I'm a film guy at heart, I'll admit. However, there's a ton to learn from the numbers as well. There's a tremendous amount of resources out there, and spreadsheets to compile. Here are some of my favorite notes from my stats research for Week 3.
As it stands today, Dion Lewis is a top-five fantasy running back in standard leagues. Despite that, most observers are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We've all been hurt by a Patriots running back before, and many are letting that fear navigate them away from trusting Dion Lewis. Let's be honest though, if he didn't wear a red and blue jersey, Dion Lewis would already be a beloved, all on-board fantasy asset. It's time to let go of the past and that accompanying fear, because the Patriots are riding Lewis.
Despite two fumbles in as many games, the Patriots continue to roll Lewis out there. He's simply too good to take off the field. The Bill Belichick fumbling narrative looms large, but history and whispers out of New England hold that the all-time great head coach is more ribbed by a player who doesn't prepare or practice with intensity. That's been the true culprit of the Patriots running back turnover, more so than Belichick's supposed whimsy. Tom Brady and other members of the organization have gone out of their way to praise Lewis for doing everything he'd been asked, and beating out the competition. The grinding nature of his comeback since being out of the league after a 2013 offseason injury has to stick with the team.
Dion Lewis is sure to see his snaps reduced, although he out-snapped LeGarrette Blount 69 to seven in Blount's first game of the season. There's some talking as if that count could see a drastic shift the other direction in Week Three. However, the Jaguars rank fifth in allowing fantasy points to running backs, and give up 2.9 yards per run play (second fewest in the NFL). Perhaps this doesn't profile as a "Blount game" either. Even when or if Blount does begin to work more prominently into the rotation, Lewis still has a safe floor. Pass-catching running backs linked with good quarterbacks and offenses are usable week-in-and-week out in fantasy. The Patriots might have the best in the NFL in both of those attachments right now.
Calling Lewis a sell-high is an operation based on fear, and ignores a new reality presenting itself. Bill Belichick is a smart coach who wants to win football games. Until Lewis gives him a reason not to, he won't arbitrarily switch up what's working on his offense. Belichick clearly is, and sometimes fantasy owners just need to trust the talent as well. All the evidence presented this season is screaming that Dion Lewis is here to stay.
Lance Dunbar was a popular sleeper in Week 2, and there's some merit to rolling him back out for Week 3 in PPR leagues. No Dallas running back has played more snaps than Dunbar, despite only having one carry to his name. He's the passing down specialist. Missing Tony Romo hurts a bit, but Brandon Weeden has made use of his running backs in the passing game before. Per Rotoworld's Josh Norris, in the 23 games Weeden played in 2012 and 2013, his running backs averaged seven targets.
The Falcons have allowed 76 yards in back-to-back games to Darren Sproles and Shane Vereen. Both are satellite pass-catching backs in their respective offenses, as well. The Falcons defense is improved, but their linebackers are too slow in coverage to deal with these ancillary players. Dunbar makes for a good flex play if your leagues is a PPR format and your other running backs can't be trusted.
Now we find ourselves on the other side of the stat. No team is more familiar, or gives Dalton more trouble than the Baltimore Ravens. Even in Dalton's top-five fantasy season from 2013, he threw seven interceptions in two games against Baltimore. Despite two strong QB1 games to start the 2015 season, history suggests we pivot off Dalton in Week 3. Considering this game will take place in the Ravens stadium, you should looks elsewhere for your starting fantasy passer. Tyrod Taylor, Cam Newton and Nick Foles hold more appeal this week.
The Denver Broncos have the NFL's best defense, and are the top fantasy unit. For context on how good that is, the next lowest figure is Dallas with .22. Their work against opposing passers through the first two weeks is something special. They've put on a complete dismantling of both Alex Smith and Joe Flacco, as the duo posted a combined score of 5.8 points against Denver. The Broncos have a pair of top NFL corners, and a ferocious pass rush led by Von Miller. That is an unmanageable combination for opposing passers.
This is a stat to remember about all offenses facing Denver going forward. For this week, it pushes Matt Stafford far out of starting considerations, not that there were good reasons for anyone to still have him in that range. You likely have no choice but to roll with Calvin Johnson, but don't expect him to suddenly reverse trend on a quiet start to the season. Golden Tate belongs on Week 3 benches. This could be game where the Lions focus on dumping the ball off to running backs, and feed more targets to the emerging Eric Ebron. Denver has historically struggled covering the tight end position.
