Cleveland @ Minnesota
With Brandon Weeden (thumb) shelved and Trent Richardson in Indy, the Browns are officially a dumpster-fire offense. Back from suspension, Josh Gordon couldn't have dreamed up a worse scenario. In an effort to mask protection woes, Cleveland has chosen noodle-armed Brian Hoyer to call signals on Sunday, essentially for the sole reason that he makes quick decisions and gets rid of the ball. Hoyer's skill set is wholly unconducive to Norv Turner’s vertical offense, and Gordon is a vertical receiver. It's a wait-and-see week for Gordon owners. ... Through two games, the Browns have scored 16 points and allowed 11 sacks. With Hoyer at the controls and Cleveland devoid of a run game, the Vikings are Week 3's best option for fantasy defense streamers. I'm starting Minnesota in two of my leagues. ... The one Browns skill-position player with a fighting chance of emerging from Week 3 with substantive box-score success is Jordan Cameron. Cameron plays in the slot, split from the formation, and runs high-percentage pass routes, where weak-armed Hoyer will have a chance to get him the football. The Browns are dialing up plenty of plays designed to feed Cameron; he leads all AFC tight ends in targets (20). Cameron certainly is a risk -- he's a low-end TE1 and not the high-end TE1 he's produced as -- but he at least has a chance to pay off.
While I don't anticipate a big-stat game from Gordon, the plus from his return is he's the kind of receiver who can tilt coverage, making life easier on players who work at the first and second levels. That's Cameron. ... Greg Little was a predictable dud during Gordon's two-game ban, and is now being demoted. Sluggish slot receiver Davone Bess will get the start in two-wide sets. Bess, and especially Little, are waiver-wire fodder facing off with long-armed, big-bodied Vikings CBs Xavier Rhodes and Chris Cook. ... Trent Richardson got no room behind Cleveland's O-Line through two games, so it would be preposterous to project any modicum of success for Chris Ogbonnaya, Bobby Rainey, and 32-year-old street free agent Willis McGahee in the same offense behind the same blockers. Following the Richardson trade, the Browns may have just bypassed Arizona as likeliest to rank dead last in the NFL in yards-per-carry efficiency. Obviously, none of Cleveland's backs are worth starting in Week 3. McGahee is the favorite for carries going forward.
Christian Ponder's stats over his last 15 games: 266-of-444 passing (59.9%) for 2,685 yards (6.05 YPA), and a 16:17 TD-to-INT ratio with six fumbles, losing four. NFL Films game-tape aficionado Greg Cosell has publicly compared Ponder to Mark Sanchez. ... Jerome Simpson was predictably exposed as this year's Frisman Jackson/Kevin Ogletree: A Week 1 box-score star (7-140) who flopped in Week 2 (2-49 on five targets) and probably will continue to flop the rest of the way. The Vikings' superior X receiver option is Cordarrelle Patterson, whom OC Bill Musgrave can't figure out how to involve in the offense. Musgrave once had the same perplexing problems keeping Percy Harvin on the field. Musgrave is one of the least imaginative playcallers in football. So far, Patterson has played 11-of-121 offensive snaps (9.1%). ... Browns DC Ray Horton has used top CB Joe Haden as a shadow corner in each of Cleveland's first two games. He held Mike Wallace to a 1-15 line in Week 1, although Torrey Smith touched up Haden for 7-85 on 13 targets last week. It's not clear whether the Browns will let Haden follow Greg Jennings into the slot, where he's seeing most of his targets. Either way, Jennings is a low-end WR3. Jennings has not been targeted quite as frequently as I anticipated, though he is coming off a five-catch, 84-yard game.
