Evan Silva


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Matchups: Use the Full Nelson

Friday, September 23, 2011

1:00PM ET Games

New England @ Buffalo

David Nelson was a piping-hot Week 3 waiver pickup, and deservedly so. A big-bodied (6'5/220) possession threat with better speed than you'd expect (4.45), Nelson racked up 13 targets against Oakland, securing 10 for 83 yards and a touchdown. Formerly a part-time player, Nelson's snap rate leaped from 49.3% in the opener to 83.3% in Week 2 following primary slot man Roscoe Parrish's ankle injury. Parrish is out for the year, leaving Nelson as the heavy favorite for inside receiver targets in a clicking short pass-based offense. Stevie Johnson also has a balky groin. The Pats are getting torched by big wideouts who play the slot (Vincent Jackson: 10-172-2, Brandon Marshall: 7-139). Nelson is a high-upside WR3 in what projects as this week's highest scoring game (53.5-point over-under). Long term, Nelson has breakout potential as a legitimate candidate to lead Buffalo in receiving the rest of the way. His game is a perfect complement to Ryan Fitzpatrick's weak arm ... The Pats, by the way, take Johnson seriously. Buffalo's only truly imposing wideout from a game-plan perspective, Johnson hasn't topped 66 yards in three career meetings with New England.

Ride Fitzpatrick while he's hot, but he'll be a sell-high candidate soon. Fitz started last season on a similar tear with an 11:4 TD-to-INT ratio and 245-yard average in his first four games, before regressing to 5:6 and 208 in the final five. Fitzpatrick's arm strength just can't cut it when the Buffalo elements worsen. He's still a viable QB1 in this projected shootout. ... Scott Chandler is who we thought he was: A nice post-up red-zone target who won't rack up many catches or yards. Chandler will hurt you if he doesn't find the end zone. ... Fred Jackson leads the NFL in rushing through two weeks, and he's got 38 touches compared to C.J. Spiller's 11. I wouldn't expect a 30 1/2-year-old running back to hold up and stay effective over 16 games, but Jackson should be considered a rock-solid RB2 until proven otherwise. He's a solid bet for 90 total yards and a score.

The exact fallout of Aaron Hernandez's MCL sprain is to be determined, but the most immediate benefactor should be Rob Gronkowski. The Pats utilized Hernandez, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Gronk as their top-four receiving options in the first two games, with the quartet accounting for 73 targets on Tom Brady's first 88 attempts (83.0%). Despite two monster weeks, Gronkowski was fourth in the pecking order with 13 targets. (He caught 10 for 172 yards and three TDs.) Look for Gronk to climb the totem pole, getting more balls and remaining Brady's primary red-zone read. There aren't three better tight end plays in the NFL this week. ... New England beat writers have speculated that Chad Ochocinco's role will increase, but this is a prove-it game for him. On the young year, Ocho has played 35-of-151 snaps (23.2%) and is sitting on three catches for 59 scoreless yards. ... Denarius Moore (5-146-1) showed last week that Buffalo's Terrence McGee-less secondary is susceptible to deep threats, and Branch is the closest New England can come. As a top-20 fantasy receiver through two games, Branch is no worse than a reasonable WR3.

Brady is the No. 1 fantasy player entering Week 3, and it's becoming difficult to tell how anyone will stop him, let alone the Bills. In his last six matchups with Buffalo, Brady has an 18:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Under 300 yards and three scores would be a disappointment. ... Week 1 snap and touch counts in New England's backfield were deceptive. Whereas Danny Woodhead got the ball 15 times in the opener compared to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' seven, it was "Law Firm" in the lead role with 17 touches to Woodhead's six against San Diego. Historically at least, the Pats love to pound Green-Ellis against Buffalo's annually soft front seven. He racked up 211 yards and a touchdown on 37 touches in two games against the Bills last year. Consider BJGE a solid bet to score and RB2/flex. Woodhead is riskier. ... Buffalo has surprisingly held Welker under 50 yards in three straight games. Welker is the No. 4 fantasy receiver through two weeks and could see at least a slightly expanded role due to Hernandez's absence, however, so you should be sure to start him.

Score Prediction: Patriots 35, Bills 21

Denver @ Tennessee

The Broncos' defense faked competitiveness against the run in Week 2 by selling out to stop it and making Andy Dalton beat them. Opposing backs have still racked up 260 yards on 50 carries (5.20 YPC) against Denver through two weeks, and they'll have to take a hot Matt Hasselbeck more seriously than the rookie. This is a prime opportunity for Chris Johnson to break out of his funk, and the coaching staff has to know it. Tennessee's run defense schedule may be the league's weakest from Week 3 on, which is a big reason why we recommended Johnson as a buy-low target after his two-game slump. ... Jared Cook remains a worthwhile TE2 stash because of his supreme athletic gifts, but he's nowhere near starting-caliber with five targets through two games. Johnson, Kenny Britt, and Nate Washington are all lapping Cook in the pass-game pecking order.

