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'The NFL Beat': Week Three

By Alex Dunlap, September 22, 2012, 8:02am, The Score

An NFL weekend is descending upon us, but first, I would like to congratulate you. Your fantasy team had a big win last week. Even though you may have lost, you are still a winner for having learned a lesson. The same way that failed athletes and coddled child-stars-gone-bad are. A big winner.

We can turn that around this week though.

We are now officially knee-deep in the muck. Our route through this 16-week mess will be determined by our squads' outputs against the likes of the MegatRON Swansons and the Hutto Breadmen.

Swindlers and thieves lie in our path, as do ill-informed charlatans posing as advisory counsel. If there is a player in your league with a team called "Show Me Your TDs," he will generally be the source of this bad advice, and bad advice for real-life decisions as well.

This is "The NFL Beat" and this is week three.

Lions at Titans

Expect a bounce-back game from Lions QB Matt Stafford, the NFC West defenses he has faced are much stiffer than advertised.

Titans RB Chris Johnson is running the ball like he doesn't care about football after getting paid last year and is completely screwing his fantasy owners. Backup RB Javon Ringer has been cleared to play after battling an infection to start the season, and I would not be surprised to see him start to get a heavier workload if Johnson continues at this pace.

Lions WR Calvin Johnson is still Calvin Johnson and he's going to remind his owners why they drafted him in the first round this weekend.

Sleeper Play: Damian Williams, WR Titans: Nate Washington still seems hurt, and I have noticed Williams becoming more involved in the gameplan regardless. He was the second-most targeted Titan in week two and faces the No. 12 matchup for WRs in the Lions.

49ers at Vikings

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson told reporters that the 49ers hadn't seen a run game like theirs when asked about San Francisco's vaunted run defense, which has only allowed one 100-yard rusher in more than 40 games. Here are my thoughts:

1) Shut up and don't give your opponents chalkboard material like this, especially awesome ones.
2) They have faced better run games like the Vikings'.
3) Peterson has never faced a run defense like San Francisco.

Sleeper Play: I love 49ers WR Michael Crabtree as a flex play this week against the No. 8 WR matchup.

Jaguars at Colts

I like both running games in this matchup, and have Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew and Indianapolis RB Donald Brown ranked higher than the FantasyPros Expert Consensus.

Colts WR Reggie Wayne has been a true fantasy success story thus far this season for owners who picked him up in the middle rounds, but I would temper expectations slightly this week. His rapport and connection with QB Andrew Luck could eventually prove matchup-proof, but the Jacksonville secondary is not kind to opposing WRs according to my system.

Sleeper Play: Donnie Avery, WR Colts: He may have been dropped in your league by an owner who saw the news that WR Austin Collie will be coming back. Colts OC Bruce Arians says they have a "diamond" in Donnie Avery and he's the next Mike Wallace. Collie is a concussion away from retirement. Arguably, about two past.

Rams at Bears

What a horrible display Bears QB Jay Cutler put on last Thursday

. Many who started him last week won't this week, and I wouldn't advise it either. This is a St. Louis secondary who is notorious for getting in people's heads this season, causing both Titus Young and Josh Morgan to draw penalties out of frustration in consecutive weeks. Is Cutler a guy you want "rattled" playing on your fantasy team? He has some upside, but his downside is among the worst in the league because he gives up on games and teammates while under adversity.

Sleeper Play: Look elsewhere.

Bills at Browns

Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden showed up to play last week, but if you had him in your fantasy lineup, you're doing this completely wrong. Don't expect that again, and congratulations on winning the powerball mega-millions later this year with your run of good fortune.

C.J. Spiller is certainly the best running back on the Bills roster, and an argument can be made that he looks like the best on any NFL roster right now. I have Spiller pegged for a Top 5 performance this week while I have fellow Bills RB Fred Jackson pegged for a lot less work when he returns from injury.

Sleeper Play: Mohammed Massaqoui, WR Browns: My RosterWatch co-host, the Trashman, loves MoMass this week for some reason, and he's the king of trashy WR speculation.

Bucs at Cowboys

This is a new Bucs team that everyone is expecting to revert to their old selves. I'm not so sure they will under new HC Greg Schiano. While this matchup appears good on paper for Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray, I find the Bucs D-line play in weeks one and two to be worrisome to his owners.

I love the Cowboys WRs and TE Jason Witten this week, but I am tempering my expectations for Bucs WR Vincent Jackson after the beastly week-two performance I predicted, as the Cowboys secondary is much improved.

Sleeper Play: Tampa Bay TE Dallas Clark was in on 75% of offensive plays last week while accumulating five targets. The Cowboys represent the fourth-best matchup for opposing TEs according to my system.

Jets at Dolphins

As predicted, Dolphins RB Reggie Bush was an absolute fantasy monster last week, and I expect that to continue. I will be interested to see how carries will be split moving forward as fellow RB Daniel Thomas returns from whatever injury he is battling this time.

What we do know is that Thomas has looked "OK-to-good" in maybe one game during his career, and that rookie Lamar Miller looks to be the player who is coming on as a future role player and fantasy handcuff to Bush.

Sleeper Play: The Dolphins front seven is improving, and I think that (surprise) the Jets will have a bit of a hard time moving the ball on the ground. I rub my crystal ball and see a deep toss to who I think is Jets rookie WR Stephen Hill that could be a fantasy game-maker. He has been dumped in many leagues after a week-one breakout followed by a week-two stinker.

