. His mobility is underrated, and – because of the match-up – is not a terrible option for fantasy owners whose QB has a bye this week. One of the reasons for the (limited) optimism with Fitzpatrick is his wideouts. Andre Johnson hasn’t found the end zone yet, but leads the team in targets and receptions and has put up solid totals in receiving yards. Yet he isn’t the most productive Houston wideout. That honor would go to DeAndre Hopkins, who has 227 receiving yards, has scored twice and is 12th in fantasy points among wide receivers. Both receivers should be in play this week for fantasy owners against the Bills.

Buffalo has had some struggles stopping the pass this season, ranking 22nd in pass defense. They’re T-18th in touchdown throws given up and are 23rd in completion percentage allowed. The Bills have surrendered the ninth-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and the seventh-most to wide receivers, with an opposing wideout amassing double-digit fantasy points against them in each game this year.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster missed last week’s game against New York due to a hamstring malady, though all signs point to him being ready to go this week. Foster was having his typical season before the injury, with over 100 rushing yards in each of his first two games. Alfred Blue did a solid job filling in for Foster last week, but make no mistake – this is Foster’s backfield. If healthy, he’s a must-start, even with a seemingly tough match-up against Buffalo.

Unlike the Texans, the Bills have trouble stopping opposing backs from picking up yards via reception – they’ve given up the sixth-most receiving yards in the league to running backs. Also unlike the Texans, the Bills can stop opposing running games. Buffalo is sixth in the league in run defense, is one of just four squads who have yet to allow a rushing score, and they’ve permitted the sixth-fewest fantasy points to running backs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Arian Foster: 70 rush yds, 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Alfred Blue: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Johnson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 75 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 20, Bills 13

Titans at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a solid Week 1 performance, the real Jake Locker showed up for Tennessee, and continued to underwhelm. Over his last two games, he has thrown for one score while being picked off four times while completing just over 50 percent of his passes. He’s dealing with a wrist malady, so he may not play this week, though fantasy owners shouldn’t be using him anyway. Locker isn’t the only Titan in the passing game that fantasy owners should avoid, with Kendall Wright being the only wide receiver on their squad in the top-50 at the position in fantasy points – and he’s tied for 50th. There’s only one Tennessee pass-catcher worthy of fantasy attention, and that’s TE Delanie Walker, who’s fifth at his position in fantasy points. Unfortunately, he is nursing a shoulder injury and his status as of this writing was questionable. If he does go, Walker has an excellent match-up against an Indianapolis team that has struggled against tight ends.

The Colts have faced two of the better passing offenses in the league in Denver and Philadelphia, which might help explain why their pass defense has inferior statistics. Indy is currently 28th in the NFL against the pass, and just four teams have given up more touchdown throws than they have. Consequently, the Colts have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and while they’re 16th in points given up to wide receivers, they’ve allowed the fifth-most points to tight ends despite holding Jacksonville tight ends to only eight yards last week.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie RB Bishop Sankey had the best performance of his very short career last week, picking up 61 yards on 10 carries, though he remains firmly behind Shonn Greene on the team’s depth chart. Greene doesn’t catch the ball at all, and will only get between 10-15 carries, so while he’s capable of producing this week against the Colts, expectations should be limited.

Indianapolis’ run defense hasn’t been bad, as they rank 17th in the league against the run and have yet to allow a running back to gain even 80 yards against them. But they’re also T-21st in rushing scores surrendered, and – thanks to Darren Sproles – have given up the most receiving yards in the league to running backs. The Colts have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points in the league to running backs, though at this point it’s hard to define exactly what their run defense is considering they’ve played two passing teams and a horrid Jaguars squad.

Jake Locker: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 30 rush yds
Shonn Greene: 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Bishop Sankey: 25 rush yds
Kendall Wright: 55 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 35 rec yds
Nate Washington: 20 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Through three games, both Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton have been held without a touchdown reception, which means Andrew Luck must be struggling, right? Not exactly. Luck leads the NFL with nine touchdown throws and leads all players in fantasy scoring. And even though Luck hasn’t found his top two wideouts yet, their time will come. The team’s leader in TD catches is actually RB Ahmad Bradshaw with three, while Hakeem Nicks has a pair (though just 82 receiving yards), as does TE Dwayne Allen. Yet it won’t be easy for any of them this week against the Titans.

Tennessee’s pass defense continues to deliver, and promises to be a tough match-up for Luck and Co. The Titans are second in the NFL against the pass, T-3rd in passing scores permitted, T-4th in interceptions and T-6th in sacks. No team has allowed fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks this season than the Titans, who have yet to allow a quarterback to throw for even 205 yards. And though Tennessee allowed both Dez Bryant and A.J. Green to compile 100 receiving yards against them, they’ve still surrendered the fifth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: The aforementioned Bradshaw continues to be a better back than Trent Richardson, and continues to get fewer carries. Bradshaw has 16 fewer carries than Richardson, but just six fewer rushing yards. Neither has scored on the ground this year, but Bradshaw’s receiving prowess has him at sixth in fantasy scoring among running backs. That won’t continue all season, of course, but fantasy owners should continue to employ him in their lineups this week against Tennessee.

