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Week 3 Fantasy Football: Thursday Night Preview

Adam Pfeifer previews Thursday night’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and sorts out the good plays from the not-so-good.

Bobby Rainey

Of course, why would fantasy football players ever want clarity heading into a game?

Week 3 kicks off on Thursday night, as the Atlanta Falcons host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC South clash. The Falcons, coming off an ugly Week 2 loss to the Bengals, are second in the division, while the Bucs have lost two very, very winnable games at home, starting their year 0-2. But heading into this game, fantasy football fans aren’t too sure what to make of it. There are a handful of injuries surrounding both teams, leading to trepidation for fantasy owners.


However, don’t fret. And yes, I just said fret. I’m here to break it all down for you, helping break down matchups, sort out depth charts, and differentiate the good plays from the not-so-good.

Atlanta Falcons 



It was a tale of two games for Matt Ryan.

In Week 1, he was the best quarterback in fantasy, tossing a few touchdowns and nearly 500 yards. But things didn’t come so easily against a stout Bengals defense, as he completed just 54 percent of his passes for 231 yards, one score, and three interceptions. Things will be much better for the Falcons passer on Thursday night, as he faces a depleted Tampa Bay defense that is without Adrian Clayborn and potentially both Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson. Ryan is really, really good when given a clean pocket, but according to PFF, the Bengals pressured him on almost 40 percent of his dropbacks. Last year, he was one of the most pressured passers in football, being pressured on nearly 42 percent of dropbacks (5th-most), tossing 17 interceptions during such situations. I think he’ll have a clean pocket tonight in a good matchup. According to ESPN, Ryan has thrown for 303 yards on deep passes, more than any other quarterback. The Bucs, meanwhile, are allowing opposing passers to complete 71.4 percent of deep passes. Consider Ryan a top-five fantasy option this week.

Verdict: Start

Running Back

It hasn’t been a great start for Steven Jackson, who, through two games, has accumulated just 98 yards and has yet to score. The Falcons still want Jackson to be their lead back, but he isn’t an every-down workhorse like he was in the past. Through two weeks, Jackson has played just 58 snaps, 35th among rushers. Meanwhile, Jacquizz Rodgers has played a strong 53. Still, this is the highest I have had Jackson all year (RB25). I think with a banged up Roddy White, Jackson gets featured a bit more and at least finds the end zone. Running backs tend to see the most success during Thursday night contests.

Verdict: Flex option.

Wide Receiver

Julio Jones (ankle) practiced in full on Wednesday and is probable for this contest. He’s a must-start every single week, catching 14 of 22 targets for 204 yards and a touchdown through the first two weeks. Since 2011, Jones is averaging just under 100 receiving yards per game against Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Roddy White is listed as questionable with a nagging hamstring. The Falcons expect him to suit up for this game, but the question is whether it will be at full strength or as a decoy. We’ve seen Atlanta do this with Roddy before, especially last year. He’s still worth trotting out there if you need him. This game should be fairly high-scoring and White performs well at home. Also, in really deep formats, Harry Douglas may be worth a look if the Falcons limit White.

Verdict: Start Julio (duh), play, but temper expectations with Roddy

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 



In a deep or two-quarterback league? Josh McCown isn’t the worst option to choose from. Of course, he hasn’t nearly replicated his success from last year, but in Week 2, McCown threw for nearly 200 yards and found the end zone twice – with his legs. Because the Falcons defense is so, so bad, McCown is on fantasy radars. In 2013, Atlanta allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing passers, and through two weeks in 2014, no team in the NFL has surrendered more total yards than the Falcons (472 per game). Of course, McCown is volatile, entering Thursday night with the 30th-ranked passer rating in the NFL (75.1). But with big time weapons in the passing game, there is some upside in this matchup, too.

Verdict: 2-QB league worthy.

Running Back

Oh, look. That dark fantasy cloud appears to be moving away.

Entering this game, the Bucs running back situation was pretty muddled. Doug Martin, who missed last week with a knee injury, appeared on track to return to action, but now signs are pointing to him likely not playing in this contest. That opens the door for potentially the better back in Bobby Rainey, who ran all over the Rams for 144 yards last week, to draw the start. If Rainey is the only back in town for Tampa Bay, he’s a borderline top-10 play against this Falcons defense that has already allowed five rushing touchdowns and the most fantasy points to running backs on the season. Opposing rushers are also making a big impact through the air, hauling in an average of 7.5 balls per game against Atlanta, too.

The Falcons run defense has been really, really bad already.


Verdict: Start

Wide Receiver

I’ve received a ton of questions regarding the slot start from Vincent Jackson. People need to realize that, for as good as he is, this is what he does. He’s a fantasy roller coaster, providing up and down production. I mean, there was a six-week stretch last year where during the first three weeks, he scored almost 60 fantasy points, but during the final three weeks, he combined for about 10. This, however, is the matchup where he booms, rather than busts. In case you weren’t paying attention, the Falcons defense isn’t very good, and Jackson absolutely owns this unit. In two meetings with them last year, he caught 10 balls in both, accumulated 303 yards and scored two touchdowns. And, using the RotoViz Game Splits App, you can really see how good he’s been against the Falcons since 2011.


Despite his slow start, he’s an absolute must play.

Also, rookie Mike Evans is a nice little sleeper in this matchup. Like I said, I expect a ton of points in this game, and the Falcons have surrendered almost 700 passing yards through the first two weeks of the season.

Verdict: VJax is must-play, Evans is solid sleeper.


Not that any of you care, but I think the Falcons win this game 31-20 at home. As for the fantasy numbers, Matt Ryan will finish as a top-five signal caller once again, while SJax pokes his head into relevancy with a top-24 overall finish among rushers. Julio will be Julio, but Roddy is going to disappoint.

For the Bucs, McCown will throw for nearly 250 yards and a few scores, but will also turn it over a few times. Bobby Rainey will, for lack of a better word, make it rain, accumulating 180 total yards of offense and a touchdown. Vincent Jackson catches 10 balls for 113 yards and a score, while Mike Evans also finds the end zone.

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