Ponder's Weeks 1-2 distribution of targets: Jennings and Simpson 13, Kyle Rudolph 10, Adrian Peterson 6, Jarius Wright 4, John Carlson and Patterson 3. ... Rudolph now has three or fewer receptions in 12 of his last 19 games. Rudolph will pay off as a fantasy start if and only if he scores a red-zone touchdown against the Browns, and he'll hurt you if he doesn't. Will he? Your guess is as good as mine. Opposing tight end stats versus Horton's defense so far: Charles Clay 5-54; Ed Dickson/Dallas Clark/Billy Bajema 2-26. ... The Browns have played stout early-season defense, ranking fourth in the league versus the run and permitting a league-low 1.95 YPC following formidable matchups with Lamar Miller and Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce. Look for that yards-per-attempt number to rise and Cleveland's run-defense ranking to drop after Sunday's date with Peterson. There's little analysis required with "A.D." You start him regardless of matchups.
Score Prediction: Vikings 17, Browns 6
4:05PM ET Game
Atlanta @ Miami
I love getting to bigger sample sizes because Week 1 games are the least predictable of any, all year, every year, and also least indicative of what's to come. After a Week 1 clunker, Lamar Miller rebounded to rack up 16 touches and average 4.93 yards per carry at Indianapolis, scoring a first-quarter touchdown from ten yards out. Miller demonstrated explosion on stretch-zone runs, where he repeatedly came within an arm tackle of busting a long one. Plodding rotational back Daniel Thomas had nine touches and is averaging 2.75 yards per carry on the year. Miller will separate from Thomas sooner rather than later, and is worth starting as a high-ceiling RB2/flex against Atlanta. Dealt enormous blows up front this week, the Falcons lost LE/SLB Kroy Biermann to a torn Achilles' and WLB Sean Weatherspoon (foot) to injured reserve/designated for return. Both Biermann and Weatherspoon were every-snap players in DC Mike Nolan's multiple defense. ... Through two games, Nolan's unit has been carved up to the tune of 64.4% completions, a 355 passing-yard average, and 5:2 TD-to-INT ratio. The Falcons have managed two sacks as a team, and Biermann's loss will be felt off the edge. Making obvious year-two strides, Ryan Tannehill outplayed Andrew Luck in Miami's Week 2 win and is emerging as a high-end QB2 in fantasy.
Tannehill's target distribution through two weeks: Brian Hartline 22, Mike Wallace 16, Charles Clay 13, Brandon Gibson 12, Miller 3. ... After being discouraged by Wallace's Week 1 usage as strictly an isolation runner down the sideline, I found his Week 2 route tree quite promising. Wallace ran patterns over the middle and caught his 18-yard touchdown on a receiver screen, appearing to be a true featured player. Wallace is sure to have ups and downs in a new offense, but he'll deliver WR2-caliber season stats if OC Mike Sherman continues to employ him in creative ways. ... Hartline and Gibson were Miami's primary means of ball movement in the opener. In Week 2, they took predictable backseats to a more involved Wallace and far more productive run game, as Hartline finished with five catches for 68 yards and Gibson one for 11 against the Colts. Hartline is a fantasy WR5. Gibson is off the radar. ... Clay vultured a goal-line score at Indianapolis and has secured 10 of his 13 targets for 163 yards. He's an underneath pass catcher, vying with Gibson for targets over the middle and serving as Tannehill's safety valve. Clay is not a fantasy TE1, though he could be worth a look during upcoming bye-week crunches.
The Falcons enter Week 2 with a depleted rushing attack in a matchup annually unkind to ball carriers. Through two weeks, Miami's deep, stout defensive front has permitted 142 yards on 35 carries (4.06 YPC) to opposing tailbacks, and those numbers are likely generous in predictive terms. Atlanta won't be able to run in this game. Expect a pass-happy approach from the Falcons, which is typical for pass-happy OC Dirk Koetter anyway. The Fins' weakness is in the secondary, where they play burnable Nolan Carroll at right corner with Brent Grimes on the left side and Dimitri Patterson in the slot. Matt Ryan is a strong QB1. ... Julio Jones has seen all but one of his 23 targets on the season against right corners and over the middle. He will feast on Carroll. ... The Dolphins also struggle in tight end coverage, which has become an annual theme. Browns TEs tagged Miami for a combined 10-117-1 line on Opening Day, and Colts TEs followed up with 5-82-1, despite the fact that Coby Fleener had a would-be second touchdown catch negated on an illegal shift penalty away from the play. Tony Gonzalez has started somewhat slow after skipping over half of training camp on an agreement with team management. This'll be his breakout game.
