There is no time for lengthy introductions or the exchange of half-assed pleasantries. Winners know that shaking hands is just a primordial way of checking your opponent to make sure he is unarmed. As you know, we have something up our sleeves, my friends. This is NFL week two and this is "The NFL Beat."
Raiders (0-1) at Dolphins (0-1)
A few obvious lessons learned in week one were that the Raiders still kill themselves with penalties and the Dolphins are still horrible. Raiders RB Darren McFadden came out and proved he is one of the NFL's most elite, electrifying, and dependable runners when healthy, and he is a must-start every week in every format. WR Denarius Moore looks to make his return from a hamstring injury for Oakland this weekend which adds a vertical dimension, albeit a likely one to be used as a decoy in his first game back.
Sleeper Flex Play: The only Dolphin you should be starting is RB Reggie Bush. If you are in a supreme bind, or play in a 14-team league, I would recommend picking up Miami WR Brian Hartline. While he was on the field much less often than fellow WR Davone Bess, he was the most productive Dolphins WR in week one, and was targeted a team high eight times. The Raiders are clearly not assembled completely in their defensive backfield, and present an opportunity for a sneaky play as the sixth-best matchup for opposing fantasy WRs according to my system.
Texans (1-0) at Jaguars (0-1)
I told you last week how the Maurice Jones-Drew ascension to starter would go in Jacksonville's week one close loss to Minnesota. Quickly. I normally would not predict a good game for most running backs versus a brutal matchup in the Texans (especially one just a few weeks off a holdout), but keep an eye on the weather. It could be completely disastrous for any sort of passing attack if the torrential downpours in the area are present as forecasted. This bodes well for the running game on both sides of the ball.
Sleeper Play: Jacksonville TE Marcedes Lewis came out last week and looked like the player that he has always had the potential to be. The positive development of Jags QB Blaine Gabbert may begin to render the TE position in Jacksonville fantasy relevant before too long if the production continues.
(Browns 0-1 and Bengals (0-1)
Poor Brandon Weeden and poor Cleveland. And poor Chris Kouffman, who took Weeden's side in the "crabby" bet featured here at the Chronicle. We saw last week that Browns RB Trent Richardson does not appear to be as good as advertised while Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis appears to be a bit better than advertised. Of course, if you have either RB on your roster, you will be starting them, but I would rather be on the BJGE side of this matchup. Certainly do not give up hope on Richardson and do not be the victim of any early "buy low" swindles from league mates.
Sleeper Flex Play: Last week, I reached into deep sleeper territory to give you Andrew Hawkins in the Bengals game, who, if you had to take the advice, would have gotten you around nine points. This week, I will reach into the same depths of fantasy obscurity and recommend his fellow Bengals WR Armon Binns. Last year's scout team all-star won the No. 2 job in training camp, and played in 78% of week one snaps. Cleveland CB Joe Haden is out, which makes the Cleveland secondary a much more suspect group.
Chiefs (0-1) at Bills (0-1)
What's worse than getting eviscerated via an aerial explosion by the bomb-dropping Falcons in week one? Getting eviscerated via an aerial explosion orchestrated by none other than "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn in 2011" Mark Sanchez. While the Chiefs are on the better side of this deal, both teams come into the week with their tails between their legs, the Bills missing an appendage with the news of a four-to-six-week absence for star runner Fred Jackson. This takes Bills RB C.J. Spiller into immediate fantasy must-start stud territory. With the way Spiller looked (and performed) to end the 2011 season, I wondered why the Bills staff would ever start a 31-year-old Fred Jackson again anyway, honestly.
Sleeper Flex Play: Bills WR David Nelson has been lost for the year to knee injury, opening the door for WR Donald Jones to have plenty of opportunities against a still-banged-up Chiefs secondary. If he doesn't get you 7-10 points in standard leagues, it will probably be because he dropped a big pass, which Jones has been known to do.
Ravens (1-0) at Eagles (1-0)
Both teams present tough fantasy matchups across the board, but there are certain players on each roster who you must always start regardless of matchup. Those are Mike Vick, Lesean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin (if healthy), Desean Jackson, Ray Rice, and Torrey Smith.
Sleeper Play: The subject of the Ravens' new-look, no-huddle scheme, and its recipient regarding TE fantasy production has been the subject of much debate leading into the 2012 season. (These debates generally occurred in the dark basements of grown men who still live with their parents.) With this said, the answer, at least after one week, appears to be Dennis Pitta, and not Ed Dickson. Pitta was on the field 10% more of the time than Dickson, and was targeted a team-high nine times. Even if you can't play him this week, if you can easily create the roster spot and are lacking a stud TE, I strongly recommend picking up Pitta now before his fantasy relevance becomes common knowledge.
