The best part of Week 3 of the NFL season is that you can see trends begin to develop. We now know that the Rams are going to throw it a ton, the Eagles offense is no longer a secret, and that LeGarrette Blount wouldn’t be in the NFL if Bill Belichick weren't so much smarter than the rest of us. With that in mind, let’s go through the games like Bill goes through sleeveless hoodies: with sweaty armpits and scowly faces.
Chiefs 26, Eagles 16
Alex Smith threw a ball 15 yards through the air. Once. In 2008. Or at least that is how Dwayne Bowe owners feel right about now. Through the first three games, Bowe has a stat line (9/90/1) that many of us expected him to have in Week 1 alone. He has been one of the year’s big let downs, but based on what the Chiefs paid him this offseason and because he is by far their most skilled pass catcher, I have to believe this turns around Week 4 against the pathetic Giants.
The main benefactor of the short passing game was Donnie Avery. He had a nice performance, especially after the catch, but I am not buying it even a tiny bit. Avery, supposedly a speedy deep threat type, has a very underwhelming career YPC of 13.1. His net expected points (NEP) - a measurement we use at numberFire to look at efficiency - per target is even worse. For the three seasons he has played a full schedule, he has ranked 55 of 59, 66 of 71, and 50 of 62 among receivers with 75 or more targets in the category. I can barely see an argument to add him in all but very deep leagues.
The Eagles had a bad game against a really good defense on a short week. I know that Twitter was abuzz with people ripping the Eagles O, but honestly, this game changes nothing for me. Fantasy-wise they were brilliant for two weeks and mediocre for one. They looked bad on Thursday, but if this is the floor, it is a very encouraging sign. Of course, things get tougher in Denver in Week 4. Get ready for a potential buy-low opportunity thereafter.
Buy - Chiefs defense. They will be a very tough matchup all season for opposing offenses.
Sell - Tight ends. The ship has sailed for both teams; none are worth owning.
Hold - Eagles passing offense and Dwayne Bowe.
Bengals 34, Packers 30
If Eddie Lacy owners were cussing under their breath last week when James Starks exploded after Lacy left with a concussion, they were throwing things through their TV’s Sunday as Johnathan Franklin topped 100 yards on only 13 carries. The Pack have a bye in Week 4, giving Lacy (and Starks, who left with a knee issue) time to heal. Now the question is how the carries are split going forward. Assuming health all around, owners should hope Lacy still sees 15 touches a week with Starks spelling him at times on early downs and Franklin getting some passing down work. Until further notice, Lacy is the only one worth starting.
Keeping with the muddled backfield theme, Giovani Bernard ate into BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ workload with a very solid Sunday. For the year, Gio has a much higher YPC, more receptions, and much higher NEP/rush than Law Firm. The touches split is now 60/40 on the season, with the rookie trending up and the veteran trending down.
Buy - Gio Bernard as an every-week fantasy option in all leagues (he is currently fantasy’s number eight running back).
Sell - Aaron Rodgers. He had a bad game. He stinks. Somebody call Brett Favre out of retirement. I’d rather have Tim Tebow in there.
Hold - BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Just because Gio is eating into his carries doesn’t mean he isn’t flex worthy most weeks (for now, anyway).
Cowboys 31, Rams 7
Dallas rolled in this one. They ran at will and threw efficiently and effectively when needed. So, instead of talking about the Dallas offense, let’s talk about the Rams defense. Through three games they have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, sixth most to running backs, and seventh most to wide receivers. All the preseason talk about how they were going to have a stout D seems to have been proven incorrect.
On the other side of the ball, St. Louis continued to struggle running the rock. Daryl Richardson left after the first play when he aggravated his foot injury. Isaiah Pead took over and led the team with a whopping six carries. Overall, the Rams are clearly not committed to the run, instead using Sam Bradford and the short passing game to move the ball five or six yards at a time.
Jared Cook had his second disappointing game in a row. This coincides directly with the offense becoming more conservative by the week. Take a look at Sam Bradford’s yards per attempt for each game starting with Week 1: 7.9, 6.4, 5.0. As we have noted in this column the previous two weeks, Cook is not a possession guy. As long as he is being asked to run underneath routes, five-catch days for 44 yards will be the rule, not the exception. Despite his big first week, numberFire has him as our 15th tight end the rest of the way. Now you know why.
Buy - The Cowboys as your NFC East champions.
Sell - The Rams running game.
Hold - The Rams passing game.
Bonus Hold - Miles Austin. He tweaked his hamstring, but early reports are that it is not major. He has a history of this, so it bears a close watch.
Titans 20, Chargers 17
In a tight game, Philip Rivers and Eddie Royal both came crashing back down to Earth. I don’t do this often, but I can’t help myself: I told you so (here and here). Without Malcom Floyd in the lineup, Rivers was unable to find anything deep and ended up checking down to Danny Woodhead for seven of his 20 completions. Royal was a total non-factor with only two targets. Things won’t be any better against the Cowboys next week.