Chiefs at Saints

Saints QB Drew Brees will do his best "Matt Ryan week one" impersonation in New Orleans' return to the dome, and burn the Chiefs en route to earning top fantasy QB honors for week three.

Owners of Chiefs RBs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis are worried for different reasons coming into this game.

While the matchup is the seventh best for RBs, Charles has admitted soreness in his surgically repaired knee and Hillis has been used inconsistently. Owners of both need to keep them on their rosters and hope that in the worst case, you can count on a 7-to-8-point floor from your flex position.

Sleeper Play: Chiefs WR Jonathan Baldwin has been getting more involved and seems poised to finally do something against the No. 3 matchup for fantasy WRs.

Bengals at Redskins

There are very few QBs you should be starting in front of Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III at this point.

If you drafted RG3 as a backup, congratulations. Now is the time to move either him or the player you drafted as your starter to upgrade at another starting position. He may go bananas this week in a beautiful matchup at home against the Bengals.

Bengals RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis is looking better than I can ever recall in his entire career, and is facing a defense that let sixth-round rookie Daryl Robinson run roughshod on them in Steven Jackson's absence last Sunday. Get the Law Firm into your lineups.

Sleeper Play: WR Leonard Hankerson of the Redskins has shown sparks in the past and burned Rams rookie Janoris Jenkins on a deep bomb last week. Pierre Garcon appears to be out, so I expect the production to continue.

Falcons at Chargers

Two teams that present tough matchups basically across the board according to my system, but you have to think that RB Ryan Mathews may do something to help an anemic Chargers run game in his return from what will be looked back on as his "first" injury of 2012.

Chargers TE Antonio Gates has been a full participant in practice, and is always a must-start when he is healthy and Phillip Rivers is throwing the ball. Backup TE Dante Rosario caught what would have been three Gates TDs last week while Gates sat out. His owners were thrilled. Fantasy football is brutal.

Sleeper Play: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB Falcons: Starting RB Michael Turner looks like what I heard someone say on Twitter this week was "a pug trying to roll uphill." That is about right. If Rodgers is available in your league, I would recommend stashing him on the bench if you don't need him this week.

Eagles at Cardinals

According to my system, the Cardinals are trending toward becoming a defensive juggernaut. Poke fun of the horrible QB play in Arizona all you want. They line up and play some D, and like every other underrated NFC West defense, they play tougher when an East Coast opponent visits. I am downgrading all Eagles players this week.

I honestly don't like one single Arizona player in this game, and owners of Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald:

Hang in there. I'm saying that the same way I would say it to a friend who was terminally ill. I mean it, but I know there's really not much hope for you to hang on to.

Sleeper Play: Uh, no.

Steelers at Raiders

Raiders RB Darren McFadden has been lackluster to start the 2012 season, and there is one reason: The zone blocking scheme employed by OC Greg Knapp.

Run DMC struggled in the system under former HC Tom Cable, and it wasn't until most-recent-former-HC Hue Jackson designed a "body on a body" scheme that McFadden felt comfortable with that he appeared to be reaching his full potential.

McFadden likes to get sprung at the second level and dash to fantasy glory. He does not like flowing laterally behind the line, analyzing a safety then making a cut-and-go move. It isn't his style and it is worrisome to fantasy owners.

I love Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger again this week because he seems to be riding one of his confidence streaks, and because the Raiders are just awful. They made Ryan Tannehill look like Tom Brady last week.

Sleeper Play: Raiders RB Mike Goodson: We saw that Goodson can go the distance on just one touch last week, and I can see Oakland trying some different personnel groupings and exotic formations as they will likely be mixing things up after an initial struggle to run the ball.

Texans at Broncos

Broncos QB Peyton Manning clearly does not have the arm he used to when systematically, bi-annually dismantling a much lesser Texans team during his time with division-rival Indianapolis. I don't love Manning this week, but if we learned anything in week two, it's that it is unwise to count the man out, even late in games.

Sleeper Play: Look elsewhere

Patriots at Ravens

The Patriots are facing a little bit of adversity with the loss of TE Aaron Hernandez who slated to be QB Tom Brady's No. 1 option in 2012.

This gives owners of WR Wes Welker a small reprieve from what appeared to be a quick decline into fantasy mediocrity. If you are a Welker owner, hope for a big game or two in Hernandez's absence and ship the guy off to a desert island somewhere.

Sleeper Play: Jacoby Jones, WR Ravens: It pains me to say after seeing all the drops and fantasy letdowns during his time with the Texans, but it appears that Jones has carved out a niche as a specialty deep weapon in a new-look, fast-paced Ravens offense.

Packers at Seahawks

I hate this matchup for the Packers. The Seahawks defense is becoming an elite unit who plays much better at home. All your typical Packers are their usual must-starts (no, that does not include James Jones), but I have downgraded the group in my rankings.

I don't think it will exactly be easy for the Seahawks offense, eithe. The Green Bay pass rush will rattle QB Russell Wilson, and I expect a usual, beastly performance out of Marshawn Lynch.

Sleeper Play: Packers WR Randall Cobb: If Cobb is available in your league, grab him. I like Cobb this week because I think it will be the kind of game where HC Mike McCarthy will have to get creative with his play calling and Cobb represents a versatile chess piece that must be accounted for in many different formations.

[Alex Dunlap (follow on Twitter) is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on ESPN Radio, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and NFL Columnist for Bleacher Report.]

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