Fantasy Football

Dalton, Ponder solid No. 2 plays Luke Hoover
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Defensive trends are difficult to peg early in the season, so it's crucial to weigh the importance of an individual player's presence and what it means to a team's ability to slow the opponent. For example, quarterbacks facing Cleveland should have a much easier go of things with elite cover corner Joe Haden losing his suspension appeal and now slated to miss four games. That said, Andy Dalton still narrowly missed the cut for this week's top QB2s, as he doesn't have quite enough established weapons after A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham in the Bengals' face-off the the Browns this week.

The theme of this week is to follow the offense. Shootouts provide ample opportunity for those fringe starters to post big games.


1. Andrew Luck vs. Minnesota - Giving credit where credit is due, it's only fair to admit that Blaine Gabbert has made nice strides from a rocky rookie season. But the Vikings defense didn't do anything last week to suggest it improved on a 2011 unit that allowed a league-high 34 passing scores. And if Gabbert can throw for 260 and two scores without a pick, then the much more polished Luck should have little trouble matching or exceeding those numbers against the Vikings.

2. Matt Schaub at Jacksonville - Although the Jaguars defense kept Christian Ponder from tossing any scores in Week 1, they still allowed him to complete nearly 75 percent of his passes for 270 yards and a 10.0 yard-per-attempt average. Schaub, who's proven to be a prolific passer, should have little troubling posting similar numbers, except in his case a couple scores are very attainable with the likes of Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Arian Foster to target.

3. Alex Smith vs. Detroit - The Lions finished in the bottom third in both yards and touchdowns allowed through the air last season, lost their top corner in Eric Wright to Tampa Bay, did little to revamp their secondary, which is already banged up, and just let Sam Bradford post 7.9 yards per attempt despite severely limited weapons in St. Louis. Smith doesn't throw it a ton, but he has the talent in place to do so very efficiently, so another 200-plus and two scores could be his floor this week.

4. Christian Ponder at Indianapolis - The Colts defense likely will have a rough time transitioning to a 3-4 scheme this year under new coach Chuck Pagano. The Bears provided a glimpse of how ugly it will be as they gouged them consistently on the ground and through the air. With Adrian Peterson often drawing eight into the box, don't be surprised when Ponder beats the Colts badly with his arm. Percy Harvin is one of the game's best after the catch, and promising tight-end Kyle Rudolph is a nightmare cover in the red zone, so Ponder has the weapons to put points on the board. And this week, he's got the premier matchup to do it.

5. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Kansas City - Fitzpatrick did most of his damage in garbage time last week, but he still produced three touchdowns after overcoming the early turnovers. And he did this against one of the best pass defenses in football in the Jets. Kansas City will return Tamba Hali to the lineup this week but could still be without top corner Brandon Flowers (foot) and starting free safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder). Although the Bills are down two weapons in Fred Jackson (LCL) and David Nelson (ACL), there are still plenty of options for "Harvard's Finest" to get involved and the threat of a huge C.J. Spiller run to keep the defense honest. If what Matt Ryan and the Falcons did to Kansas City in Arrowhead is any indication of the Chiefs pass defense, Fitz should be in for a nice day.

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6. Carson Palmer at Miami - Palmer wasn't especially efficient versus the Chargers last week, but volume is also crucially important in fantasy and he did attempt 46 passes en route to nearly 300 yards. Granted, the team played from behind much of the game, but the Dolphins run defense did just hold Arian Foster and Ben Tate to a pitiful 2.7 yards per carry, so it's possible it could slow Darren McFadden and force Palmer's arm into a lot of work again. If Denarius Moore (hamstring) returns to the field and Darrius Heyward-Bey can get open more consistently, a big week will be on the way.

7. Matt Cassel at Buffalo - If Mark Sanchez can torch the Bills for 266 yards and three scores with his limited receiving cupboard, what can Cassel do with his greater array of weapons? If you answered pretty much the same thing then you are correct. Although that may well be the ceiling for Cassel, the floor should be a comparable number of yards and two scores given how much Buffalo's young corners struggled in coverage against Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes last week.


*Check injury status

13. Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF vs. KC
14. Josh Freeman TB at NYG
15. Michael Vick PHI vs. Bal
16. Andrew Luck IND vs. Min
17. Alex Smith SF vs. Det
18. Matt Cassel KC at Buf
19. Christian Ponder MIN at Ind
20. Matt Schaub HOU at Jac
21. Joe Flacco BAL at Phi
22. Ben Roethlisberger PIT vs. NYJ
23. Carson Palmer OAK at Mia
24. Mark Sanchez NYJ at Pit
25. Andy Dalton CIN vs. Cle
26. *Kevin Kolb ARZ at NE
27. *Jake Locker TEN at SD
28. Blaine Gabbert JAC vs. Hou
29. Russell Wilson SEA vs. Dal
30. Ryan Tannehill MIA vs. Oak
31. *Sam Bradford STL vs. Was
32. Brandon Weeden CLE at Cin
33. *Matt Hasselbeck TEN at SD
34. *John Skelton ARZ at NE

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Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bengals, Browns, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Jets, Jaguars, Cardinals, Steelers, Texans, Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer, Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Alex Smith, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck

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