This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Injuries played a big role in Week 2. Brandon Weeden will start Week 3 for Dallas; Jimmy Clausen will start for Chicago; Devonta Freeman should have the Atlanta backfield most to himself. Which player with an expanded role offers the most value in Week 3?
Phil Alexander: Jimmy Clausen and Brandon Weeden will provide a huge boost in expanded roles this week – for the Seattle and Atlanta defenses. The Seahawks were primed for a huge game regardless of whether Clausen or Jay Cutler got the start. They're playing at home for the first time this year, facing a must-win situation against an over-matched opponent (Seattle opened as a 14 point favorite). Marshawn Lynch will have no problem running it down Chicago's throat, meaning Clausen will be forced to pass. We don't have much sample size on Clausen aside from his rookie year (three touchdowns, nine interceptions, 33 sacks taken across 10 starts), but let's just say there's a reason he didn't appear in a game for three years before Jay Cutler crashed and burned in 2014.
I don't usually care for defenses on the road, but I'll make an exception for a fairly-priced Atlanta squad ($2,900) going up against Brandon Weeden in Dallas. Weeden is a 56.4% passer who has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and been sacked 2.7 times per game throughout his career. Surprisingly, the Falcons have been a tough team in the NFL to run on through two weeks. If the Cowboys are unable to get their mediocre running game going, Weeden will be forced to pass, which is a situation that usually doesn't end well.
John Lee: I agree with Phil about the prospects of Seattle's defense at home against Clausen and the reeling Bears, but I cannot get behind the Falcons defense this week. The Vegas line tells me all that I need to know about the Dallas-Atlanta game. The Cowboys have a legitimate chance at winning that game. How they accomplish it will be determined on Sunday, but I suspect they will employ a similar strategy to their first two games: controlling time of possession. Through the first two games, the Cowboys have had the ball an average of 38:50 minutes per game, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the game clock! In doing so, they wear down opposing defenses and keep their offenses off the field. If Weeden can manage the offense accordingly, I see no reason that the Cowboys cannot score 21+ points this week and set themselves up for a victory. On a week where there are three large home favorites, I cannot endorse a pro-Falcons stance this Sunday.
To answer the original question, none of the three options excites me from a daily perspective. If I were forced to take a stance on any of them, it would be Devonta Freeman, simply because of opportunity. Without Tevin Coleman in the mix, Freeman should see 16-20 touches on Sunday against the Cowboys at a bargain salary of $4,600. My excitement is somewhat tempered by the success the Cowboys have had in defending the run through two games (53 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry), so I would still proceed cautiously with Freeman, particularly in cash game formats.
Chris Feery: Of the three, I think Weeden offers the most upside for this week. Phil articulated Weeden's shortcomings very well. But I think it's safe to assume the Cowboys are comfortable with him leading the offense, or else they wouldn't have left themselves exposed without a better option at backup quarterback. It's a small sample size from this past Sunday, but he actually looked okay in his limited action; he completed 100% of his passes and threw a 42-yard touchdown. The Falcons have looked much better than expected through two weeks, but both the Eagles and Giants were able to move the ball on them. The Eagles threw for 336 yards. Granted, they were coming from behind, but this is the same Eagles team that could get nothing going against the Cowboys. In Week 2, Giants threw for 292 yards. Do I think Weeden meets similar yardage totals? No, but 250 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick are not out of the question.
Freeman is interesting because of the opportunity, but I don’t like the matchup against the Cowboys. As John mentioned, the Cowboys have been stout against the run. I don't see him as a lock to make value for cash games but he could be worth a GPP flier if playing multiple lineups. Clausen is a clear avoid due to the environment and opponent. I can't think of many quarterbacks I would play in his situation – going into Seattle to play a Seahawks team looking for its first win – let alone Clausen.
Alexander: John, I completely agree Dallas will want to control the clock in this one, but how they're going to be able to with Brandon Weeden behind center is beyond me. Through two games the Cowboys have been dominating time of possession in a completely different way than they were last year. In 2014, they ran the ball on 49.6% of their offensive plays (3rd in the league). This year, they've run on 40.58% of their plays (20th) without much success (3.35 yards per carry). It seems clear to me Dallas was relying on Tony Romo's efficiency (75% completion rate) to sustain drives.