No team in the league has surrendered fewer receiving yards to running backs than the Titans, but only six teams have allowed more rushing yards to players at the position. Overall, Tennessee is 24th in the league in rush defense and T-24th in rushing scores ceded. They held Jamaal Charles to just 19 yards in Week 1, but DeMarco Murray scorched them for 167 yards in Week 2, and last week Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined to score three times on the ground. Add it all up and you have a Titans squad that has allowed the 12th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Andrew Luck: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Reggie Wayne: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 65 rec yds
Hakeem Nicks: 25 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 20 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 27, Titans 20

Dolphins @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The turmoil at the quarterback position in Miami has been the talk of the NFL for about a week now as the Dolphins coaching staff has been less-than-committal about the status of the No. 8 overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Ryan Tannehill. He did lead the team to an impressive Week 1 victory over the perennial defending AFC East Champion New England Patriots. Since then, he and the Dolphins have lost back-to-back games including a blowout loss at home in Week 3 to the Kansas City Chiefs. While backup quarterback Matt Moore has not yet taken a snap in practice with the first team offense, there is a legitimate concern that Tannehill could be sat down in future games. Because of this, Tannehill is a risky fantasy play this week even as he goes up against a mediocre Oakland Raiders defense.

While the Raiders have statistically been good against opposing quarterbacks this season, at least from a fantasy standpoint, their competition has not exactly been stellar. The Jets and Texans have had bad passing attacks for years now and Tom Brady and the Patriots are in major turmoil offensively. The Dolphins have not been able to get things going in their own passing game with Tannehill having thrown just four touchdown passes through the first three weeks of the season. With tight end Charles Clay (knee) slowed by injury, the only player in this passing game whom fantasy owners can truly be excited about is Mike Wallace. Wallace failed to live up to the high expectations bestowed upon him in 2013, but has looked great in 2014. He leads the team in all 17 catches, 211 yards and two touchdowns and should have a good opportunity for another nice game this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Dolphins running back Lamar Miller has been a preseason darling for a few seasons now, but the coaching staff has not exactly been thrilled with his production. Because of that, Miller has been firmly entrenched in a series of brutal running-back-by-committee situations, including the 2014 timeshare with former Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno. Moreno, who was a top 5 fantasy producer for the Broncos in 2013, looked great early in the season before getting injured, which has since led the way for Miller to take the full time job by default. While the Moreno injury situation isn’t exactly how we’d like to see him get additional carries, Miller seemed to have a bit of extra spring in his step in Week 3 as he rushed for 108 yards on just 15 carries. What’s more impressive, though, is that he did that in a game where his team was losing by multiple scores. Now in a game that the Dolphins are expected to win, Miller could have additional chances to carry the ball as he goes up against an Oakland Raiders defense that has been one of the worst against running backs in recent history.

The Raiders have allowed an average of 147 rushing yards per game this season and their incompetence at stopping the run has gone on for quite awhile. Over their past 17 games, the Raiders have given up an average of 21.5 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) to opposing running backs. This alone should make Miller a must-start in most leagues, especially given the number of bye weeks and injuries at the running back position.

Ryan Tannehill: 185 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Lamar Miller: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brian Hartline: 30 rec yds
Charles Clay: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After an efficient start to the season in a close loss on the road to the Jets in Week 1, Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr has begun to look like a rookie over his past two games. Carr threw two interceptions in Week 2 against the Texans with only one touchdown then proceeded to throw another interception (due to a dropped pass by Denarius Moore) without a touchdown in Week 3 against the Patriots. Had Carr been in sync with his receivers, he could have led his team to victory. Instead, the Raiders head into Week 4 with an 0-3 record and without much of an identity on offense. Free agent acquisition James Jones, who led the league in touchdown receptions just two seasons ago as a member of the Packers, has been the only high quality fantasy player that the Raiders have produced thus far in 2014. His 15 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns are all best on the team and he should have more opportunities over the next few games with fellow wideout Rod Streater on the sidelines due to a foot injury.

The Dolphins don’t have a bad pass defense and currently rank in the top-10 in fewest points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, so it will be hard to trust anyone in this Oakland passing game, but Jones does have the potential to sneak into a some fantasy lineups just because of the potential of a high number of targets coming his way.

Running Game Thoughts: A hand injury has kept free agency acquisition Maurice Jones-Drew on the sidelines for the past few weeks, which has really hampered the Raiders offense and their desire to run the ball with their two-headed backfield. Jones-Drew, a former NFL rushing champion, remains questionable for this weekend’s game overseas at Wembley Stadium, which could mean that Darren McFadden will be the team’s lead back again. This dual backfield generally means that neither player is likely to produce much from a fantasy standpoint, but this is a potentially decent matchup against a Miami Dolphins defense that has already conceded the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2014. This includes a 42-point (standard scoring) day given up to the Chiefs just a week ago, who were without Pro Bowler Jamaal Charles. While the matchup is good, it’ll be very hard to trust any of these Raiders running backs for your fantasy lineup unless you are in an absolutely desperate scenario.

Derek Carr: 175 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Darren McFadden: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 35 rush yds, 10 rec yds
James Jones: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 30 rec yds
Andre Holmes: 25 rec yds
Mychal Rivera: 20 rec yds

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Raiders 17

Jaguars @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Blake Bortles era has begun in Jacksonville and there may finally be something to be excited about in this horrendous offense. Bortles, who was the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, has been sitting on the bench and learning behind veteran Chad Henne to start the season, but got his number called in the second half of Week 3 with his team down multiple scores. Bortles had his fair share of bad plays, but the offense certainly had new life with him behind center. He connected on touchdown passes to both Allen Hurns and Cecil Shorts, giving fantasy owners some hope that there will be some sort of offensive production here going forward. Bortles is probably too raw to be relied upon in anything other than two-quarterback leagues, but he will be up against a San Diego defense that hasn’t been particularly great against opposing quarterbacks this season.

