Arizona @ New Orleans
Cardinals-Saints has a relatively modest over-under at 48.5 points, in what I think has a sneaky chance to be Week 3's highest-scoring affair. Drew Brees only sits 15th in fantasy quarterback scoring through two games, a ranking guaranteed to rise. Arizona generates little defensive pressure, managing one early-season sack while allowing opponents to complete 68.9% of their throws with a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio. They've been carved up in consecutive weeks by Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford. Brees is an assassin with a clean pocket. ... Jimmy Graham was the No. 1 fantasy tight end in 2012. He's leading the field in scoring again this season, and Graham's 23 targets also rank first. Graham is already paying major dividends for owners who recognized supply and demand in fantasy drafts and took him in the first two rounds. ... Saints pass catchers move around the formation so much that one is difficult for defenses to "shadow." For instance, Darrelle Revis saw time on Graham, Kenny Stills and Marques Colston in Week 2, depending on coverages and offensive alignment. Cardinals top CB Patrick Peterson figures to do the same. Primarily a slot player -- Peterson plays outside the numbers -- Colston is safe to start as a WR2.
Brees' 2013 target distribution so far: Graham 23, Darren Sproles 14, Colston 13, Pierre Thomas 9, Lance Moore 8, Stills 6, Ben Watson 3. ... Stills and Moore are counteracting each other in weekly box scores. Neither is usable until bye weeks hit. ... Suspended ILB Daryl Washington would've come in awfully handy in this game for the Cardinals. 32-year-old replacement 'backer Karlos Dansby is struggling in pass coverage, and fellow inside thumper Jasper Brinkley leaves the field in all passing situations. Averaging 13.5 touches per game and constantly out in space, Sproles should tear this defense up. ... Regardless of matchups, Mark Ingram will be off the fantasy-start radar at least until bye-week crunches. Averaging 1.82 YPC with zero targets in the passing game, Ingram remains both a real-life and fantasy non-factor. ... Thomas is receiving 11 touches for 53.5 scoreless yards per game. Unlike Ingram, Thomas is an effective real-life player. But Thomas lacks Sproles' explosiveness and doesn't score touchdowns. He's an RB3.
Friday Update: Ingram didn't practice all week and is likely to miss Sunday's game with a toe injury. He can be dropped in 12-team leagues. Ingram's absence could translate to a handful more carries for Thomas, who is also positioned for additional red-zone work. The Ingram injury makes Thomas an intriguing flex play. I don't think the Saints will have any trouble moving the ball and entering scoring position against the Cardinals' defense in the Superdome.
I've been down on Rashard Mendenhall and still don't think he'll offer more than fringe flex value over the season's course, but this is a nice week to play him. Having lost more than half of their defensive front seven due to injury, the Saints are coughing up 5.28 yards per carry. Typically pass-happy Bruce Arians has thus far made a commitment to the run, as Arizona is averaging over 25 rush attempts per game. Consider Mendenhall a low-end RB2/flex in this cake matchup, then sell him high next week. ... Andre Ellington fits Arians' offense as a change-of-pace back and poor man's Sproles. The rookie played 21-of-75 snaps (28%) in Week 2 and turned six touches into 62 yards with a 36-yard touchdown on a wheel route. He's worth a speculative add in PPR leagues as a bench stash, but will probably never be a realistic option to carry the mail in Arizona. ... Rob Housler is expected to make his season debut Sunday after missing the first two games with a high ankle sprain. He's worth a look for tight end-desperate owners, but Arians has long underutilized tight ends in his passing attack. Arians is a decidedly wideout-oriented coach.
Larry Fitzgerald turned in a disappointing Week 2, attempting to play through a hamstring injury and managing 33 yards on two catches before sitting out the fourth quarter. He did not suffer a setback, however, and begged Arians to practice this week, suggesting the hamstring feels good again. Arians smartly resisted. Fitz is still going to play Sunday, and he's a WR1 whenever he dresses despite last week's bump in the road. ... With Fitz not 100 percent and shelved late against Detroit, nine Cardinals players finished with double-digit yards but none with more than Ellington's 42. Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd are fine complementary wideouts, but can't carry an offense. View Roberts and Floyd both as respectable WR3 plays in this possible shootout. ... The Saints' defense has played better than its talent suggests, but remains an unimposing matchup for run and pass games. Through two weeks, Carson Palmer ranks 12th in the NFL in pass attempts. He's a recommended two-QB league starter in Week 3, and viable standard-league streamer. Expect Palmer's pass-attempts ranking to jump on Sunday.
