1:00PM ET Games
Tampa Bay @ NY Giants
Fantasy owners expressed worry about Hakeem Nicks following a four-catch, 38-yard opener in what had the look of a receiver-friendly battle with rookie CB Morris Claiborne. Not the case. On Tuesday night, I charted all 35 Giants passing plays using All-22 tape. While Nicks did run some seemingly lackadaisical routes, Claiborne's sticky man coverage turned Nicks into almost a complete non-factor. Week 2's matchup is more favorable against Bucs RCB Eric Wright, who surrendered most of Steve Smith's 106 yards on seven Week 1 catches. But the foot remains a situation to monitor. ... Victor Cruz didn't have a sterling opener (three drops, 58 yards) and has quietly played tentatively over the middle since January's playoffs, ducking hits and reacting to footsteps. I still don't think there's any real reason for fantasy concern. Cruz paced the Giants with 11 targets against Dallas and should run circles around 37-year-old safety/slot corner Ronde Barber in passing situations. LCB Aqib Talib will be a tougher test outside, but Cruz plays inside enough to experience plenty of favorable matchups over the course of the game. He is a WR2.
Friday Update: Nicks was withheld from Friday's practice after experiencing continued pain in his foot. While the Giants expect him to play, this problem is becoming increasingly worrisome and may help explain last Wednesday night's inability to separate from Claiborne. The ten-day layoff clearly didn't fix Nicks' foot woes. Fantasy owners need to keep a close eye on this situation leading up to Sunday's kickoff.
I never took Martellus Bennett seriously as a preseason fantasy darling, but found it promising that he lined up in the slot some against Dallas and played all but two of the Giants' offensive snaps. He was clearly New York's No. 3 pass option behind Nicks and Cruz. I don't think Bennett moves as well as some suggest, but he can score in the red zone and will never come off the field between the 20s. He's worth a look as a back-end TE1 and solid starter during forthcoming bye weeks. ... Despite Cam Newton's pedestrian Week 1 stats, I'm not the least bit afraid of Tampa's pass defense. They don't get much pressure and can be exposed in the secondary. Eli Manning isn't an elite fantasy passer, but he won't particularly hurt you as a starter. ... Ahmad Bradshaw was the least impressive of the Giants' offensive weaponry on Opening Day, appearing to have lost a step or two and managing 2.81 yards per carry aside from one well-blocked 33-yard burst. Bradshaw is a viable RB2 against the Bucs, but the Giants will need to turn to first-round pick David Wilson eventually. Despite a costly Week 1 fumble, Wilson should be owned in all leagues.
On LeGarrette Blount's first Week 1 snap at 11:23 in the second quarter, he dove at Panthers rookie DE Frank Alexander's ankles on a blitz pickup attempt, and Alexander deflected Josh Freeman's pass into the air, where it easily could have been picked off. Blount closed out the series but wasn't heard from thereafter, finishing with 10 yards on four touches. He played six snaps and can be dropped in fantasy leagues. ... Doug Martin was the Bucs' most effective skill-position player versus Carolina, racking up 123 yards on 28 touches in an expectedly run-heavy game plan. Martin played 52-of-67 downs (78 percent) and is Tampa's every-down back. He'll square off Sunday with a Giants defense that served up 131 yards on 20 carries (6.55 YPC) to DeMarco Murray last Wednesday. With fast feet, top-notch receiving skills, and an offense designed for him to succeed as the featured player, Martin is locked in as an every-week fantasy starter.
