Week 3 - Exploitable Matchups
By Allie Fontana
We haven’t even hit the first bye week of the season and fantasy owners are feverishly combing their benches and hitting the waiver wire in search of a solution to a temporary problem or gain an advantage over their opponents. Whether you’ve been hit by injuries to your starters, saddled with one or more underperforming early-round picks or just like to dig deep for a possible difference maker, here are some not-so obvious players with favorable match-ups who just might help you notch a “W” in the win column in Week 3.
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers @ Minnesota Vikings
Smith has weathered multiple regime changes over the course of his pro career—and worse—has been called both a bust and the dreaded “game manager”. If you’re still holding on to preconceived notions of who he is, then it’s time to get acquainted with the new and improved Alex Smith Version 2012. In two games against the Packers and Lions respectively, Smith has thrown for 437 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions—in fact, he hasn’t thrown an interception in 216 attempts. His passer rating of 115.9 is second-best in the league. From a fantasy standpoint, Smith has out-produced three of the top five signal callers on the majority of experts’ preseason rankings. This week Smith faces a Minnesota Vikings defense that is neither terrific nor terrible. They’ve allowed an average of 218 passing yards per game, gave up two scores a piece to Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck, and have yet to intercept a pass. The Niners are locked and loaded at receiver this season—and Smith’s rapport with play maker Vernon Davis has kicked into another gear. Although Michael Crabtree has yet to convert a catch to a touchdown, he’s clearly the team’s No. 1 wideout and making grabs that he missed in previous seasons. When you add in a motivated Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, Smith could post QB1 numbers as long as the Vikings find a way to stay competitive.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Luck is coming off a close win on the road against the Minnesota Vikings in which he threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie quarterback will look to make it two in a row when the Colts host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. While the Jags defense is pretty stingy to opponents by the numbers, Matt Schaub didn’t have to throw the ball much in Week 2 because the backfield combo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate absolutely shredded the Jags defense. Unfortunately Luck can’t rely on the Colts run game or the team’s defense to beat Jacksonville. To win, he’ll probably have to put the ball in the air—something that he’s done 76 times in two games. Look for Luck to find sure-handed receiver and trusted target Reggie Wayne, emerging target Donnie Avery, tight end Coby Fleener and preseason favorite Austin Collie, who could make his regular season debut on Sunday. Luck has the potential to put up low-end QB1 numbers unless the Colts 29th ranked backfield in rushing yards per game (73.5) has a breakthrough against vulnerable Jacksonville run defense.
Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints
We know that Cassel isn’t on your short list of fantasy starters; but before you say WTF and move on, hear us out. Cassel has put up more fantasy points through the first two weeks of the NFL season than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Peyton Manning. Kansas City’s run game hasn’t lived up to expectations so far and the defense has also fallen short, so Cassel has been forced to throw much more than expected. This week Cassel travels to the Big Easy to do battle with the struggling 0-2 Saints. He should get plenty of opportunities to put up solid stats against a New Orleans defense that has been torched for an average of 275 passing yards per game and 75 points in two games. In fact, no team has allowed more fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks than the Saints. You can be sure that Drew Brees and the Saints offense will air it out in an effort to build a big lead and avoid another loss. With weapons like Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis at his disposal, Cassel could be the king of garbage time production three weeks straight. He’s worth a look in deeper leagues (16 teams or more) or start two-QB format.
