The Patriots offense, preseason darlings of the fantasy world, have disappointed owners everywhere through the first quarter of the season. The tight-end tandem has looked human with Aaron Hernandez injuring his ankle and Rob Gronkowski going from record-setting pass catcher to decoy/pass blocker; Tom Brady has put up quality numbers but none that justify his high average draft position; the wide receiver corps – while making strides of late – got off to a very slow start; and the running back situation has been typically unpredictable. But with a schedule that gets easier and players getting healthier and more comfortable, the New England offense should soon begin living up to fantasy expectations – most likely as soon as this Sunday against Buffalo. But before looking forward, let’s take a look back at Week 3 in Baltimore.
Week 3 Flashback:
Wes Welker made a strong case for sticking around in Foxboro for the season, racking up 142 yards on 8 catches in what was an extremely physical game. Welker remains a must-start each week, especially with Aaron Hernandez injured. With trade winds blowing, Welker reminded everyone how valuable he is by not only averaging nearly 18 yards per catch, but also by simply staying on the field in a wild, hard-hitting, poorly officiated rivalry game…The same cannot be said for Julian Edelman, Wes’ presumed heir apparent. While catching the lone touchdown pass and continuing to be very active in the offense in the first half with 28 yards on 4 catches, Edelman left the game at the end of the second quarter with a hand injury…You know it’s a bad day for Rob Gronkowski when he records only 2 grabs – just one more than Bill Belichick (if we’re counting referee arm grabs). Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to use Gronk more as a blocker and a decoy against Baltimore, leaving fantasy owners frustrated with their starting tight end. When Hernandez got hurt in week 2, the assumption was that Gronkowski’s numbers would get even better. However, with the game plan last Sunday featuring the wide receivers – a trend that may continue – you should scale back your inflated Gronk expectations a bit until further notice…We were all reminded of the dangers of relying on Patriots running backs in fantasy football on Sunday night. Stevan Ridley, who led the team in carries and yards out of the backfield in the first two weeks, played second fiddle to Danny Woodhead against the Ravens. Ridley had only 13 carries for just 37 yards, getting most of his playing time in the second half. It’s possible that the Pats wanted a fresh Ridley after halftime, in hopes of utilizing his speed against a defense that might be more on its’ heels – and it’s also possible that they wanted to reduce the heavy workload he’s received thus far in 2012. Whatever the reason, Ridley remains a start-at-your-own-risk running back because of the Patriots’ system and varied weekly game plan…Tom Brady looked sharp and put up solid fantasy numbers – but again, not the uber numbers that you were expecting during the pre-season. The good news for Brady owners is that while his numbers thus far may not be overwhelming, he has still succeeded despite being without Hernandez (and essentially without Gronk on Sunday) and his timing with newcomer Brandon Lloyd has only been improving. As the Pats’ schedule gets gradually easier, the number of multi-touchdown games for TB12 should increase dramatically.
Week 3 Fantasy Stud:
Brandon Lloyd put together his best game of the year on Sunday, catching 9 passes for 108 yards. While Welker racked up 30+ extra yards, 60 of them came on one pass whereas Lloyd appeared to be who Brady looked for on key downs. Brandon looked like the best receiver on the team and was consistently targeted and utilized through all 4 quarters. His 12 targets led the Pats, a trend that seems likely to continue as he and Brady gel. If and when they start to connect on some of the deeper routes, Lloyd immediately becomes a top-10 fantasy wide receiver.
Week 4 Patriot Start of the Week:
If you can’t turn to one of the best quarterbacks of all-time to end a rare 2-game losing streak (and even rarer 1-2 start), then when can you? Tom Brady is known as one of the toughest competitors in the game and after the Sunday night debacle, you have to think his sense of urgency is ready to explode. Brady faces a Bills team that he traditionally owns twice a year and a Buffalo defense that has been exploited through the air so far in the young season. Through the first three games in 2012, Buffalo has allowed 266 yards and 3 touchdowns to Mark Sanchez, 301 yards and 2 touchdowns to Matt Cassel and even 237 yards and a score to Brandon Weeden – three quarterbacks that don’t have Brady’s weapons and who aren’t even remotely in his league talent-wise. Assuming the game plan isn’t to ground-and-pound the Bills this Sunday, look for Tom to pop-off as the Patriot Start of the Week. Projection: 342 yards passing, 4 touchdown passes