They’ve given up five touchdowns through the air while not yet forcing an interception despite playing against the likes of Carson Palmer and EJ Manuel who are not known for taking are of the football. San Diego had a similar problem of not forcing enough turnovers in 2013, when they forced just 11 interceptions; good for third-fewest in the league. While this is one of the safest matchups that he could face, Bortles will still be playing behind one of the league’s most atrocious offensive lines which could mean that he is running for his life throughout the day. On the bright side, Bortles does have underrated mobility and could realistically be one of the top five-or-so rushers at the quarterback position this season. Receivers Cecil Shorts, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson all have the potential for a decent day here, but shouldn’t be relied on by fantasy owners until we see which one of them - if any - becomes his favorite target.

Running Game Thoughts: Through three weeks, it appears as if the Toby Gerhart experiment has failed in Jacksonville. Gerhart’s 2.4 yards per carry are perhaps more to blame on the offensive line than Gerhart himself, but fantasy owners don’t really care why it’s happening; we just want it to stop. The Jaguars back has just 82 total rushing yards on the season and has added just 55 yards in the receiving game, effectively making him a non-factor thus far. He might have his best opportunity yet for fantasy production in Week 4 when he and the Jaguars head to San Diego to play against a Chargers defense that has given up an average of 18.7 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) to opposing running backs in 2014. Still, Gerhart’s pathetic start to the season will mean that he is on most fantasy benches in Week 4 - and rightfully so. If you’re in the situation that Gerhart is in your lineup and you’re looking for a positive, it’s worth noting that Bortles behind center will likely mean that defenses have to be concerned about his scrambling ability; which could lead to less attention for Gerhart bu the defense. Don’t be surprised to see Gerhart have his best fantasy day thus far as a Jaguar, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to make fantasy owners happy.

Blake Bortles: 250, 2 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Toby Gerhart: 50 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Allen Robinson: 70 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Allen Hurns: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It would’ve been easy for the Chargers to take the momentum they gained with their Week 2 victory over the Seahawks and completely let down with a road loss to the Bills. But that’s not what happened. Quarterback Philip Rivers led his team to a nice victory while still satisfying fantasy owners with a 256-yard, two-touchdown performance while avoiding throwing an interception for the second straight game. The odd part, is that while Rivers had a great connection with veteran tight end Antonio Gates in Weeks 1 and 2, the connection came together for just one completion for eight yards in Week 3. Instead, Rivers spread the ball out to a plethora of receivers including Gates’ backup Ladarius Green who caught four balls for 64 yards, Malcom Floyd who caught two passes for 98 yards and veteran Eddie Royal who made four catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns. For the third straight game, 2013 breakout rookie Keenan Allen was effectively a non-factor, at least from a fantasy standpoint. Allen’s 12 total catches for 109 yards on the season have been a major disappointment for fantasy owners who were expecting him to build on his monstrous rookie season.

There is still time for Allen to come around and this Week 4 matchup against the Jaguars could very well be the recipe for a big day for the Chargers’ top receiver. The Jaguars have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season, having just conceded a near 400-yard, four touchdown passing day to Andrew Luck in Week 3. The Jaguars’ defense is almost as awful as their offense and this is one of those games where you can feel somewhat optimistic about starting most anyone in this San Diego offense.

Running Game Thoughts: When the Chargers signed former Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown this past offseason, NFL experts and particularly fantasy geeks questioned the move to add another running back to an already crowded backfield that included one of the more productive duos of the 2013 season. But after three games, the decision is starting to make a lot of sense. Ryan Mathews, who has a history of injury problems, is out for the next few weeks with a sprained MCL. Meanwhile, Danny Woodhead will miss the remainder of the 2014 season with a broken fibula and broken ankle. With both players out, the journeyman Brown will now serve as the team’s bell cow in one of the tastiest possible matchups. Brown will be running against a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that has allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than any team in the league so far this season. They’ve already conceded over 550 total yards and six touchdowns to the position. Needless to say, Brown will be a sneaky start for in-the-know fantasy owners who realize just how bad Jacksonville has been and just how great of an opportunity this is. Don’t take this as a sign of faith in Brown’s fantasy outlook going forward, but he is a legit low-end RB1 for Week 4 and should be started in all leagues.

Philip Rivers: 315 pass yds, 3 TD
Donald Brown: 90 rush yds, 2 TD, 25 rec yds
Keenan Allen: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 70 rec yds
Eddie Royal: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Ladarius Green: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 38, Jaguars 17

Eagles @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The gimmick plays haven’t been quite as common for Philadelphia so far in 2014, but that doesn’t mean that the production hasn’t been there from Nick Foles and the Eagles offense. Head coach Chip Kelly has done a great job of developing an offensive scheme that fits Foles’ abilities, highlighting his strong suits while hiding his imperfections. This has led to some nice fantasy production from the third-year quarterback. Foles currently sits fifth among quarterbacks in total fantasy points through three games and he’s doing it all without his favorite target from a year ago, DeSean Jackson, who is now in Washington. His favorite target thus far has been the returning Jeremy Maclin who missed 2013 with a knee injury. Maclin leads the team across the board with 16 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns, but it’s his 31 targets that have fantasy owners salivating most. Any time a player is targeted 10-plus times per game, he’s bound to have some fantasy success. It hasn’t just been Maclin, though. Rookie wideout Jordan Matthews stepped up in Philadelphia’s Week 3 win over Washington, making eight catches for 59 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

This high-powered offense will have its toughest test of the season in Week 4 as they go up against a San Francisco 49ers defense that is notoriously tough across the board. While they are typically known for being a strong run defense, the 49ers have quietly also been excellent against opposing quarterbacks. Over they’re past 18 games, only one quarterback (Jay Cutler, Week 2, 2014) has thrown for more than two touchdowns against the 49ers in a single contest. Foles will almost certainly still be in the lineup for most fantasy owners, but this isn’t the best matchup for him and the Philadelphia offense.

