NEW YORK JETS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 14
This is the ground-and-pound we expected from the Jets, with a smattering of efficient passing game mixed in to blow up the Bills. While Shonn Greene (22-117) logged the most carries it was LaDainian Tomlinson (19-133-2, 3-22) who carried the load early on and posted his best outing in two years. Dustin Keller (4-28-2) remained the receiver of choice, targeted by both Mark Sanchez (14-24-161-2) and Wildcat QB Brad Smith (1-1-3-1, 3-11 rushing).
Unless your league draws a distinction between regular stats and garbage time numbers, Ryan Fitzpatrick (12-27-128-2, 7-74 rushing) was actually a fantasy helper. And congratulations if you identified rookie David Nelson (4-75) as the Bills’ go-to receiver of choice.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Buffalo backfield continues to be an unmitigated mess. Evidently the showcase is over for Marshawn Lynch (4-8), though neither Fred Jackson (3-21) nor C.J. Spiller (2-11, 1-4) saw much of an uptick in workload. In fact, the Bills ran a mere 46 plays and held the ball for less than 20 minutes. Braylon Edwards (4-86-1) had another long touchdown, but with Santonio Holmes returning next week it will be interesting to see which one lays claim to the role of deep threat; clearly, Keller has the underneath and red zone covered.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 20
Evidently, you can win with smoke and mirrors and 100 yards from Peyton Hillis (27-102-1, 2-8). There wasn’t a whole lot more going on offensively for the Browns, aside from three field goals from Phil Dawson; though Cleveland ran eight more offensive plays than the Bengals and held the ball longer, they produced 120 fewer yards.
The T.O. portion of the Bengals’ passing game showed up with a vengeance, as Terrell Owens garnered 15 targets to produce 10-222-1 and account for the bulk of Carson Palmer’s 25-36-371-2 afternoon. The rest of the Cincy receiving corps was as subdued as the ground game; Cedric Benson mustered just 60 yards on 15 carries while Chad Ochocinco’s 3-59 paced all non-TO receivers.
FANTASY IMPACT: Are the Bengals reverting back to their pass-happy days of old? Last year Palmer handed off more than he threw in almost half of Cincy’s games; he has yet to do so this year. The Browns continue to get production from their tight end position, with Ben Watson (6-60) leading the team in receiving and Evan Moore (1-24-1) catching the lone TD toss from Seneca Wallace (18-30-184-1). Unfortunately, with two ladles dipping in the bucket it’s tough to trust either for fantasy help.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 17, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 14
With Ray Rice (8-20, 1-9) limited and Willis McGahee (14-39-1, 2-2) largely ineffective, the Ravens had to go to the air to pull off the upset. Joe Flacco responded with 256 yards and a touchdown in the final minute. That Anquan Boldin (7-68) and Derrick Mason (6-80) were at the crux of the attack was hardly surprising; that T.J. Houshmandzadeh (3-49-1) caught the game winner surprised everyone—including the Steelers.
Still a couple weeks away from the return of Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh was unable to overcome a one-dimensional offense that ran 15 fewer plays than the Ravens. Rashard Mendenhall (25-79-2) provided what little spark the Steelers had; Antwaan Randle El (2-50) was the only other Steeler responsible for more than 32 yards of offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: No lottery luck for Charlie Batch (12-21-141-0-1) this week, though most Steeler fans will be thrilled with going 3-1 sans Big Ben. On the bright side, Roethlisberger’s return and a bye week to get some offensive linemen healthy should mean the return of Hines Ward (2-14) and Mike Wallace (2-24) to fantasy relevance. While it was obvious Rice wasn’t 100 percent, that’s little consolation to those who spent a top-five pick on him. He doesn’t have the luxury of a week off until Week 8, and with McGahee a capable (though less compelling) replacement and Flacco able to pick up the offense via the air, he may not provide the expected fantasy bang until after the bye. Would that make this a buy low opportunity?
DENVER BRONCOS 26, TENNESSEE TITANS 20
Kyle Orton seems perfectly comfortable carrying the Denver offense; his 11 yards provided more than half the team’s rushing total, and his 35-50-341-2-1 included a game-winning toss to Correll Buckhalter (6-3, 5-38-1). Mostly, though, as indicated by a whopping 18 targets, Orton looked for Brandon Lloyd (11-115). Slot guy Eddie Royal (8-113-1) chipped in as well, leaving Jabar Gaffney (5-51) and Demaryius Thomas (1-9) on the outside looking in.