Britt's hamstring flare-up is concerning because it kept him out of camp and is now a "lingering" injury. The good news is it happened in the first practice of the week, giving Britt three days to get right. All signs still point to Britt playing against the Broncos. Denver is expected to be minus CB Champ Bailey (hamstring) and has little chance of stopping big-time No. 1 receivers without him. A.J. Green lit up Denver for 10 catches, 124 yards, and a touchdown in Week 2. ... Washington has clearly been Tennessee's No. 2 passing-game option with 18 targets in two games. You could do worse in a WR3 spot. Washington just offers scant upside. ... Hasselbeck is engineering an explosive passing offense with a 67.1 completion rate and 8.17 YPA so far. He's a solid QB2.

With DEs Derrick Morgan and Jason Jones healthy, the Titans are quietly putting together a stout pass defense. Through two games, Tennessee has limited opposing quarterbacks to 32-of-56 (57.1%) passing for 372 yards (6.64 YPA), one touchdown, and two interceptions. Luke McCown posed no threat in the opener, but formidable foe Joe Flacco accounted for both picks. Cortland Finnegan shut down Anquan Boldin in the slot last week, and the pass rush took off. The 18th-ranked fantasy passer so far, Kyle Orton is a two-QB league option only. ... Eric Decker was a hot Week 3 waiver pickup, but it's a wait-and-see game for him. Decker's Week 2 stat line (5-113-2) was inflated by No. 1 receiver Brandon Lloyd's (groin) absence and Eddie Royal's in-game injury. With Tim Tebow forced to play the slot, Decker had zero competition for targets. He's more of a low-end WR3 play, particularly because Decker is likely to see plenty of the physical Finnegan.

Lloyd is expected back, but he too is a dicey option. He's coming off a troublesome groin injury that resulted in a last-minute Week 2 scratch, is facing a pass defense playing at a high level, and now has an emerging Decker to contend with for targets in a run-first offense. Lloyd is a better Week 3 fantasy bet than Decker, but not by a ton. ... Knowshon Moreno was limited in practice all week and is considered questionable to play against the Titans. While Willis McGahee turned in a productive fantasy game in Week 2, he's still averaging a paltry 3.25 yards per carry on the year. If you're hoping to use McGahee -- and I'd encourage you not to -- you'll need to check back for Sunday morning's inactives list. Neither will be a worthwhile fantasy starter if Moreno suits up.

Score Prediction: Titans 24, Broncos 13

Jacksonville @ Carolina

It's a passing offense. The most informed football watchers envisioned a smash-mouth, run-heavy attack after the Panthers made DeAngelo Williams the NFL's (then-) highest paid veteran running back in late July, before naming raw rookie Cam Newton their Week 1 quarterback a month later. Instead, Newton has reeled off 83 pass attempts in two games, 46 (55.4%) of them coming when the game was either tied or Carolina had the lead. A Norv Turner disciple, OC Rob Chudzinski's scheme is aggressive and vertical in nature, and Chud showed a ton of faith in Cam by attacking Green Bay's defense with spread sets and 10 throws on Carolina's first 14 snaps in Week 2. Newton will remain turnover prone -- he currently leads the NFL in interceptions (4) -- but he's going to rack up fantasy points. Newton's running stats (he's already got 71 rushing yards and two touchdowns) will keep him consistent even in down weeks as a passer. So far, Newton ranks second to only Tom Brady in fantasy scoring among QBs. You're late to the dance if you still think he's not a QB1, and the Jags may present Newton's most favorable matchup all year.

While Cam has 83 pass attempts, Jonathan Stewart and Williams have combined for 30 carries. The Panthers employ an even rotation, assigning no roles and using both backs on third downs and in the red zone, depending only on whose series it is at a given time. It will make big fantasy performances tough to predict, and the Jaguars' strength so far is run defense. After revamping their front seven this summer, Jacksonville has held the Jets and Titans to a combined 3.20 YPC, ranking fourth in the NFL against the run. ... Carolina also seems to envision its tight ends as interchangeable. You saw it last week with Jeremy Shockey (3-56) outproducing Greg Olsen (1-34), as the latter blocked more. Olsen is a better fantasy bet because of his superior athleticism, but this kind of usage hurts consistency. It's notable that the Jags gave up nine catches for 111 yards and a TD to Jets tight ends in Week 2. Jacksonville's zone defense is susceptible over the middle. ... Steve Smith leads the NFL in receiving yards -- by 63. Start him until he cools off, but don't bet he will. ... Brandon LaFell has emerged as a nice possession complement to Smith's deep threat, but will be tough to count on as long as he's playing behind Legedu Naanee. LaFell has played 52.0% of the snaps through two games. Naanee (90.8%) started over him last week.