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Cardinals 24
Tampa Bay @ New England
Over his last five games, Josh Freeman has completed 99-of-189 throws (52.4%) for 1,208 yards (6.39 YPA) and a 4:11 TD-to-INT ratio with four lost fumbles. He's absorbed 11 sacks. This is a good week to play the Patriots' fantasy defense, which quietly ranks fourth against the pass and tied for fourth in interceptions. ... Amid poor quarterbacking, Vincent Jackson has maintained WR2 production because he's being peppered with targets in Tampa's downfield attack. Jackson ranks fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and had a 73-yard touchdown negated by an illegal formation penalty in last week's loss to the Saints. He's an every-week starter. ... Remaining a touchdown-dependent fantasy commodity, No. 2 receiver Mike Williams has posted Weeks 1-2 stat lines of 4-52-1 and 2-9. I suspect we'll see Patriots top CB Aqib Talib shadow V-Jax and usual RCB Alfonzo Dennard take Williams in Sunday's game. Dennard isn't an easy draw; Pro Football Focus has graded the press-man specialist as a top-five cornerback and No. 4 overall in pass coverage. ... Tampa Bay is otherwise devoid of fantasy-viable pass catchers. Freeman has targeted Jackson 24 times, and Williams 14. Tailback Doug Martin is next closest on the team with seven early-season targets.
I know there is some concern in the fantasy community about the Bucs' franchise and a potential uprising against Greg Schiano. The one Bucs skill player I'd least worry about is Martin. A virtual lock for 20-plus carries per game behind the league's highest-paid offensive line, Martin will pay fantasy dividends regardless of the situation around him based purely on volume and ability. He's a playmaker getting the ball a lot. Defenses can sell out to stop him all they want; they already are and Martin ranks second in the league in rushing with an NFL-high 53 carries and a passing-game role that will only rise. The Pats have played somewhat leaky rush defense through two weeks, ranking 28th versus the run. Lock in Martin as an every-week fantasy starter and ride him.
Friday Update: A big plus for Martin's outlook is the return of LG Carl Nicks from a staph infection. Nicks practiced this week and will start Sunday at Foxboro. It'll be his first game since Week 8 of 2012. Nicks is an All Pro-caliber left guard, and his activity should go a long way toward helping the Bucs remove Pats NT Vince Wilfork from run plays.
The fickle fantasy owner declares Stevan Ridley a bust after two slow weeks. The forward thinker takes Ridley off the fickle owner's hands. Although New England's feature back has disappointed statistically in a small sample and draws a top-flight run defense in Week 3, the best approach for Ridley owners is to stay the course, and the best approach for non-Ridley owners is to buy low. The Patriots' offense will only get better, and Ridley the back looks exactly the same as last year, running with violence between the tackles and adding yardage to runs with quick feet for a 225-pound man. Consider Ridley a high-end RB2 and good bet for a goal-line plunge or two against the reeling Bucs. ... Although Rob Gronkowski is expected to miss one more game, forward thinkers should be excited about his forthcoming impact. Even if Gronk returns at 70-80% of the old Gronk, he'll be an impact in-line run blocker and command double and triple teams, making the players around him better. Consider Tom Brady a low-end QB1 against Tampa Bay, but he'll be back in the high-end QB1 mix shortly. He's the best buy-low quarterback in fantasy football.
The Patriots had ten days to fix their offense after managing a 13-10 Thursday night win over the Jets in Week 2. Believe, you, me: They're every bit as aware of their issues as you and I. After showing an obvious inability to run the complex option routes required of Pats receivers, I certainly wouldn't expect to see Aaron Dobson play significant snaps again. We could see more of Zach Sudfeld and Josh Boyce. Monitor these players; don't start them. ... Julian Edelman is headed for another huge game as the lone reliable wideout in Foxboro, at least until Danny Amendola (groin) returns. I still feel like Edelman is being undervalued in the fantasy world. His short-area quicks are on par with Amendola's, and Edelman is playing the Wes Welker role. He'll push for 15 targets and is an obvious plug-and-play starter. ... The Bucs have almost strictly used Darrelle Revis to shadow perimeter receivers. Per PFF's Mike Clay, just one of Revis' 120 defensive snaps has come in the slot. I expect Revis to be assigned to Kenbrell Thompkins for the majority of Sunday's game. I wouldn't start Thompkins due to the brutal matchup, but I do think he's played better than given credit for, and we'd probably be having an entirely different discussion of him had Thompkins' 27-yard touchdown catch stood against the Jets. Keep him rostered as a WR4.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Bucs 17
Green Bay @ Cincinnati
I hope you didn't rush to spend an early waiver pick or free agent bucks on James Starks. Starks has a forbidding matchup at Cincinnati in Week 3, the Packers have a bye in Week 4, and Eddie Lacy (concussion) is due back in Week 5. Through two weeks, the Bengals have permitted 125 yards on 44 carries (2.84 YPC), and the Packers lack adept run-blocking personnel. Look for Green Bay to attack Cincinnati with the pass, and Starks to disappoint as a short-term flex play. He just doesn't have much talent, which is why the Packers tried to get rid of him this offseason and drafted two backs. ... Jordy Nelson has 15 TDs over his last 17 regular season games and will run most of his routes into Bengals 35-year-old LCB Terence Newman's coverage. Nelson is a WR1. ... Aaron Rodgers is going to be under heavy duress versus Mike Zimmer's Geno Atkins- and Carlos Dunlap-led defense, but is an every-week fantasy starter, even if he's not quite a top-five play in this particular week. He's second in quarterback scoring behind only Peyton Manning entering Week 3. ... Rodgers' target distribution through two games: Randall Cobb 22, Jermichael Finley 15, Nelson and James Jones 14, Starks 6, Andrew Quarless 3, Lacy 2, John Kuhn 1.