The Titans don’t have an answer for what to do when Chris Johnson (19-53, 3-11) can’t get it going. Vince Young (17-28-173-1) hasn’t provided it, though his line—and quite possibly the scoreboard, if you’re a Tennessee fan—would have looked much better had Kenny Britt (3-23-1) not dropped a couple of key balls.
FANTASY IMPACT: Young’s meager passing output was spread amongst nine different receivers, led by Nate Washington’s 4-42. But what else are the Titans gonna do when Johnson is averaging 2.8 yards per carry and Britt is dropping balls? Speaking of brutal yards-per-carry numbers, check out Laurence Maroney’s line: 11 carries, five yards. And you thought it couldn’t get any worse after last week’s 2.0 ypc. How long before Knowshon Moreno gets healthy?
GREEN BAY PACKERS 28, DETROIT LIONS 26
Judging by the stats you’d think the Green Bay offense put in about half a game’s worth of work—and that’s pretty much what happened. The Packers didn’t score an offensive touchdown after halftime and for the game ran almost half as many plays as the Lions, held the ball for more than a quarter less, and produced 170 fewer yards. The only stat where Green Bay stood out was in touchdowns; Aaron Rodgers (12-17-181-3-2) threw scoring strikes to Donald Driver (3-89-1), Jermichael Finley (4-36-1), and Greg Jennings (2-25-1), but Driver was the only Packer with more than 40 yards to his credit.
There are three pages in the Lions’ playbook, and Shaun Hill (34-54-331-2-2) executed all three with a great deal of success. Page 1 is “throw it up to Calvin Johnson (6-86-2)”; Page 2 is “throw it to the tight end”, which Hill attempted 21 times leading to solid stat lines for both Brandon Pettigrew (8-91) and Tony Scheffler (6-63); and Page 3 is “get the ball to Jahvid Best (12-50, 5-34)”. Those three plays and 53 scrambling yards from Hill accounted for 356 of the Lions 431 yards of offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: Hill has hardly been a fantasy liability, but Matthew Stafford began light throwing last week and should be back soon. We’ll see if he’s using the same playbook Hill has been working from; if he is, both Pettigrew and Scheffler are viable fantasy starters in TE-mandatory performance leagues. The same cannot be said for any member of the Packers’ running game; Brandon Jackson (9-33, 1-1) isn’t seeing enough opportunities and John Kuhn’s (9-39) primary value will come in TD-heavy scoring systems. Paging Marshawn Lynch...
ATLANTA FALCONS 16, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 14
This wasn’t quite the blowout most expected, in part because Atlanta spotted the Niners 14 quick points and had to play catch-up at the end. That meant Michael Turner (16-50, 3-28) received a smaller than anticipated workload; conversely, Matt Ryan (26-43-273-1-2) had to pick up the slack, which meant plenty of looks for Tony Gonzalez (7-41 on a dozen targets) and Roddy White (7-104 on nine). And while Brian Finneran (4-36) and Harry Douglas (3-59-1) didn’t contribute much in the way of quantity, Douglas did score the Falcon’s only touchdown.
The 49ers unveiled their new offensive coordinator, but Frank Gore (21-77, 7-60) was still the cornerstone of their attack. However, the good news is that Vernon Davis (4-36-1 on five targets) and Michael Crabtree (5-58 on six looks) demonstrated a pulse.
FANTASY IMPACT: The 49ers haven’t exactly seen what they wanted from Alex Smith (21-32-188-1-2), and it’s taking its toll on the numbers and fantasy potential of Crabtree and Davis. Maybe that can be the next focus of new OC Mike Johnson. Even with Turner’s numbers subdued, the Falcons found a way to get Jason Snelling (7-31-, 2-5) roughly one-third of the backfield touches. Whether that will be enough to make him fantasy relevant without a Turner injury, however, depends on the size of your league.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 16, CAROLINA PANTHERS 14
The stats suggest a walkover: Drew Brees threw 48 times, completing 33 for 275 yards, though only one touchdown; and despite the absence of Pierre Thomas the New Orleans ground game produced 121 yards. However, after the first two drives produced a Lance Moore (5-37-1) fumble at the goal line and a Moore touchdown, the only points the Saints could muster were three John Carney field goals.
The silver lining for Carolina was that the heretofore dormant backfield finally gave fantasy owners a little return on investment: DeAngelo Williams (13-86-1, 1-14) accounted for nearly 40 percent of the Panthers’ yardage, while Jonathan Stewart (7-21, 1-55-1) provided Jimmy Clausen (11-21-146-1) with his first NFL touchdown. The bad news was that not only was Clausen still unable or unwilling to find Steve Smith (2-11 on three targets), Smith left the game with an ankle injury that had him in an air cast following the game.
