Sunday Night Football
New England @ Baltimore
On Wednesday's NFL Live, ESPN's Mark Schlereth did a nice job of explaining why Wes Welker's playing time was scaled back in the first two games. "With Josh McDaniels as their new offensive coordinator, they've turned to the running game. This has become a balanced offense. It's gonna take some time to find its rhythm. They've never run the ball like this. They've become a power-zone team featuring Stevan Ridley." It may be all water under the bridge moving forward. The Pats need Welker after losing Aaron Hernandez to a high ankle sprain, and Welker's snap rate unsurprisingly leaped following Hernandez's injury. Welker played 77 percent of the downs against Arizona, caught five balls for 95 yards, and only Brandon Lloyd was targeted more. Welker has at least six receptions in each of his last three meetings with Baltimore. His yardage and TDs are unlikely to approach last year's totals, but Welker will continue to be a major PPR asset. ... Lloyd is leading New England in targets and is on the verge of a breakout game. You can feel it coming. The Ravens religiously keep top CB Lardarius Webb at left cornerback and play him in the slot on passing downs, and Lloyd runs most of his routes down the opposite side of the field. Likely to square off early and often with more vulnerable RCB Cary Williams, Lloyd might be the best fantasy play in Sunday night's game.
Friday Update: Lloyd is listed as questionable on the injury report with a "thigh" ailment. Lloyd played 82-of-82 snaps in Week 2, and two folks regularly at Patriots headquarters both believe he'll be playing against Baltimore. Despite the Q tag, I think Lloyd is worth waiting for in the Sunday night game because he's likely to play, has a great matchup, and is right on the cusp of a breakthrough week.
Through two games, at least, Baltimore's defense has not looked like the juggernaut it once was, without Terrell Suggs. And Suggs' loss has been felt both in run and pass defense. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and LeSean McCoy have both had rushing success against the Ravens, and they served up 371 passing yards to a previously struggling Michael Vick in Week 2. Ridley has at least 21 touches in each of the first two weeks and 247 yards from scrimmage. Always a good bet for goal-line scores, Ridley is an every-week starter until proven otherwise. ... Tom Brady has not gotten off to his usual red-hot start, and a dip in pass attempts is cause for early-season fantasy concern as New England tweaks its offensive philosophy. But there are holes in the Baltimore pass defense, which has struggled to get after quarterbacks through the first two weeks. ... Julian Edelman's snaps are up this year, but his production is underwhelming. He has six catches for 57 yards on eight targets. ... In addition to Welker, the Patriots figure to lean on Rob Gronkowski more as Hernandez rehabs his ankle. Gronkowski is up to 24 touchdowns in his last 24 games.
The Eagles' 9-Technique defense put the brakes on Baltimore's no-huddle last week, rendering Joe Flacco a checkdown specialist and forcing him into two turnovers. He completed 22 passes, but just four combined to first-team receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. Flacco can still register career-best passing stats this season -- I think he will -- but it's too early to anoint him a locked-in QB1. He's more of a low-end fantasy starter and top-end QB2. ... Dennis Pitta leads all tight ends in targets and catches through two games. Promoted into the starting lineup ahead of Ed Dickson, Pitta is playing 72 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps and rarely blocking when he's on the field. He's an integral part of Baltimore's revised plan of attack. Start him against the Patriots. ... Flacco's target distribution through a couple of games: Pitta 24, Ray Rice 14, Boldin 9, Smith 8, Dickson 7, Jacoby Jones 5. ... New England's defense has not been the sieve it was last season against the pass, so aside from Pitta no Baltimore pass catchers have particularly attractive Week 3 fantasy matchups. I'd feel better about Smith if more balls were going his way.
The Patriots held Rice in check the last two times these two teams met, but the Ravens aren't running the football out of the I-formation on every snap anymore. The no-huddle allows Rice more opportunities to get the ball in space, and he's capitalizing en route to an average of seven yards per touch. The No. 5 overall fantasy back through two games, Rice remains an elite RB1 play every single week. ... Even more so than Smith, Boldin needs volume to sustain start-able fantasy production because his big-play ability has all but evaporated. I thought Boldin looked great in the opener. But he caught two balls for seven scoreless yards in Week 2. Boldin can't be trusted as a WR3. He's a weak flex option, too. ... An update on Ravens WR Tandon Doss, who made the offseason all-hype team: Doss has one target and a six-yard catch on 18 snaps so far.
Score Prediction: Patriots 20, Ravens 17