Fantasy Football Forecast: Week 3

New England Patriots Wes Welker

Bombs Away or Running to Daylight?

Every week we'll break down the movers, shakers, winners and losers in fantasy football, and keep an eye out for the players you should be eyeing for your fantasy rosters.

Just like every war is rarely limited to one battle, every NFL season is really a couple of mini-seasons in one. Usually by Week 2 we start to see the faint outlines of how things will shake out in the world of fantasy football -- only to have it all go topsy-tervy a few weeks later. The key is to notice trends as they're happening and adjust accordingly.

So with that, the Fantasy Football Forecast (MFFF) bids a not-so-fond farewell to Week 2 with this debrief:

The Week 2 Debrief:

WR = Poof. Apart from offensive explosions in the Giants-Bucs game, it was a quiet week for receivers, and especially so for MFFF's picks (Dexter McCluster, Randall Cobb, and Cecil Shorts) who combined for a total of 80 yards. Blech. Even Week 1's sudden superstar, WR Kevin Ogletree of the Cowboys, was held to a piddling 26 yards. The one to really feel sorry for is Larry Fitzgerald, an All-Pro talent with no-pro talent at QB. Fitzgerald was held to one catch on Sunday, no doubt leading to a lot of hair-pulling from a lot of fantasy owners.

Broncos = Yikes. MFFF counted on big days from the Bronco TEs and Peyton Manning in the Georgia Dome against the Falcons Monday night. Let's just say it didn't go as planned, with Peyton throwing 3 INTs in the first quarter (although he did pick himself back up thereafter). The stats for Bronco TEs Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen? 13 and 16 yards, respectively.

Cleveland = Off the hook. We picked the Browns to struggle offensively, and while they lost, they certainly gained respect after their Week 1 debacle, as RB Trent Richardson got on track with 2 TDs and QB Brandon Weeden threw for over 300 yards and 2 TDs. Based on their performance the first few weeks, the Bengals' D may be severely overrated, so don't make too much of these numbers; however, Cleveland at least has proven it has the potential to be respectable, if not spectacular.

So, to be blunt, Week 2 was one FUBAR week for MFFF. On the bright side, nowhere to go but up. So on to learnings and predictions:

Week 2: The top 5 things we learned

1. RG3 = Andrew Luck after all?

Amazing what happens when you play a mediocre defense, and not, say, the Chicago Bears. Mr. Luck rebounded nicely from an eror-filled Week 1 with a mistake-free, efficient 221 yards and 2 TDs passing versus the Vikings, including a game-winning drive. And even though he threw a pick in the Redskins' loss to the Rams, Robert Griffin III continued his torrid play with nearly 300 total yards of offense and 3 TDs. The next few weeks should make for interesting comparisons, as Luck faces some takeaway-happy defenses (Packers, Jets) and RG3 must pick up the slack for a Redskins D that has lost two of its playmakers (Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker) for the season.

2. The Return of the RB?

Take a look at these names:

RB: C.J. Spiller, Reggie Bush, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Trent Richardson, Willis McGahee QB: Matt Ryan, RG3

By most measures, the players above are ranked in the top 10 in fantasy scoring overall so far this season.

Now take a look at these names:

QB: Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford, Peyton and Eli Manning

All players you'd be happy to have on your fantasy team, right? They're all currently on pace to throw 24 or more INTs this year.

Now look at these sets of names:

QB: Sam Bradford, Carson Palmer and Alex Smith QB: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Jay Cutler

Every QB in the first group currently has more fantasy points than every QB in the second.

Last year five of the top ten fantasy scorers were QBs. So what in the name of Bill Walsh is going on here? We're seeing a few factors at work:

  • Pass-heavy teams that benefitted from being front-runners in the past (Green Bay, New Orleans) are being forced to come from behind or play close more often, resulting in worse passing numbers. It's one thing to bomb it away with confidence when you have a lead, it's another when everyone in the building knows you have to pass.
  • The replacement refs (yep, these guys), whether by intention or incompetence, are allowing defenders to grab, hold, or otherwise impede receivers way more often. Today's passing games are heavily reliant on precision and timing, and with the timing shot to hell, you're seeing more busted plays and more INTs. Eli Manning had a monster game last week with 510 yards, but also threw 3 INTs; it's the price of doing business in the 2012 NFL.
  • It's an old adage that a good running game is the quarterback's best friend -- we just forgot about it the last few years when the likes of Brees and Rodgers were shattering passing records. But look at that current list of top-10 RBs: almost all of them play on a team with a philosophy of controlling the clock and the ball (Texans, 49ers, Ravens), or playing more conservatively to support inexperienced or shaky QBs (Dolphins, Browns, Bills).

Keeping in mind that we have a small sample size to work from so far, what does this bode for you, the fantasy player, moving forward?

Keep an eye on the teams that are running the ball well. If any major injuries occur, you'll want to jump on whoever's next in line to receive carries. That strategy has already worked to perfection with C.J. Spiller owners, as the Bills' RB has averaged an astounding 10 yards a carry since taking over for an injured Fred Jackson Week 1.