FANTASY IMPACT: Clausen’s target of choice appears to be fellow rookie David Gettis (2-37), who was targeted on nearly a third of the Panthers’ pass attempts. If you’re desperate during the upcoming bye weeks, and especially if Smith is out for any length of time, it’s a name to keep in mind. With Thomas out, Chris Ivory (12-67) was the more effective back; he also put the ball on the ground—again. Ladell Betts (13-47, 4-23) was typically underwhelming; in other words, the Saints can’t wait for Thomas to get back.
SAINT LOUIS RAMS 20, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 3
On the surface, Steven Jackson’s 22-70 and 3-54 receiving aren’t much to write home about; when you consider they were accomplished with Jackson unable to take a full stride because of his groin injury, however, that 124 yards from scrimmage becomes a whole lot more impressive. Unfortunately, Kenneth Darby (2-1, 2-19-1) stole his touchdown. Similarly, Brandon Gibson (3-50-1) stole a score from the more targeted Mark Clayton (5-72 on 14 looks) and Danny Amendola (5-46 on eight).
The Seahawks continue to struggle on the road; this time they were unable to muster even a single touchdown. Matt Hasselbeck (20-36-191-0-1) may have found a new favorite receiver, though, as Brandon Stokley (4-62) led the team in targets, catches, and yardage in his Seattle debut.
FANTASY IMPACT: No more committee; with Julius Jones inactive and Leon Washington (1-1, 2-28) limited to three touches from scrimmage, the running back job officially belongs to Justin Forsett (19-65, 2-10). Now he just needs to produce like he did late last year. Sam Bradford (23-41-289-2-1) is breaking the rule about rookie quarterbacks not being fantasy helpers. And at 40 attempts per game, he could just go on breaking that rule all season long.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 31, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 28 (OT)
Plenty of Maurice Jones-Drew (26-105-1, 2-16-1), a little home cookin’ for David Garrard (17-22-163-2 plus 5-44-1 on the ground), and a 59-yard field goal from Josh Scobee was just what the Jaguars needed to knock off Indy. And that’s fortunate, because they didn’t get a whole lot else.
Can’t really pin this on anything other than Indy’s decision to get greedy at the end of the game and take a timeout thinking they might get the ball back; instead, two completions to Tiquan Underwood (3-41) later they couldn’t even get the offense on the field for another shot. Peyton Manning (33-46-353-2-1) and Reggie Wayne (15-196) did what they always do against Jacksonville, and this time they got assists from Dallas Clark (7-68-1), Austin Collie (5-39), and Joseph Addai (16-63-2, 3-19); they just didn’t get any late help from the defense.
FANTASY IMPACT: Any Indy receiver comes into play when Manning is throwing 46 times, but the pecking order is pretty clear: Wayne, Clark, Collie... and then everybody else. Blair White (2-20) was targeted four times and Brody Eldridge (1-10) twice, but they’re fringe guys useable only under the most desperate of circumstances. Jacksonville’s passing game is dramatically less prolific, and even less reliable for fantasy help. Mike Thomas (5-68) has become the most consistent option, especially considering the vanishing act Mike Sims-Walker (one target, no catches) pulled on Sunday. Of course, on the road all bets are off.
HOUSTON TEXANS 31, OAKLAND RAIDERS 24
No Andre Johnson, limited Owen Daniels (1-8)... and to the shock of everyone, no Arian Foster for the first quarter and a half. No problem; Foster crams 187 combo yards and two touchdowns into just over one half of work and Matt Schaub (16-29-192-2) finds Joel Dreessen (5-73-1) to hold off Oakland.
Bruce Gradkowski (24-39-278-2-2) continues to look like—gasp—a competent quarterback. However, after getting the wideouts involved through his first two outings he had far less success connecting with Louis Murphy (1-5 on seven targets) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (1-2 on five). Instead, it was old reliable Zach Miller (11-122-1) doing the heavy lifting.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Raiders backfield tandem would do fantasy owners a huge favor if they could continue alternating injuries. Just as Michael Bush (7-40-1, 2-16) appears all the way back from his fractured thumb, Darren McFadden (12-47, 6-82) pulls a hammy. There will be matchups against softer run defenses where both are startable if healthy, but fantasy owners would appreciate it if all the touches were consolidated into one back—and an injury to the other would eliminate any guesswork. If you own Foster (16-131-1, 3-56-1), you were likely pulling your hair out when he was nowhere to be found while Derrick Ward (12-80-1) was scoring a first-quarter TD. At the risk of Gary Kubiak pulling further Shanahanigans, Foster owners will want to add the insurance this week.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 17, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 12
Donovan McNabb didn’t have a particularly good game (8-19-125-1-1, 5-39 rushing), but he made key plays when they were needed and got a big assist from his defense—not to mention a Philly offense that struggled after Mike Vick left with an injury. Truth be told, McNabb hit only two passes that really mattered: a 31-yard touchdown to Chris Cooley (2-37-1) and a 57-yarder to Anthony Armstrong, who couldn’t stay in bounds to get in the end zone but nonetheless set up the Skins’ final points.
