Atlanta @ Tampa Bay
Last week, Adrian Peterson caved in the Bucs' defense for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Tampa has served up 314 rushing yards and a 4.76 YPC clip through two games, and SLB Quincy Black has been a shell of himself because of an ankle injury. Michael Turner should run all over this team, particularly with run-blocking extraordinaire Todd McClure back from knee surgery at center. Fill-in Joe Hawley struggled mightily in the first two games. Still showing plenty of short-area burst, Turner leads the league with a 6.90 yards-per-carry average. You may want to consider selling Turner high after this one. ... Roddy White is likely to draw Bucs CB Aqib Talib in man coverage, but White has maintained a fair amount of effectiveness versus Talib. His last four stat lines against the Bucs: 5-57-1, 6-66-1, 4-49, 7-74. ... A run-heavy game plan is likely on Atlanta's side, but Julio Jones is close to busting out of his shell. He had 71 yards in the opener before meeting Nnamdi Asomugha for much of Week 2. Jones is averaging a solid seven targets per game with an 86.9 snap percentage. He'll be an every-week WR3 sooner rather than later.
Atlanta's improved perimeter speed has opened things up for Tony Gonzalez, who ranks fourth in fantasy points among tight ends. While this is a favorable matchup, Gonzalez will take a back seat to Jones as the Falcons' primary possession receiver in the coming weeks. Atlanta would certainly prefer its record to be better than 1-1, but early-season developments could pay off down the road. Defenses will begin rolling loaded coverage to Gonzalez, creating space for more explosive playmakers on the outside. The offense will be far more dangerous when that happens, and I'd expect it will. ... Matt Ryan is coming off a four-touchdown game against perhaps the NFC's best pass defense, and on the season is completing 64.0% of his throws. With Turner and Gonzalez hitting on all cylinders, the Falcons' play-action game will begin clicking with deep shots to White and Jones. Fantasy owners shouldn't be souring on Ryan. He's a terrific buy-low target after getting arguably the year's toughest two matchups out of the way early in the Bears and Eagles.
Josh Freeman engineered a thrilling Week 2 comeback win over the Vikings, but in the process reconfirmed that he's a better real-life than fantasy player. Despite a 17-0 first-half deficit, the Bucs stayed balanced in the final two quarters, feeding LeGarrette Blount in scoring position and finishing with only 31 pass attempts. While Atlanta's defense has looked susceptible to the pass early, it's hard to forget Freeman's 2010 stats against the Falcons: 30-of-60 passing for 370 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions in two games. He's a QB2. ... Mike Williams is coming off a one-catch gut-punch, but will square off with RCB Dunta Robinson for most of this game. According to Pro Football Focus, the overrated Robinson allowed 8-of-10 passes thrown his way to be complete for a whopping 208 yards and a touchdown in the first two weeks. Williams also had success against Robinson last year, combining for 157 yards and two TDs in two matchups.
Arrelious Benn caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in Week 2, but continues to rotate with Dezmon Briscoe. With slot receiver Preston Parker and Kellen Winslow also commanding targets, there isn't a start-able Bucs wideout behind Williams. ... The Falcons held Winslow under 35 yards in two games last year. Losing explosiveness, Winslow will need a touchdown for a big fantasy day. I'd bet you can find better options. ... The Bucs aren't as talented as the Falcons, but should keep this one close. It would bode well for Blount, who got a big vote of confidence when the Bucs' coaching staff didn't abandon the run following the aforementioned deficit. Blount is going to rack up touchdowns this season when Tampa Bay sticks with its game plan.
Score Prediction: Falcons 24, Bucs 21
Sunday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ Indianapolis
The Steelers' run game has sputtered to open the season, with Rashard Mendenhall managing a 3.58 YPC average in difficult matchups with Baltimore and Seattle. OC Bruce Arians will likely look to jump start the ground game against the NFL's weakest run defense. It's just what playcallers do when they face the Colts. Through two games, no team has had more rushing attempts against, and only three clubs have allowed more yards rushing per game. Box-score checkers need not worry about Isaac Redman making the Pittsburgh backfield a true committee. Redman received 10 Week 2 carries, but five came in fourth-quarter garbage time, and he was mixed in sparingly otherwise. Redman's 20-yard touchdown run came out of a shotgun formation with a huge hole. It is admittedly conceivable that Redman will get another healthy dose of touches if this game gets out of hand. The Steelers likely will emphasize the run, and should have a lead most of the way.
Need more proof that Mike Wallace isn't just a deep threat? Through two weeks, "60 Minutes" leads the league in first-down catches (14) and all wideouts in receptions. Wallace's long speed scares the bejeezus out of defenses, so he's ripping them up with shorter routes against off-man and zone coverage. More diverse routes will work better against the Colts' Cover 2 than a bunch of flies and goes. ... Antonio Brown took something of a step forward after his nightmarish opener with four catches and 67 yards on six Week 2 targets, although he did most of it late with Pittsburgh way out in front of Seattle. When the game was still in doubt, Sanders played ahead of Brown. Neither is a fantasy option against the Colts. ... Hines Ward ranks 56th in fantasy points among receivers. He's a WR5 until Pittsburgh's passing game picks it up. ... Ben Roethlisberger is only a QB2 with the Steelers likely to lean heavily on the run Sunday night. With a porous offensive line, Pittsburgh can't afford to let Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis take over this game.
