5 NFL matchups to watch closely in Week 3

The key to winning your fantasy football game this week might boil down to these scenarios. 

Mar 3, 2020, 2:29 am*

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Ramon Ramirez

In All-Time Quarterback, 12-year fantasy football veteran Ramon Ramirez goes inside the week’s key match-ups, searching for sleeper picks and advising you on tough line-up decisions.

Full disclosure: I’m 0-2 in two leagues. I’m not stressing yet.  Slow starts are fine, provided you use the resulting high-waiver priorities to hoard talent. By now you know what works and what holes will kill your projected point totals.

Running back Chris Johnson was a first-round fantasy selection for me, and for whatever reason, he’s ineffective under new Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak. (An 18-game sampling—16 last season, two thus far—is more than enough data to draw that conclusion from).  As for the Arizona Cardinals, no matter how many “we’re going to give Larry Fitzgerald the ball and my new plan is working well in practice” blog posts surfaced this week, the best receiver of his era will never translate his talent and heart to the box score as long as Kevin Kolb is his quarterback. 0-3 is not an option. I’m benching Wes Welker and moving on to the situational plays—Donnie Avery, Brian Hartline, Michael Crabtree, Dennis Pitta—because going forward the hole will be my fault.

But enough about my squad. Keep a close eye on these one-on-one battles, because they are either opportunities to mine points or red flags you want no part of this week.

Five matchups to watch closely

1) Ramses Barden vs. Chris Gamble

Hakeem Nicks re-aggravated his foot during practice and the Offensive Player of the Week is out Thursday night at Carolina. Dominik Hixon is smartly sitting this one out with concussion issues. The New York Giants are also out lead runner Ahmad Bradshaw and offensive lineman David Diehl. Eli Manning should be fine, because he’s facing a secondary that allowed the most yards per pass attempt—8.4—last season and is basically fielding the same fledgling faces. Against Carolina Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble, Giants receiver Ramses Barden needs shine. He’s a talented guy that’s been buried in the depth chart since 2009, and at stake is a recurring role in weekly prime-time drama, Eli’s Garage.

2) Adrian Peterson vs. Aldon Smith

Given the inhuman return to form since tearing his MCL and ACL last December, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is a miracle. But beyond the feat, he hasn’t looked particularly dominant. I don’t think he’s up for 20 carries against San Francisco’s front seven. He’ll be lucky to net 60 yards rushing with 49ers’ Aldon Smith holding down the line. Benching Peterson seems unimaginable, but please do if your fantasy bench boasts guys like Jonathan Dwyer, Shonn Greene, or DeAngelo Williams.

3) Brandon Weeden vs. Mario Williams

We were ready to anoint Weeden as the most miserable and overmatched quarterback in the NFL after the 28-year-old rookie threw four interceptions in his debut for the Cleveland Browns . He’s the old guy at parties that only brings a modest bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Then he looked decent against a fairly competent Cincinnati Bengals secondary in Week 2. The ultimate test: Can he handle an elite pass rusher in Buffalo Bills’ Mario Williams, who just unveiled his own breakfast cereal?

4) Ben Roethlisberger vs. the West Coast

Fantasy heads are jacked about Roethlisberger flying in his bros to beat up on a terrible secondary. But the Pittsburgh Steelers’ deep threat Emmanuel Sanders is questionable, and the offensive line has yet to recover from the late preseason loss of first-round pick David DeCastro. More importantly, Big Ben’s Steelers have struggled mightily in California, and are 0-2 at Oakland. I see a sluggish 21-14 game where Steelers running back Isaac Redman vultures you in the red zone.

5) Detroit Lions vs. raised expectations

Position for position, no NFL team has as many fantasy-relevant guys as the young and fiery Detroit Lions. They’ve underperformed—by their high standards—two weeks in a row. You need them all to do big things against the terrible Tennessee Titans. Count on it. There’s nothing to fear in Nashville, and it’s safe to expect a 35-point, “Oklahoma State opening against Savannah State” type of afternoon. This means fringe starters like Nate Burleson and Mikel LeShoure are worth a play.

Sleeper picks: Week 3

I’d start these players Sunday with confidence in leagues with at least 10 owners. To be painfully obvious, never bench a stalwart fixture, but work these guys in if you have a shaky spot in your lineup

  • Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Curtis Brinkley, RB, San Diego Chargers
  • Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams
  • Brandon Gibson, WR, St. Louis Rams
  • Randy Moss, WR, San Francisco 49ers
  • Jason Witten, TE, Dallas Cowboys
  • Deion Branch, WR (FLEX), New England Patriots

The Washington Redskins have allowed consecutive 300-yard passers in their first two games. The Redskins are going to be in shootouts all season because their offense moves in large chunks with big plays, and they’ve struggled to kill clock. Geico all-star Brian Orakpo is out indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle, and their pass rush is among the least threatening in the NFL. All of that bodes well for Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton. He has time and targets: Jermaine Gresham is a gargoyle tight end, Armon Binns and Andrew Hawkins are speedy plug-ins, and A.J. Green has the tools to become the most complete wideout in the NFL as he blossoms. I’d start Dalton this week over guys like Phillip Rivers or Eli Manning.

Curtis Brinkley is the prime backup to injury-prone first rounder Ryan Matthews. He should approach last week’s 18 carries. Steven Jackson has owners scrambling for other options: He had a grain stroin and he’s working with a new head coach in Tennessee. Relax—this isn’t Jeff Fisher stubbornly starting Kerry Collins over Vince Young for all of 2008. Jackson should carry 20 times and score.

Brandon Gibson has two straight weeks with touchdowns and has emerged as Sam Bradford’s number two target. Danny Amendola’s unlimited salad and breadsticks performances should be quelled by a tough Bears secondary, and Gibson’s larger frame should benefit.

We now know what to expect from Randy Moss. He remains otherworldly talented, but he hasn’t gotten his due in the 49ers’ ground game-led offense. In a Minnesota homecoming given all the post-Daunte Culpepper bad blood? No way he won’t get his: “Straight cash, homey.”

Jason Witten went late in your draft because his alarming spleen laceration terrified everyone. He’s been on many fantasy benches, and it’s time for him to become a weekly must start. His missed catches and bad routes in Seattle were a result of rust; he’s too proud and talented to not bounce back.

The Patriots cut Deion Branch during training camp and re-signed him this week in the aftermath of Aaron Hernandez’s ankle sprain. They also signed Kellen Winslow, and he’s the sexier unknown; I think he’s more of a short-term project. Look for New England to shift back into their four-receiver no huddle sets, and for Branch, a crafty veteran with extended experience scoring in Baltimore, to strike back.

Photo by AJ Guel

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*First Published: Sep 20, 2012, 2:27 pm