Others QB matchups we like: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns; Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals @ Washington Redskins
Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions @ Tennessee Titans
The Lions will look to bounce back after last Sunday’s beat down by the San Francisco 49ers and a road trip to Tennessee could be the shot in the arm they need to make it happen. The Titans defense is ranked No. 30 against the run, yielding 310 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns over two games. After two touchdown performance in the season opener against the Rams, Smith split time with Joique Bell in Week 2, rushing for 53 yards on 17 carries and adding another 17 yards receiving. Smith role figures to get more muddled this week when Mikel Leshoure returns from his two-game suspension. Despite late in the week buzz that Leshoure will be involved more heavily in the Lions Week 3 gameplan than initially anticipated, the reality is that his role isn’t clearly defined except that we expect him in the rotation. That said, until we get a look at what Leshoure can do, Smith is a viable low-end RB2 or flex option this week in a very favorable matchup against a run defense that’s giving up the fourth most fantasy points per game to running backs (27.55) and missing star middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who has been ruled out with an ankle injury.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The former first-round pick has flashed here and there, however he’s never a player that you feel excited to put in your lineup. While Brown looked very solid in the preseason, he’s been uninspiring over two games, rushing for just 93 yards and a score. If Brown is on your roster, congratulations you’ve been dealt a “21” from the Fantasy gods in Week 3. Running backs have torched the second from the bottom-ranked Jacksonville Jaguars run defense to the tune of 339 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Okay, Brown isn’t Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster or Ben Tate, but he should be able to do enough to get you 80 total yards and touchdown this week. Interesting factoid: Brown had one of the best games of his career in 2010 against the Jaguars, rushing for 129 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown.
Jonathan Dwyer/Isaac Redman, Pittsburgh Steelers @ Oakland Raiders
Neither Dwyer nor Redman has done enough in the early season to stake a claim as top dog in the Steelers backfield, so Rashard Mendenhall stands a good chance of getting his starting gig back. Before that happens, Pittsburgh heads to the Black Hole to take on the Raiders. Miami’s Reggie Bush throttled Oakland’s defense for 172 rushing yards and two touchdowns last week and rookie Lamar Miller piled on with another 65 yards and a score. Dwyer and Redman are expected to rotate carries, which diminishes each player’s upside. However if you’re in a bind this week or play in deeper formats, you may decide to roll the dice one or the other as low-end flex options. Not only do they have a favorable matchup against a Raiders defense that’s given up the 5th-most fantasy points to running backs, the window of opportunity is closing for each guy to make an impact before Mendenhall’s return after Pittsburgh’s Week 4 bye.
Others RB matchups we like: Peyton Hillis, Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans; Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs; Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs; Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions @ Tennessee Titans
Greg Little, Cleveland Browns @ Buffalo Bills
Little was decidedly unimpressive in the Browns regular season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did he fail to catch any of his four targets, he dropped a potential touchdown. Drops were something he struggled with in 2011 (14 total), and fantasy owners sensing more of the same dropped cut ties with the second-year receiver. They may have acted too hastily, because Little looked like a different player in Week 2, catching five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown against a beleaguered Bengals defense. Little has another favorable matchup this week against a Bills secondary that has been torched for 537 passing yards and five touchdowns to receivers. Buffalo has given up 35.3 fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts, third worst in the NFL. Little’s inconsistency makes him hard to trust completely, but if you’re in a deeper league or stuck for a flex play this week, he is certainly worth considering.
Andrew Hawkins, Cincinnati Bengals @ Washington Redskins
The Bengals really need some juice outside of wide receiver A.J. Green and while many of us expected second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham to step up, he has come up small so far. On the other hand, Hawkins has shown the ability to make an impact when given the opportunity. Hawkins had eight catches for 86 yards in Week 1, and while he only had three targets against the Browns last week, he demonstrated speed and elusiveness when he turned a 10-yard catch into a 50-yard run and a score. The speedster could come through for fantasy owners in Week 3 when he goes up against a Washington Redskins secondary that has given up 31 catches, 454 yards and three touchdowns to wide receivers alone. The Saints’ Lance Moore racked up 120 yards and a score in Week 1, and Rams receiver Danny Amendola caught 15 balls for 160 yards and a score last Sunday. We think Hawkins presents some real mismatches for the Redskins this week, whether the Bengals use him as an extension of the run game or Andy Dalton looks for him downfield.
