NY Giants @ Philadelphia
Michael Vick is expected to start against the Giants, but owners should pay attention into Sunday morning. As Jay Cutler showed in Week 8 last season, concussed quarterbacks can be prone to late-week setbacks. The Eagles may want to limit Vick's drop backs regardless, and certainly will if second-year QB Mike Kafka draws the start. ... LeSean McCoy leads all backs in fantasy points through two weeks. He's behind only Tom Brady overall. In four career meetings with an annually stout Giants defense, McCoy averages 6.33 yards a carry. We should've ranked Shady higher before the year, because he's headed for career bests in carries, total yards, and fantasy scoring as a true every-week starter. ... Brent Celek is the No. 30 fantasy tight end with five catches for 56 yards through two weeks. He's waiver material. ... Consider Jeremy Maclin a locked-and-loaded WR2 the rest of the way. He proved his separation skills in Week 2 with 13 catches for 171 yards and two TDs against Atlanta, and the Eagles used Maclin on bubble screens when Kafka came in. Vick's absence would hurt DeSean Jackson, but not necessarily Maclin, and definitely not McCoy.
More Maclin pluses: After Kafka's insertion, six of his nine attempts were intended for Maclin, with five complete for 63 yards. (Kafka did not target D-Jax.) From Vick, Maclin caught eight passes for 108 yards and both touchdowns. Maclin also has the Eagles' best receiver matchup. He runs a good majority of his routes down the left sideline, facing off with Giants RCB Aaron Ross. Ross was benched mid-game last Monday after getting torched by Danario Alexander. ... Jackson will be good to go if Vick starts, but would be a riskier option than usual if Kafka got the nod. The downgrade in arm strength is dramatic, and the Eagles' staff would likely "protect" Kafka with continued shorter throws and check downs. Jackson is the team's deep threat. ... Jason Avant has played the most snaps so far, but the Eagles' slot receiver job is headed for a timeshare with Steve Smith getting healthier. Smith's snap count jumped from five in Week 1 to 19 in Week 2.
The Giants reverted to a ground-and-pound offensive approach in Week 2, finishing with a 38:30 run-to-pass ratio. They'll need it to stay that way this week. Not only does the matchup dictate it, the G-Men are perilously thin at wide receiver. Mario Manningham appears doubtful with a concussion, third wideout Domenik Hixon has a torn ACL, Brandon Stokley is still picking up the offense, and Victor Cruz has struggled since the 2010 preseason. ... In fantasy leagues, however, the New York backfield has developed into a guessing game. The Giants use Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw interchangeably on early downs, with Jacobs possessing the edge for red-zone work. Bradshaw gets more touches because he is utilized in the pass game. Jacobs and Bradshaw are both low-end RB2/flex options, but it's a tossup as to whom will outproduce whom in any given week. Neither has played particularly well, with both backs under 3.8 yards per carry.
The Eagles' pass defense is as advertised, ranking fifth in the NFL and allowing just three completions of 20-plus yards on 63 pass attempts against. It's bad news for Eli Manning, who's already short-handed at receiver and scuffling. Eli's Week 2 box score (two TDs, 63.3% completions) doesn't look bad, but game watchers know he struggled to complete easy throws down the seams and benefited greatly from circus catches made by Hixon and Hakeem Nicks deep downfield. Not quite to the extent of his brother, but Manning is going to be a big fantasy disappointment this season. Long overrated, his many deficiencies are being exposed. ... Nicks will face off with Nnamdi Asomugha for most of this game because he plays the majority of his snaps against RCBs. Nicks should be in fantasy lineups, but expectations need to be tempered. Per Pro Football Focus, Asomugha has allowed just 2-of-6 pass targets to be complete against him for 45 yards. With an interception, Asomugha is holding opposing passers to a miniscule 21.5 QB rating.
Score Prediction: Eagles 31, Giants 20
San Francisco @ Cincinnati
The Niners-Bungles 40.5-point over-under is the lowest of all early games, making this a matchup to avoid where possible. ... The 49ers lead the NFL in run defense, both in terms of yards allowed per game and yards per carry against (2.47). For a team as run-oriented as the Bengals fancy themselves, it creates a mismatch. Avoid Cedric Benson. ... A stonewalled Benson may force Andy Dalton to drop back frequently on Sunday. In fairness, OC Jay Gruden did call 41 pass plays in Week 2, showing confidence in his rookie quarterback against a Denver defense selling out to stop the run. Dalton came through with 332 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. This is good news for A.J. Green, who likewise exploded for a 10-124-1 line. And there isn't an imposing member of the 49ers' secondary. Consider Green a WR3 with some upside. ... Jerome Simpson also topped 100 yards, but has been held out of practice this week after police discovered 8.5 pounds of marijuana in Simpson's home. Early indications are that Simpson won't play Sunday.