Friday Update: There's good news and bad news for Ryan. Fins slot CB Patterson (groin) has been ruled out, but so has Falcons LT Sam Baker (knee/foot), which means Atlanta will start RT Lamar Holmes on Ryan's blindside and eighth-year journeyman Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle. Ryan is going to have to get rid of the football quickly. I would still start him due to a near-inevitable high volume of pass attempts, and Julio and Gonzo's very favorable matchups. The Falcons may struggle, but Ryan will put up numbers.
Fantasy owners' best strategy with Roddy White is to put him on "prove-it" weeks until he resumes producing, and consider it a plus the first game he does, despite being on your bench. Because you'll then know he's safe to play going forward. White can't be trusted on a high ankle sprain. He's only played 59.5% of the snaps so far, and is sixth on the team in targets. ... Harry Douglas has been a 79% player with White nursing the injury, but lacks playmaking ability and is coming off a scoreless 43-yard game. He's a fantasy WR4/5 with an arrow pointing down. Douglas' role will decrease sooner rather than later, as White's involvement inevitably, eventually rises. ... Look for Atlanta's run-game volume to be scaled back in the absence of Steven Jackson (thigh). With Jackson missing all but nine downs in Week 2, Jacquizz Rodgers played 40 snaps and received 15 touches. Jason Snelling played 30 downs and got six touches, although some fantasy owners will see his fourth-quarter 11-yard touchdown and rush to add him. Rodgers is the better flex play against the Dolphins. The only way Atlanta will have backfield success versus this stout, oft-immovable defensive front is by getting Quizz into space. Big back Snelling isn't going anywhere.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 27, Falcons 24
4:25PM ET Games
Buffalo @ NY Jets
Invigorated by the Week 3 return of end-backer Quinton Coples (ankle), the Jets' revamped front seven gets its third consecutive shot to shut down a premier NFL back after bottling up Doug Martin and Stevan Ridley in Weeks 1-2. Through two games, Rex Ryan's defense has permitted 119 yards on 49 carries (2.43 YPC). While this is inarguably a trying matchup for C.J. Spiller, it's worth noting he presents different issues than 220-plus-pound downhill backs Martin and Ridley. Spiller is a jump-cutting slasher who consistently outruns defenders to the corner, and is coming off a Week 2 game where he shredded Carolina's similarly imposing defensive front for 129 total yards, averaging 6.44 yards per carry. Spiller is a top-ten fantasy running back play in Week 3. ... The run-first Bills are indeed employing a committee backfield, although Spiller has played 82 snaps to Fred Jackson's 57, and has 42 touches to F-Jax's 33. Consider Jackson a low-end flex with the possibility of random goal-line scores. Jackson scored a touchdown from four yards out in Week 2, although Spiller also had a carry at the Panthers' six-yard line earlier in the game that got Buffalo's offense down to the Carolina two. So the Bills' lead back is certainly not out of the scoring-position mix.
Under rookie offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, the Bills continue to employ a dink-and-dunk, high-percentage passing attack that takes what defenses give it. E.J. Manuel has a 68.2 completion rate, although he's averaging under seven yards per attempt and has done surprisingly little running (seven scrambles, 36 yards). Consider Manuel a low-end fantasy backup until Hackett opens up the offense. This energetic and exotic Jets defense is not a matchup for standard leaguers to get cute with, trying to start Manuel. ... Manuel's target distribution through two starts: Stevie Johnson 16, Scott Chandler 12, Jackson and Spiller 11, Robert Woods 8, T.J. Graham 4. ... Expect Johnson to match up with Antonio Cromartie on virtually every snap Johnson plays outside the numbers, but keep in mind he's doing a lot of slot work this season, too, and Cromartie almost never follows receivers inside. Seven of Johnson's 16 targets so far have come as a slot receiver. Despite last week's 8-111-1 outburst, Johnson is no more than a middling to low-end fantasy WR3 against the Jets. ... Headlined by Chandler -- who has 48 yards on the season -- the rest of Buffalo's pass catchers are role players unworthy of fantasy roster spots.