I still believe Jones is destined for inconsistency as Rodgers' No. 4 pass option, but the likelihood of Week 3 run-game woes helps his cause, and Jones has a plus matchup with Pacman Jones, who plays right corner in Cincinnati's sub-packages. Jones runs most of his routes against RCBs. Consider Jones a boom-or-bust WR3. ... Cobb gets the toughest draw of Pack wideouts against slot CB Leon Hall, but is fifth in fantasy receiver scoring and paces a Rodgers-quarterbacked offense in targets. Start 'em. ... Finley is playing well enough to trust as a TE1, but expectations may need to be checked in Week 3. Packers OTs David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay will not be able to block Bengals DEs Dunlap and Michael Johnson one on one, so coach Mike McCarthy is going to have to take precautions. That said, I had the same concern for Finley in Week 1 at San Francisco, and he wound up running routes on 60% of his snaps. PFF has charted Finley with only six pass-block attempts on the year, and he's seventh in standard-league tight end points. ... The one thing I'm not worried about with Starks is "sharing the load." Kuhn didn't practice this week with a hamstring injury. Rookie Johnathan Franklin has yet to play a down.
Giovani Bernard's time is coming; he's just not there yet. Confirming his playmaking ability on a national stage last Monday, Gio parlayed nine touches into 65 yards, scoring touchdowns in both the run and pass games. He's now averaging 5.00 YPC compared to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 2.8. Unfortunately, Bernard still hasn't received double-digit touches in either of the first two games, and only played 29-of-84 snaps (34.5%) against the Steelers in Week 2. Bernard will be an every-week RB2 sooner rather than later, but remains a flex-starter only until we see his role and workloads rise. ... Because he lacks any semblance of big-play run skills, Green-Ellis' flex start-ability depends entirely on his chances of getting week-to-week goal-line scores. BJGE carried the rock 22 times versus Pittsburgh, but gained 75 scoreless yards and was essentially "vultured" on Bernard's seven-yard first-quarter touchdown run. The Law Firm will soon be droppable in fantasy leagues, if he isn't already. ... Dalton sits 16th in fantasy quarterback points through two games after finishing 2012 14th in per-game scoring. He's a clear-cut fantasy backup, although Dalton has additional appeal this week in a possible shootout as he goes toe to toe with Rodgers.
Dalton's target allocation through two games: A.J. Green 27, Jermaine Gresham 14, Mohamed Sanu 13, Tyler Eifert 10, Marvin Jones 6, Bernard 4, Green-Ellis 2. ... No. 1 wide receivers are throttling the Packers, who might consider demoting either Tramon Williams or Sam Shields were Casey Hayward (hamstring) healthy. Hayward won't return until after Green Bay's Week 4 bye. Anquan Boldin toasted the Pack for 13-208-1 in Week 1, and Pierre Garcon followed that up last week with an 8-143-1 bonanza. Only Megatron should be higher in this week's fantasy wideout rankings than Green. ... This game's high-scoring potential gives Cincinnati's complementary pass catchers increased Week 3 appeal, but they're still all game-to-game shots in the dark. Sanu will hurt your fantasy team if he doesn't catch a red-zone touchdown. Gresham and Eifert's weekly box-score stats have been similar to this point, with neither separating from the two-tight end cancellation. Fourth receiver Jones is only playing 29.4% of the snaps. Best of luck picking one.