Kevin Ogletree, Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The fourth-year pro was the hot waiver wire pickup heading into Week 2 after his eight-reception for 114 yards and two scores in the Cowboys regular-season opener against the Giants. Fantasy owners that started Ogletree last week expecting more of the same, were sorely disappointed by his one-catch for 26 yards performance in Dallas’ blowout loss to Seattle. The Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, and it’s a much more favorable matchup for Ogletree and the Dallas receiving corps. Tampa Bay has the worst secondary in the league through two games—giving up a whopping 813 yards in the air, four passing touchdowns and 41.7 fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. While we haven’t seen enough consistency from Ogletree to call him a sure-fire start this week, he could come through for fantasy owners with a little help from his friends—and by that we mean that the Buccaneers will focus on taking out Dez Bryant and Miles Austin—making Ogletree an option for Tony Romo.
Others WR matchups we like: Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs; Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans vs. Detroit Lions; Aldrick Robinson/Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins vs. Cincinnati Bengals; Randy Moss, San Francisco 49ers @ Minnesota Vikings; Mohamed Massaquoi, Cleveland Browns @ Buffalo Bills
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos
Matt Schaub targeted the veteran tight end nine times last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Daniels made six grabs for 47 yards. Those aren’t great numbers for standard formats, but solid in PPR scoring. Daniels could be in line for a big week when Houston heads to Denver in what should be a tougher matchup than their previous opponents. While the ground game will continue to be the bread and butter of the Texans offense, Schaub may need to throw the ball more against the Broncos. Daniels is clearly the second receiving option behind Andre Johnson, and he could play a key role this week as Houston will look to exploit the shaky play of Denver safeties Rahim Moore and Mike Adams. The Broncos have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to tight ends (12) over the first two games, behind only the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.
Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills vs. Cleveland Browns
If you’re an Aaron Hernandez owner and you missed out on the Martellus Bennett or Dennis Pitta sweepstakes or the guy you drafted just isn’t getting the job done a la Fred Davis, then Bills tight end Scott Chandler could be the interim solution to your tight dilemma. With slot receiver David Nelson lost for the season, Chandler is a 6’7” security blanket and red-zone target for Ryan Fitzpatrick, and it helps that he has great hands. He has scored a touchdown in each of the Bills first two games and ranks eighth among tight ends for targets heading into Week 3. Chandler has the potential to hit pay dirt this week in a decent matchup against a Joe Haden-less Cleveland Brown defense that has yielded five passing touchdowns and 601 yards in the air.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Of the 76 passes that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown this season, 14 have been to his former Stanford Cardinal teammate Coby Fleener. While Fleener is a trusted check down for Luck, he’s also looking for him deep, in the red zone and at the goal line. The rookie tight end has only managed to convert eight of them for 98 yards; however he can improve his stats this week in a PPR-friendly matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have given up the second-most receptions to tight ends in the league, something the Luck and the Colts will attempt to exploit. If you’re in a bind at the position this week, Fleener is a reach play that could pay dividends—though his opportunities could be limited if Indy can establish a run game.
Others TE matchups we like: Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizona Cardinals; Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots; Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers @ Oakland Raiders
Team Defense/Special Teams
Miami Dolphins D/ST vs. New York Jets Offense
It’s never too early to stream defenses in fantasy football and if you’re looking for a plug-and-play option this week, then consider the Miami Dolphins. While the Dolphins have faced their share of hard knocks, the defense appears to have picked up where it left off in 2011, when the unit finished third in the league against the run (average 95.6 rushing yards allowed); 10th with 41 sacks and sixth in points per game allowed (19.6). Although Miami has allowed 254 passing yards to the Texans in Week 1 and 373 to the Oakland Raiders in Week 2, the unit recorded an interception and recovered two fumbles. They held two of the league’s most prolific backs—Arian Foster and Darren McFadden to 79 rushing yards and 22 rushing yards respectively. Miami should feel confident this week when they host hated division rival the New York Jets. Current starter Mark Sanchez completed just 10-of-27 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers in Week 2 and the Jets run game was nonexistent. The Dolphins picked off Sanchez three times last season—and if their fearsome front-seven is able to pressure him, they could find similar success on Sunday. It’s a virtual lock that Miami will shut down the Jets’ Shonn Greene-led backfield. You can take that one to the bank.
Others D/ST matchups we like: Detroit Lions @ Tennessee Titans; Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles; New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs; Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars