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Beware Vick, Flacco in Week 3
The first two Thursday night games have been resounding duds. For the second straight week, fantasy owners salivated over the matchups made on paper. Visions of shootouts and huge point totals danced in their heads.
In Week 2, we saw Jay Cutler terrorized by Clay Matthews, a game that created several days of spirited debate that had nothing to do with the officials. Week 3 opened with an absolutely miserable showing by the Panthers.
On paper, it was a glorious spot. Cam Newton was slated to lead his Panthers at home against the injury-depleted Giants in prime time. He produced a terrible passing effort with three interceptions, though he offered fantasy owners a goal-line plunge. The public instead watched waiver-wire darlings Andre Brown and Ramses Barden dominate the hapless Carolina defense (more on them later).
I need to turn the page quickly. Let’s get into the Sunday slate.
Ben Roethlisberger at OAK: Roethlisberger is living up to preseason expectations in Todd Haley’s offense. He’s passed for 260 yards and two touchdowns per game against the Broncos and Jets. As such, he’s a rock-solid start against the Raiders. The Oakland defense contained the Chargers’ passing attack in Week 1 despite working on short fields for much of the day. In Week 2, Ryan Tannehill looked like a season veteran. I expect the Raiders’ third-down inefficiency (22% conversions) to play large in this one and afford Roethlisberger glorious scoring opportunities.
Philip Rivers vs. ATL: Rivers represents a low-end QB1 this week against the Falcons. The San Diego offensive line is still a cause for concern, as this is a much stiffer test than the Raiders and Titans presented. The Chargers are optimistic that Antonio Gates gets back on the field, and Ryan Mathews will make his season debut. As a result, Rivers has ample options to work underneath while taking shots downfield with Malcom Floyd (flourishing right now). Arm strength won’t be a consideration in the post-game comments.
I am moderately concerned about the fact that the 49ers have allowed seven sacks to Green Bay and Detroit, so the potential is there for a Jared Allen visit or two in the backfield as the 49ers complete the season-opening hat trick of NFC North squads. The Vikings have allowed four passing touchdowns to Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck. This is a huge spot for Smith.
Jay Cutler vs. STL: Week 2 of the NFL season didn’t quite go as planned for Cutler in a huge spot against the Packers. He was under duress all game and found himself in a national flap after making contact with an offensive lineman. I still wonder why nobody called the coaching staff to the carpet for the failed protection. I digress.
Cutler looks to rebound against the sneaky St. Louis defense. Though the Rams have generated only two sacks thus far, this is a team that gets a push up front and has a quality cornerback/agitator on the field in Cortland Finnegan. I look for a spirited effort at home and a big bounce-back from the mercurial quarterback.
Peyton Manning vs. HOU: Manning posted a first half to forget on Monday night against the Falcons. He failed miserably on deep balls, and Atlanta defenders jumped routes all night long. I did like that he invoked the great Popeye character in his media session this week. “I am what I am.”
Anyway, I have Manning rated as a high-QB2 this week against the top-ranked Houston defense. It would be easy to dismiss this squad based on the first opponents (Jacksonville and Miami), but we saw Wade Phillips’ unit terrorize quarterbacks with regularity in 2011. J.J. Watt is becoming a household name. Approach Manning with caution this week.
Andrew Luck vs. JAC: The Texans had the luxury of just pounding the line of scrimmage with their glorious two-headed backfield monster. Indianapolis does not have that opportunity, and I expect to see a fantastic third start out of Luck on the road.
Christian Ponder and Matt Schaub combined to complete 74.2% of their pass attempts. I understand that they haven’t allowed a passing touchdown yet. This injured secondary gets tagged at least twice this Sunday.
Andy Dalton at WAS: It’s the “Last Man Standing” bowl in Washington. Both teams have been hit hard by injuries, and I suspect that Dalton continues his evolution against the Orakpo/Carriker-less defense. The emergence of Andrew Hawkins as a check-down option and extension of BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ work on the ground opens this offense up for A.J. Green downfield. The Redskins have ceded three touchdowns in back-to-back weeks (Brees and Bradford), and I’m anticipating multiple strikes for Dalton this week. He’ll need to keep throwing to keep pace with RGIII.
