- Will the Dolphins show up agains the Browns this week? Can the Chargers take advantage of the Colts' weak defense? Will Todd Gurley turn on the jets? Our fantasy experts ping-pong about this weekend's most intriguing fantasy football storylines.
NFL's Week 3 doesn't feature a dynamite slate of games, but don't worry fantasy football owners, there's still plenty of tantalizing storylines that will keep you planted firmly on your couch this Sunday. SI.com fantasy experts Michael Beller and Pat Fitzmaurice discuss whether or not the Dolphins' offense will reach their full potential against the Browns, if the Chargers can continue to produce even with Keenan Allen on the shelf, if Todd Gurley will ever put his foot on the gas, thoughts on the Falcons and Raiders as a whole and much more. To close it out, both offer up DFS recommendations for this weekend.
Michael Beller: It's too bad the Texans played the Patriots during Tom Brady's suspension. I'd love to watch those two teams go at each other at full strength, but maybe we'll get that chance in the playoffs.
We're not here to talk about last night's game, though. We want to spin things forward to the weekend, and I have to be honest, Fitz—the Week 3 slate as a whole is a bit underwhelming. But I'm not going to let that stop me from sitting in front of a couple TVs and a computer screen for 12 hours on Sunday. I do like the breakdown of eight early games and five late games, though. Can we do that all the time, NFL?
From a fantasy perspective, I'm most interested, believe it or not, in the Dolphins. Ryan Tannehill and the passing game showed me a lot when they went primarily no-huddle last week, turning a 24-point deficit against the Patriots into a one-score game with six minutes left. We're pretty sure we know Adam Gase is a great coach. Is he finally teasing out Tannehill's full potential? And is DeVante Parker the receiver we all want him to be? If the answer to those questions is yes, the Dolphins are going to have a fun, fantasy-fruitful offense to watch this season. The Browns are an incredibly low bar, but beating up on weak defenses is a hallmark of strong offenses. The Dolphins need to show up.
Jets-Chiefs should be a fun game. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are both dealing with minor ailments, but they're both going to play. I'm interested to see how they match up with the Kansas City secondary. Will Fuller turned Marcus Peters around a few times last week. He may have a game based more on speed than Marshall and Decker, but an inability to handle Fuller does not bode well for him this weekend. I like the Jets to go into Arrowhead and pull off a mini-upset. I'm really buying Todd Bowles's squad this season, and not only because they're one of my three teams in my wins pool. That doesn't matter anyway, since another of my teams is the Browns.
I'll leave it there for now, Fitz. What are you most interested to watch this week?
Pat Fitzmaurice: Bring on the Bolts! I'm finding myself fascinated by the San Diego offense. Philip Rivers is like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail—he keeps losing limbs but still wants to fight. Keenan Allen lost for the season? "Tis but a scratch!" Danny Woodhead lost for the season? "It's just a flesh wound!"
Rivers is completing 70% of his passes, tossing five touchdowns to zero interceptions so far, and the Chargers are averaging 32.5 points per game. And please, Beller, give yourself a little pat on the back, because no one was honking the Melvin Gordon horn more loudly than you were. Zero touchdowns for him last season, and now he has three through two games. He also has 177 yards from scrimmage so far. Our favorite ex-Badger is ballin'. I'm eager to see the Chargers' offense tear into that porous Colts' defense. The Black Knight fights on!
It's also going to be interesting to see how some of these injury-afflicted backfields shake out. Jerrick McKinnon is a serious breakout candidate, but how many times are the Vikings going to let giant tortoise Matt Asiata plod around with the ball? On our podcast this week, we speculated on the division of labor between Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker while Jonathan Stewart is out. I was on Team Fozzy, you were on Team CAP. It'll be interesting to see if either of us is on a winning side. This week's meeting of the Zach Zenner Fan Club has been canceled due to waning membership. It looks as if Dwayne Washington is getting first crack at replacing Ameer Abdullah—though Theo Riddick is sure to remain prominently involved.
But Beller, have you noticed that ALL of these teams have brutal matchups this week? Minnesota-Carolina could be a defensive struggle. And the Lions face the Packers, who lead the NFL in run defense through two games, giving up 1.6 yards per carry.
