Highly respected NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell likes to use the term “Joker” to describe a tight end who is aligned all over the formation -- on the line of scrimmage, in the slot, split out wide, or in motion -- as a movable chess piece. Cosell believes Jermichael Finley is the truest definition of a Joker as the most athletic tight end in the league, “capable of aligning at every receiver position and winning one-on-one battles, even with cornerbacks.” In today’s NFL, the elite tight ends are now weapons in space to dictate matchups as opposed to hanging around at the line of scrimmage.
The Joker tight end is especially valuable against a Cover-2 defense that leaves the middle of the field open to exploitation. We saw evidence of that last season when Finley burned the Cover-2 Bears for 115 yards on nine catches before going down for the season with a knee injury. With Chicago missing both starting safeties, Rotoworld Matchups guru Evan Silva advised that the Packers' "Cover-2 Killer” would be the “ideal zone-busting tight end” and "featured” in this week’s game plan.
Finley responded with the first three-touchdown reception game against the Bears since Cris Carter in 1999. Included was a 10-yard score that put the Packers up 27-10 early in the fourth quarter. “It’s a cover-2 beater,” acknowledged Bears CB Tim Jennings, “(Rodgers) just threw it up there. He knew it was in.” Not bad for a player who hadn’t scored since Week 4 of last season. "I've never gotten this is my career, Little League, Pop Warner, anything,'' Finley said. "This is my first three touchdown game. It feels awesome.''
"You have to get a corner on him," said Charles Woodson. "You've got to get a guy that can run with him. He's got to be a physical guy as well -- if not, Jermichael will pretty much have his way with just about anybody."
When it’s running on all cylinders, Green Bay’s aerial attack looks like a fast-breaking basketball team. Aaron Rodgers is the point guard and the ball rarely touches the ground. Finley’s return as a nightmare mismatch is one of the major reasons Rodgers has completed 72 percent of his passes through three games. "His best ball is still in front of him," said Rodgers. "A couple of those plays he might not have been doing the right thing -- but we made it work. He's a big-time player and incredible athlete and the more he studies the more he is going to get the ball."
“J-Mike's on my fantasy team,” boasted Clay Matthews Sunday evening. “Probably got me 30 points today!" Make that 26 in standard scoring leagues and 33 in PPR formats. Not a bad day's work.
Darren McFadden - One NFL coach told NFL.com’s Pat Kirwin Sunday night that he "might rather have McFadden than any other back in the NFL.” Raiders coach Hue Jackson went a step further, proclaiming McFadden as "one of the best players in the league, period. … I’ll take my guy over anyone. Anytime, any place, anywhere, against anyone. That’s the kind of faith I have in him. He’s the one I want to roll with.” Fullback Marcel Reece calls McFadden the best back in the league, adding, “I stand by him. I love him. Whatever this team needs him to do, he can do it, and he will do it. That’s why we’re becoming the offensive force we are.”
McFadden’s 171 yards are a career-high and the most against the Jets since Rex Ryan took over as head coach. In fact, only two other backs have topped the 100-yard mark against Ryan’s defense over that span. Averaging 7.7 yards every time he touches the ball, McFadden would have a strong argument for the No. 1 overall pick if fantasy drafts were held today. The holes are only going to get bigger with Denarius Moore emerging as a dangerous weapon in the passing game.
Tom Brady / Wes Welker / Rob Gronkowski - Brady’s 1,327 passing yards are the most of any three-week span in NFL history, breaking Drew Brees’ 1,257 back in 2006. He’s now thrown at least two touchdown passes in 12 consecutive games, tied for the second-longest streak of all time. After 492 pass attempts last season, he’s on pace for an NFL-record 709 this year.
According to ESPN’s research staff, 499 quarterbacks have thrown four interceptions in a game since the invention of the passer rating formula in 1973. Brady’s 86.0 rating against the Bills is the seventh-highest of those 499 and the second-highest in the last 22 years. What the formula doesn’t reflect is that three of Brady’s picks came on a tipped ball, a dropped pass, and a bad route. He’s still playing at an MVP level.
Cosell calls Rob Gronkowski a “better Jason Witten because he’s a little more athletic … and might be a little smoother as an intermediate route runner.” Through three games, he’s averaging six points more per week than the next closest fantasy tight end while leading the position in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
The Patriots defense has now surrendered a 400-yard game to the Dolphins and 80+ receiving yards to four different Bills. As long as that continues, Wes Welker is going to pile up monster numbers in shootouts. Welker leads all NFL receivers in targets (43), receptions (31), and yards (458) through three weeks. Those three-game totals, in fact, are the highest by any receiver in NFL history, topping Jerry Rice's 1989 start.
