Week #3: The Inside Slant
John Holler - 9/19/2017

Week 3 of every season seems to set the tone for what’s coming. Teams that are 2-0 can let the word get out that the playoffs are going to run through their house. Teams that are 0-2 are desperate for a win could see their season slip away, making a lot of Week 3 games of critical importance.

The Sunday games include several key matchups, including Baltimore and Jacksonville from London, New Orleans looking to avoid an early burial at Carolina, Atlanta and Detroit battling it out as a pair of 2-0 teams, Tampa Bay at Minnesota in a matchup of playoff hopefuls, Houston looking to end New England’s stranglehold over them knowing the loser falls to 1-2, the 0-2 Giants heading into Philadelphia and Kansas City looking to bury the Chargers.

The week ends with a pair of interesting games, as Oakland heads into Washington looking to remain unbeaten on Sunday night and the Cowboys look to rebound from its embarrassing loss to Denver by heading into Arizona for a Monday night matchup.

The landscape of the 2017 season will look a lot different at the end of Week 3 and we start to see separation and the cream rising to the top – and the dregs putting their season on life support.

 

THURSDAY NIGHT GAME

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS AT SAN FRANCISCO

 

Los Angeles QB Jared Goff – The 49ers pass defense has been no joke. In their first two games, they have limited Russell Wilson (198 yards, 1 touchdown) and Cam Newton (171-2) in their first two games. In his only meeting, Goff completed just 11 of 24 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown. He should do better than that, but the Rams have done a great job of limiting opponents.

 

San Francisco WR Pierre Garcon – The Rams have done a nice job of taking away a top receiver from doing a lot of damage, including T.Y. Hilton (3-57) and Terrelle Pryor (2-31). The 49ers need Garcon to be involved in the offense, so there will be a lot of pressure to force the Niners to look elsewhere.

 

SUNDAY EARLY GAMES

 

ATLANTA AT DETROIT

 

Atlanta RB Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman – The Falcons have a strong running game, but the Lions 2-0 start is due in no small part to stuffing the run. They held the Cardinals (before David Johnson got hurt) to just 45 yards and one TD on 18 carries and limited the Giants to just 62 yards on 18 carries. The Falcons will be a true test as to whether Detroit’s run defense is as good as it has looked the first two weeks. If it does, Detroit could be dangerous.

 

Detroit RB Ameer Abdullah – The Falcons haven’t been lit up for a big day by running backs, but the two featured backs they faced both had solid days – Jordan Howard (13-52-1) and Ty Montgomery (10-35-1). They haven’t allowed a running back to dominate, but rushing touchdowns start becoming a trend until you stop them.

 

BALTIMORE VS. JACKSONVILLE (in London)

 

Baltimore QB Joe Flacco – The Jaguars defense looks much stronger and quarterbacks haven’t be able to consistently produce, including the two Houston quarterbacks (164-1) and Marcus Mariota (215-1). The Ravens will try to run the ball, which will likely keep Flacco’s numbers down, but the Jaguars are no joke on defense and need to be taken seriously.

 

Jacksonville PK Jason Myers – In two games the Ravens have allowed just four points to kickers – shutting out Cincinnati and allowed just four kicker points to Cleveland. The defense hasn’t even been allowing opponents into scoring range, which will be vital if Jacksonville is going to pull off a home win that would set the tone for the season.

 

CLEVELAND AT INDIANAPOLIS

 

Cleveland RB Isaiah Crowell – The Colts have been known as a soft defense, but has done a really good job of shutting down the run game, including Todd Gurley (19-40-1) and the David Johnson replacement backs in Arizona (22-77-0). Crowell is the key to the Cleveland offense and shutting him down could have big ramifications for the Browns offense as a whole.

 

Indianapolis TE Jack Doyle – The Browns have struggled to stop tight ends this season, including Jesse James (6-41-2) and Benjamin Watson (8-91). As the Colts wait for Andrew Luck to come back, they will rely on check-down receivers and reliable red zone targets, both of which point to Doyle.

 

DENVER AT BUFFALO

 

Denver RBs C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles – The Bills have been very strong against the run, limiting group backfields to very little on the ground, including the Jets (15-38-1) and Carolina (28-77). The run defense has been underrated for some time. The Broncos will provide a stiff test to just how good they are.

