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Player Challenge strategies for Week 3

Senior Fantasy Writer
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This column is primarily designed to help strategize for our four-week Player Challenge games, but is essentially about great matchups and overlooked stats, offering deeper options for those in daily leagues.

Quarterback

My pick for the Player Challenge: Matthew Stafford

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Stafford quarterbacks a team that has produced the most passing attempts in the league over the last two seasons. Washington -- his Week 3 opponent -- has allowed the ninth-most passing yards this season, the second-most passing touchdowns, and the most Fantasy points to quarterbacks. Stafford's main problem last year -- lack of touchdowns -- seems to be fixed, as he's on pace for a good-but-not-great 32. It's not quite the 41 of 2011, but it's well ahead of pace to beat the 20 Stafford threw in 2012.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

The Falcons have given up the third-most passing yards this season, allowing the sixth-most touchdowns and sixth-most Fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Tannehill is averaging 295.5 yards per game and has already shown improvement over his rookie campaign -- his two 2013 performances rank among the top four of his career-best passing games. The difference here is probably Mike Wallace, who has allowed Brian Hartline to operate as a solid second target, giving Tannehill two threats in the wide receiving corps. Tannehill has thrown just two touchdowns, but with the volume of passes he throws, that number is sure to change.

Running Back

My picks for the Player Challenge: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; Chris Johnson, Titans

You're going to end up starting Lynch at some point during the four-week Player Challenge; Week 3 is the time to strike. Lynch is facing a Jaguars defense that has given up the fourth-most Fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, including a 15-point game to Jamaal Charles in Week 1 and a 12-point game to Darren McFadden in Week 2. The Seahawks should get a healthy lead early and Lynch should see 20-plus carries against a defense that has given up the third-most rushing yards (and highest ypc average at 5.7) already this season.

The second pick here wasn't as simple. Some of the most permissive rushing defenses are facing either hobbled or timeshare-ruined backs. And I want to save Adrian Peterson for next week, against a Steelers run defense that appears far weaker than the Browns defense he would face in Week 3. So after scouring the players available, I landed on Chris Johnson.

Running backs have a 4.7 yards-per-carry average against the Chargers. And while San Diego has given up 30 Fantasy points this season to all the opposing running backs they've faced, that scoring has come with weird asterisks. In Week 1, the Texans threw a not-full-strength Arian Foster and Ben Tate at the Chargers. In Week 2, LeSean McCoy racked up 167 total yards, but ended up with only 16 points. The Chargers are one of nine teams who haven't had an opposing running back score on them. And Chris Johnson -- despite having the fourth-most carries (50) and eighth-most rushing yards (166) in the league -- has yet to score a touchdown. At some point, these things even out, and I'm willing to risk that Week 3 could be that point.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Rashard Mendenhall, Cardinals

The big problem here with Mendenhall is that he's currently battling a toe injury. So you're going to have to wait until Sunday morning to commit. But the Cardinals are facing the Saints this week, and while New Orleans has put out a surprisingly stout pass defense this season, the run defense is still allowing 5.3 yards per carry. The Saints gave up 144 rushing yards to Doug Martin in Week 2 and saw Steven Jackson gain 77 yards on just 11 carries in Week 1. Like the Chargers, the Saints have yet to allow a touchdown to a running back, but considering the ease with which opposing runners are gaining yards against the Saints, that day may come sooner, rather than later. Monitor Mendenhall's status closely -- if he plays, he could have a nice game at a bargain price.

Wide Receiver

My picks for the Player Challenge: A.J. Green, Bengals; Calvin Johnson, Lions.

