Each week, TSN.ca's NFL Editor Justin Boone and Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen will compare fantasy football rankings and provide justification for some of the more notable differences in their opinions.
Cam Newton (at Falcons) vs. Tom Brady (at Bills)
Cullen (Newton #4, Brady #10) - I know this one requires a leap of faith, because Newton didn't play well against the Giants last week, nor did he play well in Atlanta last season (21-for-35, 237 yards, 3 INT), but that kind of loss to the Giants on national television should be humbling, so I'm expecting some bounce back.
There also exists the possibility that the Panthers will fall behind, requiring them to play catch-up, which should mean more passing. Even if it turns out not to be a big passing performance, I could see the Panthers (including Newton) grinding away on the ground, trying to keep the ball away from the Falcons' passing game, so there are multiple ways for Newton to contribute.
I am all for Tom Brady having a monster week - he's been my keeper league QB for years - but he ranks 12th in fantasy points thus far (Newton's admittedly 13th) and that relative mediocrity, combined with his receiving corps thinning (TE Aaron Hernandez hurt, TE Kellen Winslow released, WR Julian Edelman hurt), along with some level of faith in Buffalo's defence, has me lukewarm on Brady for this week.
Boone (Brady #4, Newton #7) - Brady may have lost Hernandez, but the majority of his weapons are still in place. The only thing missing from Brady's stat lines this season have been higher touchdown totals, as he is averaging 295 yards per game and only has one interception on the year. Now, Brady gets a Bills' defence that has taken advantage of the Chiefs and Browns in the last two weeks, but has yet to truly prove their worth against a legitimate threat. In two meetings with Buffalo last season, Brady posted a combined 725 passing yards and seven touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd will be in for a busy day in Western New York.
Newton is experiencing a regression in his sophomore season. When he struggled against the Panthers in Week 3, Newton sulked on the sidelines, which is not a good sign for the leader of the team. In 2012, Newton has thrown five picks through three games and has only rushed for more than six yards once. His opponent this week has seen their defence improve immensely in the first three weeks. The Falcons have the seventh ranked passing defence, holding quarterbacks under 208 yards per game and hauling in seven interceptions thus far. There will be no room for error on the road in Atlanta.
Alfred Morris (at Buccaneers) vs. Stevan Ridley (at Bills)
Boone (Ridley #12, Morris #14) - It's a matchup of two running backs that are new to the fantasy landscape this season. Ridley is coming off his worst game of the year, but that's because the Patriots turned to a more no-huddle approach, which kept Ridley on the sidelines. Both Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden will remain involved in the passing attack, but Ridley is a bruising rusher and that's where he will rack up his fantasy points. I'm expecting a high scoring affair between the Patriots and Bills (they combined for 125 points in two games last year). Ridley will be back in the gameplan and one of several Patriots finding the end zone this weekend, making him a high end RB2.
Everyone doubted the Redskins backfield primarily because of head coach Mike Shanahan's tendency to rotate his rushers at will. That hasn't happened this year and Morris has run away with the starting job. With Roy Helu on IR and Evan Royster nursing an injury, Morris will continue to dominate carries. Ready for the bad news? The Buccaneers' defence is much stronger against the run than they were a year ago. Greg Schiano has his group playing so well that they are number one in run defence, allowing a mere 47.3 yards per game. The way to attack the Bucs is with the pass and Robert Griffin III will have no worries taking to the air in this one.
Cullen (Morris #11, Ridley #18) - Apparently I'm the Patriots cynic this week, which is an unusual position for me to take. Ridley's role has decreased the last couple of weeks and while Week 3 (13 carries, 37 yards) was surely a function of playing against the Ravens' run defence, the trend isn't great. Additionally, the Bills held Trent Richardson to 27 yards rushing last week and held Kansas City to 53 rushing yards through three quarters the week before (after which the Chiefs added 97 rushing yards in the fourth quarter of what had been a 35-3 blowout). In any case, uncertainty over Ridley's role, combined with Buffalo's defence performing better (against admittedly lesser competition) raises some Ridley doubt.
Morris gets a tough test, going against the best run defence in the league through the first three weeks (Tampa Bay), but Morris hasn't run for fewer than 78 yards in a game yet and three touchdowns in three games is easy to like too. Trust is always an issue when it comes to Mike Shanahan's running backs but, right now, Morris has been productive enough to warrant some measure of faith this week.
Miles Austin (vs. Bears) vs. Steve Smith (at Falcons)
Cullen (Austin #7, Smith #18) - Well, we're at a crossroads on the Carolina Panthers passing game it appears. I'm optimistic that Newton can have a productive day and, while that likely would involve Steve Smith, that doesn't have to be the case either. TE Greg Olsen doesn't have a touchdown yet, but ranks eighth among tight ends in yardage (167) and Brandon LaFell's production (182 yards, 1 TD) has been solid too, so it's possible that Newton could still have a productive game, which I'm counting on, and without touchdown-less Steve Smith being the primary beneficiary.
Meanwhile, Austin is the most trustworthy of Dallas' pass catchers. Jason Witten hasn't been the same since suffering his spleen injury in the preseason and no one knows what to expect from Dez Bryant from week to week. Kevin Ogletree is fine complementary player, but if the Cowboys are going to move the ball against the Bears Monday night, I like Austin, who ranks sixth in fantasy points (243 yards, 2 TD) so far, to remain a focal point for QB Tony Romo.
Boone (Smith #9, Austin #22) - Smith has the third most receiving yards in the NFL this year behind only Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green. The only problem for the Panthers' top target is that he has yet to do a touchdown celebration because he hasn't made it to the end zone in 2012. Despite Newton's inconsistency early in the year, Smith has still filled the boxscore each week with big yardage totals and he will continue that trend against the Falcons. The veteran Smith is matchup proof at this point and he's overdue for a score, making him a solid top 10 play in Week 4.
When the Cowboys' offence had trouble against the Seahawks' defence we gave the credit to Seattle. However, a second straight bad week, this time against the Bucs, exposed Dallas' flaws which mostly revolved around their offensive line. With the Bears visiting this week, Tony Romo will be dealing with a premiere defence hounding him for 60 minutes on Monday Night Football. It's makes for a tough matchup for Romo and company against the league's sixth best passing defence. Austin is still worthy of a start, but I see him as a low end WR2 or high end WR3 depending on your league.