Although it's clear Chris Ivory is the Jets' best ball carrier, Bilal Powell is going to stay involved due to superior passing-game chops. OC Marty Mornhinweg is a pass-obsessed playcaller -- rookie QB Geno Smith already ranks in the top half of the NFL in pass attempts -- and Powell is New York's best receiving and blocking back. Expect a timeshare moving forward, leaving Ivory in RB3 territory with talent-deficient Powell as an RB4. Ivory is worth flex consideration this week because Buffalo's defense lacks stoutness up front. The Bills have allowed 272 yards on 58 carries (4.69 YPC) to enemy tailbacks through two games. ... Smith went 1-of-6 on throws of ten-plus yards in Week 2 against the Patriots. His play thus far has been uneven at best, turning the ball over five times through two games with Mornhinweg clearly asking too much of the organization's second-round pick. Even in a plus matchup with a banged-up Buffalo pass defense, Smith is a fantasy QB3. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last week that there is already support among Jets brass for backup Matt Simms to play over Geno. Simms didn't commit a single turnover on 67 preseason dropbacks, and it's conceivable he'd be a better option to manage games than Smith.
Smith's target distribution through two starts: Stephen Hill 17, Kellen Winslow 14, Clyde Gates 12, Powell 10, Santonio Holmes 9, Jeremy Kerley 4. ... The Jets' starting receivers are Hill at Z and Holmes at X, although Kerley is back from a concussion that cost him Week 2 and will shake up the corps. Kerley is the Jets' best possession receiver and does his work inside the numbers, where Winslow also operates. With a struggling rookie quarterback in a game with a low-scoring projection, Jets pass catchers are best left avoided in fantasy lineups this week. At 39 points, Bills-Jets has the lowest over-under of all Week 3 games. It's the lowest of any 2013 game so far.
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Bills 17
Indianapolis @ San Francisco
Wednesday's acquisition of Trent Richardson bodes well for Indy's ability to keep the chains moving, setting up scoring chances. At the same time, the Richardson move reinforces what the Colts were selling all offseason: rookie OC Pep Hamilton wants balance and a foundation power run game. Andrew Luck's pass attempts are going to take a hit. The development limits Luck's statistical passing ceiling, so he'll have to compensate with sheer playmaking ability. Thus far Luck has done just that, ranking seventh in fantasy quarterback scoring despite sitting 23rd in the NFL in pass attempts through two weeks. Luck is a bit of a tough sell as more than a back-end QB1 at Candlestick, but I wouldn't be opposed to starting him. The 49ers' secondary is their most glaring roster weakness, and San Francisco may be without stud rookie FS Eric Reid after last week's concussion. If Colin Kaepernick lights up Indy's defense -- and that's a strong possibility -- Luck's pass attempts won't be a Week 3 issue. He's a top-dozen quarterback play for me. ... T-Rich owners are understandably excited about his new digs, and I would be, too. He will be in the mix to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns over the season's final 14 weeks. I'd still think twice about playing him in a brutal road matchup where Richardson may only see a handful of carries. He has two practices as a Colt, and is still getting familiar with the offense and his new blockers. View Richardson as a Week 3 flex option, and top-five RB1 play in Week 4 against Jacksonville.
