NFL Week 3 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
Mark Ingram, Saints RBs could have big week against suspect Texans run defense
Patriots are second-worst defense in fantasy against QBs and WRs after two weeks
Miami's Daniel Thomas could struggle against the Browns' underrated run defense
Week 3 is not the time for "told you so's," but we will rub salt into the wounds a little: Arian Foster is the best backup running back picked early in Round 1; Jamaal Charles was the best bust picked in the same area; and Michael Vick is indeed the quarterback most likely to deal with injury.
Yes, these are cheap shots, Dunta Robinson-style, but they are the stories of the early going in fantasy.
Whenever you have two of the highest-regarded running backs doing zilch and some fantasy analysts' No. 1 quarterback already dealing with a concussion, it bears mentioning.
Foster will be fine in a few weeks, hopefully. Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster will try to pick up Charles' pieces. And, like Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, "I expect Michael Vick to play, and if he can't play, he will."
We begin our Start 'em, Sit 'em with a couple of humdingers in Philly and New Orleans and conveniently bury the fact this writer was wrong on Eli Manning, the Colts and a host of other things fantasy this preseason.
Note: It should be reminded, the obvious choices are omitted here. We focus our energy on the players you might actually be making a decision on.
QB Michael Vick, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles D/ST
This is a "start all" game for the Eagles. Vick (concussion) should play and play well. The Giants' secondary has been torched by the likes of Rex Grossman and Sam Bradford, not exactly fantasy standouts, and the Eagles-Giants games tend to be track meets. Jackson was nearly silent Sunday night, but he remains too promising to sit. You might even want to take a shot on Steve Smith in deeper leagues, playing against his former team that balked on signing him after knee surgery. As for the Eagles D/ST, you have to love starting defenses against the error-prone Eli Manning, who has a pick in each of his past seven regular-season games. This could be a three- or four-pick effort here.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Brandon Jacobs
If the Giants don't want to be blown out of the building, they are going to have to use Bradshaw and Jacobs early and often. Usually it is a bit sketchy to trust the carries for backs in a short week after a Monday nighter, but Bradshaw and Jacobs split carries running out the clock against the Rams, so they will be fresh enough. With the Eagles secondary as tough as it is -- and the offense as dangerous as it is -- you have to control the ball against them. The Falcons stuck with the run in their rally last week, and the Giants should do the same. The Eagles are third-worst in fantasy against RBs, so start both Giants backs.
QB Eli Manning, WR Mario Manningham, Giants D/ST
Manning finally kicked the rust that has plagued him through the preseason and the early going by the second half Monday night. But no one should trust him here, no matter what his history is against the Eagles. Manningham's night to star was Monday with Hakeem Nicks a bit banged up, but a concussion led him out of the game and will affect his status for this week. Even if Manningham plays, you don't want to mess with starting a marginal option against those corners. The Giants D/ST finally scored a TD after being blanked in that category last year, but they are getting gashed through the air, and the Eagles chuck it around with the best of them.
RB Ben Tate, QB Matt Schaub, TE Owen Daniels, K Neil Rackers
Tate has taken hold of the starting job with the Texans. For those who believe you shouldn't lose your job to an injury, recall that Tate was the projected starter as a rookie for the Texans before his preseason injury last year. This one should be a great shootout, so consider all your Texans and maybe even Jacoby Jones in leagues where you need a WR sleeper.
RB Mark Ingram, WR Devery Henderson, WR Robert Meachem, TE Jimmy Graham, K John Kasay
The Saints don't start with the run and are coming off playing two of the NFL's best run defenses in the Packers and Bears through two weeks. It is time to expect some fireworks out of Ingram and even Pierre Thomas. After all, the Texans did allow another rookie, Daniel Thomas, to breakout last week. Ingram is a far better talent. This is his week. As for the slew of options in the Saints' passing offense, Henderson, Meachem and Graham are emerging as every-week starts.
RB Arian Foster, Texans D/ST, Saints D/ST
Foster is going to play behind Tate until his hamstring is healthy. Is it still too early to call Foster an early Round 1 bust? You can't use him yet, so likely so. The Texans' defense is much improved, performing third-best in fantasy against both QBs and RBs, but the Saints at home are light years better than the Kerry Collins-led Colts or the Chad Henne-led Dolphins. This mathcup has the potential of making you cringe if you start either defense.
