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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
Gavin Escobar a threat to Jason Witten?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:13 am ET) Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar, who entered the day with just four catches all season, wasn't highly targeted Week 7 against the Giants, but he made the three targets he did get count, scoring two touchdowns, including one on an impressive 26-yard grab between two defenders in the third quarter.

In all, he had three catches for 65 yards -- numbers that would be easier to overlook if not for the two touchdowns and the fact that fellow tight end Jason Witten, to this point a mainstay in Fantasy, had only two catches for 27 yards. And it's not like he and quarterback Tony Romo were just failing to connect. Witten was targeted only twice the whole game.

Witten's production hasn't been up to his usual standards this season -- in seven games, he's averaging 3.3 catches for 38.0 yards -- but just based on their history together, you figured Romo would have a need for him sooner or later. Now with the emergence of Escobar, it's no longer so clear.

Escobar himself isn't worth adding except in deep leagues of 16 teams or more that don't have enough tight ends to go around. In those formats, he's the new Timothy Wright. But in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, Witten may be on the outs. He deserves a couple more weeks given his history, but keep an eye out for the next big thing at the position.


Larry Donnell here to stay?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:55 am ET) After catching just one pass in his previous two games combined, Giants tight end Larry Donnell got back on track Week 7 at Dallas, catching seven passes for a season-high 90 yards.

Considering it was the Giants' first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, Donnell was expected to play a bigger role in the passing game, but a resurgence of this magnitude should remind us all how he came to be owned in 83 percent of Fantasy leagues in the first place. Over the first four weeks, he averaged 6.3 catches for 59 yards, scoring four touchdowns.

One potential pitfall for Donnell is that he lost two fumbles in Week 7, giving him three fumbles lost for the season, but with so few tight ends capable of his kind of production in a given week, the Giants would have to suggest his playing time is in jeopardy for me to pass on Donnell in Fantasy.

His production fell when rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham entered the mix in Week 4. Now that Cruz is out of the mix, Donnell's production figures to rise again.


Odell Beckham shows he's worth adding
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:42 am ET) Only three games into his career, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham has emerged as one of quarterback Eli Manning's favorite red-zone targets, which is especially good news with another one of his favorite red-zone targets, Victor Cruz, lost for the season with a knee injury.

Beckham didn't have a lot of chances Week 7 at Dallas, but he made the most of the ones he got, scoring on catches of 9 and 5 yards. In all, he had four catches for 34 yards. His six targets were third-most on the team, behind wide receiver Rueben Randle's nine and tight end Larry Donnell's seven.

The six targets were a season high for Beckham. He has yet to catch more than four passes for more than 44 yards, but because he keeps getting looks in the end zone, he's worth adding in Fantasy even if it's just to stash him on your bench until you're ready to put your trust in him.


An encouraging performance for Eli Manning
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:34 am ET) Playing his first game without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who's out for the season with a torn patella tendon, Giants quarterback Eli Manning still managed to bounce back from arguably his worst game of the season with one of his best Week 7 at Dallas, completing 21 of 33 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns.

It was his fifth game in six with multiple touchdown passes and his second with at least three. And he did it against a defense that had generally kept quarterbacks out of the end zone, recording nearly as many interceptions (seven) as it had allowed touchdown passes (eight) prior to Week 7.

Though two of his touchdown passes went to rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, who wasn't even available to him the first four weeks, Manning did a nice job of spreading the ball around. None of the touchdowns went to his two leading receivers, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.

Judging by this performance, Manning knows how to make use of the weapons the Giants have and doesn't need Cruz to remain successful in Fantasy. His bad games can be really bad, but his good games have been frequent enough for you to give him another shot when he returns from a bye Week 9 against Indianapolis.


Andre Holmes comes back down to earth
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:26 am ET) Raiders wide receiver Andre Holmes, who blew up for 121 yards and two touchdowns Week 6 against San Diego, took a long time to get going Week 7 against Arizona, catching his first pass about midway through the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, he finished with just three catches for 34 yards. 

It's not like he was invisible before then. He nearly had a great catch on a long pass along the sidelines in the second quarter, but it was ruled incomplete. He did have only two targets apart from his three receptions, though.

Clearly, it was a disappointing showing, but it's not like quarterback Derek Carr forgot about him. Only James Jones and Darren McFadden had more targets, tying for the team lead with eight. Holmes spent much of the game covered by Patrick Peterson, who remains one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. Holmes still has incredible play-making ability and will have better days.

But this performance shows why you can't trust him on an every-week basis yet. His matchup Week 8 against Cleveland is another tricky one because of cornerback Joe Haden, who has struggled at times this season but limited the Jaguars' Cecil Shorts to three catches for 12 yards in Week 7. You might want to leave Holmes on your bench for this one.


49ers' Phil Dawson makes 1-of-2 field-goal attempts in Week 7
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:22 am ET) 49ers knicker Phil Dawson made only one of his two field-goal attempts in Week 7, adding two extra points in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

Dawson couldn't deliver from 51 yards out in the first quarter, pushing the attempt wide left, but was true from 22 yards out in the second quarter. He's 13 of 16 on field-goal attempts this season but had been 10-for-10 in his previous three games coming into Week 7. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers TE Vernon Davis catches two passes in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught just two of his five targets for 21 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Davis was coming off an ugly Week 6 performance in which he dropped two passes, and he didn't fare much better in the team's blowout loss against the Broncos. He has 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns heading into the team's Week 8 bye. The 49ers will face the Rams after the week off.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree held to 27 yards in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught four of his seven targets for just 27 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

While the 49ers averaged 11.1 yards per reception as a team Sunday, top options Crabtree (6.8 YPC) and Anquan Boldin (7.1 YPC) could find no room to work, leading to disappointing performances despite the offense dialing up 46 passes in the loss. Crabtree hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his last four games, and he owns 32 receptions, 322 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this year. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


Anquan Boldin catches seven passes in 49ers' Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:13 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught seven of his 10 targets for 50 yards in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Boldin had at least one bad drop in the game and was unable to find much room to work downfield. He came into the week average 12.4 yards per reception but managed just 7.1 YPC against the Broncos. Boldin has collected 39 receptions for 447 yards and one touchdown in seven games. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


49ers WR Steve Johnson scores touchdown in Week 7 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:10 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Steve Johnson caught five passes for a team-high 79 yards and one touchdown in his team's 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 7.

Johnson hauled in a four-yard score in the back of the end zone with only 11 seconds left in the first half to send the 49ers into halftime with a 21-10 deficit. The Broncos took over from there, scoring three touchdowns in the third quarter. Johnson has reached the end zone in three of his last four games, and he's up to 25 receptions, 315 yards and three scores on the season. The 49ers have a bye in Week 8 before facing the Rams the following week.


 
 
 
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