Running Game Thoughts: Through two games, LeSean McCoy appeared to be the “safe” player out of the top three running backs who were selected in 2014 fantasy drafts. Jamaal Charles had already been injured and Adrian Peterson is facing a likely season-ending suspension while McCoy had at least produced at a decent pace. Then came Week 3: a perceived-to-be excellent matchup against a Washington defense that has looked atrocious thus far in 2014. McCoy was almost unanimously considered the top-ranked running back for the week, but fantasy owners were disgusted that their first round pick turned in just 22 rushing yards on 19 carries while not catching a single pass in the Eagles’ 37-34 victory. While we have to be able to look past one bad game, it is concerning that McCoy was so unproductive when the Eagles scored so many points. One might have expected that McCoy’s lack of production would have led to a nice fantasy day for Darren Sproles, but that didn’t happen either. Sproles touched the ball five times for 50 yards, but a fumble knocked him back down to just a three-point fantasy day himself.

Both players coming off of such an ugly performance should be monitored closely this week in a tough matchup against the 49ers and their exceptional run defense. After allowing just over 100 yards and a touchdown to DeMarco Murray in Week 1, the San Francisco defense has settled down, allowing just 85 total rushing yards over their past two contests. That includes holding Matt Forte to just 21 yards in Week 2. McCoy remains a must-start just because of how productive Philadelphia’s offense is and his nose for the end zone, but Darren Sproles may be relegated to a low-end FLEX play this week. Still, look for both players to have a better day in Week 4 than they did in Week 3.

Nick Foles: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
LeSean McCoy: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 15 rush yds, 45 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordan Matthews: 50 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 30 rec yds
Zach Ertz: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: After three straight seasons in the NFC Championship game, the San Francisco 49ers find themselves reeling with a 1-2 record and a lot of it has to do with the inefficiencies from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He came into 2013 high on the fantasy radar but was disappointing and fell to being a low-end QB1 in most leagues for 2014. Thus far he is narrowly living up to those expectations. Kaepernick has not yet thrown for 250 yards in a game this season and has thrown just four touchdowns along with three interceptions. Part of the problem has been that Kaepernick’s favorite red zone target, tight end Vernon Davis, missed much of Week 2 and the entire Week 3 contest. Davis is expected to play this Sunday, but may be slowed due to the ankle injury, which could mean that Kaepernick is a bit limited. Receivers Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson will attempt to do their best to make up for Davis if he doesn’t play as they go up against a Philadelphia defense that looked useless against Washington’s passing offense just a week ago. The Eagles allowed Kirk Cousins to throw for 427 yards and three touchdowns, with nearly 300 of those yards and two of the touchdowns going to the Redskins’ wide receivers. All of these points sound great for those invested in the San Francisco passing game, and there couldn’t be much a better matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Considered by most to be one of the safer running back selections coming into the 2014 fantasy season, Frank Gore has not exactly gotten off to a great start for the 49ers. Gore’s sub-4.0 yards per carry average has to be improved upon if fantasy owners are going to get much out of the veteran. While it makes sense that his numbers would be a bit down after back-to-back losses, the fact that Gore ran the ball just 16 times for 66 yards in the 49ers’ Week 1 blowout victory over the Cowboys has to be a bit of a concern. The positive thing for fantasy purposes is that rookie tailback Carlos Hyde has not really broken into Gore’s touches in any significant way -- at least not yet.

Gore and Hyde will be up against a Philadelphia defense that has already conceded over 400 total yards and four total touchdowns to opposing running backs this season. The reality is that San Francisco will need to contain the Philadelphia offense if they want to run the ball themselves in this game. If Philadelphia gets out to a quick lead, it would not be surprising to see San Francisco essentially abandon the run as they did in their Week 3 loss to the Cardinals. If that happens, neither Gore nor Hyde will have much high-end potential in this game.

Colin Kaepernick: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 25 rush yds
Frank Gore: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Carlos Hyde: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Michael Crabtree: 75 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Steve Johnson: 50 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 27, Eagles 24

Patriots @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The days of Tom Brady being a quality fantasy football quarterback may be coming to an end. Brady, who held the NFL’s single season touchdown record until Peyton Manning’s magical season in 2013, has now thrown for just three touchdowns in three games and has not yet surpassed the 250-yard mark in any contest. While he has done a good job of avoiding turnovers, having thrown no interceptions, that alone isn’t enough to make Brady’s fantasy owners happy. The future hall of famer sits 27th among fantasy quarterbacks at the moment -- behind the likes of Brian Hoyer, Geno Smith, Austin Davis and Derek Carr. While there is plenty of season remaining, the fact that Brady and the Patriots receivers have not been clicking is a major concern for fantasy owners going forward. Only Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski have double-digit catches after three games, with Gronkowski barely sneaking into that category at 11. Edelman has been a highly productive fantasy player thus far and ranks within the top 10 at the wide receiver position, but the team’s next-leading wide receiver is Kenbrell Thompkins who has just six catches for 53 yards on the year. The most disappointing thing is that the Patriots don’t have an excuse. Their matchups against the Dolphins, Vikings and Raiders are all very beatable and the type that Brady has traditionally exploited throughout his career.

Thankfully for Brady’s fantasy owners, he will have an opportunity to go up against a Kansas City defense that has not looked good against the pass this year. The Chiefs have allowed six passing touchdowns through three games and have not yet forced an interception. Their secondary was depleted coming into the season, but an ankle sprain to Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry has the unit reeling even more. One point to note is that the Chiefs have already conceded three touchdowns to opposing tight ends, which should mean a solid opportunity for Gronkowski to get into the end zone in this game.