"Lesser-name" QBs can work in a pinch. It's still too early to make any definitive conclusions, but if your starting QB continues to struggle, don't be afraid to take a flyer on an unheralded QB who puts up decent stats. For every sexy pick (Cam Newton in 2010 and RG3 this year) who dominates from the get-go, you can still get numbers from people like Sam Bradford or Carson Palmer.

Like we said, things can change in a New York minute in the NFL -- we wouldn't be surprised if some of the top-line QBs regain their footing after another month or two, and injuries can change the landscape and approach of a team. But for now, ride the wave of RB fever and don't be scared off by solid, unspectacular stats from the QB position if you need it.

3. Everything old is new again -- or is that the other way around?

If you were to go by Week 1, the Cowboys were strong contenders, the Jets' offense was resuscitated, the Bears were on the rise, the Patriots were looking more powerful than ever, the Saints looked like they were in trouble... okay, maybe the last one is still true. But after the results of Week 2, in which the Cowboys were bushwhacked by the Seahawks, the Jets went back to their punch-less ways on offense versus the Steelers, the Bears were beaten down by the Packers, and the Patriots' offense ran into the buzzsaw that is the Cardinals' underrated D, who knows what to think? The answer: No one does, not quite yet, and don't trust anyone who claims they do. Welcome to today's NFL.

4. Wes Welker: A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma

What to do, Wes Welker owners? (MFFF feels your pain -- he has Welker in two of his leagues.) For the second week in a row, the wide receiver was all but demoted to the bench for a good portion of the game as Julian Edelman spent more time with the Patriots' first-string offense. Then TE Aaron Hernandez got hurt, forcing Welker back into the action on three-WR sets, and he finished with 95 yards. Not bad, but what does it mean?

Keeping in mind that Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are mad scientists when it comes to experiementing with different strategies and formations, it's clear that the Patriots want to establish a more run-heavy identity, which means that a taller, more physical receiver like Edelman is necessary to help on run blocking. We reckon that with Hernandez out the next few weeks, Welker will see an increase in targets, but once Hernandez returns, it's anyone's guess as to whether he's relegated to the bench again. Welker owners, it might be time to formulate an exit strategy when that moment comes...

5. The Black Hole (of Fantasy) This Week

What has happened to the Titans? When your franchise RB (Chris Johnson) gains a whopping 21 yards on 19 carries in a single game, something smells in the state of Tennessee, and even in an AFC South division that looks like it's the worst in the league, the Titans have barely shown a pulse, let alone signs of life. Last in points. Last in first downs. Only 247 yards per game. The silver lining? Tennessee played two strong defensive teams the past two weeks (New England and San Diego), so there's nowhere to go but up.

Week 3 Fantasy Steals: Our Picks

WR Danny Amendola, Rams: The new Wes Welker? Amendola is among the league leaders in targets these first two weeks, and with the patchwork Rams' offensive line, he will be continue to be an inviting short-range WR for QB Sam Bradford.

WR Brandon LaFell, Panthers: This is less about LaFell's abilities as a WR than it is about the Giants' banged-up secondary and inconsistent D. With a gimpy Steve Smith on the other side, this is LaFell's chance to shine.

WR Damaris Johnson, Eagles: This will be a game-time gamble depending on if injured WR Jeremy Maclin can go, but if he can't, the rookie Johnson will get a few passes thrown his way.

WR Brian Hartline, Dolphins: By no means do we endorse him as a major force, but if you're short on talent and need a fill-in, he'll do in a pinch, especially as Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill becomes more comfortable.

TE Coby Fleener, Colts: His stats aren't there yet, but Andrew Luck's former teammate at Stanford is still seeing a healthy amount of targets per week, so he's in line for a breakthrough.

Best Offensive Matchup of the Week:

Kansas City at New Orleans: Despite all their struggles, the Saints are still fielding a potent offense -- 60 points in the first two games is nothing to sneeze at. Now they're in must-win mode, going against a Chiefs team that has been outgunned and out-hustled in its first two games. We're counting on Drew Brees and his squad to take out their frustrations this week.

49ers at Vikings: The Niners have cruised to bruising wins over two high-powered offenses (Detroit and Green Bay) -- now they get a shot at a team that doesn't have much to offer offensively outside Adrian Peterson. If they can force some turnovers it'll be a golden opportunity for them to run up the score, and further cement them as the team to beat in the NFL.

Best Defensive Matchups of the Week:

Philadelphia at Arizona: The Cards' D is for real, with superstars at all three levels (Calais Campbell on the DL, Daryl Washington at LB, and Patrick Peterson at QB). The Cards are also a tough out at home, and they'll be going against an Eagles team that has turned the ball over 9 times in its first two games. Somehow Philly is 2-0; we're betting the streak ends this week.

Pittsburgh at Oakland: The Raiders' major (and only weapon) on O is RB Darren McFadden. As long as the Steelers keep him in check, the pressure will be on QB Carson Palmer to throw to a nondescript group of WRs. It's a recipe for fantasy disaster, or fantasy riches, depending on whose side you're on.

Got a specific question or need advice on fantasy football this week? Sound off in the comments section below.

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