Matchup: Broncos @ FalconsMonday, September 17, 2012
Monday Night Football
Denver @ Atlanta
The 51.5-point over-under on Broncos-Falcons wound up as the second highest for all of Week 2, and it's a sensible projection. Vegas has regained full confidence in Peyton Manning, who stands to benefit from Atlanta's year-ending loss of top corner Brent Grimes (Achilles'). Although Manning has lost something off his fastball, he still controls the game in the pre-snap phase, dictating favorable matchups even before plays start, and gets rid of the ball quickly enough to compensate for pass-protection leakage. He's also armed with one big-time, playmaking receiver (Demaryius Thomas) and a slippery, precision route runner (Eric Decker). Perhaps Manning will fade as his age-36 season moves along, but I'd start him as an elite QB1 against the shorthanded Falcons. ... Due to this game's high-scoring projection, indoor environment, and battle of two high-octane, up-tempo offenses, both Thomas and Decker are top-18 fantasy receiver plays. Decker got all the preseason hype, but Thomas got just as many Week 1 targets and more than doubled Decker's box-score production. Look for Thomas to dominate Falcons RCB Dunta Robinson on Monday night. Decker will draw more of LCB Asante Samuel in coverage. I like Thomas' matchup better.
Willis McGahee has never been a passing-game weapon and Manning's offenses are historically pass heavy. So I found it promising that McGahee played 41-of-59 (69 percent) Week 1 snaps while Knowshon Moreno (16) and Lance Ball (2) were mixed in relatively sparingly. McGahee had little rushing success against Pittsburgh's stout defense in the opener, but should find more room Monday night against an Atlanta group that surrendered 152 yards and two TDs on 33 Week 1 carries (4.61 YPC) against the Chiefs. McGahee has early-season juice in his 31-year-old legs and is a solid bet for a touchdown. He's a quality RB2/flex. ... In Week 1, at least, Jacob Tamme was Manning's clear No. 3 pass option while Brandon Stokley and Joel Dreessen battled for scraps at the bottom of the totem pole. Tamme finished with five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, securing each of the balls thrown his way and playing 49-of-59 snaps. I'm not bullish on Tamme as a season-long TE1, but he played well in the first game and this offense can support three fantasy-relevant pass catchers. Tamme can be a top-12 fantasy tight end if he stays in front of Stokley and Dreessen.
Julio Jones has now played at least 40 snaps in 13 NFL games, and in them he's combined for 64 receptions, 1,158 yards, and ten TDs while averaging 17.7 yards per catch. In fantasy scoring per game, those numbers would extrapolate to third among 2011 receivers, behind only Calvin Johnson and Kenny Britt. If the Broncos "play sides" at cornerback as they did in last Sunday's win over Pittsburgh, Jones will avoid LCB Champ Bailey's coverage for most of this game, instead facing RCB Tracy Porter. Roddy White would match up more with Denver's shutdown corner. I like Julio to lead Atlanta in receiving for a second straight week. ... Matt Ryan attacked Chiefs fill-in LCB Jacques Reeves with relentless success in the opener. While Ryan won't have quite as weak an opposing corner to abuse on Monday night, Grimes' loss could actually end up working in his quarterback's fantasy favor. The Falcons will not be able to halt opposing passing games as effectively in the post-Grimes era, and over their next five games square off with Peyton, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Carson Palmer before a Week 7 bye. They're not going against Blaine Gabbert and Brandon Weeden. Ryan may have to keep slinging it "to keep up."
This same Denver defense surrendered four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown to Steelers TE Heath Miller in Week 1 on a slow night for Pittsburgh's passing game. Tony Gonzalez reasserted himself as the Falcons' No. 3 receiving option by ranking third on the team in Week 1 targets (6), catches (5), and yards (53), also scoring on a seven-yard throw from Ryan. Gonzo will offer low-end TE1 appeal propped up by Atlanta's more aggressive new plan of attack. He's staying well ahead of Harry Douglas in the competition for leftovers behind Jones and White. ... Read our post-game recap blurb on Michael Turner (done by Chris Wesseling) for all you need to know about the 30-year-old's Week 1 performance and outlook going forward. It's not and isn't going to be pretty. ... Jacquizz Rodgers remains a role player, seeing about 7-12 touches per game and perhaps in need of a Turner injury to be start-able in fantasy leagues. See if Rodgers' role grows on Monday night against an opponent who will be more competitive than the Chiefs were in Week 1. The Falcons are going to need to make backfield changes because Turner is slowing down the team.
Score Prediction: Falcons 30, Broncos 28