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Thursday Night Football
NY Jets @ New England
If you thought the Patriots "lost weapons" in the offseason, you ain't seen nothing yet. They were actually in okay shape entering Week 1. They've since lost dynamic movable chess piece Shane Vereen (wrist) until Week 11, and Danny Amendola (groin) for an indefinite amount of time. Aaron Dobson (hamstring), Brandon Bolden (knee), and Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) are all nursing aches and pains. And Rob Gronkowski (back) won't be a factor Thursday night. Jets coach Rex Ryan always designs game-specific strategies to attack and attempt to limit the Patriots' offense. Does Rex put Antonio Cromartie on Kenbrell Thompkins and stack the box with eight defenders, leaving Julian Edelman as New England's lone "open" offensive threat? Or does Ryan dial up heavy blitzes and make Tom Brady throw places he doesn't want to throw, to receivers with whom Brady isn't especially familiar? It'll be a fascinating chess match. ... Beyond Brady, the most confident Week 2 fantasy plays on New England's side are Edelman and Stevan Ridley. Despite his Opening Day benching for a second-quarter fumble, Ridley is a three-year veteran and offensive centerpiece on a team painfully short on playmakers. The last time these teams met, Ridley bounced the Jets for 97 yards and a score on 21 carries (4.62 YPC). I think it would be a surprise if Ridley didn't get the ball 20 times Thursday, even if Ryan sells out to stop him.
In Brady's last five regular season Jets games, he is 115-of-170 (67.6%) for 1,558 yards (9.16 YPA) and a 13:1 TD-to-INT ratio. The Pats have won all five. Despite weapons shortages, I'd rank Brady sixth among Week 2 fantasy QBs behind Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and Michael Vick. ... Thompkins' inefficient NFL debut (4-42 on 14 targets) will be followed by a matchup with Cromartie, who struggled in Week 1 coverage of Vincent Jackson but was a legit shutdown corner throughout 2012. Thompkins is hard to trust in fantasy leagues until he starts playing better. ... OC Josh McDaniels loves Edelman, going so far as to start him over Wes Welker early last season before Edelman got hurt. In Week 1, Edelman played 84-of-95 snaps (88.4%), and he may see an even higher percentage Thursday with Amendola not playing. I like Edelman's chances of leading the Patriots in receiving as he works against Jets slot corner Kyle Wilson and rookie LCB Dee Milliner. I charted all nine of Edelman's Week 1 targets, and six came in the slot with three at Z receiver. He was targeted on three receiver screens, two deep seam patterns, and one deep comeback down the sideline. Edelman has route-running versatility with post-catch jets, and I think he will have a big game Thursday night. ... Though not worth starting in fantasy, other Patriots to keep tabs on are Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, Sudfeld, Josh Boyce, and Leon Washington. The Pats are scrounging for guys to hand and throw the football to.
Geno Smith's first NFL start was predictably uneven, but he showed poise in critical situations to eke out a win, and it's become clear historically pass-happy OC Marty Mornhinweg is going to let Smith rip it. Despite being surrounded by arguably the NFL's worst pass-game personnel, Marty let Geno drop back 43 times against the Bucs, and dialed up 16 first-down pass plays. My guess for fantasy purposes is this will result in sporadically productive games spread amongst Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, and perhaps Jeff Cumberland or Clyde Gates. With a rookie quarterback certain to endure growing pains in a high-volume pass offense, I don't think any of the above has a realistic shot at week-to-week box-score reliability. ... Winslow deserves credit for an outstanding game against the Bucs (7-79-1) on the heels of an impressive preseason that flew completely under the radar. At age 30 on a short week after leading Jets tight ends in snaps, I'm interested to see how Winslow's creaky knees bounce back. He's a clear-cut TE2 in fantasy. ... Kerley is probably the Jets' best receiver with Holmes not back to full speed and Hill's talents yet to be fully realized. Unfortunately, Kerley is out with a concussion Thursday night.
Drafted out of Georgia Tech to be a vertical stretcher, Hill remains a 22-year-old work in progress doing most of his damage on possession routes. It's worth noting Hill led Jets receivers in snaps (94%) and targets (9) against the Bucs. If you're dying to play a Jets wideout in fantasy, Hill is the best bet. ... The Jets' pass-heavy leanings under Mornhinweg further muddy a backfield that lacks a feature runner with Chris Ivory continuing to struggle and Bilal Powell being who he is, which is just a guy. Thursday night's matchup isn't particularly daunting -- New England allowed 136 yards on 34 carries to Buffalo in Week 1 -- but neither Ivory nor Powell can be relied upon as more than an RB3/4 until one establishes himself as the clear lead back. Including preseason runs, Ivory has managed 43 yards on 24 carries (1.79 YPC) as a Jet. I re-watched his carries on Tuesday and thought Ivory showed plus burst in the rare instances he had any running room against Tampa Bay. But he was repeatedly hit in the backfield. Fantasy owners are going to have to be patient.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Jets 14
Jets - Patriots preview
Kay Adams and Patrick Daugherty discuss the key fantasy players in Thursday's game.