Yep. Jake Locker.
The third-year pro turned in his best career performance with 299 passing yards, an 8.1 YPA, and 68 rushing yards. The Titans have been better than anybody expected (due mostly to their underrated defense), providing fantasy-worthy play from Chris Johnson, Kendall Wright, and, to a lesser extent, Nate Washington. If Locker can put himself on the QB2 radar with more performances like this, we may have something. He is likely owned in two-quarterback leagues already and isn’t close to being addable in standard setups, but continued good play will have a resounding impact on his teammates.
Buy - Kendall Wright as a talented WR4 with WR3 aspirations.
Bonus Buy - Antonio Gates continues to look like a legit TE1. The short passing game plays to his strengths and as long as he is healthy and spry, he should continue to produce.
Sell - Ryan Mathews. I am not saying I would drop him, but despite his running with violence this year, a poor offensive line, total lack of trust from coaches, and Woodhead are all conspiring to make him a 4-8 points per game guy who will be lucky to score three touchdowns this season. I am not starting him in any league.
Hold - The Titans defense has looked good the first three weeks. I like them against the Jets this coming Sunday.
Browns 31, Vikings 27
As promised by the coaching staff, Cordarrelle Patterson saw much more action this week. Encouragingly, he did something with two of the four targets that came his way, turning in 49 yards. If he is available (as he is in 93 percent of ESPN leagues), you could do worse as an end of the bench WR5 upside stash. I have advised this before, but if your WR5 is a steady veteran type that you will only play if three of your receivers tear their ACL, drop him and grab a guy like Patterson.
After one of the craziest trades I’ve ever seen in the NFL (OK, the craziest), the Browns followed up by having one of the most newsworthy games of the season. There are three areas that need addressing so let’s hit them one-by-one:
1. Brian Hoyer alternated between looking great and throwing three interceptions. The real takeaway is that he moved the offense and brought increased value to all the passing game options. I am not ready to jump on the Hoyer bandwagon, but hopefully he can play well enough to keep his teammates valuable.
2. Let me be really clear about this one: There are no Browns running backs worth starting in almost any fantasy format outside of super deep 14-plus team leagues. Willis McGahee is about to turn 32, Bobby Rainey isn’t exactly talented, Chris Ogbonnaya hasn’t been effective at any point in his career, and their offensive line couldn’t help Trent Richardson average even four yards per carry. This will be a total, abject fantasy wasteland all season.
3. Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon are fantastically talented football players. While they have their issues (Cameron with polish and Gordon with being an idiot off the field), both also have truly elite skills. Cameron is clearly entrenched as a TE1, a point few would argue. And while I am not buying the 19 targets as a normal thing, I am 100 percent all-in on Josh Gordon. To that point, in 2012 his NEP/target was respectably mid-pack among WR’s with 75 such opportunities (29/57). It is especially worth noting that he was second to only T.Y. Hilton among rookies in this metric. Gordon is at least a WR3 with week-to-week top five upside.
Buy - Josh Gordon. I know numberFire has him fairly low in their season projections, but I expect that to change following his big Week 3.
Sell - Cleveland running game.
Hold - Greg Jennings. I know it isn’t easy with only 11 catches in three games, and while he is barely on the WR3 radar right now, I am not giving up based on a three game sample.
Patriots 23, Buccaneers 3
Josh Freeman is about to lose his job. It got bad enough Sunday that at one point Mike Glennon was warming up on the sidelines in an apparent message to Freeman. He didn’t get it. Whether this potential development is good or bad for the Tampa skill players is unclear at this time. But I am definitely concerned for Vincent Jackson, who left with a rib injury.
The Patriots showed some life on offense this week with the rookie wide receiver duo of Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson looking much better. Thompkins did have another inefficient day (three catches on seven targets) but also hauled in two touchdowns. Dobson appears to be the better long term value. Both should be rostered.
New England’s running back situation has me concerned. This was an odd game where LeGarrette Blount racked up eight of his 14 carries on the last drive, while Stevan Ridley saw only 12 total touches. To complicate matters further, a returning Brandon Bolden stepped into a pseudo-Shane Vereen role and commanded eight touches (for 100 yards) of his own. New England goes to Atlanta next Sunday night in what should be a decent matchup. Ridley is still a flex play for me, but it would appear his upside is capped for the time being.
Buy - Mike Glennon for President!
Sell - Josh Freeman as Tree House Assistant to the Vice President of No Girls Allowed.
Hold - On to hope, if you are a Buccaneers fan, that you end up drafting Teddy Bridgewater.
