Sunday September 21st, 2014

Legitimate worry was the theme of the early games in Week 3. It all starts with Tom Brady and the New England passing game. Brady underwhelmed yet again, in what should have been a great matchup. He had just 234 yards, 6.3 yards per attempt, and one touchdown against the Raiders. There’s little to no explosion in the passing attack, evidenced by Brady’s 5.54 YPA on the year.

There was reason to be patient after the first two games of the year. Miami has a solid defense, and game situation in the Patriots’ Week 2 win over Minnesota had a hand in Brady’s lackluster performance that week. His struggles against Oakland, however, are a real cause for concern. Brady only hit on two passes of at least 20 yards, and Rob Gronkowski still appears to be a bit limited. With New England lacking a receiver who can really threaten a defense deep down the field, opposing secondaries are able to sit on a lot of the things the Patriots like to do in the short and intermediate sections for the field. Brady cannot be thought of as a top-10 quarterback. In fact, he’s no more than a borderline starter in 12-team leagues.

Worst performances of Week 3 | Complete Week 3 coverage

Toby Gerhart, too, had what should have been an exploitable matchup. Coming into the week, the Colts ranked in the bottom-third in the league against the run, according to Pro Football Focus. Instead, he had just 32 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 31 yards. The 3.6 yards per carry he put up against the Colts was actually a season-high. Not only has he been individually disappointing, but the Jaguars offense looks like one of the worst in the league. Since taking a 17-0 lead in the first half of their Week 1 game with the Eagles, they’ve been outscored 119-27. So long as the Jaguars keep falling into deep holes, Gerhart is going to be squeezed from the gameplan. He doesn’t appear to be a guy who can really flash for his fantasy owners with limited touches. You’re not going to be able to trade him for much, and at this point he has to be firmly planted on your bench.

Week 3 superlatives: MVP, head-scratching decision, more

Rounding out the worrying trend from the early games was Andre Johnson, though, it must be said, it is through no fault of his own. Johnson had just four catches for 24 yards on Sunday, despite 11 targets. Ryan Fitzpatrick simply had a terrible game. He was able to save some face statistically with the game totally out of reach in the second half, but he had just 39 yards in the first half while throwing two of his three interceptions. We’ve seen shoddy quarterback play completely kill a great wide receiver’s production, most notably with Larry Fitzgerald a couple seasons ago. So long as Fitzpatrick is under center, Johnson can’t be thought of as more than a low-end WR2.

Other Week 2 notes

• Philip Rivers continues to show that last year’s resurgence was not a fluke. The Chargers cruised to a 22-10 win over the Bills, taking some of the wind out of Rivers’ sails in the second half. He still racked up 256 yards, 10.2 YPA and two touchdowns. He projects as a top-10 quarterback for the remainder of the season.

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• Donald Brown ran for just 62 yards on 31 carries, but he may be in line for even more work in the next few weeks. Danny Woodhead was carted off the field in the first half, and it appears that he suffered a season-ending leg injury. He’s going for a second opinion early this week, but it sounds like Brown will be essentially all alone in the backfield until Ryan Mathews is able to return. Meanwhile, Keenan Allen had another rough day, catching just two passes for 17 yards. He was already a great buy-low target coming into this week. That’s even more true after his Week 3 stinker.

• C.J. Spiller had just 62 total yards on 13 touches, while Fred Jackson had 14 touches for 112 yards and a touchdown. It’s hard for both of them to be fantasy starters in the same week, and equally as hard to predict which one will be better from week to week.

• Austin Davis put up another useful day for fantasy owners, throwing for 327 yards, 7.8 YPA, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Dallas defense had previously played pretty well against Colin Kaepernick and Jake Locker. Davis is one of a handful of quarterbacks worth chasing in deeper leagues this week. We’ll get to the rest a little later.

• Jared Cook had seven catches for 75 yards and dropped an easy touchdown in the end zone. The Cowboys have now allowed tight ends to catch 21 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns this year.

Present, future intersect as Bridgewater, Bortles make debuts

• DeMarco Murray hit the century mark for the third straight game, picking up exactly 100 yards and a touchdown. Tony Romo had his best game of the year, but the Cowboys clearly plan to ride Murray this year. One note of concern, however: He already has 75 carries this year. That may not be a sustainable pace for a player with his checkered injury history.

• Kirk Cousins starred in his first start of the season, throwing for 427 yards, 8.9 YPA, three touchdowns and one interception. He made a handful of very impressive throws, including one down the left sideline to Pierre Garcon late in the fourth that helped Washington climb back into the game. He’s going to be a serious weapon for fantasy owners for as long as Robert Griffin III is out. Pierre Garcon had 16 targets, while DeSean Jackson had 11 in his return to Philadelphia. Both of them may be better off with Cousins under center.