Jermaine Gresham regressed to a 2-8-0 line in Week 2 after Browns CB Joe Haden's bottling up of Green allowed Gresham to go for 6-58-1 on Opening Day. Gresham is a traditional in-line tight end and can get stuck blocking for long stretches. He's more much more TE2 than possible top-12 tight end. I jumped the gun last week. ... Benson has been suspended three games by the NFL, though he'll play Sunday. Fantasy owners need to pick up Bernard Scott wherever available. A repeat offender of the Personal Conduct Policy, Benson's appeal will be heard by commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday. If the suspension stands, Scott will be the Bengals' starting tailback against the Bills, Jaguars, and Colts in Weeks 4-6. Cincinnati has a Week 7 bye. If Scott puts good things on tape during that evaluation period, he could earn a very big role down the stretch.
Defenses are stacking the box against Frank Gore, but he's stayed afloat in fantasy terms with 48 touches in two games. While his weekly workloads project to remain large, there are reasons for worry. The 49ers' line can't open holes, and the passing game won't help create lanes without a downfield threat. Gore has also played an astonishing 109-of-116 (94.0%) of the team's offensive snaps. Taking so much pounding on a play-to-play basis bodes poorly for his chances of holding up. Sell Gore after a big game. ... It's fair to be concerned about Vernon Davis' slow start, but this matchup sets up well for last year's No. 3 fantasy tight end. The Bengals lack a big-time edge rusher to keep Davis blocking like he did DeMarcus Ware last week, and Cincinnati flashed vulnerability to tight ends with six catches, 80 yards, and two TDs served up to Evan Moore and Ben Watson in the opener. With Braylon Edwards (knee) sidelined for at least three weeks, the Niners will have to lean more heavily on their best pass catcher. ... Avoid Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. Crabtree (foot) is a poor bet to make it four quarters, and he'll likely rotate with Ted Ginn. Morgan is the 49ers wideout to use if you drink before making last-minute lineup decisions.
Score Prediction: 49ers 17, Bengals 14
Houston @ New Orleans
This game has Week 3's second highest over-under. Start your Texans and Saints. ... It'll get old trying to make weekly excuses for Mark Ingram's pedestrian production if he continues to post empty 40-50 yard games. But touchdowns will come if the Saints keep using him like they have. Through two weeks, Ingram leads New Orleans with nine red-zone touches to Darren Sproles' six and Pierre Thomas' one. Sproles scored on a 12-yard catch in Week 2, but clearly stepped out at the one-yard line. (The play somehow avoided review.) It's a game of inches, and the TD would've been Ingram's if the refs got it right. Ingram lost a fourth-quarter fumble in the win over Chicago, but the Saints confirmed their confidence in the rookie by putting him right back in for clock-killing mode. The coaching staff desperately wants Ingram to succeed. In a projected shootout, it's hard to imagine sitting him if you have a flex spot. ... Not getting the rock in scoring position, Thomas is a poor bet for TDs. He's averaging 10 touches for 61.5 yards a game and is better in real life than fantasy. ... The Saints pass enough to keep Sproles as a consistent PPR contributor. He's doing nothing on the ground (24 yards), but already has 15 catches in two games as a Saint.
Depending on your scoring system, Drew Brees is either the No. 3 or 4 fantasy QB through two weeks. (Tom Brady and Cam Newton are 1-2, and Matthew Stafford is in the mix.) Be sure to start Brees with Texans top CB Johnathan Joseph coming off an ankle sprain. ... Houston ranks No. 1 against the pass, but has faced Kerry Collins and Chad Henne. This is a prime opportunity for Jimmy Graham's breakout game. Greg Cosell of NFL Films expects Graham to be the primary beneficiary of Marques Colston's fractured collarbone. ... Lance Moore will reappear with a bang eventually, but he's hard to use on 32.8% snap counts with one catch on four targets like last week. While you could do worse in a WR3 spot, ideally you'd make sure he's recovered from his lingering groin pull. ... Robert Meachem is seeing more play time than Devery Henderson, even if Henderson was more productive in Week 2. The former is a better fantasy option than the latter.
After a sluggish opener, New Orleans laid six sacks and a whopping 22 QB hurries on Jay Cutler. This is a dangerous Saints defense, and DE Will Smith's (suspension) return provides another big spark. The Texans don't want -- and can't afford -- to let Matt Schaub drop back more than 30 times. Leaning on its near-unstoppable zone-run scheme, look for Houston to feed newly anointed feature back Ben Tate early and often. Arian Foster (hamstring) will be limited at best if he plays, and Tate has emerged as an RB1 with 251 yards and a 4.66 YPC average. He's third in the NFL in rushing. ... The Texans' run-to-pass ratio on the season is 77:53, leading to more of an in-line tight end role for Owen Daniels. He's still a better bet for production than Kevin Walter, returning from a shoulder injury, and Jacoby Jones, falling down the depth chart. Daniels will be tough to sit in a high-scoring affair and favorable matchup against Saints coverage liability SS Roman Harper.
Owners need to continue to be wary of Schaub in what is no longer a passer-friendly offense, but he's a top-15 Week 3 QB play because of the projected scoring in this game. If Schaub has a big week, sell him high. ... Andre Johnson has 20 targets on 53 Texans pass attempts as Houston's lone reliable passing-game producer. Having never topped nine TD catches in a season, Johnson is on his way to a career high with touchdowns in each of the first two weeks. And he has a plus matchup on Sunday. The Saints have kept Patrick Robinson as their starting right corner, and he's been burned for a 7-113-1 line on 10 targets so far, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnson typically lines up across from RCBs. ... The Foster situation is a tough one in fantasy leagues. He's not a recommended buy-low target after repeated setbacks, and Tate is running away with the job. Unless Foster owners can find a trade partner, they're forced to sit tight and hope for an eventual full recovery. They may also need a Tate injury at that point.
Score Prediction: Saints 34, Texans 28
Miami @ Cleveland
Peyton Hillis racked up 94 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against the Colts, which was a big help to fantasy owners. But there are reasons to believe it's time to sell. Hillis managed 3.48 yards per carry against the NFL's worst run defense, a clip that falls to 2.69 if you exclude Hillis' wide-open 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Dating back to Week 14 of 2010, Hillis' YPC average is a less-than-pedestrian 3.21, and he's at 3.67 since Week 10. Hillis' monster workload is valuable in fantasy, but his run style is likely to lead to a slow finish, and his down-to-down effectiveness is already waning. Hillis' value won't get higher after a 24-point fantasy game. ... Rookie Greg Little's breakout week is coming. Through two games, Little leads all Cleveland receivers in snaps played (105 -- 72.9%), and Brian Robiskie's role is decreasing rapidly. Coach Pat Shurmur was asked by reporters this week whether Robiskie is a "real receiver," as opposed to a blocking wideout because he's yet to catch a pass. Little has eight targets, Robiskie two.
Evan Moore did well to catch his lone target for a 16-yard touchdown in Week 2, but he isn't much of a fantasy option after playing nine snaps. Moore played 13 snaps in the opener. ... Ben Watson sees more field time than Moore because he can block, but he's yet to exceed 45 yards. You can do better. ... Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs do more to hurt the values of each other, Robiskie, and Moore than become stand-alone options. They're all fantasy reserves at best. ... Colt McCoy improved his completion rate and yards-per-attempt average against Indy, but only after the Browns scaled back their aggressiveness, leaning heavily on the run. In ten career starts, McCoy has a 9:10 TD-to-INT ratio. He's not going to be even a mid-range QB2 anytime soon.
Brandon Marshall is in a three-way tie for the league lead in targets through two weeks, matching Carolina's Steve Smith and Dallas' Miles Austin. Marshall plays all three receiver positions, so he'll avoid stay-at-home LCB Joe Haden plenty. ... The Browns held slot receivers Austin Collie and Jordan Shipley to a combined four catches for 23 yards in Weeks 1 and 2. Sheer playing time has something to do with it, but Dolphins slot man Davone Bess is an uninspiring option, anyhow. ... Chad Henne crashed back to earth after his big opener last Sunday, experiencing marked drops in completion rate (40.0), yardage (170), YPA (5.67), and touchdowns (1). With rookie Daniel Thomas emerging as a viable down-to-down inside run threat, the Dolphins' offense won't have to lean as heavily on the pass as it appeared in Week 1. Henne has resumed low-end QB2 status.
Speaking of Thomas, the Miami Herald reported in late July that the coaching staff's plan entering camp was to make the rookie a "workhorse," with Reggie Bush getting 10-15 touches a game. The idea was put on hold when Thomas struggled in preseason, then suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for Week 1. The Dolphins spent August and early September trying to drill into Thomas' head that he must run with more purpose inside the tackles in order to see rookie-year playing time. The light flipped on for Thomas in Week 2. He racked up 18 carries to triple Bush's usage, gaining six-plus yards on nine plays with five gains of double-digit yardage. The coaching staff's initial plan is coming full circle, with Thomas operating as the lead back in the committee. Especially promising for Thomas' long-term value is the Dolphins' confidence in his pass protection. He was left in for nine blitz-pickup opportunities last Sunday and executed on each, per Pro Football Focus. He'll be an every-down back if Bush gets injured. ... Thomas' maturation has made Bush's fantasy value very dicey. He's likely to revert to a "satellite back" role in what now projects as a more balanced offense. You can't count on more than 12 touches.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 20, Browns 17