November 25, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches the pass for a touchdown as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Leonard Johnson (29) defends during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Week three of the 2014 NFL season will kick off tonight when the Buccaneers pay a visit to the Georgia Dome for a divisional showdown with the Falcons. From a fantasy football perspective, there will be some notable players taking the field tonight – some of which will be looking to rebound from disappointing week two performances, while others look to continue their hot starts.
Tampa Bay is looking to avoid a 0-3 start after many experts had predicted them as a sleeper wildcard team in the NFC during the preseason. Their first two games have both been divisional losses, so a third divisional loss in a row to open the season could be crippling to their playoff hopes down the road. The entire Buccaneers passing attack is off to a slow start in 2014, but a matchup with the 31st ranked Falcons pass defense could be just what quarterback Josh McCown needs to have his first breakout game of the year. Even though he didn’t throw for a touchdown in last week’s loss to the Rams, McCown rushed for two TDs, salvaging his fantasy day for owners who were brave enough or forced into using him. While certainly not on the QB1 radar, he does make for an upside QB2 play this week. Much will be made about the Falcons receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones heading into tonight’s game, but the Buccaneers tandem of Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans can also put pressure on opposing defensive backfields. Jackson and Evans only combined for 100 receiving yards last week, but I expect the Bucs to air it out early and often in tonight’s game in attempts to keep up with the Falcons potent aerial attack. Jackson is due for one of his signature blow up games, and in two meetings against the Falcons last year he totaled a ridiculous 20 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Fire up Jackson as a high ceiling WR1 tonight and expect him to be in the mix for the top scoring wide receiver of week 2. Meanwhile, Evans is looking for the first signature game of his young career. Jackson will be the focal point of Tampa’s passing attack, but Evans is WR3 play this week with WR2 upside. He has seen a healthy 13 targets over the first two games, and McCown already seems to have confidence and trust in the young rookie. At tight end, Brandon Myers is off the fantasy radar, even as a TE2. Until he develops more chemistry with McCown, he is best left in the free agent pool. Filling in for Doug Martin, backup running back Bobby Rainey was one of the lone fantasy bright spots for the Buccaneers offense in last week’s loss. He racked up an impressive 144 rushing yards on only 22 attempts (6.5 YPC) against what is advertised as a very strong Rams front seven. Rainey also chipped in 3 catches for 30 receiving yards, showing his ability to contribute as a three-down back. Reports have surfaced Thursday afternoon that regular starter Doug Martin will likely miss tonight’s game, giving Rainey another chance to feature as Tampa’s primary ball carrier. Atlanta’s run defense is also near the bottom of the league, ranked 26th in the NFL heading into week 3. If Martin does not play, and every indication is that he won’t, I’m confident slotting Rainey into my lineup as a high-end RB2, with a repeat performance of last week not out of the question.
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Atlanta hopes some home cooking will help erase the taste of their week two loss to Cincinnati. Much like the Saints and Seahawks in their respective stadiums, the Falcons are a different team when playing inside the Georgia Dome. Quarterback Matt Ryan has a sparkling 37-10 record at home since he took over the starting job as a rookie in 2008. Although Ryan struggled last week, throwing only one touchdown versus three interceptions, I fully expect him to bounce back tonight against an average Tampa pass defense (ranked 16th in the NFL). Also working in Ryan’s favor is the return of tackle Jake Mathews to the starting lineup. Mathews has been dealing with an ankle sprain, but is fully expected to start at left tackle tonight after practicing full on Tuesday. I view Ryan as a top five QB play this week, and fantasy owners should expect a vast improvement over last week’s performance. Although he hasn’t practiced this week, wide receiver Roddy White is fully expected to suit up and play in this divisional matchup. While it is difficult to predict whether White will be on some kind of snap count, I expect him to see plenty of action in obvious passing situations, while providing fantasy owners with low-end WR2 output. Even if his game action is limited, White is still a favorite red zone target of Matt Ryan, so a touchdown to go along with 60-80 receiving yards is certainly plausible. On the opposite side, fellow receiver Julio Jones is a clear top 5 wide receiver option this week. Even in last week’s loss to the Bengals, Jones was still able to haul in 7 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, he has recorded at least 7 catches in each of the team’s first two games. Volume and yardage should come in steady doses tonight, especially with White operating at less than 100%. The tight end position is a weak play for both teams, as Levine Toilolo is completely touchdown dependent for fantasy relevance. He should only be rostered in dynasty leagues. Of all 32 teams, the Falcons may have the biggest full-blown running back by committee situation in the league. Steven Jackson is the unquestioned starter, but touches have been somewhat split between he, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, and Devonta Freeman. Jackson figures to see the majority of the carries as well as short yardage work, making him the only Falcons running back worth starting this week. He is a mid-range RB3/Flex with potential for RB2 scoring if he is able to punch in a score from the goal line. In a game where the Falcons project to take an early lead, Jackson may also produce late game yardage on the ground as clock management becomes a factor. Rodgers, Smith, and Freeman are best left on fantasy benches for now, and likely won’t be relevant in the near future outside of a Jackson injury.
Score Prediction: Falcons 31, Buccaneers 23