Saints 31, Cardinals 7
The Cardinals offensive line was brutal. The Saints defense continues to show significant improvement. Aside from a quiet game from Darren Sproles, all the New Orleans players you expected to play well did. Carson Palmer pulled a Carson Palmer (zero touchdowns, two interceptions), and the Cards run game is as real as the Belly Button Lint Fairy.
Can we move on now?
Buy - The Saints offense. All of it. Except…
Sell - Lance Moore. He has done nothing through three weeks and looks to be a total afterthought with four receptions on 11 targets.
Hold - Darren Sproles. That big play/game is just around the corner.
Lions 27, Redskins 20
Robert Griffin III reportedly looked better this week, running the read option much more than in previous games. He certainly spread the ball around as five receivers had at least six targets. The big issue was (once again) defense, as Washington just can’t stop anybody. Perhaps no player is more impacted by this than Alfred Morris, who is running the ball brilliantly despite averaging a paltry 13 carries per game. The Redskins have to find a way to get him the ball more if they want to succeed.
Joique Bell had yet another nice game, this time in relief of an ailing Reggie Bush. While we love Bell here at numberFire, his value is at an all-time high right now. If you can find somebody willing to overpay, it may be a deal worth doing. Of course, if you have the roster for it, his upside makes him worth keeping in the event Bush gets hurt again.
PPR leaguers take note: Ryan Broyles made his return to the field and hauled in three passes on three targets. Nate Burleson continues to have a nice (PPR) season due largely to opportunity (he is a replacement-level talent at best), but Broyles could eat into that somewhat. It is a situation to keep your eye on.
Buy - RG3. The Redskins play the Raiders this week on short rest. The breakout is coming.
Sell - Santana Moss. I know the hot start is there, but he is a WR5 with little upside.
Hold - Alfred Morris. The carries are coming (likely this week).
Panthers 38, Giants 0
Cam Newton has arrived. The Panthers opened up their playbook and Newton took off. He is right back in top-5 consideration starting Week 5 (they have a bye this coming weekend). Now the hope is he can drag the struggling Steve Smith along with him.
This is the third week running for this analysis, but DeAngelo Williams continues to be a solid flex play. He gets exactly what is blocked and nothing more, but that is good enough for a team committed to giving him the ball 20-plus times per game. At this pace we will have a 1,250 yard, 3-4 TD year on our hands. Not a bad flex indeed.
The Giants are an awful football team. The issues start with the offensive line and continue on to basically the entire defense. Eli Manning has been bombarded, but has not helped things by making myriad bad throws, often to the wrong team. You are still playing their big two receivers and Brandon Myers has low end TE1 appeal, especially in PPR. But what to do with David Wilson? Well, the good news is that he is the clear leader in the backfield (he received 11 of the Giants 16 carries on Sunday). The bad news is that he had only 39 yards. This game got out of hand quick and the Panthers have one of the very best front seven’s in the NFL. Better times are ahead.
Buy - David Wilson. Really. They have another impossible matchup next week against the Chiefs in KC, but after that the schedule is sweet.
Sell - Eli Manning as anything other than a streamable QB2.
Hold - Steve Smith
Ravens 30, Texans 9
Houston is not a very good football team, either. With the way they are playing going into a brutal stretch of their schedule, they may end up 3-5 at the halfway mark. In the meantime, Arian Foster continues to disappoint owners, checking in as the number 18 running back through three weeks. As we have noted previously on numberFire, his value is in volume and touchdowns. As long as the Texans are trailing in games, he will be hard pressed to get enough of either to justify his first-round ADP. I can make a very strong case for looking for somebody who loves his name and is willing to pay you for him. The Texans face Seattle, San Francisco, and Kansas City the next four weeks so it is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Baltimore didn’t have a great offensive day either, but considering their defensive and special teams touchdowns, they didn’t need to. Bernard Pierce owners got rewarded with a score and Torrey Smith continued to look more versatile than at any point in his career. Otherwise, the Ravens offense was pretty quiet.
Buy - Torrey Smith as receiver who is more than just a deep threat.
Sell - Arian Foster as an RB1 (at least for the next month).
Hold - The Houston offense in general (at least for the next month).
Dolphins 27, Falcons 23
Tony Gonzalez continued his slow start to 2013. It could be age catching up to him, but an equally likely reason may be that defenses have been able to shift coverages away from the still hobbling Roddy White. Speaking of, despite a lack of fantasy production, White reportedly looked better physically this week. Atlanta will need to throw against a stout New England run defense next weekend, so hopefully Roddy contributes. Until he does, I would not recommend starting him unless you are desperate.
The Dolphins are an interesting case. Ryan Tannehill continues to be serviceable, the run game continues to disappoint, and Mike Wallace once again disappeared. Yet, they are somehow 3-0. From a fantasy perspective, the only three guys worth owning in standard leagues are Lamar Miller, Wallace and Brian Hartline; all three are flex plays at best. It stands to reason that Wallace and Miller could have more value going forward, but they have yet to really show it.
