Thursday nights are the biggest source of fantasy anxiety all week. You start a guy on Thursday and he does great -- you're sitting on Cloud Nine. Just ask any fantasy owner who started Peyton Manning in Week 1. It's a tremendous boost to the start of the week.
But if you bobble the snap, well, you really feel the sting of having to look at a bagel in the score column for three days. What makes it worse is if you play in a league with work friends and you have to spend your Fridays ducking the folks in your league. I heard a story of one young lady who called in sick two Fridays ago because she played Eric Decker in Week 1.
So you'd better be sure about the guys you are going to play. I sort of have that confidence in Alex Smith this week. I'd absolutely play him if he was going against the Eagles (now a great fantasy matchup) on Sunday. A little more reserved for a Thursday. But if you have Ben Roethlisberger or some other similar-ilk quarterback, go with Smith. But I wouldn't start him over, say, Tony Romo this week.
So Alex Smith is our first member of Rank's 11 this week. Let's meet the rest of the cast.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis FC: You can't ignore what Bradford has done in the first two weeks of the season. But you should be reminded it's just the first two weeks of the season. The Cowboys have allowed the fifth-most points to fantasy quarterbacks this year, so this is a very good matchup.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Yep, it's time to upgrade him to your starting lineup. He's no longer a sleeper. He had a nice stat-line against the St. Louis FC last week, and now he's got the Saints, who are about middle-of-the-pack when it comes to defending running backs. But Mendy is going to be given a lot of room with this Bruce Arians' offense.
Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets: If you employ the "eyeball test" to the Jets running backs, it's Ivory who comes away the winner here. He was slowed by a preseason injury but he's now just starting to get his stride. The Bills allow a lot of points to fantasy running backs, so this is a nice start.
Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis FC: He was called one of the most exciting players to enter the NFL by our own Mike Mayock. He's shown a little bit of what he's capable of with two touchdowns against the Falcons in Week 2. But those were just redzone targets. They weren't the big-time plays we know he's capable of. This kid is just getting started. He also was St. Louis' most-targeted receiver in Week 2.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans: He was a monster for the Texans in the late stages of Sunday's rally against the Titans. And like Austin, he has just begun to hit his stride. The Ravens aren't as bad as they were against the Broncos, nor as good as they looked against the Browns. But expect a solid stat line from Hopkins.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks: There is some fear about the Seahawks and a huge blowout against the Jaguars. But don't get too cute with it. This is the same Pete Carroll who would follow huge wins at USC with losses to Oregon State. So let's not just give this one to the Seahawks just yet. I expect the Jags to make it interesting enough for Rice to get loose.
Minnesota Vikings D/ST: It's time to play defensive roulette and we'll start with the Vikings who will take on the Cleveland Browns. Brandon Weeden has a thumb injury and could be out. Yep, rush out and pick these guys up.
Tennessee Titans D/ST: Since more than one owner might read this column, the Titans are a decent secondary option. Not as bad as people perceive them to be. Played Houston tough and should be able to slow down the Chargers.
Buffalo Bills D/ST: And if neither option is available, it's always wise to seek out the team going up against the Jets. Especially since the Raiders (Broncos) and Jaguars (Seahawks) have defenses likely gone in your leagues. But if the Seahawks are available in your league, then by all means.
Did you know that Adam Rank won last year's Expert's League title? Oh that's right, it's like the only thing he ever talks about. Well congratulations, Rank. You finally did something. What have you done for us lately? Let's worry about 2013 and stop living in the past. Typical Lakers fan, am I right? Oh, if you found this useful (as if) check him out on the latest "Dave Dameshek Football Program". And follow him on Twitter, please. He's taking us to lunch if he gets 17 more Twitter followers today. And we only got 15 the last time, so step up fantasy enthusiasts!