• Nick Foles had another great game, throwing for 325 yards, 7.7 YPA and three scores. The Eagles offense hasn’t skipped a beat in the second year under Chip Kelly, and Jeremy Maclin has been right at the center of that. He’s looking like one of the biggest wide receiver bargains this year, catching eight passes for 154 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. LeSean McCoy had potentially his worst game as a pro, running for 22 yards on 20 carries. If there were ever a time to see if his owner is willing to sell, now is that time.

• Rashad Jennings had been productive, though in somewhat ugly fashion, through the first two games this year. He looked a whole lot better this week, piling up 176 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. Surprisingly, he didn’t catch a pass, but his owners probably aren’t too upset about that after he put up 23.6 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Those of you who bought in got yourself a guy who will be a RB2 all season long.

• Alfred Blue started in place of Arian Foster and ran for 78 yards on 13 carries. However, 46 of those yards came on one carry, and Foster isn’t expected to be out too long. Blue is worth going after if he’s still available in your league, but don’t break the bank.

• The Teddy Bridgewater era has arrived. Matt Cassel broke multiple bones in his foot, opening the door for the rookie out of Louisville to take over as the starter. He threw for 150 yards and 7.5 YPA on Sunday, an impressive showing considering he has had very little time with the first-team offense since the start of the season. He immediately becomes an option as a starter in deeper and two-quarterback leagues, and has enough of a ceiling to be owned in most formats.

• Matt Asiata had 71 total yards on 15 touches. Remember, he is no better than a very low-end RB3 from week to week. The other backup running back in this game, Khiry Robinson, ran for 69 yards on 18 carries. It wasn’t huge output, but he’ll be worth starting in most formats against the Cowboys next week.

• ​The Bengals scored 33 points, but they didn’t have a very impressive raw statistical game. Andy Dalton threw for 169 yards, 7.3 YPA and an interception, though he showed up for his owners with his first career touchdown reception. Giovani Bernard scored twice, but he had only 54 total yards on 15 touches. Jeremy Hill was productive again, running for 39 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries. It’s hard to trust him as a starter in fantasy leagues because he doesn’t get a ton of touches, but with bye weeks beginning in Week 4, he could end up joining the flex discussion.

• ​Bishop Sankey ran for 61 yards on 10 carries, while Shonn Greene had just 33 yards on that same amount of carries. Greene got a touchdown on a goal-line carry late, but Sankey may be taking over this backfield.

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• ​Isaiah Crowell outgained Terrance West, 55 yards to 36 yards, on one fewer carry, but West got the score. Ben Tate could be back after the Browns' Week 4 bye, which would only muddy this situation further. Expect Tate and West to share the backfield, as was the plan heading into the season.

• ​Lorenzo Taliaferro had 91 yards on 18 carries after barely playing in the first two games of the season. Justin Forsett ran well, picking up 63 yards on 11 carries, but he is still better in a change-of-pace role. With Bernard Pierce looking unimpressive and still dealing with a thigh injury, expect Taliaferro to be more involved next week. However, the Ravens have a very tough matchup with the Panthers.

• ​Everyone expected a shootout in Detroit, so it makes sense that the mighty offenses of the Packers and Lions combined for 26 points. The Lions defense put up arguably the most impressive performance of the season, holding the Packers to seven points, 223 total yards and 4.4 yards per play. Aaron Rodgers had 162 yards, 6.0 YPA and a touchdown, while Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb combined for just eight catches for 88 yards. While the Packers’ passing game will bounce back, fantasy owners are right to be concerned about Eddie Lacy. He ran for just 36 yards on 11 carries, and has a total of 113 rushing yards this year. Some of that can be chalked up to tough matchups, as the Packers have played the Seahawks, Jets and Lions, but he looked slow and plodding on Sunday. He’s worth checking in on as a buy-low candidate, but make sure it is a true buy-low.

•​ Just like Buffalo's backfield, Detroit’s will regularly give the fantasy community one starter, but it’s hard to predict which one will show up. This week it was Reggie Bush, who ran for 61 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. He also caught six passes for 38 yards. Joique Bell, meanwhile, had just 33 yards on 15 carries and didn’t catch a pass. The Lions have a tough game against the Jets next week. I’d lean more on Bush.

• ​Andrew Luck had his best game as a pro, throwing for 370 yards, 9.5 YPA and four touchdowns against the hapless Jaguars. In what should not be a surprise, Ahmad Bradshaw outperformed Trent Richardson again. He had 65 yards on nine carries, and caught two passes for 18 yards and a touchdown. Richardson had 57 yards on 14 carries, and three receptions for 23 yards. Bradshaw is becoming a regular flex starter in 12-team leagues.

•​ It only makes sense that the Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater eras would begin in the same week. Bortles relieved Henne with the Colts in total control on Sunday, and ended up throwing for 223 yards, 9.3 YPA, two touchdowns and two interceptions. After the game, Gus Bradley said Bortles would remain the starter. Like Bridgewater, he’s worth going after in most leagues, and could be a fantasy starter in deeper leagues or two-quarterback formats.