Replace Romo with Weeden (56.4% completion rate) and how are the Cowboys going to move the ball? If the first two weeks are any indication, their (pretty terrible) running backs are going to have a hard time against Atlanta. I don't usually roster a defense on the road - and I won't be using Atlanta in cash games - but this is Brandon Weeden we're talking about. Without Dez Bryant or the help of a dominant running game, I can't envision a scenario where he doesn't face-plant on Sunday.
Scott Bischoff: I agree with the points made by Phil and John. Neither Weeden, Clausen nor Freeman are all that exciting, but I can see Weeden taking a few deep shots to Devin Street and Terrance Williams. I'm very intrigued by the return of Texans running back Arian Foster if he returns to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home in Week 3. I could see him making a big difference for the Texans offense, getting 15+ carries and multiple catches to help get the Texans into the end zone.
One other player with an expanded role this week is LeVeon Bell, as his role expands from suspended to active. Are you treating Bell as a no-brainer RB1 suitable for cash games. If you're not using Bell this week, is it due to matchup or because you feel you need to see him in action first?
Alexander: I won't be playing Bell in cash games this week, but it's not because I don't trust him sight unseen. He absolutely warrants cash game consideration, but I simply prefer the matchups for Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson. You want a piece of Lynch whenever he's at home, and he gets the mother of all matchups this week, with the Jimmy Clausen-led Bears traveling to Century Link as two touchdown underdogs. Peterson had a huge game at home last week that should have been even better (he had a touchdown called back). He's facing a San Diego rush defense that was shredded by Giovani Bernard in the second half last week, and by Ameer Abdullah back in Week 1. Either of those spots are preferable to Bell's, who has to face Aaron Donald and company on the road.
Feery: As for Bell, he's definitely on the list this week, but the matchup may point me elsewhere for cash games. As Phil mentioned, Peterson and Lynch have better matchups on paper. You would think the Rams would be more alive this week after last week's letdown at Washington. That being said, Bell could explode regardless of opponent, which is why he'll be on my short list basically every week. For this week, I may look elsewhere for cash games but wouldn't hesitate to roster Bell for a GPP lineup.
Beyond the Box Score
Arizona receiver John Brown had a relatively slow day in Week 2 with just five receptions for 45 yards. Brown did, however, draw pass interference penalties of 42 and 38 yards. Provide a similar example of a player making big play(s) that didn't show up in the box score but might be indicative of big things to come in Week 3.
Phil Alexander: I know two things that haven't shown up in 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers box scores – Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. But despite the fact neither player has appeared in a game due to suspension, both of their arrows are pointing up as a result of what has happened on the field. In Bell's absence, DeAngelo Williams has taken more carries from inside the opposing team's 10-yard line than any player in the NFL. It's scary to think what Bell can do with those opportunities as soon as this week against the Rams (who were just lit up on the ground by Matt Jones).
Bryant will have to miss another two games before getting on the field, but I'll be inserting him into GPP lineups as soon as he's active. With Bryant on the bench, Darrius Heyward-Bey (yes that Darrius-Heyward-Bey) has accounted for 18.75% of Pittsburgh's receiving targets. The types of targets Heyward-Bey has been receiving are the important part. Per Pro Football Focus, Heyward-Bey was targeted 20 yards or more downfield on 41.7% of his routes (the fifth highest rate in the league). Those are the routes the Steelers designed for Bryant, who led the NFL in deep pass target rate in 2014 with an identical 41.7% share. It's also worth noting Heath Miller has been the target on five of Ben Roethlisberger's eight red zone pass attempts. Many of those looks will be earmarked for Bryant upon his return. As a rookie, Bryant led the team with a 44% red zone touchdown conversion rate.
John Lee: Adrian Peterson is a guy I am going to eye very closely moving forward. In Week 1, Peterson was eliminated from the Vikings game plan when they fell behind early; Peterson did not touch the ball in the fourth quarter and finished the day with 8.2 fantasy points at a $7,700 salary. Last week, the Vikings changed a few things, including not giving up a double-digit lead early, and Peterson responded with nearly 200 all-purpose yards but still did not reach value because he did not manage to score a touchdown and fumbled twice inside the redzone (losing one of those fumbles). This limited his fantasy production dramatically. This week, his salary has dropped a few hundred dollars, and he will match up against a Chargers team that has allowed 4.7 yards per carry and 122 rushing yards per game to the Bengals and Lions, neither of whose running games parallels Peterson. A 30-point fantasy day is coming very soon.