 

Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy – The Broncos have faced two of the top running backs in the league and limited them to almost nothing – Melvin Gordon (18-54) and Ezekiel Elliott (9-8). McCoy is going to find the sledding pretty rough against a dominating run defense and, while most McCoy owners will feel honor-bound to play him, but you may want to temper your expectations.

 

HOUSTON AT NEW ENGLAND

 

Houston QB Deshaun Watson – This may seem like an impossible challenge for Watson, but the Patriots pass defense has been hit up for huge numbers, including Alex Smith (368-4) and Drew Brees (356-2). Nobody is expecting Watson to approach those numbers, but there are some glaring weaknesses in the Patriots pass defense that can be exploited.

 

New England PK Stephen Gostkowski – Anyone who knows Gostkowski knows how consistent his scoring is. Nobody over the last five years has come even close to his games with nine or more points and nothing has changed. He has 21 points in the first two games and the Texans have been able to stop drives in close and the result has been scoring for kickers – 11 points for Jason Myers and nine points for Randy Bullock. Expecting something different from Gostkowski would be insanity because the Pats will get into scoring position, but may have to settle for more field goals than touchdowns.

 

MIAMI AT NEW YORK JETS

 

Miami WRs Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker – The Jets have allowed five passing touchdowns in their first two games, including three touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree last week. There is a growing debate as to which Dolphins receiver will be the big-play guy in the offense and both of them could be in line for big-play potential.

 

New York RBs Bilal Powell and Matt Forte – Miami has only played one game, so getting a handle on them is more difficult than teams that have a couple of games under their belts. They completely shut down the Chargers run game last week, allowing just 44 yards on 14 carries. They allowed Melvin Gordon to score a touchdown, but he earned it, rushing nine times for just 13 yards.

 

NEW ORLEANS AT CAROLINA

 

New Orleans QB Drew Brees – OK, nobody is saying that Drew Brees is going to get completely shut down, but the Panthers haven’t allowed a touchdown in two games and have kept opposing QBs from doing anything – Brian Hoyer (193-0) and Tyrod Taylor (125-0). Brees has a history of being all or nothing against the Panthers – in his last nine games, he has one TD in four of them and three or more TDs in four of them. Nobody is likely to bench Brees, but the Panthers defense looks much improved this season in a small sample size against sub-par opposition.

 

Carolina QB Cam Newton – He has gotten off to a slow start, but the Saints may be the cure he’s looking for. The Saints have been owned by the QBs they’ve faced to date – Sam Bradford (346-3) and Tom Brady (447-3). In his last five games against the Saints, Newton has thrown 13 touchdowns and topped 300 yards three times in the last four. He’s a big game waiting to happen this week.

 

NEW YORK GIANTS AT PHILADELPHIA

 

New York WR Odell Beckham Jr. – The Eagles have kept a team’s top wide receiver from breaking big plays on them, containing Terrelle Pryor (6-66) and Kareem Hunt (4-43). If the Giants are going to get out of the funk they’re currently in, Beckham is going to have to be key to that improvement. Is he up to the task? We’ll find out because the G-Men can’t afford to drop to 0-3 with losses to the Cowboys and Eagles and expect to win the NFC East.

 

Philadelphia TE Zach Ertz – The Giants have struggled at just about every phase of their game, but have been hit in the end zone by tight ends, including Jason Witten (7-59-1) and Eric Ebron (5-42-1). Ertz is a favorite of Carson Wentz and, given the Giants struggles with tight ends in the red zone, this looks like a very favorable matchup.

 

PITTSBURGH AT CHICAGO

 

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger – The Bears have given up yards, but have only allowed two touchdowns to a couple of very good quarterbacks – Matt Ryan (321-1) and Jameis Winston (204-1). On paper this looks like a fantasy pushover, but Ryan and Roethlisberger owners thought the same thing and weren’t rewarded like they thought they would be.

 

Chicago RB Jordan Howard – He’s facing a challenge to his playing time from Tarik Cohen and needs a big game to re-establish himself, but the Steelers have kept a couple of highly-regarded fantasy back in check – Isaiah Crowell (17-33) and Dalvin Cook (12-64). Howard was a top 10 back in most draft formats and needs to come up big in order to make the impact he was expected to make on draft day. However, the Steelers won’t be pushovers.