Vikings (1-0) at Colts (0-1)
A dream matchup for both sides of the ball. The Colts pass rush looked decent in week one versus Chicago, but I think after Thursday night's game we can safely assume that every pass rush should probably look unbelievable against Chicago's wretched offensive line. Colts QB Andrew Luck faces a great matchup, and if you listened last week, you heard it here first. Colts WR Reggie Wayne is set for a bounce-back season and should be considered a must-start WR2 and no less moving forward. Nice catches for 135 yards on 18 targets?! That is monstrous, and a terrific indicator for those sniped him up late in drafts. Vikings WR Percy Harvin will have a monster game as will Adrian Peterson who somehow looks like Adrian Peterson nine months off of reconstructive knee surgery.
Sleeper Play: Only five non-QB offensive skill position players were on the field for every one of their team's offensive snaps last week, and Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph was one of them. Rudolph draws frequent comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, and the openings were there all day for Chicago against Indy to utilize the TE in abandoned space. Chicago could not, though, because they had to keep TE Kellen Davis inside to help with "chipping" the defensive end. If you did not draft an elite TE, this is the kind of matchup you love to make a spot-play on.
Patriots (1-0) at Cardinals (1-0)
Well, look at this. A battle of two undefeated teams. Should matchup pretty evenly, right? Arizona is absolutely terrible in most phases of the game, including the most important: quarterback play. While I do not think that Arizona is necessarily the greatest matchup (actually, my system has them as a pretty brutal matchup currently) I do believe that some players and teams are matchup-proof in fantasy. Tom Brady and his Patriots fall into this group. I expect a huge performance. I also expect a rebound from Wes Welker who was only on the field for a much-lower-than-average 63% of the time. This occurred in week one when the Patriots were having success running the ball with Stevan Ridley, and needed no extension of the run through the intermediate middle. They will lean on Welker more in week two. Whatever you do, do not sell on Welker now. You will be doing so at an all-time low and that is not how this game is played.
Sleeper Flex Play: Look elsewhere. You want no part of any relatively unknowned players on either of these squads this week.
Saints (0-1) at Panthers (0-1)
The defense I saw being installed at Saints training camp didn't look anything like the one that Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III absolutely shredded in the dome last Sunday. What's worse, now the Saints are marching into Charlotte to face "The Prototype" in Panthers QB Cam Newton. You have to expect Top 5 fantasy numbers from both of these QBs, and I absolutely love Panthers WR Steve Smith this week (if healthy) as well as Saints RB Darren Sproles. The physical, downhill style of the Panthers linebackers lends itself beautifully to Sproles' utilization in choreographed space to the perimeter.
Sleeper Flex Play: Last week's emergence of Brandon LaFell as Carolina's true "No. 2" wideout would make him the obvious choice here. He had a great game last week, he stuck on his routes when he needed to, and came off them when he needed to bail out Newton when he was flushed. He was solid in and out of breaks, and looked a true, quality NFL WR. If LaFell is still on your waiver wire in 12-team leagues, find a way to roster him, at least. I will personally be starting LaFell in one three-WR league this week.
Bucs (1-0) at Giants (0-1)
The Bucs looked like a whole new team in week one of 2012, and it started on the defensive side of the ball. What used to be a dream matchup for opposing skill position players of all kinds is apparently morphing into a newfangled, speedy, sticky form of abandon commandeered by new HC Greg Schiano. Can they keep form? This will be the test. The Bucs were horrible against fantasy runners last year. They were the best, dream matchup, no question. Then we saw Stevan Ridley and Chris Johnson both do the same kinds of things to the unit in the preseason. If they play like the old Bucs, we could witness a monster out of Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw, but something tells me that this one might not be as easy for the Giants as it appears on paper.
Sleeper Flex Play: Giants rookie RB David Wilson. Yes, he fumbled last week and only played six snaps before getting yanked. Yes, he cried and people made .gifs poking fun of his NFL man-tears. The fact is, I like this situation both ways. If the "old" Tampa shows back up, runners have a field day on them. If the Giants struggle running the ball with Bradshaw, however, they will surely not make Wilson's fumbling "punishment" extend into week two when the organization views him as a dangerous change of pace on the ground.
Redskins (1-0) at Rams (0-1)
I learned a lesson in week one. Never underestimate RG3. The Rams are a terrible overall team, and the Redskins are coming off what may be looked back on as one of the most historic wins in a long and storied franchise history. The introduction of Robert Griffin, beating the mighty Saints in the dome. I do not like this matchup, though. This Rams secondary is salty and as physical and straight dirty as the NFC West has seen in some time.