Scott Bischoff: Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton has started very slowly, getting hurt in the first week and then seeing a tough matchup in Week 2. But I think he is about to break out in a big way. Clearly the Colts have issues on offense (similar to 2014), but they have solved their issues quickly in the past. Hilton has 11 catches for 133 yards and zero touchdowns through two games in 2015. He had 11 catches for 106 yards through two games in 2014. While watching this team play on Monday night, it was obvious that Hilton wasn't a big part of the offensive plan, but there were big plays that the Colts left on the table with Hilton breaking open deep down the field. I'd expect the Colts to see this and for Luck to drive the ball down the field for Hilton starting this week in Tennessee.
Chris Feery: Jeremy Maclin has been targeted 16 times thus far, catching nine passes for 109 yards. He had a 20-yard reception in Week 1 and a 30-yard reception in Week 2. While he has not lit the world on fire with the Chiefs as of yet, the big game is coming. Alex Smith looks his way early and often, and he brings a whole new element to the Chiefs offense that they were sorely lacking last year. Week 1 for the Chiefs belonged to Travis Kelce, and Week 2 was the Jamaal Charles show (fumbles aside). For Week 3, we have the Chiefs traveling to Green Bay as a 6 1/2-point underdog in a game with an over/under of 49. That points us to the Chiefs throwing quite a bit to keep pace and play catch-up. Maclin has a legit shot at 100 yards this week and should have plenty of catches to go along with it.
Small Sample Sizes
Many teams have been "Jekyll and Hyde" through two weeks. Choose an item or two below and discuss the data point that you feel is most representative of the defense's future.
- Week 1: allowed 404 passing yards to Philip Rivers
- Week 2: allowed 153 passing yards to Teddy Bridgewater
Chris Feery: San Francisco: Neither, I expect the 49ers to be about average as a pass defense, and the results through two weeks are more indicative of the opponents faced. The Steelers have a potential top-five offense and quarterback, while the Vikings are sorting through offensive line issues that were exploited in their matchup. In short, top-level quarterbacks can light the 49ers up and make for good targets, but average offenses do not suddenly become "must-plays" because they are facing them.
Tampa Bay: Lean towards Week 2’s results. Responding the way they did after getting their doors blown off in Week 1 shows that there is a good amount to work with in Tampa Bay. The next four weeks of their schedule is relatively favorable in terms of not having to face prolific passing attacks, which will allow them some more time to settle in before what looks to be a tough November.
Detroit: I see this unit falling somewhere in the middle. Week 1 saw Rivers lead a furious comeback while Week 2 saw the Vikings have control for most of the game. Don't be afraid to target them with opposing passers, but also don’t anticipate 400+ yards being a regular occurrence.
St. Louis: Their defensive outlook definitely leans towards Week 1, but Le’Veon Bell will provide a hell of a test for that theory this week. Week 2 looks to be a classic letdown game after a huge unexpected win. It was a little surprising with a seasoned coach such as Jeff Fisher, but that was the result nonetheless. Expect them to be one of the stronger defenses this year, but as with any team they can lay the occasional egg.
Denver: They lean towards Week 1, mainly because of the eye test from both games. The defense looks like it will be a strength for the Broncos this season. Top backs like Charles can find their way to points even against strong opponents, and let’s not forget he lost the ball twice against the Broncos defense. I’ll be fading the lower-level backs entirely and considering the Broncos defense a check mark in the negative column for top-level backs.
John Lee: Do not underestimate the Rams defensive front seven. After Week 2, they are the 30th ranked run defense, allowing 153 rushing yards per game (4.4 yards per carry), which would indicate that they could be in for a long season. That said, those statistics are skewed dramatically due to four rushing plays of greater than 20 yards, accounting for almost half of their total rushing yards allowed on the season. If you were to remove those outlier carries, the Rams run defense is allowing only about 2.7 yards per carry on the other 95% of rushing plays. Those 20+ yard rushes will be largely eliminated as the coaching staff irons out some wrinkles in defensive scheming moving forward. When that happens, do not play your running backs against this Rams defense because they will not continue to give up these massive fantasy days to opposing running backs.