Score Prediction: Packers 28, Bengals 24
St. Louis @ Dallas
In Week 2, Falcons DC Mike Nolan provided the NFL a blueprint for rendering Jared Cook a non-factor by beating him up at the line of scrimmage with a linebacker and showing a safety over the top. After his Week 1 explosion (7-141-2), Cook was limited to one catch for ten yards. Of course, these things tend to be cyclical. Doubling Cook led to stat lines of 5-105, 8-78-1, and 6-47-2 for Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, and Tavon Austin, respectively, and a near-comeback win for St. Louis. So Cowboys DC Monte Kiffin won't necessarily copy Nolan’s approach. Kiffin's Tampa 2 was touched up by pedestrian Brandon Myers for 9-66-1 in Week 1 and plodding Chiefs TEs Sean McGrath and Anthony Fasano for four catches and 57 yards last Sunday. Cook will remain inconsistent because his skill set is somewhat limited -- he doesn't do anything underneath -- but I'd be excited to start him at Dallas. ... Austin's role is already growing. The rookie slot receiver played 75% of St. Louis' Week 2 snaps and will be worth every-week WR3 consideration going forward. ... Pettis' 78-yard game against the Falcons was the first over 55 of his three-year career. Look elsewhere for fantasy sleepers. Pettis will begin losing snaps to more explosive Brian Quick sooner rather than later. ... Sam Bradford's 2013 target distribution so far: Austin 19, Pettis 17, Cook 16, Daryl Richardson 12, Givens 11, Lance Kendricks 7, Isaiah Pead 4, Quick 3.
Bradford quietly ranks fifth in fantasy quarterback points through two games, although he's in for a difficult test Sunday. The Rams will be without RT Rodger Saffold (MCL sprain), replaced by journeyman Joseph Barksdale. The Cowboys are moving usual RE DeMarcus Ware around more this year, and per PFF's Mike Clay Ware has played 22 snaps rushing off the left edge. Barksdale will get creamed if/when they match up one on one. I like Bradford in two-QB leagues because this game has some high-scoring potential, but would shy away in standard settings. Kiffin's defense has seven sacks, three picks, and three forced fumbles through two weeks. ... Givens got back on track in Atlanta, though he's not being heavily targeted. He'll be a boom-or-bust weekly proposition at this rate. I do like Givens' Week 3 matchup with disappointing Cowboys RCB Morris Claiborne, who's playing through several shoulder separations. ... Historically Kiffin's defenses have never played the run especially well. This year, Dallas ranks 11th in run defense but is permitting a fairly generous 4.21 YPC. Richardson is a respectable flex option, but Pead is worth rostering in all leagues. Failing to gain more than what's blocked, Richardson lacks job security.
We knew the Rams' safeties would be a major weakness, but usual top CB Cortland Finnegan's glaring pass-coverage struggles were not expected. Pro Football Focus has charted Finnegan with 10 completions allowed into his coverage on 11 attempts for 156 yards and a touchdown. He's PFF's 93rd-rated corner out of 93. (Dead last for the math majors.) This is a matchup that should benefit both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, who is seeing more slot work of late. Dallas is moving its receivers around the formation. Finnegan is St. Louis' slot corner in all sub-packages. Consider Austin a strong WR3 play and Dez, per usual, an every-week WR1. ... Tony Romo's target distribution through two games: Bryant 21, Jason Witten 17, DeMarco Murray and Austin 16, Terrance Williams 7, James Hanna 5, Dwayne Harris 4. ... The Rams have defended tight ends well thus far -- Tony Gonzalez (4-33) and whomever Arizona trotted out can speak to that -- but it's likely only a matter of time before St. Louis' defense is dusted at the position. The Rams are weak at safety and outside linebacker, the positions most often tasked with covering tight ends. Witten is the No. 10 overall fantasy tight end at the moment. Look for that ranking to rise.
On paper at least, Romo has plus matchups throughout his pass-catching corps. The trench war still isn't in his favor. Rams LE Chris Long can handle Cowboys RT Doug Free, and RE Robert Quinn has been the NFC's premier edge presence early in the season. View Romo as a back-end QB1. ... St. Louis is also playing the toughest run defense it has in years. The Rams are sixth in the NFL versus the run, submitting only 2.90 yards per carry. One plus for Murray is the growing role of new RG Brian Waters, who may not start over Mackenzy Bernadeau but could end up with more snaps. Although Murray's straight-line stiffness and almost complete lack of elusiveness limit his effectiveness and solidify him as injury prone, he's an every-week RB2 starter when healthy. Murray essentially has zero competition for workloads in his own backfield. Phillip Tanner is just a guy. Change-of-pace back Lance Dunbar lost a fumble last week. Joseph Randle isn't playing. It's a tough matchup, but Murray could legitimately see 30 touches against the Rams.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 28, Rams 23