The Colts' offensive production has shriveled to the point where I can keep this to one paragraph. The bottom line is that you don't want to start any of the Indianapolis skill players this week. ... The Colts are expected to be without RG Ryan Diem (high ankle sprain) against one of the league's stoutest run defenses. Joseph Addai and Delone Carter are desperation flex plays. ... Reggie Wayne should've been sold high by fantasy owners after Week 1. His production will continue to shrink in a matchup with Steelers RCB Ike Taylor. Wayne is at WR3 at best. ... Dallas Clark actually ran routes on more plays than he blocked in Week 2, but that could change quickly with LaMarr Woodley coming to town. Clark is a weak fantasy starter. ... Austin Collie's Week 2 game was a perfect example of the marked efficiency drop Indianapolis' offense is experiencing. He saw 10 targets, catching three for 24 yards. Drop Collie for someone with more upside. ... Pierre Garcon is an NFL backup-caliber player. I don't care what kind of stats he put up with Peyton Manning. With six catches for 67 scoreless yards through two games, Garcon can be dropped.
Score Prediction: Steelers 20, Colts 6
Monday Night Football
Washington @ Dallas
There are too many factors working against Felix Jones for confident Week 3 fantasy use. With Jones coming off a dislocated shoulder, both DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice threaten to have expanded roles against Washington's No. 8 run defense. The game isn't until Monday night, and a last-minute scratch is always a possibility for a player returning from serious injury. Jones is expected to play, but he's yet to "earn" a start in a dicey situation with 86 total yards and a miserable 2.65 YPC average through two games. We're talking about a banged-up, potential committee back who isn't playing well. Sit 'em. ... Kevin Ogletree failed to capitalize on Dez Bryant's Week 2 inactivity, managing two catches for 50 yards against a 49ers secondary that is worse than the Redskins'. Ogletree didn't so much as command a target until the second half, and just two of Tony Romo's 33 attempts were intended in his direction. Romo showed more confidence in Jesse Holley after Miles Austin's late-game hamstring strain. Don't pick up Ogletree.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported Friday morning that Bryant (thigh) "in all likelihood" will play against the Redskins. A dominant physical talent who stands to benefit from Austin's absence, Bryant is a must-start WR2 in this game. ... With Austin definitely out and Bryant perhaps less than 100 percent, this matchup has played out well for Jason Witten. Behind only Austin, Witten amassed a Cowboys-high 14 targets for seven receptions and 102 yards with Bryant out of the lineup last week. Witten has tortured the Washington secondary in recent meetings, racking up at least 117 yards in two of the past three. ... Ranked ninth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring so far, Romo remains a shoo-in top-10 quarterback play despite injured ribs. His "slightly" punctured lung has healed completely, and all signs point toward Romo getting the start.
Rex Grossman kicked off last week's game with interceptions on back-to-back drives, but showed resilience (and improved his job security) by engineering a comeback win. It's worth noting that Santana Moss miscommunicated his route on Rexy's first pick, and Cardinals CB A.J. Jefferson held Anthony Armstrong on the second. It feels uncomfortable defending Rex Grossman, but he's emerged as a reasonable QB1 option with 40.6 throws per game and 11 touchdowns in five starts as a Redskin. It certainly doesn't hurt that Dallas is susceptible to the pass. Alex Smith and Mark Sanchez -- both bottom-ten NFL passers -- have combined for a 61.8 completion rate, 7.56 YPA, four touchdowns, and two interceptions against them. And washed-up 33-year-old LCB Terence Newman's return is hardly a difference maker. ... Through two games, tight ends have licked the Cowboys defense for 10 grabs, 150 yards, and two touchdowns. Fred Davis is a top-five TE play.
Jabar Gaffney remains a low-level WR3 lacking big-play ability. ... Santana Moss ripped up Dallas for 14 catches, 149 yards, and two touchdowns in two 2010 meetings. Start 'em. ... 3-4 defenses like the Cowboys' are notorious for struggling against zone-running schemes like Washington's. The Redskins' carry distribution is just too murky for fantasy comfort. Coach Mike Shanahan rode the hot hand in Week 2, giving big-play rookie Roy Helu 13 touches en route to 112 yards (8.69 average). Through two games, starter Tim Hightower has 49 touches for 203 yards (4.14). Shanahan is a big fan of per-play production stats, often citing them in pressers with the media. Owners with depth may want to give this backfield a week to play out, before targeting the Skins' Week 4 game against the Rams for a fantasy start. It's perhaps notable that ESPN's Adam Schefter drafted Helu in his fantasy league on September 1. (Click here for proof.) Schefter wrote a book with Shanahan when he was on the Denver Post Broncos beat in 1999.
Score Prediction: Redskins 24, Cowboys 23