Running Game Thoughts: A 3.4 yards per carry average from a running back who has never been excellent to begin with would normally mean that an NFL team would be looking for ways to get other players on the field. But Bill Belichick is not your typical NFL head coach. Despite Stevan Ridley’s mediocre start to the season and his less-than-stellar 2013 campaign, the New England coaching staff appears intent on continuing to get him the ball -- at least until he fumbles. This has given plenty of headaches to fantasy owners of Shane Vereen, who expected the PPR monster to be on the field more often in 2014. That has not been the case, however, as Vereen has made just nine receptions for 52 yards through three contests while rushing for just 96 yards and one score during that span. The frustrating thing about this backfield isn’t so much that the players are pulling snaps from one another, but rather that neither Vereen nor Ridley has shown any semblance of consistency thus far. They had a made-to-order matchup against the Raiders in Week 2 and rushed for just a combined 74 yards on the day in what was a much closer game common sense tells us it should have been.

The New England backs will have their hands full this week running against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that currently ranks in the top-10 in fewest points allowed to opposing running backs in 2014. While their previous opponents (Tennessee, Denver, Miami) don’t exactly have a plethora of great running back options, this is still a tougher matchup than the one that the Patriots faced when they hosted the Raiders a week ago. Given the high number of injuries and bye weeks here in Week 4, many fantasy owners will likely be forced to insert Vereen or Ridley into their lineups. While it’s not exactly an ideal matchup, the Patriots offense may opt to inject a heavy dose of the run here in this game in an effort to give Brady and the passing game more opportunities for play action passes that can get them big plays down the field.

Tom Brady: 230 pass yds, 2 TD
Stevan Ridley: 50 rush yds, 1 TD
Shane Vereen: 25 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 80 rec yds
Rob Gronkowski: 55 rec yds, 2 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: “Captain Checkdown” was back at it again in Week 3 as Alex Smith led the Chiefs to an impressive and dominant road win over the Dolphins. Smith, who threw for three touchdowns and 186 yards, was efficient and did not throw an interception, largely due to the fact that he did not attempt a single pass over 10 yards throughout the entire game. This is nothing new for Smith, who is not known for beating defenses deep, but it does make an important fantasy statement. The team’s leading receiver was third-string running back Joe McKnight who not only led the team in catches (six) and yards (64), but also scored two of the touchdowns and was targeted most among the team’s receiving options. In fact, only 10 of Smith’s 25 pass attempts went to wide receivers. At this point, it’s hard to believe that any wide receiver is going to be a reliable fantasy producer with Smith throwing the ball. That’s not to say that Smith can’t be productive as a passer, but rather that tight ends and running backs have added value with Smith at quarterback while wide receivers essentially becomes a non-factor.

With the Patriots having allowed the second-fewest receiving yards to opposing wide receivers so far this season, don’t expect Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery or Junior Hemmingway to suddenly step up and produce a great fantasy day in Week 4. Instead, fantasy owners may want to put some stock into the recent performances of tight end Travis Kelce. He has become a favorite target of Smith’s, making 10 grabs for 166 yards and a beautiful Week 3 touchdown so far in 2014. While his matchup Monday against the Patriots isn’t an exceptional one given their stinginess against opposing tight ends so far, Kelce is probably the only player in the Kansas City passing game who has any real value at the moment.

Running Game Thoughts: Jamaal who? Second-year running back Knile Davis has now filled in admirably for the injured Jamaal Charles in back-to-back games, rushing for a total of 211 yards and three touchdowns. This surprise bit of fantasy production has been an excellent shot in the arm for those who handcuffed their stud running back with his backup. The situation now becomes murky with Charles expected to return to the lineup in the Chiefs’ Week 4 matchup against the Patriots. Charles has been limited in practice throughout the week. This, of course, puts fantasy owners in a bind, especially if they don’t have Davis rostered as a safety precaution. Most expect Charles to be on the field for the majority of snaps if he is healthy enough to play in this game, but given the success that Davis has had and the importance of keeping Charles healthy for the entirety of the season, it would not be implausible for the team to lean more toward a 70-30 split of carries between these two backs instead of the 90-10 split that we normally see.

Either way, the Chiefs backs could have a tough time running against this New England front seven that has really stepped up their play over their past two contests, holding both Minnesota and Oakland to fewer than 70 yards rushing. Going back to 2013, the Patriots have allowed just two rushing touchdowns over their past seven regular season games. While the temptation may be there to trust Charles in your lineup, fantasy owners would likely be best off waiting one week and keeping him on the bench in case he ends up not playing on Monday night. Of course, if you’re one of the lucky ones who owns both Charles and Davis, feel free to wait to make your decision until Monday night when we know more about which player will be getting the start.

Alex Smith: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds
Knile Davis: 40 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 30 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 30 rec yds
Travis Kelce: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 24, Chiefs 14

Packers @ Bears - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense haven’t been able to click in 2014 outside of one half against a poor Jets secondary. Last week Rodgers completed only 16-of-27 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers has been under constant duress as his depleted offensive line cannot protect him, and the struggling running game hasn’t helped take the pressure off, either. While Andrew Quarless was on the receiving end of the touchdown pass, once again the tight end position isn’t the weapon it once was for the team. Quarless is a solid blocker and has adequate hands but can’t challenge a defense, so he can’t help open things up for the Packers’ wide receivers. Jordy Nelson has seen 37 targets through three weeks and should continue being Rodgers’ first look, but the offense has always been better when Rodgers is able to spread the ball around. Randall Cobb is still a weapon but has yet to top 60 yards in any of his three games thus far. The team will need rookie Davante Adams to step up as Jarrett Boykin continues to drop too many balls. Adams can challenge a defense, thus adding a new dimension to the offense and opening things up for Cobb to work in space.