Staying on running backs for a minute, let me take your pulse on Todd Gurley. Most of the owners who spent a first-round pick on him are freaking out. Gurley still hasn't reached 100 yards for the season, he hasn't scored a TD, he's averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and his longest run of the season covered only 11 yards. The Rams' offensive line is terrible, and Case Keenum is a CFL-caliber quarterback. Thing is, he played in a lousy offense last season, too, and he was mostly awesome. The schedule isn't letting up. He gets a tough Tampa run defense this week, Arizona next week. Will Gurley owners continue to be disappointed, or is it just a matter of time before this dude gets rolling? If Gurley stays healthy all season, do you think he finishes as a top-10 RB?
Beller: I want to take this opportunity to thank you for encouraging me to come out of the dugout for my curtain call. No one wants to read an "I told you so" from a fantasy analyst. We know that we all get plenty of things wrong, too, but Gordon is definitely making me look good. Anyone who watched him in college knew that the familiar trope of Wisconsin running backs failing in the pros didn't apply to him. He was clearly different, not in the mold of Ron Dayne or Michael Bennett or Brian Calhoun or Montee Ball. Danny Woodhead's injury is going to increase the volume, but Gordon was well on his way to a breakout before his backfield mate went down with a torn ACL. I think he finishes the season as a top-five back. Of course, after loving him all summer and being his foremost supporter, I have him on two of eight teams. Do as I say, not as I do.
It has certainly been a rough two weeks for Gurley owners, who've watched their first-round pick sputter his way to 98 yards on 36 carries in what might be the league's worst offense. Talent wins 99 times out of 100, but I don't blame Gurley owners for thinking they've hit the sole losing spot on the wheel.
Here's the silver lining, though. We all remember Gurley taking the league by storm when he debuted last year. Defenses adjusted once he proved he was for real, and Rams opponents got the better of him for a solid month. And then, over the last three weeks of the season, he was himself again, totaling 316 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. Environment is crucial—we talk about that all the time. But I always want to be on the side of talent, and Gurley has oodles of it. I'm of the mind that he's going to be just fine.
So, yes, if he stays healthy, he's a top-10 running back this season. To give you an idea on where I stand on him, in a league where I'm flush at receiver but could use some help in my backfield, I'm discussing a trade based around him and A.J. Green. There would be more to the deal if we pull it off, but Gurley and Green are the principals.
I swear, Fitz, if I see Asiata get 12 carries on Sunday, I'm driving up to Minneapolis myself to have a chat with Mike Zimmer. McKinnon may not be suited to handle a typical Adrian Peterson-sized workload, so I do think the Vikings need to mix in Asiata a fair amount. But there's no doubting who's more talented between the two. I'm excited to see what McKinnon can do with, say, 14 carries and six targets. I think he turns himself into fantasy mainstay, even if that doesn't get off to a great start this week against a tough Carolina defense.
The more I look at the schedule, the more I'm talking myself into this being a good week. First, I think Cincinnati waxes Denver. This is the Bengals home opener, and, all things considered, I think they looked great the first two weeks. They knocked off the Jets on the road, holding Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in check, and then they nearly toppled the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Who knows what would have happened had the refs overturned Tyler Boyd's late fumble, which it sure looked like they should have. They're getting the playoff monkey off their back this season. Denver's excellent defense isn't going to slow the Bengals down enough, and Trevor Siemian and company won't be able to keep up.
Finally, what do we make of the Falcons? They get waxed by the Buccaneers at home Week 1, and then go to Oakland and beat everyone's favorite playoff darling. You and I were firmly behind a Matt Ryan bounceback this season—last year was poor touchdown luck and nothing else—but are they players in the NFC? One thing should be sure, we won't be desperate for points on Monday night. Falcons-Saints should delight.
Fitz: The total on Falcons-Saints is 53.5, the highest number on the board this week. So, yeah, we should see some scoring in that one. But that's why I can't take the Falcons seriously as an NFC contender—they don't defend well enough. That organization has drafted poorly for years, and the defense has been under repairs forever—the traffic cones are still up.
