We are three weeks into the 2016-17 NFL season, and things are beginning to take shape. The Broncos are still a Super Bowl contender, the Patriots are still one of the top teams in the league even without Tom Brady and the Eagles and Ravens have surprised everyone en route to 3-0 starts. The Cardinals, Bengals and Panthers have struggled out of the gate, while the Falcons, Raiders and Giants look to be playoff contenders.
There is still a long way to go, but we are starting to recognize which teams are for real and which are in for a very long season. This week I’ll give you my Top-10 teams, along with the teams that are trending up and trending down, and then as always, we’ll look at who you should start and sit in fantasy this week.
Jay’s Top-10 Teams
1 – New England Patriots
The New England Patriots lead the NFL in special teams efficiency and are adding nearly twice as many expected… https://t.co/i8aVaIeh6H
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 29, 2016
2 – Minnesota Vikings
The #Vikings defense leads the NFL with 15 sacks through 3 weeks.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 28, 2016
3 – Denver Broncos
Trevor Siemian provides a glimpse of just how overpowering the Broncos can be when their QB actually plays well… https://t.co/cV5yPn4jVR
— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) September 25, 2016
4 – Green Bay Packers
The @packers started with 2 road games for 1st time since 1924 & now won’t play another game outside of Green Bay until Oct. 30th
— trey wingo (@wingoz) September 25, 2016
5 – Pittsburgh Steelers
He’s baaaaaaaaack. https://t.co/0M2K9NUDQO
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 28, 2016
6 – Carolina Panthers
Falcons CB Desmond Trufant mentioned something in an article about defending big WRs. Kelvin Benjamin took note.https://t.co/HBWvEywP3y
— Joe Person (@josephperson) September 29, 2016
7 – Seattle Seahawks
Carroll on Russell Wilson (knee): “He sprained his knee a little bit. He’ll do an incredible job of rehabbing.”
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 25, 2016
8 – Kansas City Chiefs
.@chiefs D could not be STOPPED.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2016
9 – Arizona Cardinals
The Way We See It: Arizona Cardinals’ start correctable but Bruce Arians has a lot of work ahead https://t.co/p0A0QOxXaN
— STL NFL News (@STL_NFLNews) September 27, 2016
10 – Philadelphia Eagles
— Vice President Biden (@VP) September 26, 2016
Next Five Up – Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons
I am willing to admit when I am wrong, and it would appear as though I was probably wrong in my judgement of the Eagles. I mean, I don’t think you can blame me. Wins over Cleveland and Chicago were nothing to write home about. But then this past week, they absolutely annihilated the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-3 in front of a very excited crowd in Philly. Carson Wentz continued to show that he is well on his way to being a top quarterback in the league, throwing for 301 yards and two touchdowns. I know last week I said to pump the brakes on the Wentz Wagon, but again, I’m willing to eat crow when I feel it’s necessary. I’m still not ready to crown him the next king, but Carson Wentz has all the looks of a top-flight NFL quarterback, something Philadelphia has desperately needed since the end of the McNabb era.
With this 3-0 start, talk has shifted to whether or not this team can compete for a playoff spot. They are now at 22-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, and they’ve been tabbed as the new favorite to win the NFC East. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, I think it is fair to call this team a playoff contender, but they have a tough stretch coming up. Their bye is this week, which is honestly the worst possible time for their bye. They have tons of momentum, and a week off could take some of that away. They travel to Detroit following the bye, which should be another win. Then they hit the middle of their schedule, which is a brutal 8-game stretch that will look like this:
at New York Giants
vs Green Bay
They will benefit from playing three divisional home games at the end of the year, but they’ll need to make it through those eight games in order for those games to mean something. They’ve had a terrific start to the year, but they have a lot more to prove in the middle of the season. We’ll see just how good this team is.
One of those teams the Eagles will have to contend with is the Minnesota Vikings, who through three weeks have the look of this year’s Broncos. From seemingly out of nowhere, the Vikings defense has become one of the best in the league, and the numbers back that up. Here’s how they’ve started this season:
Week 1 at Tennessee – 16 points allowed, 2 sacks, 77-yard interception return for TD, 2 fumble recoveries, 24-yard fumble return for TD
Week 2 vs Green Bay – 14 points allowed, 5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries
Week 3 at Carolina – 10 points allowed, 8 sacks, 3 interceptions, 54-yard punt return for TD
It was easy to overlook the performance against the Titans, but the way they played against the two previous NFL MVPs (Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers) cannot be ignored. They dominated both of those games, and I think it is time to call the Vikings’ defense one of the top units in football. They face another high-octane offense this week when they take on the Giants, but based on these first few weeks, the Vikings should handle business once again thanks to their defense. It’s early, but I think the Vikings are the early favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Rams
It’s no secret that Week 1 was a disaster for the Rams. They lost 28-0 to the Rams, and it looked even worse than that. Todd Gurley was invisible and Case Keenum looked horrendous. They were able to bounce back in Week 2 with a 9-3 win in their home opener against Seattle. They have owned the Seahawks as of late, and I think the excited LA crowd helped will the Rams to a victory, because the stats were nothing spectacular. The defense was great, but that is expected.