The Bucs pulled off the Week 1 upset of Carolina, but Freeman continued to underwhelm. The Panthers gifted Tampa Bay advantageous coverage looks by "playing sides" in the back end. Top CB Chris Gamble stuck to the left side, mostly squaring off with No. 2 receiver Mike Williams. Vincent Jackson matched up with fifth-round rookie RCB Josh Norman and Freeman failed to capitalize, hooking up with V-Jax just four times for 47 yards. (Jackson did have one drop.) It was good enough to lead the Bucs in receiving, but not good enough for fantasy leaguers. Jackson gets another favorable matchup this week with reeling Giants CB Corey Webster, who got cooked by Kevin Ogletree and Dez Bryant in the NFL opener. Start Jackson as a WR3, but Freeman remains buried at the bottom of QB2s. ... The Bucs' offense lacks a recipe for more than one pass catcher to maintain fantasy relevance with a run-first philosophy and shaky quarterback play. Williams was targeted three times in Week 1 -- fewer than Martin and fullback Erik Lorig -- and secured two for 12 yards. Dallas Clark played only in passing situations (48-percent snap rate) and was targeted just once.
Bonus Stat: Since selecting DT Gerald McCoy with the third overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, the Buccaneers are 12-8 when McCoy plays. They are 3-10 when McCoy has been inactive.
Score Prediction: Giants 23, Bucs 16
Oakland @ Miami
Reggie Bush was the Dolphins' offensive centerpiece before last week's game against the Texans got out of hand, either handling the rock or being targeted on seven of Miami's first ten snaps. He had 14 touches at halftime. I think the Dolphins can keep this game closer at home against a Raiders team that looked discombobulated on both sides of the ball last Monday night. Bush has three touchdowns in two career meetings with Oakland. Expect him to add to that total and approach 25 touches this week, particularly with Daniel Thomas (concussion) out. Over his last dozen games, Bush has 1,036 yards and six TDs on 190 carries (5.45 YPC) to go with 36 catches for 256 yards. Clearly turning a corner in his career, Bush is averaging 108 all-purpose yards per game during that span and is locked in as an every-week RB2. He is also Miami's best receiver.
The only Dolphins wideout even remotely on the standard-scoring fantasy radar is Brian Hartline, who led Miami with eight Week 1 targets but secured only three for 50 yards. This passing game is sputtering and showing no signs of improvement, as Ryan Tannehill is still working out kinks and rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin is getting destroyed in pass protection. In the opener at Houston, Pro Football Focus charged Martin with four QB hurries allowed in addition to one of Texans LE J.J. Watt's sacks. The Raiders will miss top CB Ronald Bartell for the next 4-6 weeks due to a broken shoulder, but it doesn't mean much for this particular matchup. The Dolphins lack passing-game chops to exploit Bartell's absence. ... Davone Bess can get open in the slot and move the chains on occasion, but continues to exhibit little big-play ability and should never be discussed in the same breath as the Welkers and Harvins. Compared to them, Bess is just a guy.
I could give you a bunch of stats to explain why Miami has a fierce run defense, but none of it matters in fantasy football when Darren McFadden is getting 25-30 touches a game. McFadden led the NFL in Week 1 receptions (13), and his passing-game role should remain voluminous all year. If new Raiders playcaller Greg Knapp is doing anything right, it's using McFadden all over the field. He lined up in the slot and split wide in the opener, as well as in preseason games. If McFadden stays healthy -- a big "if" -- he will push for the NFL rushing lead and pace all running backs in catches. ... Rod Streater was a nice August story, making the Raiders' 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent out of Temple and starting the season opener. Streater is in the big leagues now, and he's exhibiting possession-receiver skills only, lacking explosive route-running ability, and had a fumble and a drop in Week 1 while doing absolutely nothing after the catch. I like Streater, but not for my fantasy team.
Although it often pays to give players returning from lengthy absences a week to "prove" their role and health before starting them in fantasy, Denarius Moore looks intriguing as a high-risk, high-reward WR3. Offenses generally have to throw to move the ball against Miami's defense, which envelopes run games but is one of the league's least imposing against the pass. The Dolphins are one-dimensional in terms of pass rush and easy-to-beat in the back end. Carson Palmer was a checkdown machine last Monday night against San Diego, but finished with respectable stats and projects to be under less duress this week. Moore could have played in the opener if the Raiders hadn't been overly cautious. I think he's close to 100 percent after a string of strong practices and worth a long look in Week 2. ... Darrius Heyward-Bey had an unsettling Week 1, playing fewer snaps than Streater and also seeing fewer targets. He may be scuffling a bit in the new offense. Heyward-Bey could re-instill confidence with a productive game, but for now he's not start-able.