The Packers, Green's Week 3 opponent, are giving up the third-most receiving yards in the NFL this season. And the Packers are primarily getting torched by their opponents' best receiver -- Anquan Boldin caught 16 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, while Pierre Garcon caught eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in Week 2. Green was held in check by one of the league's best cornerbacks (Ike Taylor) in his Week 2 matchup against the Steelers, but things are looking wide open in Week 3 against Green Bay

Johnson, meanwhile, gets to face off against Washington, a team that allowed DeSean Jackson to catch seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, while letting two Packers receivers get over the 100-yard mark in Week 2 (Randall Cobb with 128 and James Jones with 178). The Lions have led the league in passing attempts the last two years, and have been top four in passing yards in that time frame. They're going to throw a lot against a defense that is susceptible to the pass. It could be a very big game for Johnson in Week 3.

Deeper alternatives for daily leagues: Rod Streater, Raiders; Austin Pettis, Rams.

Streater gets a nice matchup against the Broncos in Week 3. While a good amount of attention has been paid to Denver's offense, the team's defense has given up the fourth-most passing yards in the league over two games. Four wide receivers (Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks) have scored eight or more Fantasy points against the Broncos. And Streater has been quietly efficient for the Raiders this year, averaging 6.5 targets, four receptions, and 56 yards per game.

Austin Pettis has 17 targets over two games and put together a semi-breakout performance in Week 2 against the Falcons, catching eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also saw more time on the field than any Rams receiver (playing 90 percent of the team's snaps) and has some nice momentum carrying over from his strong 2012 finish; over his last four games played, Pettis has caught three touchdown passes.

Tight End

My pick for the Player Challenge: Jason Witten, Cowboys

I'm still of the opinion that figuring out the best defenses against which to play your tight ends won't really be clear for a few weeks. So I'm trotting out my studs for this four-week period, until we get a larger sample size. For Week 3, it's Jason Witten against the Rams. St. Louis was able to slow down Tony Gonzalez in Week 2, but with Roddy White obviously slowed, it seemed somewhat obvious to focus on Gonzalez as the second receiving option. Dallas throws Dez Bryant and Miles Austin ahead of Witten as threats, and can pass to DeMarco Murray out of the backfield. This opens things up for Witten, who I chose over Vernon Davis because of Davis' injury.

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: Kellen Winslow, Jets

Winslow has been rejuvenated in 2013, with 10 catches on 14 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown. And Buffalo is coming off a game in which its defense allowed Greg Olsen to score 14 Fantasy points. Again, it's tough to pinpoint which team is going to be easy on tight ends this early, but the Panthers have a mobile quarterback, veteran tight end, and solid No. 1 receiver (Santonio Holmes is a downgrade from Steve Smith, but just play along), so the pieces are somewhat similar to what the Jets will throw out there on Sunday.

DST

My pick for the Player Challenge: Seahawks

I think the choice this week for a lot of teams will be between the Seahawks and the Vikings. It's easy to pick on Jacksonville for their futility this season, but Chad Henne has proven to be a very capable starting quarterback. Seattle's secondary is just too good, and a hobbled Maurice Jones-Drew may not be able to carry the entire offense against the Seahawks, who have the most points in Fantasy among DSTs (we're not counting the 25 points that the Chiefs put up Thursday night against the Eagles).

A deeper alternative for daily leagues: The Titans have the third-most Fantasy points this season, yet are owned in just 25 percent of leagues. They have their home opener this weekend against a Chargers team that has gotten five touchdowns from Eddie Royal (an unsustainable pace), has a starting running back with fumbling problems, and will be without their No. 1 receiver.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Bills awarded waiver claim for QB Matt Simms
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(8:28 pm ET) The quarterback situation in Buffalo has gotten a little more complicated on Friday. The Bills were awarded their waiver claim on QB Matt Simms, who was released by the Jets on Thursday, according to the team's official website. 

Simms has played just four games and has completed 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in his career.


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(5:55 pm ET) The Falcons have decided to waive linebacker Prince Shembo on Friday after he was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per nfl.com.

"We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo," the team said in a statement. "We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo."

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


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Watts, who made the team in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, played in 14 games last season and rushed for 30 yards on seven carries.

Watts is eligible to return for Week 5 against the Packers.