This past week it finally all came together for the Rams, as they traveled to Tampa Bay and came away with a 37-32 win despite a lengthy weather delay in the 4th quarter. It was an all-around effort for the Rams, with Case Keenum throwing two touchdown passes, Todd Gurley rushing for two scores of his own and a huge 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown early in the final frame from Ethan Westbrooks. Maybe a slight concern that the defense gave up so many yards (472) and so many points, but in a game where the offense needed to step up, it did. West coast teams playing on the East coast is always difficult, and the Rams were able to come away with a victory. They hit the road again this week for a tough matchup with a Cardinals team that desperately needs a win. If the Rams can come out on top this week, they might be for real.
I know I just got done talking about how good the Vikings’ defense is this year, but the Panthers are the defending NFC champions, and they went 15-1 in the regular season last year. Plus they got star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin back. There is no way that they should have been shut down the way they were by the Vikings, and there is one simple reason that they were… their offensive line.
All last season, Cam Newton was able to thrive despite a below-average offensive line, an offensive line that would eventually let him down against Denver in the Super Bowl. Cam has been terrorized twice now this year, against the Broncos and Vikings, the two teams there were able to get pressure on him. It’s clear that teams with a good pass rush will give Carolina trouble, and they’ll have success against teams with a weak front seven. They are still probably the favorites to win the NFC South, but they’ll have to play better if they want to return to the Super Bowl.
New York Jets
I did not think that the Jets would be able to get a win in Kansas City last week, but I did expect them to at least try to compete. Ryan Fitzpatrick turned in the worst performance of his career, going 20/44 for 188 yards and six, yes, SIX interceptions en route to a 24-3 loss. It seemed at times like the Chiefs’ defenders were the intended target for Fitzpatrick.
It was a very discouraging performance from a team that’s looking to challenge the Patriots for the AFC East. One issue is that it might get worse for the Jets before it gets better. Their next three games are vs Seattle, at Pittsburgh and at Arizona. They don’t even play the Patriots until after Thanksgiving, and at that point, the season may be long gone already. They really need to beat the Seahawks this week.
New Orleans Saints
It’s unfortunate for football fans, but the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era in New Orleans is coming to an end, and it doesn’t appear to be going out on top. The Saints fell to 0-3, losing at home to the Falcons on Monday night, 45-32. Drew Brees is still at the top of his game, throwing for over 375 yards and three touchdowns, but the Saints’ defense cannot stop anybody.
They gave up 35 points to the Raiders at home Week 1, then went to New York and only gave up 16 points to the Giants (but gave up a ton of yardage) and Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman went crazy against them on Monday. The Saints can score, but so can every team facing them. They travel to the West coast this week to take on a depleted Chargers team. It’ll be tough after the long trip, but if the Saints can’t get the win, they’ll fall to 0-4, and the contract extension they just gave Brees this past offseason will look like an even bigger mistake than it already does.
Stafford is going to be a Top-10 quarterback for the rest of the season, and a matchup with the depleted Bears’ defense is just the type of matchup that Stafford can exploit. With Ameer Abdullah on the IR, the Lions will want to throw even more. Stafford has developed great chemistry with Marvin Jones, and he also has Golden Tate, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron to toss the rock to. I think Stafford is a Top-3 QB this week, start him if you have him.
Yes, Rivers was here last week, and he didn’t throw a single touchdown pass, so I apologize. But he did throw it 39 times, and ended up with 330 yards in the air. Oh, and he gets to face the Saints at home this week. Yeah, that Saints’ defense that I just got done ripping on. Rivers will tear them apart. Trust me again this week, play Rivers.
Aaron Rodgers owners are going to need a fill-in for this week. I say that you can do a lot worse than Dak. Yes, it’s a road game, but the 49ers’ defense is nothing special. And despite reports that Dez Bryant will not play, I still like his chances to have a really good game. If you need to grab a QB off the waiver wire, go with Dak.
I know you’ll be tempted to start him given his impressive start to this season. Ryan leads the league in passing, but he faces the Panthers this week, and they easily have the best secondary that he’ll have faced so far this season. Don’t feel like you need to start him this week just because he’s been so good. He’s a prime candidate for regression, and that starts this Sunday.
Hey, I can’t be right every time. Yes, I told you to sit him last week and yes, he went off. But that was at home against the 49ers. This week, all the way across the country against an above-average Jets’ secondary, oh, and he has an injured ankle. He may not even play. But if he does, think about sitting him on your bench this week. You can probably do better.
With injuries to Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen, the expectation is that the Giants will lean even more heavily on Eli and the passing game to win them some contests. That probably will hold true as the season continues, but this week the Giants face the Vikings in primetime. The Vikings love to blitz and they have a great secondary. This won’t be Eli’s finest performance.