Almost any team's yards per carry and raw yardage run defense ranking is going to be skewed if they've played the 2015 Eagles. Dallas definitely flies to the ball, and has a swarming mentality on defense. Despite being light on talent, the group feeds off effort and intensity. However, they're still below average in allowing fantasy points to running backs. Perhaps their run defense has cracks to exploit, despite a top ranking in yards allowed totals.
Many analysts are bullish on Devonta Freeman as a fantasy play this weekend with Tevin Coleman set to miss the game on Sunday. Based on volume alone, Freeman owns the passing downs already in Atlanta, there's merit to the thought. If Dallas' early stellar play against the run is in fact a mirage, he could pay off more than his doubters suspect.
We haven't seen Carson Palmer play this well since the mid-2000s, but the reality is he's performing at a top-five quarterback level. The signs were all there that Palmer would enjoy a big season in Bruce Arians' offense, now that he'd mastered it. However, not many expected him to be the QB3, much less the NFL's most efficient quarterback through two weeks. Here we are though; Carson Palmer has earned the right to be among the every week starters at quarterback.
Of course, some of Palmer's outrageous efficiency can be attributed to great matchups. Both Chicago and New Orleans rank in the bottom eight of fantasy points allowed and yards per pass attempt. However, the train won't stop rolling in Week 3, with San Francisco coming to town. The 49ers join the Bears and Saints in the bottom barrel of both previously highlighted pass defense statistics. There's no reason to fade Carson Palmer until he gives us a reason to do so.
This was supposed to be his year, but not much is going well for Jonathan Stewart. With DeAngelo Williams out of the picture, and Stewart left to own the Panthers backfield for himself. All the optimism for naught, as Stewart currently sits at RB32 through two weeks. The Panthers are running the offense through Cam Newton-he has only 11 less carries than his starting running back. However, that doesn't explain Stewarts rushing inefficiency.
The offensive line has exceeded expectations as a pass-blocking unit, but haven't yet gelled as run blockers. Also teams can stack the box against Carolina with little fear of the pass game. However, the most likely explanation is an age-old one often ignored in fantasy football. Running back scoring has long held a positive correlation to overall offensive efficiency, and pass game success. We know Carolina struggles in both facets, and help is not on the way. Unfortunately, because of this, we need to adjust expectations for Jonathan Stewart. Even if he has a bounce-back game against the Saints this week, we should accept that he'll be a volatile asset even with a healthy volume.
Left for dead in the vast majority of fantasy drafts, Donte Moncrief is emerging as a major piece of the Colts offense. He's out-targeted and far outperformed veteran Andre Johnson. He's looked completely capable of handling number-one receiver duties, shouldering the passing load while T.Y. Hilton played through an injury. Moncrief offers a size/speed combination that no one Andrew Luck has played with at the NFL level can match.
What should we expect going forward, and just how good can Donte Moncrief be? We shouldn't set limits on that, going by how he's played so far. Moncrief ranks in the top ten in terms of yards per target, fantasy points per target and reception percentage among receivers with at least 15 targets. He's producing at a rate akin to one of the best receivers in the NFL, and he's backing it all up on film. No matter how you paint it, Moncrief has season changing upside. Taking the waiver approach is too late, so if you want that on your team, you'll have to be aggressive in a trade.
While Fitzgerald's numbers will no doubt regress after a three touchdown demolition of the Bears, the fantasy community must acknowledge him as an every week WR2 going forward. Fitzgerald carries the three-pronged stack of efficiency, volume and attachment to a top-shelf quarterback performer. That combination is the Holy Grail when it comes to veteran wide receivers.
Despite throwing more passes in non-AFC South games, Andrew Luck scores the same amount of fantasy points as he does in division games. Much of this is due to throwing .59 more interceptions in games outside the division.
The trouble with sinking an Aaron Rodgers-level fantasy draft pick into Andrew Luck this summer was the dissimilar way they accrue fantasy production. Rodgers' appeal comes from his unreal consistent efficiency, while Luck only has that when he plays against his division opponent. Not every team in the NFL gives way to offenses like the AFC South teams do. Outside of the division, Luck is a fantasy passer that relies on volume over efficiency, and is more volatile than anyone often wants to admit.
This isn't to say Andrew Luck won't be a high-end QB1 through the rest of the way. The offense might not reach the level many expected prior to the season, but there's too much talent for Luck to not succeed. In fact, the point of this stat is to lead us to expect a big Andrew Luck game this week when the Colts travel to play the Titans (21st in fantasy points allowed per pass attempt). He's a great daily fantasy play this week, with recency bias driving the public off him. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will all be highly played, while recent struggles diminish Luck's ownership percentage. You won't be able to take advantage of such a strong chance to differentiate your lineup by playing one of the NFL's best quarterbacks like you can with Luck in Week 3.