Speaking of defenses under repair, what are we to make of the Raiders so far? The offense is clicking. Derek Carr is a star. And I'm still trying to figure out why so many people in the fantasy biz were tepid on Amari Cooper this offseason. He's a physically dominant receiver who played hurt for most of last season and still had more than 1,000 yards. He's just so, so good. The Raiders are averaging 470 yards per game and 7.0 yards per play. Granted, they've gone against the aforementioned Saints and Falcons so far, but this offense is going to have more good weeks than bad weeks. But the Oakland defense so far ... egads. The Raiders are giving up over 500 yards per game, and 8.0 yards per play. That last figure is horrifying. The Jets are giving up 7.3 yards per play, and no one else has yielded more than 6.7 yards per play. The Raiders better figure things out on defense quickly, or the playoff aspirations will fizzle quickly. They play the Titans this week, and Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray owners have to be licking their chops.
Another defense that looked bad last week: Buffalo's. After completing 47% of his passes in 11 previous games against Rex Ryan defenses, Ryan Fitzpatrick finally solved the puzzle. Fitz made the Bills look bad last week, and now Carson Palmer and the Cardinals come to Buffalo. But I don't think the Bills are as bad as they looked last week, and I'm picking them to knock off the Cards this week in an upset special.
Let's talk about the Cardinals' receivers for a minute. Larry Fitzgerald is getting a 28.2% target share so far, and hos owners are digging the 13-158-3 stat line. But what happened to Michael Floyd and John Brown? Floyd had five catches for 69 yards and a TD. Brown has two catches for 22 yards. While Fitz has been targeted 20 times, Floyd and Brown have only 20 targets combined and have only caught 35% of them. Think this is an anomaly, or is Fitz going to be the only reliable fantasy commodity in the Arizona WR corps?
Beller: John Brown's raid on his fantasy owners doesn't surprise me. He's a burner, to be sure, but what else can he do? When you've got Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, who's going to challenge Le'Veon Bell's status as the league's most dynamic back, on your team, you don't need to mess around with one-trick ponies like Brown too frequently. Floyd's power outage shocks me. I've been a fan going back to his days at Notre Dame, so it's safe to say I'm feeling let down. Again. I remain steadfast in my belief that Floyd is too good, big and athletic to be on the fringes of the fantasy discussion, but loyalty can devolve into intransigence if you don't moderate your views when confronted with disproving evidence. Remember, though, that the two started similarly last year, and by the middle of the season it was Floyd who was carrying the Arizona receiving corps. I still think he can get there, but I'm not as confident in him as I was a few weeks ago.
Bills over Cardinals, huh? I agree that the defense is better than it showed against the Jets, but I can't get on board with that. I think the Cardinals win in relatively easy fashion. I think David Johnson might have the quietest 275 yards from scrimmage across two games in NFL history. He's going to be good and loud for his fantasy owners on Sunday. I'll give you a mild upset special and say that the Jets go into Arrowhead and knock off the Chiefs. I love this offense. With Marshall, Decker and Matt Forte leading the way, and Quincy Enunwa stepping up as a legitimate No. 3, the Jets are in the team photo for the league's best collection of skill players. All they need from Fitzpatrick is league-average quarterbacking to put up some fireworks and, as he showed last week, he's frequently capable of playing much better than that modest floor.
I wish I could dig deeper into the Raiders, but it's about time for us to walk away from the roundtable for the week, so I'll just say that I'm watching that defense very closely this week. The offense has lived up to its end of the bargain and then some. Time for Khalil Mack and his boys to do the same.
Alright Fitz, steer this ship back into port, will ya? Before docking, give the fine folks at home a DFS play to which you will have 100% exposure this week. For me, it's DeVante Parker. And, just for the record, while Dead Flowers was an excellent choice last week, my favorite Stones country song edges that one by just a nose: Sweet Virginia. I could also argue that The Spider and the Fly is half country and half blues, but that's another topic for another day.
Fitz: You're going to hate me, Beller, but I really like Dak Prescott as a penny-pinching DFS play this week against your injury-depleted Bears. Chicago's defensive secondary was sketchy to begin with, and now the Bears' pass rush figures to be toothless without Lamar Houston. It could get ugly for your boys Sunday night in Dallas ... and ugly for viewers, too. I'll throw in a bonus recommendation: Dwayne Allen. He had poor numbers against Denver last week, but I think he'll bounce back and hit pay dirt this week against a San Diego defense that managed to make Jacob Tamme look good last week. The Colts' offense is very TE-friendly, and the Donte Moncrief injury could funnel a few extra targets toward Allen.
I think you might be selling John Brown a little short, Beller—which isn't hard to do, since he's 5-10. But we can debate that and other aspects of the Rolling Stones' catalog next week. Enjoy the games, buddy.