Sleeper Flex Play: If Redskins WR Pierre Garcon is out, I would recommend starting WR Aldrick Robinson who would play in his place. Robinson played in 86% of the team's snaps last week after Garcon left with the injury, and went for 52 yards and a TD on a team-high six targets.
Cowboys (1-0) at Seahawks (0-1)
There aren't too many players that I absolutely love in this game. A very good Seattle defense is much better when playing at home, and the Cowboys new-look secondary has proven to be an abject success thus far, having effectively shut down Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in the season opener versus New York. That was against Eli Manning. This week they face a 5 foot, 10 inch rookie in Seattle QB Russell Wilson. Dallas is tough against the run, but it is hard not to picture a Top 10 sort of performance from Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch proved last season when breaking the 49ers three-year streak against 100-yard rushers that he is matchup proof.
Sleeper Flex Play: Kevin Ogletree. If you had the opportunity to pick up the player who seems to have cemented his role as the Cowboys third WR for 2012 after his breakout performance against New York, you may have made a season-changing move for yourself.
Titans (0-1) at Chargers (1-0)
I predict that owners of Titans RB Chris Johnson will remain frustrated. I watched back the coaches film from week one, and Johnson simply doesn't hit the hole like he used to. He used to go hard to the spot, get sprung, then get creative. Now, it seems, he is being too creative from the time he is handed the ball and it is causing his fantasy owners to want to shove flaming knives in their eyes. I love both TEs in this matchup. If you own Antonio Gates or Jared Cook, don't go getting cute and benching them as both teams present top-notch matchups for opposing TEs.
Sleeper Flex Play: Look elsewhere. Startable players in this matchup are owned unless Titans WR Kendall Wright is available on your waiver wire.
Steelers (0-1) at Jets (1-0)
Jets QB Mark Sanchez lit the world on fire last week just as it appeared the Jets were poised for a different kind of fiery disaster that even Fireman Ed couldn't put out. An absolute implosion of nonsense and volatile buffoonery. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was consistenly creamed behind a horrible O-line anchored by one well-known marshmallow man in RT Mike Adams. I like the Jets defense more than most this week, but I believe that both Steelers WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown will get over the top for at least one big play each as Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis appears to be getting shut down himself in week two with lingering concussion symptoms.
Sleeper Flex Play: He isn't exactly a sleeper anymore, but if Jets rookie WR Stephen Hill is still on your waiver wire after his two-TD week one performance, by all means snatch him up, and don't hesitate to play him if you are uncomfortable at your flex. Hill appears to have already evolved into Sanchez's No. 1 option.
Lions (1-0) at 49ers (1-0)
HandshakeGate. The rematch. The 49ers, once again, seem to be playing in the game of the week. I told you last week to make sure the Lions RB Kevin Smith was firmly entrenched in your lineups, and I hope you listened. Whether you did or not, listen now: You don't want to play Smith this week, and honestly, I would try trading him soon. As always, I love Lions WR Calvin Johnson regardless of matchup, and as always I like Alex Smith for fantasy purposes better than most. Smith had one of his rougher games of the season in Detroit last year, and I don't think he has forgotten about it. Do not expect quite as big a game from 49ers RB Frank Gore.
Sleeper Flex Play: Michael Crabtree is the perfect kind of receiver for facing the horrible secondary that Detroit is rolling out. He is a supercharged possession receiver who can run the intermediate routes, then kill safety help a blazing first step upfield. The Lions play better defense at home than away in recent years, and I see a big game for at least one 49ers WR. Crabtree led the 49ers with nine targets in week one, so I would recommend rolling with him.
Broncos (1-0) at Falcons (1-0)
The kind of Monday Night Football game that you dream of. Ignoring loved ones, putting off chores. Watching the red hot Falcons ushering in their 2012 home schedule by inviting a not-too-shabby Peyton Manning-led Broncos team to town. While the matchups would indicate a game in which both offenses could struggle, I don't see that happening Monday night. We'll see a lot of offense. Start all the guys you would normally start in this game with one exception:
If you own Falcons RB Michael Turner, as I do in one league, now is not too early to worry. Hopefully you own Jacquizz Rodgers as well. Rodgers played almost an equal amount of snaps as Turner in week one. After watching back the coaches tape, I have decided I will not be starting (or trading) Turner until some clarity comes from this situation. I'm afraid the eventual clarity I may come to is that Michael Turner is very old, and very done with no Mike Mularkey calling plays.
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