The opportunistic Bears pass defense could add to the Packers’ woes in Week 4. While the loss of Charles Tillman removes a playmaker, Kyle Fuller has stepped up with three interceptions already in three career games. While Jared Allen hasn’t made his presence felt yet, the Bears have been able to get to the quarterback, led by Willie Young’s four sacks. The Packers offensive line will need to step up and protect Rodgers or a 1-3 start could be a real possibility.

Running Game Thoughts: Eddie Lacy is off to a slow start this season, but it should be noted that he has faced three top-5 run defenses in his first three starts. The Seahawks’, Jets’ and Lions’ lineman and linebackers simply have manhandled the Packers’ blockers, giving Lacy little chance. Lacy has been challenged by head coach Mike McCarthy to step up his game, but the truth is the second-year back has run hard but must constantly break tackles and is not seeing much running room.

The good news is the Bears are allowing 144.7 rushing yards per game, so things may be much easier this week. A historically bad run defense in 2013 still seems to be struggling thus far.

Aaron Rodgers: 305 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 35 rush yds
Eddie Lacy: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
James Starks: 35 rush yds, 5 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Randall Cobb: 75 rec yds
Davante Adams: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Andrew Quarless: 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Jay Cutler has performed admirably thus far, when one considers the state of his offensive line and how banged up his two most dangerous weapons have been. Cutler has 750 yards passing and eight touchdowns against two interceptions, despite being sacked seven times. Brandon Marshall had to leave last week’s Monday night contest after re-tweaking his sprained ankle, and while he returned, he never looked healthy. Alshon Jeffrey, recovering from a hamstring strain, caught eight balls for 105 yards but still is lacking the explosion that set him apart last season. It’s been hulking tight end Martellus Bennett who has picked up the slack for the two outside forces, as he’s caught four touchdown passes already this season. The Bears come into this game on a short week, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll be completely healthy, but so far they’re still a very dangerous unit and are returning to Soldier Field coming off of two tough road wins.

Last week I stated the Packers 6th-ranked pass defense was likely a little deceiving during the first two games since it matched up with two teams that don’t put the ball in the air much. However, it continued its dominant ways, shutting down a high-powered Detroit passing attack. Matthew Stafford managed only 246 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions last week. The Packers haven’t generated much of a pass rush, but the secondary has still held up thus far. Nevertheless, if the Packers’ front seven give Jay Cutler time to throw, it could spell serious trouble for the team.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bears have not managed much of a running game so far this season, ranking dead last, and only averaging 64 yards per game on the ground. While some of that is due to having a pass-happy head coach and being in the bottom three in rush attempts, they have not been effective running the ball, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. The Bears’ offensive line is missing a few key pieces, and the team isn’t built to run the ball. Matt Forte owners will need to rely on his heavy usage in the passing game to get any return on the high draft pick that it took to get him.

The Packers have been run over by opposing backs through three weeks, allowing 156 yards per game and five rushing touchdowns. Perhaps the Bears look to take advantage of their deficiencies this week and change their game-plan. With Marc Trestman calling the shots, I wouldn’t count on it, though.

Jay Cutler: 315 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Matt Forte: 85 rush yds, 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 125 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Marshall: 70 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 45 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Bears 24, Packers 21

Panthers @ Ravens - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton hobbled around the field last Sunday Night, his ankle clearly still not 100percent. Coming off an offseason ankle surgery and broken ribs suffered during the preseason, Newton has been unable to run with the ball as much and as effectively as in the past, thus limiting an important aspect to his game. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin has quickly become Newton’s go-to receiver, and his ability to separate and fight off defenders at such a young age has been truly remarkable. Benjamin is making a case for the Rookie of the Year honors in the early part of the season. Outside of Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, who is enjoying one of his best seasons as a professional, the team is left with uninspiring but dependable veterans like Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. The passing game has yet to put up big numbers; however, it’s not the fantasy wasteland that many owners thought it would be.

The Ravens have allowed teams to move the ball through the air against them, allowing 262.3 passing yards per game, but have only yielded two passing touchdowns. They will face their first non-divisional foe and arguably the best quarterback they’ve faced so far. The Ravens will need to prepare for an aerial-based attack with the top three Panthers running backs all potentially missing this game.

Running Game Thoughts: Veteran DeAngelo Williams was inactive last week with a thigh injury, and the team saw both Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert leave last week’s game with injuries. Stewart is expected to miss four weeks with a knee injury, and Tolbert was placed on the IR. Fourth-string running back Fozzy Whitaker is also expected to miss the game due to an injury. If Williams is unable to go this week, the team will be forced to start rookie UDFA Darren Reaves, who the team promoted from its practice squad.

To make matters worse, the Ravens are allowing only 89.7 yards per game on the ground and have only allowed two rushing touchdowns in three games. While stranger things have happened, low expectations should be set for the Panthers’ rushing attack, especially if Reaves is asked to carry a full workload.

