Washington @ St. Louis
An oft-hurried Rex Grossman went back in the tank at Dallas in Week 3, committing two back-breaking turnovers and forcing throws that weren't there. Rexy can't be counted on to perform reliably, but St. Louis' defense has been a remedy for struggling passers so far. After a rough opener (no TDs, one INT, 56.2% completions), Eli Manning touched up the Rams for 63.3% completions and two touchdowns in Week 2. In Week 3, Joe Flacco rebounded from two picks and 46.9% completions at Tennessee to torch St. Louis for 389 yards, three scores, and no INTs. With Grossman, you have to be wary of an extended period of terrible performance. But on paper, he has the look of a quality matchup play, particularly in two-QB leagues. ... In Week 3 last year, Santana Moss lit up a similar-looking Rams secondary for 124 yards and a touchdown on six catches. Through three games, Moss leads the Skins in targets and receptions. It's a formula for every-week WR3 value at the very least in an offense that ranks in the top-eight in pass attempts.
It's a scary proposition for Rams fans that their team entered Week 3 ranked dead last against the run, yet the Ravens attacked with the pass, jumped out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead, and proceeded to keep on throwing. LCB Justin King got ransacked for over 150 yards and two scores, and will square off with Jabar Gaffney for the majority of Week 4. Gaffney rarely gets recommended in this space because he lacks explosiveness, but this might be his most favorable matchup all season. He's worth WR3 consideration. ... The Cowboys took Fred Davis out of last Monday night's game with constant double teams, allowing a far slower Chris Cooley to out-produce Washington's best tight end. Davis owners need to stick with him against an awful St. Louis pass defense. ... Roy Helu is a good-looking prospect, but he's either going to need a Tim Hightower injury or blowout Redskins wins to accumulate more carries. In a tight game against the Cowboys, Helu received just seven touches. Hightower had 19 touches, plays in all red-zone packages, and qualifies as a strong RB2. St. Louis still ranks 32nd against the run, and is permitting an NFC-high 5.45 YPC.
Sam Bradford isn't playing as badly as the Rams' record indicates, or as his fantasy stats suggest. He's getting zero help from his teammates. Only the Seahawks, Bears, and Falcons rank lower in the NFL's cumulative O-Line rankings, and wideouts Mike Sims-Walker and Brandon Gibson can't separate outside. The Rams benched RT Jason Smith for washed-up veteran Adam Goldberg in Week 3. Bradford also can't buy a break with his matchups (Ravens, Eagles, Giants), and gets another tough one in Week 4 against a Redskins defense that has surrendered an NFC-low two touchdown passes in three games. Aggressive DC Jim Haslett's unit is susceptible to deep and intermediate strikes, but the Rams have gotten nothing going to those areas of the field. Sit Sam, MSW, and Gibson. ... Danario Alexander did get a snap bump from 23.2% in Week 2 to 53.7% in Week 3, but finished with 28 yards on two targets. He slipped on a route that led to a pick, and dropped another pass. The Rams already limit Alexander's role because they don't trust his five-times surgically repaired knee, so it really hurts when they can't trust his performance, either.
Steven Jackson is due back from his quadriceps injury after playing a limited role against the Ravens that likely resulted from Baltimore's huge early lead. The tentative but logical expectation is that S-Jax will resume his 18-22 touch-per-game role against the Skins with Cadillac Williams (hamstring) not 100 percent. Washington's defense officially ranks 11th against the run, but is surrendering 4.80 yards per carry. The Redskins can be run on, as evidenced by Felix Jones' best came of the season in Week 3 (8.21 YPC, 155 total yards). It's quite possible that the Rams will lean heavily on Jackson with the passing game struggling. I'd want him in my fantasy lineup.
Score Prediction: Rams 24, Redskins 20
Buffalo @ Cincinnati
Fred Jackson is playing like he wants more money. Pro Football Focus ranks him first in the NFL in Elusive Rating, a combo statistic factoring in broken and eluded tackles as well as yards after contact. Jackson's "elusiveness" comes in handy behind a Bills line short on talent. F-Jax has 55 touches, and 26 have gone for five or more yards. He has 14 double-digit gains, compared to just three negative plays. F-Jax is averaging 6.45 yards a carry and has yet to fumble. The Bengals' run defense isn't a pushover (league-low 2.90 YPC allowed), but Jackson needs to be started until he cools off. ... David Nelson "only" caught six passes for 84 yards in Week 3 -- all in the first half -- but he affected Buffalo's thrilling upset of New England throughout. With five targets on Ryan Fitzpatrick's first 11 drop backs, Nelson attracted heavy defensive attention early in the game. He had two catches for 19 yards wiped out by penalty, and drew a 31-yard pass interference that got the Bills down to the one-yard line. Jackson plunged into the end zone on the next play. Nelson quietly ranks 14th in the NFL in targets despite not becoming a full-time player until the second quarter of Week 2. He's playing 85% of the snaps since Roscoe Parrish's year-ending injury.