 

TAMPA BAY AT MINNESOTA

 

Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans – Minnesota has been getting more comfortable putting Xavier Rhodes on a team’s top receiver in hopes of containing him. To date, so far so good, as Rhodes has largely covered Michael Thomas (5-45) and Antonio Brown (5-62) and kept the both under wraps. Jameis Winston will be looking for Evans – he always does – but Rhodes may force him to look elsewhere more often.

 

Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook – It’s hard to anoint a defense as being potentially dominant based on a performance by the Bears, who had to abandon the run, but one of the reasons they did was because the Bucs limited their run game to just 20 yards on 16 carries. Cook is off to a great start, but it will take a big day from him to get people off the view that the Bucs can throttle the run.

 

SUNDAY LATE GAME

 

CINCINNATI AT GREEN BAY

 

Cincinnati RBs Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill – The Packers looked great against Seattle and awful against the Falcons, but they have allowed more than five yards a carry in both games – against Seattle (18-90) and the Falcons (27-141-2). The Bengals need a win badly and it may depend on getting their ground game going to achieve that goal.

 

Green Bay RB Ty Montgomery – The Bengals have allowed opponents to run on them early and often, including the backs in Baltimore (42-157-1) and Houston (35-168-1). You don’t win many games when teams can run on you like that and Montgomery could be in line for a huge day if the Packers commit to the run game and stick to it.

 

KANSAS CITY AT LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

 

Kansas City RB Kareem Hunt – The Chargers have been allowing too many carries and yards to running backs, including C.J. Anderson (20-81) and Jay Ajayi (28-122). Neither of them have scored touchdowns, but have dominating the flow of the game. With five touchdowns in two games, it seems hard to imagine Hunt being completely shut down given those numbers.

 

Los Angeles WR Keenan Allen – The Chiefs have a strong defense, but have been hit hard by wide receivers with downfield passes, including Danny Amendola (6-100), Brandin Cooks (3-88), Alshon Jeffery (7-92-1) and Zach Ertz (5-97). Kansas City has been stout when needed on defense, but have proved vulnerable to big plays and Allen is the primary big-play threat.

 

SEATTLE AT TENNESSEE

 

Seattle WR Doug Baldwin – The Titans haven’t given up a giant game to any receiver, but have been hit hard by several of them, including Michael Crabtree (6-83), Amari Cooper (5-62-1), Marquise Lee (7-76) and Allen Hurns (6-82-1). The Titans have a strong defense, but their corners have been targeted with success in their first two games of the season.

 

Tennessee RBs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray – There may be a changing of the guard underway in Tennessee. Despite having one of the league’s best defenses, featured backs have gotten their points against them, including Ty Montgomery (19-54-1) and Carlos Hyde (15-124). Whoever is the primary back, he may be in line for more fantasy points than meets the eye.

 

SUNDAY NIGHT GAME

 

OAKLAND AT WASHINGTON

 

Oakland TE Jared Cook – Cook hasn’t done much yet to incorporate into the Raiders offense, but tight ends have smacked around the Redskins defense, including Zach Ertz (8-93) and Gerald Everett (3-95). The Redskins have been exposed down the seam and they will have to fix that or Cook will be the next to have a big day at their expense.

 

Washington RB Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley – Kelley may miss the game, which might not be a bad thing. The Raiders have been stopping running games so far this seasons, including DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (18-69) and Bilal Powell and Matt Forte (15-66). The Redskins need to get their running game established, but the Raiders might not be the ideal team to get their run game untracked.

 

MONDAY NIGHT GAME

 

DALLAS AT ARIZONA

 

Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott – The Cardinals have struggled, but have done a nice job of limiting running backs from having big yardage days, including Ameer Abdullah (15-30) and Frank Gore (14-46-1). Elliott is coming off the worst game of his career and the Cardinals may not be the cure to that problem, but nobody benches Zeke, but they need to be aware of the possibility.

 

Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald – The Cowboys have had some exposure, but they’ve held down No. 1 receivers from doing too much damage – Sterling Shepard (7-44 without Odell Beckham) and Demaryius Thomas (6-71). The Cardinals need a big night from Fitzgerald to knock off the Cowboys, but those kind of days haven’t come from top dogs yet.

 

End.

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