Cam Newton: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 25 rush yd, 1 TD
Darrin Reaves: 35 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Kelvin Benjamin: 65 rec yards, 1 TD
Jerricho Cotchery: 45 rec yds
Jason Avant: 25 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco has been efficient in leading the Ravens to 2-1 record, all within the AFC North. The team suffered a major blow when Dennis Pitta, who was expected to be the focal point of the passing game, suffered a dislocated hip for the second consecutive season. Veteran Owen Daniels will move up in the pecking order for targets now, but his best attribute at this point in his career is his familiarity with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense from their time together in Houston. Daniels has lost a step and isn’t nearly as athletic as Pitta. Steve Smith, who has had a renaissance in Baltimore after looking washed up with Carolina last season, will face the team this week that released him during the offseason. Under normal circumstances, Smith is a fiery player, but this week he should reach inferno levels as he looks to show the Panthers what a mistake they made by releasing him. Smith, Sr. has 18 catches for 290 yards and a touchdown through two weeks and has looked every bit as explosive as he ever has. Torrey Smith, who has been non-existent in the offense thus far with only six catches for 85 yards through three games, may finally see an increase in targets with Pitta out for the season.

The Panthers have limited teams to only 201.7 passing yards per game in 2014 and will likely look to take their former teammate Smith out of the game. The Panthers’ front seven is ferocious and will look for ways to rattle Flacco and keep him out of rhythm. The Ravens’ offensive line has picked it up after a shaky Week 1, but this will be a tough matchup for the unit.

Running Game Thoughts: Bernard Pierce’s groin injury opened the door for massive rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro to rumble for 91 yards and a touchdown last week. Pierce is expected back this week and should return as the team’s feature back, but Taliaferro likely opened some eyes on the coaching staff. Veteran Justin Forsett effectively occupies the third down, change-of-pace role and will spell Pierce and keep him fresh. The Ravens have looked to establish the run against their opponents in order to open up the passing game, and the offense has been much more effective than it was in 2013.

The Panthers feature a tough run defense, but last week’s game against Pittsburgh, where they gave up 264 yards on the ground, skewed their season statistics given the small sample size of three games. Le’Veon Bell and LaGarette Blount gashed the Panthers on Sunday night with each breaking a long run of 80 and 51 yards, respectively. Pierce is a similar runner to Blount, so perhaps he can find some success, but it’s likely last week’s game was an outlier for a team that is extremely strong up the middle with Star Lotulelei, Luke Kuechley and Thomas Davis.

Joe Flacco: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 rush yd
Bernard Pierce: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Justin Forsett: 45 rush yds, 35 rec yards
Torrey Smith: 45 rec yds
Steve Smith: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 20, Panthers 17

Buccaneers @ Steelers - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Over this season’s first three weeks, offseason acquisition Josh McCown showed he was truly a career journeyman quarterback and not the guy who had a nice stretch last season with the Bears. Luckily for the Buccaneers, McCown injured his thumb in the game against Atlanta, opening the door for second-year quarterback Mike Glennon to take over the job he handled admirably as a raw rookie. Glennon completed 17 of 25 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown during garbage time in the blowout loss to the Falcons. Last season, in 13 games, Glennon threw for 2,608 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Tampa Bay passing game struggled mightily under McCown, despite talented veteran Vincent Jackson and the seventh overall pick Mike Evans lining up at the wide receiver position. Glennon and Evans nearly hooked up on a long touchdown pass last week, but the ball was just beyond Evans’ reach. At 6’5”, 230 pounds Evans is a physical specimen and should be a nice target for the young quarterback. Jackson has disappointed thus far but is one of the league’s better deep threats and had good chemistry with Glennon last season. Jackson suffered a small fracture in his wrist against Atlanta, but is expected to play through it. It’s not expected to limit his production, but it’s something to monitor going forward.

The Steelers have played the pass well so far, allowing 223.7 passing yards per game. However, cornerback Ike Taylor broke his arm during the last game and is out indefinitely. Taylor grades poorly as a cornerback, but nevertheless, it’s a blow to the depth in the team’s secondary. Taylor will be replaced by William Gay. The Tampa Bay offensive line has played quite poorly in 2014, so expect heavy pressure from the Steelers on Sunday.

Running Game Thoughts: Third-year running back Doug Martin has been banged up and missed two games so far this season. In Week 2, his backup Bobby Rainey put up 144 yards against a tough Rams’ defense, and there was talk that the coaching staff really liked him and Martin’s job could be in danger. Rainey’s costly two fumbles last Thursday night probably put Martin back in the lead for feature-back carries, and he’s expected to start in Week 4. Martin had an outstanding rookie season and is a solid all-around back, but has struggled since then. The offensive line issues clearly do not help, but this week’s matchup just might.

The Steelers are allowing 130 yards per game, and that includes last week’s game against a Panthers team that was seriously banged up at the running back position. To make matters worse, the team lost promising rookie Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones to injury, weakening their linebacker unit. Shazier gave the team the speed on defense it was sorely lacking and will be missed.

Mike Glennon: 265 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Doug Martin: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 45 rush yds, 30 yds
Vincent Jackson: 85 rec yds
Mike Evans: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Myers: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Ben Roethlisberger found his favorite target, Antonio Brown, for two touchdowns last week, while beating a tough Carolina Panthers team. Big Ben’s ability to elude would-be tacklers before letting the ball go is well known, and last week before throwing the first touchdown pass he pulled off one of the better pump fakes to the opposite side of the field you’ll ever see. Brown has 22 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns already this season, and has been un-coverable due to his quickness and route running skills. Second-year receiver Markus Wheaton is starting to get worked into the offense and has the speed to get deep on opposing defenses, which should help get Brown open even more easily. The team is expected to get offseason acquisition Lance Moore back this week, and the dependable route runner with sure hands should become a Big Ben favorite as the season progresses.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were absolutely embarrassed on national television last week, as Matt Ryan had his way with their secondary. Ryan threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns, despite leaving the game midway through the third quarter. Despite the poor showing, the team’s pass defense hasn’t been that bad statistically, allowing 261.7 yards per game and five touchdowns on the season.