Ryan Fitzpatrick / Fred Jackson - Meet the NFL’s newest Captain Comeback. Fitzpatrick out-clutched Tom Brady, going 4-of-5 for 127 yards in the fourth quarter, 9-of-11 on third downs, and 2-of-3 with two scores in the red zone in ending Buffalo’s 15-game losing streak to the Pats. The Bills are now the first team in history to win consecutive games in which they trailed by at least 18 points.
Coach Chan Gailey’s system spreads out defenses with three-and four-wide sets and Jackson coming out of the backfield. As ESPN’s John Clayton explains, Gailey realized the Patriots couldn’t get heat on Fitzpatrick and that second-year CB Devin McCourty could be exploited. After ending the first quarter with two interceptions and just 4.9 yards per attempt, Fitzpatrick carved up a New England defense on its heels throughout the second half. The only quarterbacks with more fantasy points through Week 3: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers.
“Fred Jackson is balling,” Deion Sanders said on NFL Network Sunday night. “He’s going to go to Hawaii this year.” Not bad for a player the Bills wanted to demote in favor of C.J. Spiller a month ago. Bill Belichick’s favorite back is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and third in running-back fantasy points through Week 3.
Matthew Stafford / Calvin Johnson - With 11 straight wins -- including the exhibition season -- these aren’t your father’s Lions. The last time the Lions were 3-0 was 1980 behind rookie sensation Billy Sims. The 20-point halftime deficit was the largest the Lions have ever overcome to win a regular-season game. Shutout of the end zone and held to 50 yards in the first half, Stafford directed 308 yards of offense and 26 points in the second half and overtime. This despite just 20 rushing yards on 19 carries against a swarming Minnesota front four. Stafford is on pace for 5,210 yards and 48 touchdowns in a breakout season.
In stark contrast to the Vikings’ approach in going away from Adrian Peterson, Stafford looked for his best player in key moments. The highlight was the 40-yard back-foot improvised heave to beat the blitz and let Johnson make the play over Cedric Griffin. With two second-half touchdowns, Johnson became the first player in NFL history with two scores apiece in each of his team’s first three games. His 34 touchdown receptions since the start of the 2008 season are the most in the NFL. Megatron is the most unstoppable red-zone force in the NFL right now.
Drew Brees / Jimmy Graham / Lance Moore - The pivotal stretch in Sunday’s come-from-behind victory over the Texans was a "private game of catch” between Brees and Moore on four straight downs plus a two-point conversion against Kareem Jackson in the middle of the fourth quarter. Brees saw Jackson giving Moore a free release and decided to exploit the mismatch in the empty-set offense.
In addition to a 27-yard touchdown, Graham had a beastly 32-yard catch-and-run where he "caught the ball on the run, vaulted one defender and then fought for an additional five yards and nearly carried two defenders into the end zone.” The former power forward is averaging an eye-popping 16.8 yards per reception, more than a full yard higher than any average Antonio Gates has ever posted. “He’s definitely a rare talent,” said Moore. “You wonder how good he’s going to be when he really starts to understand the game.”
Brees joined Johnny Unitas (47) and Brett Favre (36) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw at least one touchdown pass in 30 consecutive games. His 96 standard-scoring fantasy points are second only to Brady’s 110 through three weeks. "We don't have a shortage of playmakers," Brees told NFL Network's Steve Wyche.
Joe Flacco / Torrey Smith - Smith channeled Randy Moss on Thanksgiving, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to score on each of his first three career catches. He’s also just the 13th player in history with three receiving touchdowns in one quarter. What’s more, Flacco overthrew him on one play that would have gone for a 50-yard score. “No explanation for that [performance],” said Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo. Smith certainly has the requisite jets to emerge as a long-needed vertical threat in Baltimore, but he remains a work in progress as a route runner. He won’t get to torch Justin King for three scores every week.
Flacco’s 87.9 Total QBR led all quarterbacks in Week 3. Beyond the career-high 389 yards, it was Flacco’s third-best Total QBR of his career and the best since his rookie season. With a pair of three-touchdown games under his belt, Flacco ranks seventh among fantasy QBs through three weeks.
Mike Wallace - Going back to the 2010 regular season, Wallace has topped 100 yards in six consecutive games and nine of the last 12. His 1,237 yards since Week 9 of last season are the most in the NFL over that span. “60 Minutes” isn’t going to reach his goal of 2,000 yards, but he may end up leading the league in receiving yards as Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to target.