Preseason Week 3 Matchups with Major Fantasy Football Implications
It's the third week of the 2013 preseason, and that can mean only one thing.
It's dress rehearsal time!
Starters will see their most extensive action of the preseason this week, with many first-stringers playing an entire half or more.
It's those third preseason games that can give us the most insight into how the undecided position battles around the NFL are shaking out.
That information is of particular interest to fantasy football enthusiasts, as the next two weekends are the busiest of fantasy draft season. This week's games will have a significant impact on fantasy cheat sheets.
With that in mind, here's a look at what to watch for in the biggest matchups this week from a fantasy football perspective.
New England Patriots at Detroit Lions (August 22, 7:30 P.M. EDT)
Two of the NFL's most prolific passing offenses from 2012 will meet Thursday night in the Motor City, when the New England Patriots travel to face the Detroit Lions.
However, fantasy owners will mostly be focused on the Patriots. Thursday's game could offer the best inkling as to how the retooled passing attack for the Patriots will break down what we've received to date.
In last week's win over the Buccaneers, quarterback Tom Brady was locked onto wideout Danny Amendola. Amendola had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in just over a quarter of work, but it now appears that Amendola may not play against Detroit due to an unknown injury, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.
Meanwhile, the starting spot opposite Amendola remains up for grabs. Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins drew the start ahead of fellow first-year pro Aaron Dobson against Tampa Bay, but both could see extensive playing time if Amendola sits Thursday.
How heavily each player is targeted could provide valuable insight as to which wideout is draftable as a WR4 and which is best left on the waiver wire.
Finally, with star tight end Rob Gronkowski likely out until at least Week 3, according to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld's fantasy value has skyrocketed of late.
Thursday's game will give us the best look we've gotten so far as to how confident Brady is in the youngster. If Sudfeld gets a decent number of targets, the former Nevada standout will be squarely on fantasy radars as a low-end TE1.
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers (August 23, 8:00 P.M. EDT)
A pair of Super Bowl contenders from the NFC will meet Friday in Titletown, and while the Green Bay Packers may be best known for their aerial attack, it's the ground game that will be the focus for fantasy owners.
Second-round rookie Eddie Lacy was impressive in last week's victory over the St. Louis Rams, gaining 40 yards on eight carries. The performance caused one NFL scout to tell Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, "They got a steal getting him where they got him. He's as advertised."
However, when the Packers returned to practice Monday, it was DuJuan Harris, and not Lacy, who received the first touches with the first-team offense.
If Lacy can run as well against a stout Seattle defense as he did against the Rams, the rookie should cement his status as the Packers' lead back and a fantasy RB2.
Meanwhile, fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin has struggled in camp, and unless he can pull the proverbial rabbit out of his helmet on Friday, he's draftable only in the deepest of fantasy football leagues.
New York Jets vs. New York Giants (August 24, 7:00 P.M. EDT)
Much like with Eddie Lacy and the Packers, the biggest storyline in "the battle of New York" will take place in the backfield for the New York Giants.
Second-year pro David Wilson and veteran Andre Brown appear headed for a full-blown committee attack for the G-Men, at least if the first two preseason games are any indication.
Through two games, Wilson has 13 carries, while Brown has carried the ball 12 times.
Bleacher Report NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon believes Wilson has done enough to earn the job as the Giants' lead back, but if this nearly even split continues against the Jets, it will be harder to justify taking Wilson as a top-20 fantasy option in 2013.
Brown, on the other hand, is looking more and more like a value pick as a fantasy RB3 or "flex" option, especially since he would all but certainly see the goal-line work in this timeshare.
Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars (August 24, 7:30 P.M. EDT)
With the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars, it's not so much a matter of position battles as it is seeing the starters in extended action.
The quarterback competition in the City of Brotherly Love appears to be over. As Martin Frank of USA Today reports, head coach Chip Kelly named Michael Vick the starter on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old has been impressive in two preseason games at the helm of Kelly's uptempo offense, and if Vick can make it 3-for-3, then the veteran will solidify his status both as an upside QB1 pick and another reason to wait to draft a fantasy starter under center this year.
Meanwhile, Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew saw his first action of the year last week against the New York Jets.
MJD's three carries for nine yards was hardly an impressive stat line, but the 28-year-old at least appeared healthy.
If Jones-Drew gets some more work Saturday and runs well against the Eagles, it will go a long way toward instilling some confidence in the NFL's leading rusher from 2011 as a bounce-back RB2 candidate after an injury-marred 2012 campaign.
Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (August 24, 7:30 P.M. EDT)
The Pittsburgh Steelers' hopes of reestablishing a ground game that ranked near the bottom of the NFL last year have taken a major hit, as have the rosters of many fantasy football teams.