Falcons LB Prince Shembo charged with cruelty to animals
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:57 pm ET) Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo is being accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's dog and has been charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Police said Denicia Williams, Shembo's ex-girlfriend, reported on April 19 that Shembo had killed her Yorkie.

Williams took the dog to Shembo's residence and left them unattended at some point. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive.

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Seahawks' Kam Chancellor: 'This is the strongest offseason I've had'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:56 pm ET) Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor feels good. He should, he's finally healthy.

Chancellor, who has become accustomed to rehabbing nagging injuries during the offseason, is practicing with the team during organized team activities for the first time in a while, per The News Tribune.

“I feel great. Back to football form. Feel fast. Feel strong. I just feel good out there," Chancellor said. "I think this is the strongest offseason I’ve had since I’ve been in the league. I’ve been actually able to train in the offseason instead of having surgeries.”

Chancellor recorded 78 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 14 games last season.


Cardinals RB coach: David Johnson 'reminds me a lot of Matt Forte'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:44 pm ET) Cardinals rookie runningback David Johnson received a huge compliment from his position coach, per nfl.com.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said the third-round pick reminds him of a Pro Bowl running back.

"He reminds me a lot of Matt Forte," Mitchell said. "You can put him outside and use him as a receiver and he's a good runner."

Mitchell sees the comparison between the two when it comes to Johnson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, something Forte has excelled at throughout his career.

"He has excellent hands and he's a bigger target to throw the ball to," Mitchell said. "He's going to be a big piece of the puzzle before this season is said and done."

Johnson rushed for 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Northern Iowa last year.


Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler absent at OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:30 pm ET) Patriots cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was noticeably absent from organized team activities on Friday, per nesn.com. It's unclear why Butler was not at practice.

Butler recorded 15 tackles in 11 games last season, but most noticeably came up with a game-clinching interception in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIX.


Cowboys excited and cautious with return of LB Sean Lee
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:22 pm ET) Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL during organized team activities last year. This year, he has been limited to individual drills during non-padded parctices, per The Dallas Morning News.

Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said the team is happy to have Lee back but that they will pace him along slowly.

"He's a ball of energy and excitement and that represents who we are," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's moving well. We're just being smart as we get him ready to go. But he's got a lot of good quality work in."


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(12:59 pm ET) Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was the Chiefs' prized free-agent pickup this offseason, which makes it that much more intriguing that he lined up to return punts during practice on Thursday, per ESPN.com.

Maclin, who signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs, was a premier punt returner in college and played the role sparingly -- with little success -- with the Eagles.

Coach Andy Reid said the team is preparing Maclin just in case he's needed to return punts or kicks because of injuries.

We just want to make sure he is ready,’’ Reid said. “You have limited numbers that you can dress on game day, so you don’t know what rotation you are going to have there with the receivers and returners. So it gives you an opportunity to keep him fresh. We don’t work him every day like the other guys. It’s kind of an every other day deal, so just to make sure that he’s okay and can still do that, but he’s not going to be the primary guy doing it right now.”


Eagles CB Byron Maxwell guarantees trip to Super Bowl 50
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:40 pm ET) Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell knows what it takes to make a Super Bowl run, he's appeared in two straight as a key member of the vaunted Seahawks defense.

Now, Maxwell is confident the Eagles will make a run to the big game and he will make his third consecutive appearance, per NFL.com.

"Because I've been there before," Maxwell said. "Knowing what it's like if we go that far. Because we're gonna go that far this year, meaning the playoffs and the Super Bowl. We're gonna go that far. Hopefully that experience I already had, I can help them."

The Eagles haven't made a Super Bowl since their 24-21 loss to the Patriots in 2004, but Maxwell didn't backtrack with his comments.

"You can take that as a guarantee," he said. "That's just me believing in my team and the product we're going to put out there on the field. I really do believe that. I have no choice but to think that way."

Maxwell, who signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games last season.


 
 
 
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