Matt Cassel at NO: Cassel and the Chiefs struggled terribly in Buffalo and got absolutely dominated. But, points count whenever they come, and Cassel logged a 300-yard game with two touchdowns. He and the Kansas City offense fall into a “get-right” game this week against the heretofore putrid New Orleans defense. The Panthers (toothless on Thursday night) and Redskins ran them up and down the field. Kansas City has enough offensive options to do the same.
Ryan Fitzpatrick at CLE: Can the Bills actually rise up and win on the road? Fitzpatrick has posted a decidedly uneven start to 2012. He’s completed only 54.9% of his pass attempts with three interceptions, but he has logged five touchdown passes. Fitzpatrick failed to top 200 passing yards while C.J. Spiller ran amuck. The Browns figure to stack the box to slow Spiller, thereby affording Fitzpatrick opportunities against the injury/suspension-depleted Cleveland secondary. Of course, offering Fitzpatrick here also assumes that Dave Wannstedt’s defensive unit posts a first half equivalent to the effort from Week 2 and sets up Fitzpatrick with advantageous field position.
Jake Locker vs. DET: I offer up Locker for a start this week for owners in deep or two-QB leagues. The Titans are starting to get healthy, and an expanded role for Kenny Britt is in the offing against an injury-ravaged Detroit secondary. I’m concerned about the offensive line holding up against Ndamukong Suh and the pass rush (seven sacks), but there’s a good chance that this game opens up. We’ve been waiting for Locker to start flinging the ball downfield with reckless abandon. This could be the spot.
Michael Vick at ARI: I know. Vick appeared in this spot last week and rolled to another huge yardage count against the Ravens. He logged multiple touchdowns (one passing and one rushing) against another two turnovers. Vick has already committed seven turnovers this season and will see pressure from an improved Arizaon defense. Through two weeks, the Cardinals rank fifth in total defense (17 PPG) and limited the juggernaut Patriots to a series of field goal attempts.
I love the secondary, led by Patrick Peterson and Adrian Wilson. Linebacker Daryl Washington has already amassed 23 tackles and the front four is getting persistent pressure. Philadelphia faces a stiff road test this week. I’m anticipating a nail-biter, and Vick ranks as a high-end QB2 for me this week.
Joe Flacco vs. NE: The Philadelphia pass defense did a fine job to contain the fast-paced, no-huddle Baltimore attack. Flacco had his way with the Bengals in Week 1, but the Eagles limited him to 232 passing yards with one touchdown and two turnovers (one interception).
I like what I’ve seen from the revamped New England defense through two weeks. Vince Wilfork is back to work in the heart of the D-Line and the back-seven did well to contain Larry Fitzgerald in Week 2. Flacco hasn’t been able to find Torrey Smith consistently downfield, nor has he turned in his direction often (eight targets overall and four receptions). Look for another high target count from Dennis Pitta.
Matt Schaub at DEN: Last week, the Texans were in a perfect spot to roll out the passing game against the depleted Jacksonville secondary. The Texans chose to use the ground-and-pound approach with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Wide receiver Andre Johnson reportedly endorsed the run-heavy play-calling.
This is not the Houston offense of old where Schaub ranked among the leaders in passing yardage. I’m reticent to endorse Schaub in this road game for several reasons. First, the Texans are following the tried-and-true formula of defense and running the ball. You find the evidence in the fact that Schaub has passed for 461 yards and two touchdowns through two games (MIA and JAC). Second, there’s not an established receiver outside in Houston outside of Andre Johnson, who will battle Champ Bailey all game. Owen Daniels will factor into this game, but the lack of established secondary options puts Schaub on the pine. Despite Denver’s lofty rank against the run (71 YPG), I still expect to see Foster and Tate logging a huge workload.