No NFL team is getting gashed by long bombs quite like New England, so the Bills were smart to involve deep threat Donald Jones more with 103 yards in Week 3. Jones just isn't a good bet for consistency as the No. 2 outside receiver (Stevie Johnson is No. 1) in an offense quarterbacked by one of the league's weakest-armed passers. Whereas the Pats have given up 23 completions of 20-plus yards, the Bengals have allowed seven. Cincinnati ranks fifth against the pass, holding opponents under six yards per pass attempt. Start Johnson for sure, but it would be prudent to make Jones prove himself before chasing last week's points. ... Scott Chandler keeps racking up touchdowns, but he's 22nd in targets among tight ends and under 90 receiving yards on the year. He's playing only 47.4% of the snaps. Chandler will continue to struggle for catches and yards. ... Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently the No. 5 overall fantasy QB, behind only Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, and Aaron Rodgers. Like Fred Jackson, Fitz should be started while he's hot.
Andy Dalton is who we thought he was. Actually, he might be worse. After putting 332 yards and two TDs on a Broncos team that sold out to stop Cedric Benson in Week 2, Dalton did a 180 against a more cognizant 49ers defense. Dalton didn't connect on a Week 3 pass that traveled further than eight yards in the air, averaged under five yards per attempt, and threw two picks with no scores despite a clean pocket. It's tank games like this from a rookie quarterback that make A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, and Jerome Simpson very dicey week-to-week bets. Buffalo ranks 24th against the pass, but San Francisco supposedly didn't have a prohibitive pass defense, either. ... Benson will continue to start while his suspension remains in the appeals process. He's averaging 3.59 yards per carry if you throw out a wide-open Week 1 touchdown sprint, but the Bills' defense is 24th against the run and permitting 4.69 yards per rushing attempt. It's a favorable matchup, even if Benson's mediocre talent leaves him without much upside.
Score Prediction: Bills 20, Bengals 16
Tennessee @ Cleveland
Considering this game's weak 39-point over-under with Cleveland as a one-point favorite, it's clear the oddsmakers believe Kenny Britt's year-ending knee injury was a crippling blow to Tennessee. The good news for the Titans is that Matt Hasselbeck is playing and his line protecting well enough to maintain some semblance of a passing game. Nate Washington projects as the immediate beneficiary, but owners had better hope he doesn't get stuck in Browns CB Joe Haden's shadow coverage. Haden tracked Brandon Marshall all over the field in Week 3, limiting Miami's No. 1 receiver to 43 scoreless yards after all but erasing A.J. Green in Week 1 and Pierre Garcon in Week 2. Marshall is far better than Washington, so logic says Tennessee's top wideout will be even less productive if Haden gets a similar assignment. ... Fantasy leaguers looking for a sleeper Titans receiver behind Washington are likely to be disappointed. Lavelle Hawkins and Damian Williams, both lacking difference-making talent, have rotated in the third receiver role to this point. Williams is expected to be the new starter and is the more worthwhile WR5 pickup.
The Titans have discussed using Jared Cook as a slot and/or outside receiver in three-wide sets. Perhaps Britt's injury is the catalyst for what should be Cook's breakout season. We'll just have to wait and see, because Cook thus far has seven targets, ranking fifth on the team. ... The Browns are currently 29th against the run, though their 3.98 YPC average allowed suggests the ranking is significantly skewed by the fact that opponents continually try to run on them. (Only the Colts and Chiefs have more carries against.) Regardless of stats, the Titans are desperate to kick start the run game post-Britt. Without an effective Chris Johnson, Tennessee lacks an explosive element on offense. The real head-scratcher is that the Titans' O-Line pass protects as well as any unit in football, but run blocks worse than everyone. During the summer, new coordinator Chris Palmer often spoke of getting Johnson more in-space opportunities on screens and pitches. It just hasn't happened yet. Whatever the approach, the Titans need Johnson to resume playing well soon. Or else CJ2K's fantasy owners won't be the only ones racking up losses.
Peyton Hillis' Week 3 bout with strep throat threatens to take a big chunk out of his production. In addition to watching as Montario Hardesty earned a bigger future role with a strong effort (4.79 YPC, 19 receiving yards) against the Fins, a running back whose strength is power runs lost over ten pounds during his time off. "My weight wasn’t there," Hillis conceded this week. “My energy wasn’t there." Hillis didn't exactly set the world on fire pre-sickness, either, averaging 3.21 yards per carry in his last five games (3.43 in Weeks 1-2). Hillis and Hardesty can both pick up the blitz, catch passes, and run hard on early downs. Hillis has done nothing recently that suggests he's a significantly better option than Hardesty showed in Week 3. With coach Pat Shurmur also saying he intends to lessen the starter's load, Hillis' borderline RB1 status is evaporating. This week, he'll take on a Tennessee defense that ranks eighth against the run and is permitting 3.07 YPC -- the fourth stingiest average in the league. Perhaps a goal-line carry or two will save Hillis' fantasy day.