Running Game Thoughts: Bell and Blount gashed the Panthers on Sunday night for 264 rushing yards with each breaking a long run of 80 and 51 yards, respectively. Bell shed 20 pounds over the offseason, and while he still remains a big tough back, he’s noticeably quicker and more agile. Bell, at 22, is already looking like one of the most complete backs in the league. Blount is a fine complement as a no nonsense power runner who has enough speed to break a long run against a worn down defense. The Steelers should continue to try to ram the ball down the throats of opposing defenses and let Ben Roethlisberger do his thing when necessary.

The Buccaneers were missing tackle Gerald McCoy, which hurt the team in both the passing and running game. McCoy has a broken hand but is practicing this week and is expected to play. The injury may hurt his ability to grab onto ball carriers a bit but shouldn’t have a significant impact.

Ben Roethlisberger: 255 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 rush yd
Le’Veon Bell: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
LeGarrette Blount: 45 rush yds, 5 rec yards
Antonio Brown: 95 rec yds
Markus Wheaton: 55 rec yds
Heath Miller: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 23, Buccaneers 17

Falcons @ Vikings - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan threw for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns in only two and a half quarters. Ryan struggled in 2013, but looks to be back in 2012 form this year. The Falcons’ offense hasn’t fared as well away from the Georgia Dome, and this trip to Minnesota will be played outdoors on grass at TCF Bank Stadium, as the city builds a new dome stadium. Roddy White missed last week’s game but is expected to return this week. With White out and Harry Douglas leaving the game with a foot injury, Julio Jones took over, catching nine balls for 166 yards and two scores. Jones has arrived as one of the league’s top wide receivers, and his 6’3”, 220 pound frame combined with his outstanding speed makes him a difficult matchup. With Tony Gonzalez retired, the team has switched to a three wide receiver base offense with Harry Douglas joining Jones and White. Douglas is also expected to be healthy this week. The offense may not be as in-sync this week, but at full health, expect the Falcons to be able to move the ball through the air.

The Vikings’ pass defense has been effective in 2014 allowing 225.1 passing yards per game and only three touchdown passes. While it faced 34-year-old journeyman Shaun Hill and third-stringer Austin Davis in Week 1, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have also been on the team’s schedule through the first three weeks. Last season, the Vikings were the second to last ranked pass defense in the league, allowing 287.2 yards per game and an incredible 37 touchdowns through the air, but perhaps Mike Zimmer’s system and guidance has helped. The Falcons should present another tough measuring stick this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The Falcons have used a four-man committee at running back this season, much to the dismay of fantasy football players. Veteran Steven Jackson has led the way, and while he has looked much stronger than last season, the team is only giving him an average of 12 carries per game. Perhaps this is an effort to help keep him healthy and fresh, as he was banged up this preseason and is 31 years of age. Jacquizz Rodgers has handled the change-of-pace and third-down role, while rookie Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith are sprinkled in as well. The combination has been effective and utilizes the strengths of the four running backs, so owners shouldn’t expect much to change anytime in the near future.

The Vikings are allowing 110 rushing yards per game this season, which is the same figure the team allowed in 2013. They are on pace to allow 11 rushing touchdowns this season after allowing 14 rushing touchdowns last season. Consistency, thy name is the Minnesota Vikings’ rush defense.

Matt Ryan: 285 pass yds, 2 TDs
Steven Jackson: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 35 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Roddy White: 65 rec yds
Julio Jones: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 50 rec yds
Levine Toilolo: 10 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Cassel was lost for the season with a broken foot in last week’s game, which pushed up the timetable for the inevitable switch to rookie Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. The former Louisville star completed 12 of 20 pass attempts for 150 yards after entering last week’s game. While he will have steady veteran Greg Jennings and dynamic second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at his disposal, Bridgewater will also be without tight end Kyle Rudolph and playing behind a suspect offensive line. Bridgewater offers more mobility than Cassell, which could help hide some of the line’s deficiencies. With all things considered, the change at quarterback should be more positive than negative.

The Falcons allow 262.7 passing yards per game and have no real pass rush to speak of, so Bridgewater catches a break for his first NFL start. Outside of Tampa Bay’s complete meltdown on offense (and defense) last week, the Falcons haven’t stopped any passing game, giving up over 300 yards passing in each of their first two games.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson’s banishment from the team has lead to an uninspiring rushing attack led by the hulking Matt Asiata. Asiata at 234 pounds and with a good forward lean is a difficult back to bring down but has little speed or ability to make people miss. He’s averaging three yards per carry and could soon give up carries to the athletic rookie Jerick McKinnon. Surprisingly, Asiata has been very effective in the passing game and should be a good outlet for Bridgewater. With a better ability to protect the franchise quarterback as both a blocker and pass catcher, it isn’t likely that McKinnon will make any inroads soon, even if Asiata continues on his “three yards and a cloud of dust” ways.

The Falcons have not shown much as a rush defense either, allowing 124.3 yards and five rushing touchdowns on the season. With the team perhaps looking to make Bridgewater’s transition and gradual one, offensive coordinator Norv Turner may look to lean on the running game a little more this week.

Teddy Bridgewater: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 35 rush yd
Matt Asiata: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Jerick McKinnon: 5 rush yds, 25 rec yards
Cordarrelle Patterson: 45 rec yds, 35 rush yds
Greg Jennings: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Rhett Ellison: 20 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Vikings 14