NFL.com senior writer Gil Brandt predicted this would be the week offenses would catch up to defenses and the scoreboards would light up like Christmas trees. Man, was he 100-percent correct. A total of 17 teams scored 24 points or more. Not even the top defenses could hold down the fort, as Baltimore, Chicago and San Diego allowed a combined 88 points. The most incredible contest in terms of overall production came in Philadelphia, where the Lions and Eagles combined for 77 points and 968 total yards.
As one can imagine, all of these points meant countless top-notch fantasy performances. But in what has to be a worrisome trend this season, none of the Big Three -- LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson and Larry Johnson -- finished in the top 30 in fantasy points. In fact, the running back position as a whole has seen a statistical fall.
Speaking of falls, Jackson suffered a groin tear against Tampa Bay and won't help owners for at least the next week. In fact, head coach Scott Linehan called him "week-to-week" in his Monday press conference. With Jackson on the sidlines, owners should look to add Brian Leonard off the waiver wire. Leonard is expected to start for the Rams in Week 4, but he won't be able to replace Jackson's presence on fantasy teams.
While running backs like Jackson have disappointed, quarterbacks have flourished. In fact, 14 of the top 30 fantasy performances from Week 3 came from behind center. Donovan McNabb led the position with 37 points, while Tom Brady (34 points), Brett Favre (32 points), Philip Rivers (28 points) and Joey Harrington (26 points; yes that Joey Harrington) rounded out the top five. Brady, who leads all quarterbacks with 90 points on the season, is on pace to throw for more than 4,700 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Harrington's performance against Carolina was solid, as he threw for 361 yards and two touchdowns, but sooner or later he'll be second on the depth chart behind Byron Leftwich. The Falcons face a much-improved Houston defense in Week 4, so there's no need for fantasy owners to rush out and add Harrington off the waiver wire. One quarterback owners should watch, however, is Kurt Warner. He replaced an ineffective Matt Leinart and threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns in Baltimore. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt will stick with Leinart as his starter in Week 4, but continued struggles could force a move back to Warner if the Cardinals want to make a postseason push.
Jake Delhomme, J.P. Losman, Steve McNair and Josh McCown were all injured in Week 3. Delhomme hurt his right elbow and will be re-evaluated later in the week. Delhomme, who has the fourth-most fantasy points among quarterbacks after three contests, is questionable for Week 4. David Carr would start in his absence. Losman is expected to miss at least two weeks with an injured knee, so rookie Trent Edwards will take over as the starter in Buffalo. He warrants little fantasy consideration. McNair has a problematic groin, but it appears he'll be back in Week 4. McCown sustained an injured foot, putting his status for Week 4 in question. In what could be an ironic twist, Daunte Culpepper could make the start this week in Miami -- the franchise that quit on him in training camp.
Another situation to watch is in Chicago, where Rex Grossman could be at the end of what has become a short leash. He threw three interceptions in a loss to Dallas, so veteran Brian Griese could be under center in the next few weeks. He'd be worth a roster spot in larger leagues if he passes Grossman on the depth chart.
The top fantasy performances of the week at running back came from Ronnie Brown and Brian Westbrook. Brown, who had an awful start to the season, recorded 211 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns (40 points) against the New York Jets. In what was a positive sign, he saw all of the carries for head coach Cam Cameron. Brian Westbrook also totaled 211 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a win over Detroit. He did leave the contest with what is being called an abdominal strain, so keep tabs on Westbrook's status for Week 4. DeShaun Foster (25 points), Marion Barber (23 points), and LaMont Jordan (21 points) round out the top five at the position.
The real tale of the position is the lack of production from Tomlinson, Jackson and Johnson. L.T. did record 15 points, but he had a mere 62 yards one 22 carries and is averaging an awful 2.3 yards per carry. Jackson, who failed to find the end zone for the third straight week, rushed for 115 yards and scored 12 points before leaving in the fourth quarter with the groin tear. Johnson rushed for 42 yards on 24 carries against Minnesota and had fewer points than Vonta Leach and Tony Hunt in Week 3. With San Diego and Jacksonville next on the slate, fantasy owners with backfield depth now have to considering reserving Johnson. Another immense disappointment has been Maurice Jones-Drew, who totaled a miniscule two points against Denver. A second- or third-round choice in most drafts, Jones-Drew ranks 48th in fantasy points among running backs heading into Monday night's Tennessee-New Orleans contest.
Overall, runners have been inconsistent and less productive than their preseason expectations in most cases. In fact, you would have seen more production from Earnest Graham and Kenny Watson than Shaun Alexander and Cedric Benson this past week. Graham and Watson weren't even on the radar in most drafts.
In what has been the season of the wide receiver, a slew of wideouts had solid performances. Kevin Curtis exploded with 40 points on 221 yards and three touchdowns, but he was active in a mere 9 percent of NFL.com leagues. Anquan Boldin, who has been far better than his teammate Larry Fitzgerald, totaled 30 points and found immense success with Warner under center. Roy Williams (26 points), Randy Moss (23 points) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (18 points) round out the top five for the week. Roddy White and Donald Driver also finished with 18 points apiece.
