Playing the matchups is a key strategy that often separates fantasy football gurus from the chumps that constantly finish last in their leagues.
By Week 3, most teams have had their defensive flaws exposed and are allowing big points to certain positions—a trend that should continue throughout the rest of the 2013 NFL campaign.
Let’s take a look at some players that are currently flying under the radar, but are worthy of a start in some leagues due to their Week 3 opponents.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals (at New Orleans Saints)
The Cardinals have a tough showdown with the high-powered Saints on Sunday, but it’s a juicy matchup for fantasy owners that took a flier on Mendenhall.
Although he’s gained just 126 yards on 31 carries this season, the former Pittsburgh Steeler finally found pay dirt in Week 2 with a critical, game-winning score from one yard out.
Mendenhall could improve upon that performance against New Orleans, as the Saints defense is giving up an average of 76.5 yards on the ground per game and appears vulnerable to opposing rushers.
With Ryan Williams hardly contributing this season, Mendenhall is the only serviceable option the Cardinals have coming out of the backfield.
If Arizona is going to run some clock and keep opposing quarterback Drew Brees’ prolific offense off the field, it will need to pound the ball with the veteran rusher.
Give Mendenhall a start in deeper leagues as a flex option.
Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (at Philadelphia Eagles)
Head coach Andy Reid is making his much-anticipated return to Philadelphia, this time as the enemy. It should be a thrilling Thursday Night Football game that has a lot of fantasy implications.
Quarterback Alex Smith could be the main beneficiary of Reid’s innate knowledge of the opponent, especially considering the Eagles are already giving up so many yards through the air.
The team currently ranks No. 31 in the league in pass defense and concedes an average of 360.5 passing yards per game. It’s a leaky secondary that a pinpoint passer like Smith will enjoy carving up throughout the evening.
Smith has yet to throw an interception on the year and, as long as he plays it safe, should be able to avoid turnovers once again in Week 3.
The veteran signal-caller is a dark horse to put up plenty of passing yards and touchdowns, so give Smith a start in most formats if you don’t have a better option under center.
Jerome Simpson, WR, Minnesota Vikings (vs. Cleveland Browns)
Simpson burst onto the scene this year with a 140-yard performance in Week 1, but was held in check this past Sunday, generating 49 yards on just two receptions.
While he had a tough matchup against a fast and opportunistic Chicago Bears secondary, he could breach the 100-yard mark again against the Cleveland Browns.
With top corner Joe Haden largely expected to mark No. 1 receiver Greg Jennings, the lightning-fast and ultra-athletic Simpson should see nothing but single coverage and easily get open for Christian Ponder.
Remember, the Browns allowed Brian Hartline—the Miami Dolphins' second option—to scorch them for 114 yards and a score on nine receptions. Marlon Brown of the Baltimore Ravens chipped in four receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown against that secondary as well.
As long as he gets at least seven targets, Simpson is going to bust at least one big play and should easily hit 100 yards and a score.
He is a surefire starter in most deep leagues and for owners unsure of their WR3 or flex option in Week 3.