Friday Update: Moore is listed as probable for Week 2. According to the official NFL injury report guidelines, the probable tag means the player is "virtually certain" to be available for his normal game-day role.
Score Prediction: Raiders 21, Dolphins 17
Houston @ Jacksonville
In four career meetings with the Jaguars, Arian Foster has accumulated 413 yards on 101 carries (4.09 YPC), and five touchdowns. He's caught 11 passes for 50 more yards. While the per-play averages suggest Jacksonville has held Foster in check, it's a reminder that monster workloads carry bellcow backs through tough times. Foster is averaging 28 touches a game in his career against the Jags. ... FOX Sports' Jay Glazer is probably the most reliable NFL reporter on the planet. He reported last Sunday that the Texans plan to increase Ben Tate's usage regardless of Foster's week-to-week health. That may be the case, but Tate is going to have to do better than six yards on five carries for Houston to make good on the plan. Tate is a low-end flex in Week 2. ... Owen Daniels' 87 yards in the opener were his second most in Daniels' last 14 games. Daniels is a good player, but he's not a reliable starting fantasy tight end. He could easily go for 30 yards in Week 2. Daniels was held to 35 yards or fewer 11 times last season, including the playoffs.
Andre Johnson picked up in Week 1 where he left off in the postseason, securing 8-of-10 targets for 119 yards and a touchdown and dominating a porous Dolphins secondary. The Jaguars play better pass defense than Miami, but Johnson remains a target monster and has been on a tear of late. Since returning from a hamstring injury late last season, Johnson has at least 97 yards and/or a touchdown in four of his last five games. He's a locked-and-loaded WR1. ... The Houston pass catchers behind Johnson and Daniels aren't on the fantasy radar. Kevin Walter, Keshawn Martin, and Lestar Jean aren't even worth owning outside of Dynasty leagues, for the latter two. ... Matt Schaub continues to play efficiently and keep the Texans' offense moving, but he does little from a fantasy perspective anymore. Schaub has thrown multiple touchdown passes in just five of his last 13 games. Schaub is a game-managing two-quarterback league option and nothing more.
We saw it late in preseason and it's carrying over to real games: The Jaguars have a legit passing attack this season, and that's great news for the fantasy values of their pass catchers. Marcedes Lewis (5/52/1), Laurent Robinson (5/66), and even No. 4 receiver Cecil Shorts (4/74/1) got into the act in Week 1. Justin Blackmon (3/24) was temporarily left behind, but remains the best bet for season-long production. I'd like to see the dust settle before declaring any of the four a worthwhile fantasy start -- particularly against a Texans pass defense that has shut down every offense in its path since last September -- but that time is approaching. With a quick-hitting offense to mask his deficiencies and plenty of arm talent and athleticism, Blaine Gabbert is a new quarterback in '12.
Just like Toby Gerhart in Minnesota, Rashad Jennings' fantasy value took a long walk off a short Week 1 bridge. Jennings hit the skids due to a second-quarter knee injury, but he's probably not going to be seeing substantial doses of carries even when he gets back. Maurice Jones-Drew is the Jaguars' every-down back again, and on Sunday will square off with a Houston defense he touched up for 240 total yards and a touchdown in two 2011 meetings. One week back from his camp-long holdout, Jones-Drew didn't exhibit his usual burst in the opener, and his long speed has been fading for awhile, but his weekly workloads are no longer a concern. Start Jones-Drew as a formidable RB2. Even if the Jags fall behind, he'll play in the passing game to compensate.
Bonus Stat: Texans LE J.J. Watt has 17 tackles, five sacks, six quarterback hits, an interception returned for a touchdown, and four pass breakups in his last three games. Beast.
Score Prediction: Texans 28, Jaguars 17