Williams had 204 yards and three scores in Philadelphia, and he didn't even have the most receiving yards in the contest due to Curtis's performance. Moss has re-emerged as the top wideout in fantasy football after three weeks. He has 403 yards and five touchdowns in three starts compared to 553 yards and three touchdowns all of last season. No one could have predicted such a statistical turnaround, but it seems that Moss is motivated to produce solid numbers on a New England team with championship aspirations.
White, who will be a hot name on the waiver wire this week, is a receiver to watch. He has developed into a more reliable option in the Atlanta pass attack and is now worth a roster spot on fantasy teams. The same holds true for Brandon Marshall and Shaun McDonald, who have become legitimate options for their respective teams.
Not all the top wideouts produced in Week 3. Steve Smith was held to one point against Atlanta, while Joey Galloway, Marvin Harrison, Torry Holt, Reggie Wayne and Javon Walker were all held to single digit point totals. Despite their porous numbers, all of them should be active week in and week out.
The top tight end of the week was Jason Witten, who has developed into a prominent option for offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. He totaled 15 points on 90 yards and one touchdown, and he's now second in points behind Antonio Gates among tight ends. Alge Crumpler had his first solid performance of the season with 12 points, while Dallas Clark, Gates and Jeff King all had 11 points to round out the top five. King, who was an unknown in fantasy circles heading into the season, is now fantasy relevant in larger formats.
Vernon Davis had his first nice stat line of the season with 56 yards against Pittsburgh, but fantasy owners will lose him for at least two weeks due to a partial tear of the MCL in his right knee. One tight end to watch is Marcedes Lewis, who had three catches for 44 yards in Jacksonville's win over Denver. The Jaguars don't have a legitimate top option in the pass attack, so Lewis could become a viable option in larger leagues.
For the second consecutive week, the top three kickers in the NFL.com Magazine League were all free agents. Matt Stover (16 points), Sebastian Janikowski (15 points) and Jeff Reed (14 points) all finished with productive stat lines. Neil Rackers (13 points) and Adam Vinatieri (12 points) round out the top five. Dallas rookie Nick Folk had another solid week with 11 points, and he now ranks second behind Reed for the most points at the position. He's still available in 60 percent of NFL.com leagues. Preseason No. 1 kicker Nate Kaeding had seven points in a loss to Green Bay and now ranks 29th among kickers this season. With more productive kickers like Reed, Folk, Stover, Mason Crosby and Shaun Suisham still available in a lot of leagues, it's time for owners to consider cutting ties with Kaeding.
The best defensive performance came from Dallas, which scored 27 points in its win over Chicago. The Cowboys recorded three interceptions, two forced fumbles and scored one touchdown. Pittsburgh (22 points), Tampa Bay (19 points), New England (18 points) and Philadelphia (17 points) concluded the top five defensive point producers. Minnesota is still the No. 1 fantasy defense in the NFL, while preseason favorites Baltimore and Chicago rank seventh and 11th respectively. The worst performance came from San Diego, which scored just two points. Miami (3 points), Buffalo (3 points) and San Francisco (4 points) also failed to produce in what was an explosive week for offenses.
News & Notes
» Ahman Green injured his knee in a loss to Indianapolis, but an MRI revealed no significant issues. There was some swelling in the knee, however, so Green is considered day-to-day and he's uncertain about his status for Week 4 in Atlanta. Ron Dayne was inactive due to an injured chest against the Colts, but he would start against the Falcons if Green were out. If Dayne can't return, then Samkon Gado would move up the depth chart. Owners who have Green should look to add Dayne as insurance.
» Minnesota head coach Brad Childress is confident that Chester Taylor will return to action in Week 4, but it seems that Adrian Peterson has secured the top spot on the depth chart. The rookie had 150 all-purpose yards and one touchdown in a loss to Kansas City, and he's on pace for close to 2,300 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns on the season. A former 1,000-yard rusher, Taylor could be used as more of a third-down back and will be worth no more than a No. 3 fantasy back once he returns.
» Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden still promotes Cadillac Williams as his featured back, but Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman both saw their share of the workload in a win over St. Louis. Graham had eight carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns, and Pittman posted seven carries and 91 all-purpose yards. Williams saw 12 carries for 46 yards and scored one touchdown. Williams remains a viable No. 2 or 3 fantasy back, but owners should watch how much Graham and Pittman are incorporated in the offense.
» Kevin Jones had just four touches against Philadelphia -- one of which turned into a touchdown -- but he wants to handle more of the workload in Week 4. That might not be the best idea, however, as Detroit hosts what is a formidable Chicago run defense. Head coach Rod Marinelli will no doubt look to bring Jones along slowly, so he's still about a week from being an option for owners. However, Jones should still be added off the waiver wire -- he's still available in 25 percent of NFL.com leagues.
» Rudi Johnson had an awful week in Seattle, as he rushed for 9 yards on 17 carries and sustained an injured hamstring that forced him to sit out the fourth quarter. However, the veteran back believes he'll be fine in Week 4 when Cincinnati hosts New England on Monday Night Football. Johnson has never been the most consistent back on a week-to-week basis, but it's hard for most fantasy owners to sit him even against an aggressive run defense.