QB Matthew Stafford, RB Jahvid Best, TE Brandon Pettigrew, Lions D/ST
The Vikings haven't played poorly defensively, but they aren't playing well late in games and they are still the worst team in fantasy against RBs. This is another "start-all" game if you own Lions. Nate Burleson, or even rookie WR Titus Young, could be viable options in three-receiver formats. The Lions are also a team that uses its tight ends frequently, which has helped make Stafford one of fantasy's breakthrough QBs in the early going.
WR Percy Harvin, K Ryan Longwell
Harvin is oddly looking more like a scat-back than a receiver in the Vikings' offense. It is very strange they don't make him more of a focus in the passing game. Hopefully, they have learned their lesson after two lackluster efforts to open the season. We would keep Harvin active and expect this to be a high-scoring affair, even if the Vikings have to settle for field goals.
Vikings D/ST, TE Visanthe Shiancoe
The belief Donovan McNabb and the Vikings could have a rebound year and make free-agent-to-be Shiancoe productive this season hasn't bore any fruit yet. The red-hot Lions offense could make this a shootout, but it is more likely Adrian Peterson helps the Vikes get off to a good start before blowing the lead in the second half again. McNabb just doesn't have enough targets on the outside to make anyone other than Peterson, or hopefully, Harvin, intriguing.
WR Deion Branch, WR Chad Ochocinco, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
With Aaron Hernandez (knee) out, someone has to pick up the "slack." The only real slacker here has been Ochocinco. This could be his week to break out. Branch has proved to be a go-to guy and Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker are obvious must-starts. BGE was busy running out the clock against the Chargers and he should be productive against a Bills team that struggled to stop the Raiders on the ground last week.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR David Nelson, TE Scott Chandler, RB Fred Jackson
The Patriots did a better job with the Chargers passing game than they did the Dolphins, but this one should be a blowout in which Fitzpatrick throws from behind. The Pats are second-worst in fantasy against QBs and WRs through two weeks. Stevie Johnson, Nelson and even the red-zone target Chandler should be viable options. The Pats are pretty good against the run, but Jackson has been too good to consider sitting right now.
QB Cam Newton, RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Jonathan Stewart, TE Greg Olsen, Panthers D/ST
OK, it clearly is time to use Newton in all leagues. He won't be consistent every week, but if he can handle the Packers, he should be great at home against the woeful Jags. Steve Smith has returned to being a must-start option, while the Panthers figure to use their tight ends frequently. That makes Olsen a solid play, and maybe even Jeremy Shockey. As for the RBs, we are going out on a limb and advising to play both Williams and Stewart. Stewart was a factor as a receiver last week but both should be busy running out the clock for once for a Panthers team that has played from behind in both second halves.
WR Mike Thomas
Luke McCown wasn't developing much, anything, in the passing game, so the Jags turn to rookie Blaine Gabbert, who didn't look bad late last week against the Jets. Regardless of the Panthers D/ST getting to tee off on a rookie quarterback in his first start (Newton handled that just fine), this should be a much better week to use the Jags' primary target -- Thomas -- especially if Newton stays hot and runs up the score early. Thomas could have a busy day in garbage time.
TE Marcedes Lewis
Lewis is banged up and trusting him to get something developed with Gabbert is a bit of a long shot at this point. The tight end tends to be a young QB's best friend, but Lewis is a bit too risky to trust immediately. Gabbert has promise, but he won't be worth using outside of two-quarterback leagues amid the heaviest of bye weeks. There just isn't much support after Maurice Jones-Drew in this Jaguars offense.
RB Chris Johnson, QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Nate Washington
Johnson has gotten off to an awful start after his holdout, but the good news is he was at least able to prove busy against that stout Ravens front. He should find much more traction against the Broncos. Hasselbeck is a big reason for the eventual breakthrough of Johnson, too. With a dangerous passing game, the Titans offenses could be a real sleeper and tough to stop. They abused the Ravens last week and this home game against the Broncos should be enticing for Hasselbeck and Kenny Britt's receiving mate, Washington.
