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.
My pick for the Player Challenge: Matthew Stafford
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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