Buy - Tony Gonzalez ending the year as a TE1.
Sell - Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. They probably get one more week and it is against the Patriots.
Hold - The Dolphins offensive options. An evolution into more value could be coming.
Jets 27, Bills 20
What is up with C.J. Spiller? He is probably the biggest disappointment of the season thus far, averaging 5.8 fantasy points per game and ranking 37th at his position. Somehow his awful start has flown under the radar, but it is time to take notice. The fact that he left Sunday’s game with a knee injury makes things that much worse. Oh, and they play the Ravens this week. If Spiller plays, you can’t exactly bench him, but if we don’t see something soon, the resentment will grow in earnest.
Chris Ivory left this game with a hamstring problem. As of this writing, we don’t know which hammy he hurt or specifically if it is a re-aggravation of his training camp injury. Last week I wrote about how much better of a runner he is than Bilal Powell, but I am not sure it matters at this point. Ivory can’t stay on the field, can’t block, and doesn’t catch the ball while Powell does all those things well. He is not an explosive runner, doesn’t show quickness or burst, but is solid, steady, and able to handle the load. Powell absolutely has flex value in standard leagues.
Buy - Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill as guys who should be owned. They have both played relatively well and Geno Smith is doing enough to give them value. I am not necessarily starting either one, but they should be rostered.
Sell - Chris Ivory. Unless something major happens, his value in New York is minimal.
Hold - C.J. Spiller.
Colts 27, 49ers 7
Let’s all keep in mind that Colin Kaepernick is a third-year pro with less than a season’s worth of starting experience under his belt. It is easy to get wrapped up in his skills, but he is a young guy who is going to have bad games. Having zero offensive weapons aside from Anquan Boldin (Vernon Davis missed the game due to injury) didn’t help his cause.
In 2012, the 49ers averaged just under 31 rushes per game, good for seventh in the NFL. Thus far in 2013, they have run it 26 times per game, which is tied with the Lions (!) for 17th. San Francisco has perhaps the best run blocking line in the NFL, but as long as they refuse to use it we can expect to see uneven offensive results. The coaching staff will likely recognize this, get the ball to Frank Gore more often, and give Kaepernick and the passing game a chance.
The Colts came out firing, as Andrew Luck marched them down the field on Indy’s first possession. Things slowed considerably thereafter, as they looked to pound the ball with their new found 1-2 punch of Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson. Bradshaw had a nice game with 95 yards and a touchdown. Richardson was worse off, averaging 2.7 yards per carry, but did add a touchdown. The carries split should flip next week once Richardson has a full week of practice leading into a juicy matchup with the Jaguars.
Buy - The 49ers (and their entire offense) to turn this ship around.
Sell - Coby Fleener as a weekly play. The skill is there but the consistency isn’t.
Hold - Ahmad Bradshaw. Let’s see how much the Colts run it before we chisel the tombstone on his 2013 value.
Seahawks 45, Jaguars 17
Another in a day of ugly games. Unfortunately, there aren’t many things to talk about fantasy-wise either; the Jags are so bad, you can’t draw any conclusions from anything the Seahawks did.
Chad Henne is clearly the better option at quarterback for Jacksonville. He gives Cecil Shorts actual value, and that is good enough for me. Hopefully in easier matchups his willingness to throw it downfield will also give Maurice Jones-Drew some running room. They get a not-great Colts defense next week in a game that should tell us a lot about where they are.
Buy - Seattle as the best team in the NFL.
Sell - Zach Miller. Don’t get too cute for your own good. The TD’s were a total fluke.
Hold - MJD and Cecil Shorts
Bears 40, Steelers 23
Chicago’s performance can be summed up rather quickly: The defense scored twice, Jay Cutler was in game management mode, Matt Forte had a nice game, and the receivers didn’t do much (due mostly to the Bears playing very conservatively). Nothing happened here to change season-long projections on anybody.
The Steelers struggled to run the ball once again. They also had a devil of a time protecting Ben Roethlisberger. And while Antonio Brown had a huge game (9/196/2), the offense in general looked pretty poor. One good thing to note is that Heath Miller played and looked good, reeling in three balls for 35 yards. Pittsburgh gets a winnable game in Minnesota next week then a desperately needed bye in Week 5. Le’Veon Bell should be back sometime in there, which could go a long way towards getting them on track.
Buy - Matt Forte as a top-10 running back.
Sell - Todd Haley to Russia in exchange for a case of cheap vodka (that’s all he is worth).
Hold - Martellus Bennett. He had a poor game, barely being targeted. Chalk it up to a combo of being up so much so early and the two defensive touchdowns.