WR Eric Decker, RB Willis McGahee
The health of the Broncos receivers is up in the air, but Decker should be productive enough to use in all leagues. He was a solid talent coming out of college, so this breakthrough early in Year 2 is more of a coming into his own than a flash in the pan. Kyle Orton isn't a bad play -- the Titans actually have been the No. 1 team against QBs in fantasy to date -- but you likely have another starting-caliber QB to use. McGahee will be busy and a TD threat, regardless of the health of Knowshon Moreno (hamstring).
RB Moreno, WR Brandon Lloyd
They might play, but their shaky health status should keep you from taking the chance on them.
RB Peyton Hillis, WR Brandon Marshall, TE Ben Watson, Browns D/ST, Dolphins D/ST
This one promises to be as much of a snoozer for fantasy as it will be for fans -- unless you like defense. The QBs have promise but this game figures to be low scoring. Both D/STs look viable against these QBs, while Hillis and Marshall are the only real trustworthy fantasy options. A sleeper is Watson. No, he hasn't gotten off to a good start, but the Pats and Texans tight ends both had success against the Dolphins and it could be a good week to go back to Watson, especially if you lost an Aaron Hernandez.
RB Daniel Thomas, RB Reggie Bush, K Dan Carpenter
Thomas looked good in his debut Sunday, save for a costly fumble, but he did just enough to muddle the Dolphins RB situation. Bush no longer looks like a viable every-week play and the Browns have one of the more underrated run defenses in the NFL. Carpenter cost himself in fantasy with misses last week, so jump on a kicker who has more offensive potential supporting him.
RB Frank Gore, RB Cedric Benson, WR A.J. Green, TE Vernon Davis, TE Jermaine Gresham, K David Akers, 49ers D/ST, Bengals D/ST
We won't call Ohio boring, but ... There is going to be some blah football games going on in the state Sunday. This figures to be another game focused on defense and running games. You have to keep Gore and Benson active, even if they don't figure to have huge games against teams focused on stopping the run. If you're looking for pass-catchers to use, Green looks like a must-start now, Gresham is a sleeper and we suppose Vernon Davis will have to become a factor as some point. What he told the media was right: He needs to be used more.
QB Andy Dalton
This is not an indictment of Dalton after a very impressive game in Week 2. This game just figures to be more of a low-scoring, running affair than last week against Denver. Dalton will be asked to manage the game against an underrated 49ers defense. Dalton might not play poorly, but he isn't going to score among the 12-15 best quarterbacks in fantasy either -- as is the case in most weeks.
QB Mark Sanchez, RB Shonn Greene, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Dustin Keller, Jets D/ST
There is no good reason to sit anyone for the Jets this week. The Raiders were gashed by Fred Jackson last week, so it should be a productive week for Green -- and perhaps even LaDainian Tomlinson if you need a flex player. Holmes is dealing with a nagging quad injury, but he played last week and still scored. The only issue with him is the likelihood the Jets get up big again and take the foot off the gas pedal. Burress should be much more of a factor this week than he was last, while Keller and Sanchez are well on their way to career years.
RB Darren McFadden
There aren't too many backs you can say you would start against the Jets. McFadden is one of them. It is pretty remarkable what he can do with a mediocre supporting cast and a bad QB. Even if the Jets stuff him in the running game, McFadden can stay productive for fantasy owners as the Raiders' primary target as a receiver. Maurice Jones-Drew did find some running room against that vaunted Jets run defense and McFadden is well within Drew's class, especially since he is similarly the focal point of his team's "attack," if you can call it that when referring to these two offenses.
WR Denarius Moore and every non-McFadden Raider including Sebastian Janikowski
Congrats on winning the rookie off waivers. Now, don't play him. He is taking a weekend trip to Revis Island. No one has backup kickers but if you have roster space as a Janikowski owner, it is a week to reserve him. The Jets could pitch a shutout. They sure get a soft schedule getting to face the poorly quarterbacked Jags and Raiders in back-to-back weeks (and didn't give us any baloney about how well Jason Campbell played in Buffalo last week).
QB Joe Flacco, WR Anquan Boldin, Ravens D/ST
It is a good week to have Ravens and a bad week to have Rams. The Ravens are coming off a surprising loss to the Titans and the Rams are coming off a short week after a Monday night loss to the Giants. Flacco and his receivers are going to be much closer to their near-perfect opener as opposed to last Sunday's stinker. If you have a Raven you are considering starting, don't hesitate. The same cannot be said for the Rams.
