Week 3 is shaping up as the first “NBA style” Sunday morning of the NFL season. By that, I mean we have some very important injury news that we need before we can finalize any rosters. The difference between my James Starks/Bilal Powell lineups and my lineups if Eddie Lacy/Chris Ivory are healthy is massive. This isn’t going to be a “set it and forget it” kind of slate.

The point of this column is to use the news, snap count, usage and trends to both be a little contrarian and avoid whiffs.


1. Injuries to the Jets’ wideout corps

I’m not going to overthink Brandon Marshall this week. With Eric Decker (knee) doubtful, Chris Owusu (knee) out and Jace Amaro (shoulder) on IR, Ryan Fitzpatrick should be zoomed in on Marshall. His other options will be gifted yet unknown Quincy Enunwa, banished Jeremy Kerley and a not-yet-ready Devin Smith. Thanks to the Eagles’ rabid pace (they are averaging just 21.14 seconds per play on offense, second-least in the league) as well as a capable run defense that funnels action toward the secondary, we can safely project Marshall for at least eight targets. Even if he’s double-teamed consistently, he’ll pay off his $6200 salary by destroying Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll.

2. Melvin Gordon before the big game

Dion Lewis was 1 percent owned in this qualifier Jonathan Bales took down last week and Lewis was also 1 percent owned in the Milly Maker. I’d project him somewhere in the 15-20 percent range this week – meaning it’s too late for him to be the key piece of a winning GPP lineup. The key is to get out in front of a player’s breakout game and there’s reason to believe this is the week for Melvin Gordon.

The Vikings have been getting gouged by the run for the last calendar year and are giving up 4.87 YPC (30th in NFL) through two weeks this season. Gordon has received 17 touches in each of the first two weeks even though the Chargers fell behind 21-3 in the second quarter against the Lions and 24-13 in the fourth quarter to the Bengals. Last week, the Chargers called Gordon’s number on six of their first seven plays and gave him 12 touches in the first half while Danny Woodhead got three. Even though Woodhead is still the primary passing back and will get a majority of the red-zone chances, Gordon’s big game is coming.


1. Demaryius Thomas against Rashean Mathis and the Lions’ secondary

A) Although the Ndamukong Suh/Nick Fairley-less Lions have regressed sharply against the run early this season, this defense still has the mold of the funnels we like to attack. That’s due to a shaky secondary group that features 35-year-old starting CB Rashean Mathis, whom Demaryius Thomas will be running plenty of routes at Sunday.

B) We also have a regression up to the mean spot for DT, as he’s seen zero red-zone targets through the first two weeks after leading the NFL in that category last year with 40.  Meanwhile, Emmanuel Sanders already has two touchdowns while out-targeting Thomas overall. Expect Peyton Manning to make a point of highlighting Thomas’ plus matchup.

C) At the end of the wild Week 2 win over the Chiefs, we saw the Broncos finally figure out that Peyton has to play in the shotgun and fast to be effective. So even though Gary Kubiak wants to be a run-based, under-center methodical/tradition offense, he (hopefully) now realizes he can’t do that with this version of Manning.
D) While all the ownership gravitates toward Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, Thomas sits at a full $1000 cheaper than Julio and will have far less traffic. These are ideal GPP-play conditions.

2. Eric Ebron as the lesser of evils for Stafford

This is a very difficult spot for the Lions even though they are at home. Matthew Stafford is battered, the offensive line will be overmatched against an elite Denver pass rush and the wideouts are in for a long day. Chris Harris, PFF’s No. 1 corner in 2014 and No. 8 in 2013, will be on Golden Tate all day while Calvin Johnson will see beastly Aqib Talib.

Enter Ebron, who is taking a step forward in his second year with a 9-96-2 line on a whopping 15 targets already. Perhaps most importantly, Ebron has a run a route on 73 of the Lions’ 89 pass plays this season and Brandon Pettigrew (hamstring) remains sidelined. Ebron’s ascension fits well this week, as the aforementioned offensive line issues coupled with poor wideout matchups mean Stafford will want to get the ball out quickly. I’d rather get on Ebron than chase Crockett Gillmore if punting at tight end.


1. Marcus Mariota and Kendall Wright

This IND/TEN game has sneaky upside as a shootout. Going after the Colts’ soft belly and the Titans’ inept secondary has become a weekly tradition – and now they meet. Indy has been torn up by Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick through two weeks, giving up a 67.9 completion percentage, 439 yards and 3 TDs. Now they have to deal with Marcus Mariota, who has a wildly impressive 8.79 yards-per-attempt average and six touchdowns through his first two NFL games.

The key to this stack is understanding how the Colts use their corners. Stud shadow corner Vontae Davis (probable, concussion) has played zero slot snaps so far this season and was in the slot on 16 of his 1,039 snaps last year, per PFF. Meanwhile, Kendall Wright has been in the slot on 76.5 percent of his snaps this season and 74.8 percent last year. So he’ll face a lot of Jalil Brown with No. 2/3 corners Darius Butler and Greg Toler both out again. That’s what made Eric Decker such a strong play in Week 2.

2. Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb

It’s going to be very popular to “pay down” at quarterback this week in the form of Carson Palmer, Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Foles and Tyrod Taylor. Owners that do “pay up” will be looking at first, second and third at Tom Brady. Some sharp ones will attack an Andrew Luck bounce-back game (which I like a lot). That leaves Aaron Rodgers as the forgotten man even though the Packers own the second-highest team total of the week and Eddie Lacy (ankle) is very questionable. In a case of paying up to be contrarian, a Rodgers/Cobb stack will be under five percent owned in the large-field tournaments. Expect a pass-heavy plan from the Packers as they exploit burn victim Jamell Fleming on the outside and Phillip Gaines on the inside.


QB: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota

RB: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, James Starks (if no Lacy), Bilal Powell (if no Ivory), Dion Lewis, Devonta Freeman.

WR: Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown, Randall Cobb, Larry Fitzgerald, Donte Moncrief, Stevie Johnson, Julian Edelman

TE: Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Eric Ebron

D: Seahawks, Patriots, Cardinals, Texans

Take home $1.2 MILLION in the Week 3 NFL Millionaire Maker!