•​ Allen Hurns had the big play on Sunday, but Allen Robinson and Cecil Shorts are clearly ahead on the depth chart. Robinson had seven catches on 10 targets for 79 yards, while Shorts caught five of his 10 targets for 35 yards and a touchdown in his first game of the season.

•​ Stevan Ridley had just 54 yards on 19 carries in what should have been a very good matchup against the Raiders. Shane Vereen, however, only had 20 yards on seven carries, and caught four of his six targets for 17 yards. Until the struggling New England offense shows signs of life, you may want to stay away from these two, especially Vereen.

•​Bobby Rainey ended up having a nice yardage day against the Falcons on Thursday night, racking up 105 total yards on 18 touches, but he did a lot of that on dump-offs in garbage time. He also lost two fumbles in the Buccaneers’ embarrassing loss. Doug Martin should be back next week, and will likely take back the starting gig, though Rainey will still be involved. With the Buccaneers line and passing game really struggling, fantasy owners have to downgrade Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans for the rest of the season. The team could make a change to Mike Glennon, but that doesn’t improve their prospects all that much. Jackson is a low-end WR2, while Evans should be thought of as a depth guy.

• The Cardinals are now 2-0 with Drew Stanton as a starter after he led them to a 23-14 comeback win over the division-rival 49ers, and they now sit atop the NFC West. He threw for 244 yards, 7.4 YPA, two touchdowns and zero interceptions as the Cardinals outscored the 49ers 17-0 in the second half. Stanton threw the deep ball much better this week, hitting Michael Floyd twice deep down the field for completions of at least 35 yards. Floyd finished the day with five catches on nine targets for 114 yards, while Larry Fitzgerald had just three catches for 34 yards on seven targets. It’s clear that Floyd is the top option in the Arizona passing game. John Brown again showed why he’s a solid depth option as the bye weeks begin, catching four passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns.

Eagles show perseverance again in hard-fought win over Redskins

•​ Colin Kaepernick had a useful game for fantasy owners, but it’s hard to trust him with the 49ers struggling to score. Despite Stevie Johnson’s strong game – he had nine catches for 103 yards – he’s still a long-range option, even with bye weeks starting next week.

•​​ Knile Davis showed why it never made any sense for the Chiefs to push Jamaal Charles’ recovery this week. He ran for 132 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. He did fumble twice, losing one, and that has always been a problem for him. However, he can continue to put up RB1 production for as long as Charles is out. After his game this week, though, those of you who own both Davis and Charles could have an opportunity to package them together for a low-end RB1 or WR1. This could very well be a timeshare when Charles returns.

•​​ Lamar Miller had a huge game as the starter for the Dolphins, running for 108 yards on 15 carries and catching four passes for 24 yards. Moreno should be out until at least Week 6, which is the first game after Miami’s bye. You’ll want to play Miller for sure next week when the Dolphins take on the Raiders in London, but he’s also a great sell candidate after what he did to the Chiefs on Sunday.

• ​​Montee Ball had another bad per-carry game, running for just 38 yards on 14 totes. He gets a bit of a pass because it was against the Seahawks, but Ball has just not looked like the late-first or early-second round pick he was drafted as in fantasy leagues this year. The silver lining, though, is that for the third straight game, he dominated the touches out of the backfield. He still inhabits a potentially lucrative role in one of the best offenses in the league. There’s a nice buy-low opportunity here.

•​​​Wes Welker had six catches for 60 yards on nine targets in his first game of the season. At the same time, Emmanuel Sanders had 11 catches on 15 targets for 149 yards. There’s no reason to downgrade Sanders at all with Welker back on the field. And, sticking with the wide receiver position in Denver, it’s unlikely that someone would be willing to sell Demaryius Thomas low, but if his owner is 1-2 or 0-3, he or she could be a bit more trigger-happy. It’s at least worth checking in on his price.

•​​​​Peyton Manning showed why you don’t ever bench studs, regardless of matchup. After a slow first half, he finished with 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, good for 19.12 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues.

•​​​​There’s no reason to read anything into Derek Anderson finishing out the Panthers’ loss to the Steelers on Sunday night. Cam Newton is still getting over his broken ribs and offseason ankle surgery. He didn't need to be out there with the result of the game well in hand.

• ​​​​Kelvin Benjamin had his second big game of the year, catching eight of his 11 targets for 115 yards and a touchdown. Greg Olsen added 69 yards and a score of his own. We’ve said it a lot in this space, but it bears repeating that these two are going to rack up the targets this year. You’re already starting Olsen every week, and Benjamin is fast approaching that status as well.

•​​ Another week, another no-show performance, especially in fantasy terms, for the Carolina running backs. Just stay away.

•​​ ​​The burst-less Le’Veon Bell is a thing of the past. He had an 81-yard run on Sunday night and finished with 147 yards on 21 carries. Given what he also brings to the table as a receiver, he’s a true RB1 for the rest of the season. LeGarrette Blount had a productive day as well, running for 118 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, but he still isn’t a threat to Bell. He did nearly all of his damage in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.

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