Scott Bischoff: I'm looking at the return of Lions OLB DeAndre Levy as a critical component in the Lions returning (in some ways) to what they were last year. In looking at the Lions on defense, it is clear that missing Levy for the first two weeks has been much more of a negative factor than the loss of any player through free agency this year. Levy has the ability to run down plays, cover wide receivers and (most importantly) blitz from multiple platforms. Missing Levy is the biggest reason the Lions were gashed over the middle of the field in Week 1 and another reason they haven't generated much pressure on quarterbacks through two weeks. I'd look for that to change in Week 3.
While we like to look to Vegas odds to point us in the right direction for selecting players, sometimes they can mislead. Dallas-Philadelphia was low-scoring, while teams like Jacksonville and Carolina had very relevant fantasy performances from Allen Robinson and Cam Newton. DFS players could have stacked Derek Carr with either of his top two wideouts and scored big.
So which QB/WR combination from one of the typically low-scoring quintet of Jacksonville, Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, and Washington provides the best stack opportunity in Week 3?
Phil Alexander: This is kind of like asking if I prefer the smell of burnt hair to a dog fart, but if I had to field a stack from one of these putrid offenses, I'd go with Blake Bortles-Allen Robinson. Let's get one thing straight: Robinson is not repeating his Week 2 performance (36.5 fantasy points) on the road in Foxboro. If you start him this week (and stack him with Bortles for some masochistic reason), you're hoping instead for a repeat of what happened during New England's last game. Buffalo scored two passing touchdowns in the fourth quarter against the Patriots last week, after the outcome of the game had already been decided. As a 13.5 point underdog, Bortles and company should have a chance to rack up plenty of meaningless fantasy points. And there's at least a 50-50 chance Robinson – a tremendously talented young receiver – gets the better of New England's ho-hum secondary on a big play before garbage time inevitably kicks in.
John Lee: First off, I want to emphasize the importance of following Vegas lines in constructing your lineups; they may miss from time to time, but Vegas will be right more than they are wrong, which is all that we strive to do in DFS (be "better than average"). Of the options provided, I think stacking Jacksonville makes the most sense for GPPs because of the likely gamescript. The Patriots will likely jump out to an early lead, which means that T.J. Yeldon should be an afterthought this weekend. Expect to see Blake Bortles throw the ball 40 times, and he will surely be looking for Allen Robinson. But Bill Belichick has based his coaching career on eliminating an opposing offense's best player, so I expect Robinson to come back to earth a bit on Sunday. In his place, I might take a flyer on Allen Hurns, who should be lining up across from ex-Eagle Bradley Fletcher, who allowed the second-most passing touchdowns (nine) while in coverage last year and who has started off by allowing eight receptions (on nine targets) for 129 yards and a touchdown with the Patriots this year. Hurns is the better GPP play – not only because of his likely coverage – but due to his salary being $1,500 less than Robinson His ownership will also be less than 3%, while Robinson's will be significantly higher.
Chris Feery: Those are good points on the Jaguars so far; they could be an interesting target. Ranking the remaining ones in order, I would take Buffalo first, followed by Oakland, Washington, and Cleveland. For Buffalo, Tyrod Taylor showed a lot last week in spite of throwing three picks by completing 23 of 30 with four total touchdowns. If you factor in his upside on the ground and the ability to pair him with one of his top three targets for a song, you have an attractive stacking situation. The Browns have allowed two passing touchdowns in each of the first two weeks. Carr had an outstanding game last week and could easily make that three weeks in a row.
The Giants have allowed 300+ yards passing in back-to-back weeks, so the Redskins could be a sneaky stack in Week 3. But you can pay up a little for Taylor over Cousins or actually save some money by going with Carr if you’re looking for a quarterback on the cheap. Cleveland is the least attractive of the five with the decision to go back to McCown as starter. Manziel at least makes for an interesting flier with upside, while McCown looks like an avoid for most weeks.
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