RB Steven Jackson, RB Cadillac Williams, QB Sam Bradford, WR Mike Sims-Walker, WR Danario Alexander, WR Brandon Gibson
If you have a Ram, sit him. The Ravens team is a tough matchup in any week, but this should be an especially tough one. If the Ravens do have any holes it could be in the passing game, but it is more bend but don't break there. Jackson (quad) might play, but he and Cadillac (hamstring) are not 100 percent and most backs are bad plays against the Ravens regardless. Sims-Walker and Alexander made some progress against the Giants and could pick up some yardage, but you are likely better off taking a chance on another receiver against a worse defense that isn't hungry and embarrassed coming off a loss.
TE Antonio Gates, RB Ryan Mathews, RB Mike Tolbert, Chargers D/ST, WR Dwayne Bowe
We will assume you're not purposely sitting any Chargers against a defense that has been abused by the Bills and Lions (two 2011 sleepers, yes, but not exactly offenses as talented as the one led by Philip Rivers). Here is a vote of confidence for Gates, who was blanketed by the Pats and is dealing with a foot issue again. Also, the backs Mathews and Tolbert are in a full-blown time-share, but there should be a huge lead for the Chargers to protect for the first time this season. As for the Chiefs, Bowe is the only one worth considering against an underrated Chargers defensive unit. It could be the highest scoring fantasy unit -- next to the Jets of course.
RB Thomas Jones, RB Dexter McCluster
Again, another set of this week's "congrats on your waiver claim, now don't use him." Jones is going to get more carries and yards and McCluster is going to be a full-time receiving back for the Chiefs, but neither is worth taking a chance on before we really get a sense of how this "RB by committee" is going to play out -- especially against the Chargers defense.
QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Roddy White, TE Tony Gonzalez, K Matt Bryant
There is no real reason to sit any of your Falcons in an important road division game game. White might have been slowed by the Eagles secondary, but the Bucs are far less difficult to contend with. White and perhaps even Julio Jones should be productive. We already know Turner, Gonzalez and Bryant are too good to sit.
QB Josh Freeman, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Mike Williams, TE Kellen Winslow
Your Bucs haven't been that good yet, but the promising news was the Bucs stuck with Blount to carry them in the second half against the Vikings. It is the difference between winning and losing for them. Everything for the Bucs works better when Blount is loosening them up with runs between the tackles. Freeman, Williams and Winslow should have their best weeks yet, which isn't saying a heck of a lot right now.
If you use the same tools we use, you are noticing, "hey, the Falcons have allowed the third-most points to D/STs in fantasy." It looks like a time to jump on the Bucs' ship. Nope. The Falcons have merely played a tough road game in Chicago and a tough home prime-time game against the Eagles. Those defenses are multiple classes ahead of the Bucs, particularly in terms of fantasy-scoring potential. There are far better defenses to take fliers on. The Falcons just won't be forced into errors like the Bears and Eagles were capable of making them make.
RB Beanie Wells, QB Kevin Kolb, Cardinals D/DT
Now, here is where you take the two weeks worth of stats and consider them fantasy gold: The Seahawks have given up two kick returns and have a bad QB who has been sacked 10 times, only Jay Cutler has been buried to the turf more. The Cardinals D/ST is a nice sleeper, as are the developing Kolb and the emerging Wells.
RB Marshawn Lynch
After facing the 49ers and Steelers run defenses, we finally see a chance to start Lynch, who has been expectedly terrible. The Seahawks can't do anything right now, so they might as well try to establish Lynch in the running game. This could be a chance to start him as a flex option, even if the Cardinals have been good against RBs to date. But, for Lynch owners, like Pedro Cerrano in Major League, "if you no help me now, I say ..."
WR Sidney Rice, WR Mike Williams
Tarvaris Jackson is a mess and he should continue to show that even if Rice and Williams are finally healthy together. These talented receivers deserve better. Their best hope is if Charlie Whitehurst comes on in relief and opens it up some ... any ... for the Seahawks. That prayer is no reason to take a chance on Rice or Williams this week.
WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jermichael Finley, Packers D/ST, K Mason Crosby
If it wasn't for the Bears being the home team here, there really wouldn't be a question and these guys would be obvious starters. Here is a vote of confidence for them as every week options. There are not much tougher matchups than on the road at Chicago -- ask the Falcons. Nelson has emerged as Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 receiver to Greg Jennings (both obvious must-starts), while Finley should continue to progess. The matchup for the Packers D/ST doesn't get more tantalizing, though, because facing the sack- and error-prone Cutler should be a fantasy boon.
RB Matt Forte
No, the Packers won't give anything on the ground to Forte, but this back is one of the rare ones where you shouldn't be scared about him facing an elite run defense. Forte's stamp is just all over the Bears' attack. He impacts the passing game as much as the run. He is one of the backs we should all consider immune to a bad matchup. The Packers are one of five teams to have yet to give up a TD to a back.
RB James Starks, RB Ryan Grant
The Packers play offense like they're playing flag football: Running the ball is just a waste of a play. Starks doesn't yet get enough carries and Grant is slipping further behind Starks in the pecking order. Both should sit against a solid Bears run defense. The Packers just seem uninterested in developing a running game. If you had Rodgers and those receivers, you likely would run your team the same way.
QB Cutler, Bears D/ST
You shouldn't have drafted Cutler as a full-time starter, so sitting him against one of the NFL's elite defenses is the prudent thing to do. Cutler still hasn't developed a go-to receiver -- save for Forte -- either. The Bears D/ST gets yet another elite offense to face. Sure, it was great against the Falcons in Week 1, but facing them before the Saints and now the Packers is just one serious gauntlet. It is the price of winning your division. Go with your backup D/ST over the Bears again. Trust us, there will be better matchups ahead, just be patient.
RB Rashard Mendenhall, QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Mike Wallace, Steelers D/ST, K Shaun Suisham, WR Reggie Wayne
Start all Steelers, and sit (except Wayne) all Colts. This looks like another beat-down victory for the Steelers. How the Jets and Steelers get such a favorable schedule is ... oh, the Colts looked tough when Peyton Manning (neck) wasn't potentially out for the year. This might even be a week to take a flier on Steelers secondary and tertiary receivers in Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller, if you need to plug a hole.
RB Joseph Addai, K Adam Vinatieri, WR Pierre Garcon, WR Austin Collie
You might as well cut these guys, save for Addai, in standard leagues. Kerry Collins just doesn't have enough of anything to make them worthwhile to fantasy owners. Oh, and trying to start them against the Steelers is worse than a bad idea.
QB Tony Romo, WR Dez Bryant, TE Jason Witten, Cowboys D/ST
Miles Austin (hamstring) is out and Romo is dealing with a cracked rib and a punctured lung. Romo is likely to play and Bryant is likely to return. They should remain active, along with Witten, with Austin out of the picture. You probably don't have better alternatives. The Cowboys D/ST might not have been great yet, but you have to figure there is going to be some regression to the mean with the Redskins quarterback. Some sacks and turnovers should be coming the Cowboys' way.
WR Santana Moss, TE Fred Davis
With the way the Cowboys can put up points and the fact the Redskins are technically the division leaders, you should expect a quick scoring pace by the home team. That means some nice garbage-time rally yardage and scores for the Redskins primary offensive weapons. Moss is good enough to start in most weeks and the emerging Davis is headed for that status, too. The Cowboys are fifth-worst against TEs through two games, having gotten hurt by Dustin Keller in Week 1.
RB Felix Jones, RB Tashard Choice, RB Demarco Murray
Jones is dealing with a sore shoulder and we thought he would finally be a decent play, but he could be spelled more this week than past ones -- if he even plays. Murray should be the fantasy backup of choice, but poor Jones has had to deal with the Jets, 49ers and now injury. In fact, that is probably why he is a little sore right now. A light week would do him some good.
RB Tim Hightower, QB Rex Grossman, TE Chris Cooley
The Cowboys are a much stiffer defense against the run under Rob Ryan, currently standing sixth in fewest points allowed to RBs in fantasy. They could remain in the top 10 all year. It might not be a great time to trust Hightower, or Grossman. Cooley has been thoroughly lapped at the position by Davis and, frankly, he just doesn't look healthy. Give him credit for gutting it out, but don't give him so many credit you consider starting him. You probably shouldn't even own him.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watchlist and his Sunday night staple Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.