Kevin Kolb (22-35-201-1-1) got his job back after Michael Vick (5-7-49, 3-17) left with a rib injury, but like Vick he couldn’t quite generate enough for a comeback. Instead, Kolb leaned heavily on underneath targets LeSean McCoy (16-64, 12-110), Owen Schmitt (3-43), and Brent Celek (3-27-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: How critical Vick’s deep ball was to the fantasy success of DeSean Jackson (3-19) and Jeremy Maclin (1-15) is immediately noticeable in their numbers, or lack thereof. At least Jackson was targeted seven times; Maclin only saw two balls come his way. If Vick is out for any length of time, Maclin’s value takes a huge hit—by roughly the same margin Celek’s climbs. The Washington backfield situation received no further clarity on Sunday; Clinton Portis (11-55, 2-26) looked good but may be nursing some sort of arm injury, while Ryan Torain (18-70-1) is more than happy to pick up the slack. Since it’s Mike Shanahan calling the shots, this one will change on a
weekly quarterly play-by-play basis.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 41, ARIZONA CARDINALS 10
The Bolts grew bored of toying with the severely overmatched Cardinals and were left with notching milestones to keep things interesting. Mike Tolbert (16-100-1, 2-3) recorded his first 100-yard rushing day, Ryan Mathews (9-55-1, 1-13) recorded his first NFL touchdown, and Antonio Gates (7-144-2) capped another monster day by joining six other tight ends in the exclusive 500-catch club. Philip Rivers (15-20-241-2) didn’t have a notable feather to stick in his cap, aside from the win.
Arizona’s sorry offense has no direction and no quarterback. Derek Anderson (7-14-64-0-2) was benched for rookie Max Hall (8-14-82), who wasn’t much better. The subdued passing numbers once again killed Larry Fitzgerald’s (7-56) fantasy value.
FANTASY IMPACT: Sans quarterback, wasn’t Arizona supposed to become a running team? Beanie Wells (5-19, 1-6) was barely used even after starter Tim Hightower (7-24) proved ineffective. At this juncture the Cardinals are fantasy kryptonite, stripping high picks Fitzgerald and Wells of any fantasy value they may have had. Both Mathews and Tolbert averaged better than six yards a carry against the hapless Cardinals, and the mix is likely to continue with Tolbert seeing some goal line and change of pace work. At least it’s unlikely to become a three-way, with Darren Sproles proving to be both ineffective (6-17) and unreliable (losing a fumble).
NEW YORK GIANTS 17, CHICAGO BEARS 3
The Giants returned to their ground-game roots, beating down a defense that entered the game ranked first against the run. Through three games the Bears had surrendered just 104 rushing yards to running backs; Ahmad Bradshaw (23-129-1, 2-14) bested that himself, and Brandon Jacobs rolled up 6-62-1—much of it late—as well. The Bears were so toothless offensively that Eli Manning (18-30-195) didn’t throw enough to make all his wide receiver targets viable fantasy plays; Hakeem Nicks (8-110) saw the bulk of the action, while Steve Smith (4-30) played a bit part and Mario Manningham (one target) failed to record a catch.
When you have more sacks than completions, that’s a bad sign. It was almost a mercy shot that knocked Jay Cutler (8-11-42-0-1) from the game with a concussion just before halftime. Todd Collins (4-11-36-0-1) was no better before exiting due to an injury of his own, leaving Caleb Hanie (3-4-36) to clean up the mess. With just 110 net yards of offense, there was literally nothing to see here.
FANTASY IMPACT: Under heavy duress all night, Chicago quarterbacks had no chance to complete deep balls; that left Greg Olsen (5-39) and slot receiver Earl Bennett (4-26) as the top targets. And don’t even ask about the running game, as Matt Forte (12-26, 2-7) once again struggled to top two yards per carry. The Giants, on the other hand, ran at will on the Bears. Jacobs muffed a handoff on his second touch of the game and appeared headed for the doghouse; however, Bradshaw had a potential touchdown punched out near the stripe so he was equally guilty. While the Giants’ projected split is something in the two-thirds/one-third range, with Bradshaw as the lead dog, it’s notable that Jacobs saw most of his work—including his touchdown—late in the game with the Bears clearly no threat.