Ahmad Bradshaw is in the same Week 3 boat with an arrow pointing straight down. He may share Sunday's backfield with Richardson, but will be reduced to a handcuff/bench stash thereafter. ... Dwayne Allen's year-ending hip surgery locks in Coby Fleener as a high-ceiling TE1. With Allen out last week, Fleener played 83.6% of Indy's offensive snaps and registered a 4-69-1 stat line that would've been 5-84-2 if a Reggie Wayne illegal shift penalty hadn't nullified Fleener's third-quarter 15-yard score. ... Luck's target distribution through two weeks: T.Y. Hilton 17, Wayne 16, Fleener and Darrius Heyward-Bey 9, Bradshaw 4, Griff Whalen 3. ... Like Fleener, Hilton benefited from Allen's Week 2 absence and will continue to. The Colts' most explosive weapon racked up a career-high 124 yards -- all in the first half against the Dolphins -- and played 68.5% of the snaps after managing 45.6% in the opener. I still think Hilton should be playing more, but we'll take what we can get. Burner Hilton is a high-upside WR3 play versus 49ers LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, who lacks any semblance of recovery speed. ... As alluded to before, I like Luck this week because I like his receivers' matchups. Per PFF's Mike Clay, eight of Wayne's 16 targets have come in the slot, where he'll face off with 32-year-old 49ers slot CB Carlos Rogers. Wayne is a recommended WR2. ... Heyward-Bey's role is to be determined. He's coming off a Week 2 shoulder injury and has been severely outplayed by Hilton since preseason games. Consider DHB a WR5 for now.
The Colts' defense could not contain Terrelle Pryor's running ability in Week 1, and in Week 2 got shredded by Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace in the passing game. Despite playing average to below-average offenses, Indy ranks 23rd in total defense and 29th against the run, and has been mediocre defending the pass. They'll face the NFL's ultimate dual-threat quarterback on Sunday. Despite last week's slow game in Seattle, Colin Kaepernick is a top-five QB1 start in Week 3. ... The Seahawks used Richard Sherman differently than they historically have on Anquan Boldin. Instead of sticking to his typical LCB side, Sherman followed Boldin into the slot and shut him down, limiting San Francisco's top wideout to a seven-yard reception on four targets. Boldin is a strong bounce-back bet versus Colts LCB Greg Toler, whom much-less-physical Wallace torched a week ago. ... Kaepernick's early-season target distribution: Boldin 21, Vernon Davis 14, Kyle Williams 12, Bruce Miller 7, Frank Gore 5, Vance McDonald 4, Quinton Patton 0. ... Until one of San Francisco's complementary wideouts steps forward -- and it may not happen -- Williams, Patton, and Marlon Moore are unworthy of serious fantasy discussion. Williams remains the best long-shot bet of the group. He's playing 76% of the snaps and has 75 yards through two games.
Davis yanked his left hamstring late in last week's loss to Seattle, but rested it during the practice week and is fully expected to start. Indy got eaten alive by underwhelming Dolphins TE Charles Clay (5-109) in Week 2 and coughed up three catches for 67 yards to the Raiders' no-name tight ends on Opening Day, including a 41-yard gain by Jeron Mastrud (who?) where he got behind the entire defense, uncovered. Davis is a top-three tight end start. ... I encouraged fantasy owners on Twitter all week to buy low on Frank Gore, because that buy-low window is going to slam shut after Sunday's game. Perhaps 30-year-old Gore has lost half a step, but he still runs behind the most physical offensive line in the game and plays in the same backfield as the game's most explosive dual-threat quarterback, which will inevitably work to Angry Frank's benefit. Indianapolis ranks 29th versus the run and has already served up three rushing scores through two games as well as 4.53 yards per carry -- the eighth-worst mark in football.
Friday Update: Davis missed his third consecutive practice Friday, and Niner beat writers were not nearly as optimistic about his Week 3 availability as they were earlier in the week. Coach Jim Harbaugh deemed Davis -- as well as backup Vance McDonald (ankle) -- a game-time decision against the Colts. Keep it locked on Rotoworld Sunday morning for updates. Davis is a must-start if he looks poised to play.
Score Prediction: 49ers 30, Colts 23