The inept Jaguars offense we all expected showed up in Week 2. Jacksonville didn't enter the red zone once against the Jets and made an early fourth-quarter quarterback change. I had a hard time getting excited about Mike Thomas during fantasy draft season because this offense projects to struggle mightily in the pass game. Having failed to top 55 yards in both of his first two games, Thomas now faces a Panthers defense shutting down opposing No. 1 receivers. Neither Larry Fitzgerald nor Greg Jennings has posted more than 62 yards or three receptions against Carolina, and Jennings got his Week 2 touchdown against nickel safety Jordan Pugh. Expect a rejuvenated Chris Gamble to be on Thomas for the majority of this one. ... The insertion of Blaine Gabbert bodes poorly for Marcedes Lewis. The Jaguars are likely to go run-heavy and use Lewis as a blocker in order to keep their young franchise quarterback healthy. Lewis is a very low-end TE2.

The Jags need to enter Week 3 planning to control this game on the ground, keeping Newton off the field with heavy doses of Maurice Jones-Drew. Carolina is surrendering 4.85 yards per rushing attempt and has lost two starting linebackers in as many weeks after WLB Thomas Davis re-tore his right ACL against Green Bay. A healthy Jones-Drew touched up the Jets for 107 total yards in Week 2, and is now sitting on a rock-solid 4.40 YPC average. Despite his "play count," MJD hasn't seen fewer than 22 touches in either of Jacksonville's first two games, and Deji Karim has continued to struggle mightily (2.40 YPC on 20 rushes). A 30-touch workload should be in order for the Jaguars' feature back. It's time for the coaching staff to remove Jones-Drew's restrictions.

Score Prediction: Panthers 24, Jaguars 17

Detroit @ Minnesota

Reconfirming himself as one of the league's elite playmakers, Calvin Johnson fought off a double-team filled Week 2 to haul in two TDs and post 14.9 standard league fantasy points against a Chiefs defense that let the rest of the Lions' roster beat them. Fallouts included 93 yards on seven receptions for Nate Burleson, 123 yards and two scores for Jahvid Best, and rookie Titus Young's breakout game (5-89). Folks chalking up Detroit's hot start to fluke are fooling themselves. There aren't four NFL teams with better skill player talent, and the O-Line hasn't allowed a single sack. ... The Vikings get back DT Kevin Williams from suspension in Week 3, so look for the Lions to spray the ball to the exterior of Minnesota's defense. Best could have a very big PPR game. On the year, he's already caught 10 passes for 108 yards while averaging 23.5 touches per week. Even in standard, non-PPR scoring, Best is currently the No. 7 overall fantasy running back.

Vikings top CB Antoine Winfield covers the slot when opponents go to three-wide, so he'll be on Burleson for a good portion of this one. Burleson remains a respectable weekly WR3, but you can use his matchup to break ties. ... Brandon Pettigrew hasn't been productive and missed a bunch of practice time with a shoulder injury. Feel free to bail on him now. ... Tony Scheffler has only two catches through two weeks, but they've both gone for touchdowns. His playing style is a better fit for Matthew Stafford's vertical arm than the plodding Pettigrew. If Pettigrew is inactive for Week 3, consider Scheffler a viable fall-back option. He'd get more snaps and targets. ... Stafford ranks fourth in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, and the Lions will have to throw to move the offense Sunday. It's a formula for statistical success. You're witnessing the emergence of a star.

The Lions aren't the pushover run defense of yesteryears, but they'll still struggle to contain an on-fire Adrian Peterson. All Day ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing and fifth in yards per carry among backs with at least 30 attempts. Detroit is permitting 4.60 YPC, so it's not as if they're suddenly the Steelers. ... The Vikings' pass game is hands-off in fantasy leagues, aside from WR3 option Percy Harvin. I call Harvin only an "option" because he's a poor bet to score without a role in red-zone packages, and played a perturbing 44.1% of Minnesota's offensive snaps last week. Vikings fans need to be concerned about their team's coaching staff. OC Bill Musgrave is shooting himself in the foot. ... Molasses Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian can't beat single coverage. They're non-factors both in real life and fantasy. ... Donovan McNabb has lost a large chunk of his mobility going on age 35, which was always a recipe for disaster behind an O-Line that can't pass protect.

Score Prediction: Lions 28, Vikings 14

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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