With Marcus Mariota struggling, the Titans will continue to rely on the run game, and Murray has been fantastic so far this season. He’s been exactly what they were hoping for when they traded for him this offseason. He is also among the leaders in receptions for running backs, so he has added appeal in PPR formats. The Texans defense is good, but Murray gets great volume, and he is an RB1 until they stop giving him the ball, which I don’t see happening anytime soon.
Take advantage of Sims before Doug Martin gets healthy. I know he is facing the Broncos’ defense, but believe it or not, Denver ranks 30th in the league in defending the run. Sims is the every down back with Martin on the shelf, and there aren’t many backs who will get the carries and the targets that he will. Don’t worry about the matchup, start Sims this week.
If you were lucky enough to grab Howard off of your league’s waiver wire this week, congratulations are in order! Howard is clearly the most talented player in the Bears’ backfield, and now it looks like he’ll finally get the opportunity to show what he can do. And there’s no better matchup for him than the Lions. They struggle against the run, and I expect Howard to have a breakout game this week.
Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman
After Monday night, I know you’ll have a hard time sitting these guys. And odds are, you don’t have better options. But if you do have other options, consider sitting these two. The Panthers defense is no joke, and I expect the Falcons’ offense to struggle. I feel more comfortable starting Coleman of the two due to his success in the red zone. Each have received 10 carries from inside the 20-yard line. Coleman has 45 yards and four touchdowns. Freeman has 17 yards and zero touchdowns. Coleman has the better chance to find the end zone, so I’d start him over Freeman.
The Raiders backfield has turned into a three-way timeshare with Murray (32% rush percentage last week), DeAndre Washington (33%) and Jalen Richard (29%). It’s a positive for the Raiders, but a negative for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, you have to depend on touchdowns with Latavius Murray, which he has gotten you so far. He’s a FLEX play at best this week, and probably for the remainder of the season.
It’s probably tempting considering the matchup with the Browns, but the Redskins run game has been virtually nonexistent. It’s the Kirk Cousins show, and Matt Jones is affected most by it. Until the Skins’ offense becomes more balanced, I wouldn’t be comfortable starting Jones.
You may be surprised to see him here, but it’s only because he put up a goose egg last week, and I’m here to assure you that it will only be viewed as an outlier in an otherwise great season. The Vikings’ defense didn’t give Cam time to breathe, let alone find Benjamin on the outside. Kelvin will bounce back against the Falcons this week, and produce closer to what he did in the first two weeks of the season.
Travis Benjamin/Tyrell Williams
See Philip Rivers above. But seriously, the Chargers are going to throw, and these are the top two guys. Benjamin is the de facto #1 option, and Tyrell Williams has quietly had at least 60 receiving yards in each of the first three games this year. Benjamin is a WR2 this week, and Williams is a great FLEX play with WR2 upside.
Vontae Davis will shadow Allen Robinson, and in the two meetings last year against Indianapolis, Hurns went off. He had 11 receptions for 116 yards and a score in the first game, then had 3 grabs for 105 yards and another score in the second matchup. Blake Bortles is going to throw, and Robinson could be blanketed all day long. I like Hurns a lot this week.
Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker
Both have injury concerns, and they’re facing the Seahawks. It’s as simple as that. I like the Jets to have a good shot to win the game, but for fantasy purposes, I don’t like Marshall or Decker.
I know, you’re almost definitely starting Cooks this week if you have him. He was very quiet against the Falcons, and Drew Brees likes to spread the ball around. He’s still a Top-10 wide receiver this week for most experts, but Jason Verrett has been fantastic for San Diego so far this season. He’ll be on Cooks for most of the day. You’re going to start Cooks, but just don’t be surprised if he has another rough day.
Baldwin had a 2015-esque performance last week against San Francisco, but with his quarterback banged up and a trip East to New York, I don’t see Baldwin having the same type of performance this week. Revis Island isn’t as daunting a trip as it used to be, but it’s enough along with those other factors for me to sit Baldwin this week.
Start tight ends facing the Raiders. The rule still applies until they prove me otherwise. Plus, he has been targeted 20 times in the last two games, so Flacco clearly likes to throw the rock Pitta’s way. Pick him up if he’s still somehow available in your league. If you have him, start him this week.
Thank you Sam Bradford! He has turned Rudolph into a TE1 despite being drafted as a TE2 (if he was even drafted in your league). He’s a huge target in the middle of the field and in the red zone. The Vikings’ offense hasn’t lit the world on fire, but the Giants’ defense is a good matchup. I like Rudolph this week.
Don’t be tempted to pick him up and start him. Yes, Antonio Gates is hurt and yes, they are facing the Saints. I just don’t think Henry is a very talented pass catcher or route runner, and that will hold him back. Rivers has other targets, and you’ll likely have other tight ends available that you have a better chance to get more out of this week.
I don’t see the Gronk/Bennett combo being anything like the Gronk/Hernandez combo was. It was nice to have Bennett while Gronk was out, but with him back in the lineup, and not as a decoy like he clearly was used last week, Bennett’s fantasy value takes a major hit. Especially this week against a Bills’ defense that effectively shut down the high-powered Cardinals’ offense last week.