Tennessee's shutdown pass defense stymied a third straight opponent last week, holding Kyle Orton under 180 yards and intercepting him twice. Now ranked No. 2 against the pass, the Titans travel to face an embattled Colt McCoy. McCoy did lead a game-winning drive against Miami in Week 3, but prior to the last possession completed 10-of-26 passes for 135 yards with one score and a pick. McCoy has seemingly gotten worse every week, and this is the toughest matchup he's seen to date. ... Cleveland's rotational pass catchers continue to frustrate in fantasy leagues. No member has topped 77 yards in a game (Mohamed Massaquoi in Week 1) or five catches (Ben Watson in Week 3). Greg Little's best effort was good for 38 yards on four receptions in Week 2. Owners are better off avoiding the situation until a player or two emerges. And they may not.
Score Prediction: Browns 17, Titans 16
New Orleans @ Jacksonville
The Jags' pass defense personnel looks putrid on paper, but they've executed DC Mel Tucker's zone scheme nicely so far. After putting the brakes on Carolina's red-hot vertical passing game in Week 3, Jacksonville ranks seventh against the pass and is stymieing big plays, having allowed an NFL-low six completions of 20-plus yards. Cam Newton's reality check occurred without top Jags DE Matt Roth (neck), who was a terror in Weeks 1-2 and figures to return. Look for Drew Brees to attack Tucker's Cover 2 with short throws to Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham, and sudden PPR must-start Darren Sproles. I'd have a hard time using Devery Henderson based on what we know about the Jags' scheme and its success. The defense is designed to stop deep threats. ... Graham is the No. 4-ranked fantasy tight end, behind Rob Gronkowski, Jermichael Finley, and Dustin Keller. Put him in your lineup every week. ... Further removed from his groin injury, Moore experienced a snap rate leap from 34.7% in Week 2 to 56.9% in Week 3, capitalizing for nine catches, 88 yards, and a TD. Moore is a legit WR2 until Marques Colston comes all the way back.
Updated Saints red-zone touches: Mark Ingram 13, Sproles 6, Pierre Thomas 2. ... Ingram broke four tackles on his 13-yard, game-winning touchdown against the Texans. That run alone could very well earn him more carries going forward. Ingram did lead New Orleans' backfield in Week 3 touches. He has 38 of them on the season, with 34.2% coming inside the opposing 20-yard line. ... As well as the Jaguars' defense is playing, they haven't faced a quarterback anywhere near on par with Brees. On fire and in a contract year, Brees is the No. 2 fantasy quarterback through three games. ... Robert Meachem has overtaken Henderson and is officially a full-time player this year. He was seeing over 80% of the offensive snaps with Colston in the lineup, and is at 86.8% on the season. With touchdowns in each of his first three games, Meachem is a viable WR3 regardless of matchup. Thus far, only Sproles and Graham have more targets on the Saints.
I'm devoting a third paragraph to the Saints because I'm skeptical of Sean Payton's Wednesday claim that Colston will play. Speaking to Jacksonville (not New Orleans) media, the Saints' coach said, "Yeah, (Colston) was listed as limited, but he's cleared. He'll be up this week." The terms "cleared" and "up" could have a variety of meanings, ranging from Colston's clearance to resume practicing, to his return to full-time receiver duties. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. While it's clear his broken collarbone wasn't as severe as Tony Romo's last season, on Sunday Colston will be just 22 days removed from surgery that involved insertion of a plate to protect the fracture. The Saints' projected return has all along been Week 6, and it's hard to imagine Colston is two full weeks ahead of schedule. If Colston does play against the Jaguars, I'd expect a limited role. Perhaps similar to Lance Moore's in Week 2, when Moore played 32.8% of the snaps and saw four targets. For this week at least, it's in fantasy owners' best interests to consider Colston a non-factor, both independently and as a "threat" to "steal" targets from other Saints. When players are coming off serious injuries, you usually want to sit them in their first game back, anyway.
In his Week 3 starting debut, Blaine Gabbert struggled en route to a 12-of-21 (57.1%) passing day, managing 139 yards (6.62 YPA), one touchdown, an interception, and four fumbled snaps. Running back checkdowns accounted for 46% of Gabbert's yardage, and his touchdown came on a fluky late-second quarter play that saw numerous Panthers defenders slip on a sloggy surface as Mike Thomas danced into the end zone. Gabbert has plenty of talent, but the Jags won't field a dangerous offense anytime soon. ... As expected, Marcedes Lewis stayed on the line to block on the vast majority of his Week 3 plays, seeing two targets. He'll do the same against Saints DC Gregg Williams' blitz-happy defense. ... Thomas is the Jaguars' No. 1 receiver, but is playing with a rookie QB in a decidedly run-first attack. He's also likely to square off with LCB Jabari Greer in a matchup that favors the Saints' top corner. Thomas is dicey, even as a WR4. ... Maurice Jones-Drew experienced season highs in touches (27) and snap rate (82.5%) in Gabbert's debut. Deji Karim is gradually disappearing from the offense. MJD is the only start-able Jaguar in Week 4.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Jaguars 10