That's because Le'Veon Bell, who the Steelers drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft to be the team's featured back, will miss at least six weeks due to a Lisfranc sprain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
That injury has left fantasy owners who drafted Bell as a RB2 scrambling to find a replacement, and those owners will be watching this game very closely to try to gain some insight on what Pittsburgh's plans are moving forward.
It will most likely be a three-headed committee in Pittsburgh, with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman serving as the early-down backs while LaRod Stephens-Howling gets some work on passing downs.
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Redman will likely draw the start Saturday against the Chiefs, but how touches are split between the trio (and who is the most effective) will be the predominant fantasy storyline of the game.
St. Louis Rams at Denver Broncos (August 24, 8:00 P.M. EDT)
There may not be a Week 3 preseason game with more fantasy subplots than the contest in the Mile High City between the St. Louis Rams and Denver Broncos.
For the Rams, the battle in the backfield appears to be tilting heavily in the favor of Daryl Richardson. The second-year pro has already been named the Week 1 starter, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, but that isn't exactly a surprise with Isaiah Pead serving a one-game suspension.
However, Richardson has significantly outperformed Pead in the preseason, and Richardson could strengthen his grip on the top job with a strong showing against the Broncos.
In fact, Phil Clark of Fantasy Knuckleheads sees Richardson as a huge value in fantasy drafts right now, writing that the 23-year-old is worth a pick three rounds earlier than his current average draft position.
If Richardson is going too late, then rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin and tight end Jared Cook are going too soon, at least based off of their production so far in the preseason.
Austin, who is being taken as the first Rams pass-catcher of fantasy draft boards, is averaging a paltry seven yards a catch on four receptions. Cook has made only one catch in two games.
Granted, it's too early to hit the panic button on either player, but if neither pro makes a dent against the Broncos, concerns about their fantasy prospects will only grow.
There's plenty of fantasy drama in Denver as well. Running backs Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman are in a tight race to start at tailback. Hillman appeared to have taken the lead, but as Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post reports, a goal-line fumble in last week's loss to the Seattle Seahawks may have set the second-year man back.
It will be very interesting to see how the carries on the ground are divided between the pair, or if Knowshon Moreno works back into the mix now that he's back at practice.
Also, Saturday's game will be our last chance to see how Peyton Manning distributes passes to his talented trio of wide receivers.
To this point, Eric Decker has been the odd man out, making only one catch for 10 yards. Meanwhile, tight end Julius Thomas has come from nowhere to lead the team in receiving.
Should Decker's fantasy owners be worried? Is Thomas the real deal and a legitimate fantasy sleeper?
Hopefully Saturday will provide some clarity in this regard.
Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys (August 24, 8:00 P.M. EDT)
Another game, another backfield battle.
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard drew the start last week for the Cincinnati Bengals, and the second-round pick was impressive against the Tennessee Titans.
Bernard tallied over 60 total yards in the first quarter alone, scoring a short-yardage touchdown for the second straight week.
As Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports reports, Bernard showcased an element of explosiveness that the Bengals ground game has sorely lacked in recent years. "He looked decisive," Schwab said, "and had the physical ability to get to the second level."
Granted, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still going to be a part of the Bengals ground game, but if Bernard plays well against the Dallas Cowboys, then the youngster may ascend to the lead role (and fantasy RB2 value) sooner than many believed.
New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans (August 25, 4:00 P.M. EDT)
It may seem that we have running backs on the brain.
You're right, we do.
With the number of true "featured" backs dwindling and the number of running back committees growing, any information that can be gleaned about fantasy football's most valuable position is absolutely crucial.
Arian Foster of the Houston Texans was a top-three pick as recently as a month ago. However, the 26-year-old hasn't seen the field since May, and Foster isn't expected to play in any of Houston's preseason games as a result of soreness in his back.
That soreness required painkilling injections, and Foster's fantasy stock has been slipping.
Foster did return to practice Wednesday, however, and Tania Ganguli of ESPN reports head coach Gary Kubiak said, "He looked good, he looked fresh to me, he looked quick."
The fifth-year pro won't be suiting up Sunday, though, and that leaves Ben Tate, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards two years ago, to start against New Orleans.
Tate has shown some ability to shoulder the load in Foster's stead. However, Tate had his own injury issues last year and was ineffective last week against the Miami Dolphins, gaining only 12 yards on four carries.
If Tate can't get it done against a Saints defense that allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL by a wide margin last year, then fantasy owners hoping to use Tate as insurance against a Foster injury are going to be left with an even more difficult draft-day decision.