While the rest of the NFL is looking to shift its attention from troublesome off-field issues back to the action on the gridiron, the NFC South kicked off week 3 on Thursday night as the Atlanta Falcons trounced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14 at the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta made ammends for a poor week 2 showing at Cincinnati, where the Bengals smothered the Falcons' offense just one week after Matt Ryan set a career-high with 448 passing yards as the Dirty Birds edged the New Orleans Saints in overtime.
Tampa, meanwhile, heads back home in the hole at 0-3, and now faces question marks all over the team, particularly at the quarterback position where Josh McCown suffered an injured thumb in Thursday's loss. Doug Martin missed his second straight game for the Bucs, and Lovie Smith and his staff will have to regroup with a long season still in front of them.
That leaves the Saints and Carolina Panthers to round out the week 3 action in the NFC South. New Orleans will welcome the reeling Minnesota Vikings, who will travel south without the services of star tailback Adrian Peterson, who finds himself squarely in the middle of those off-field problems. Carolina faces off against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, and the defending NFC South champs will look to maintain their unbeaten start to the new season.
Here is an NFC South fantasy roundup for week 3:
With a big Sunday night matchup at Pittsburgh looming, coach Ron Rivera still has injury concerns over RB DeAngelo Williams. Williams missed last week's game with a thigh injury, and remains questionable heading into tomorrow night's showdown.
In addition, fellow back Mike Tolbert has lingering concerns over a chest issue, which could once again expand the workload for Jonathan Stewart in the Carolina backfield. Last week, Stewart rushed for 37 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while catching a 22 yard pass in the victory over Detroit. Jonathan Stewart could be a sneaky week 3 fantasy play.
With reserve Fozzy Whittaker also banged up, Stewart is Carolina's healthiest option in the backfield, and the Panthers will need all the run support they can get to supplement Cam Newton and the pass offense. Newton is still dealing with the effects of a preseason rib injury and offseason ankle surgery, and while the Steelers defense is not quite as stout as they have been in years past under Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau, they will be looking to bounce back from a difficult loss at Baltimore last Thursday night. With a couple of extra days of recovery and preparation, Pittsburgh will be chomping at the bit to slow down the Panthers' attack and head home with their second win in 2014.
Carolina will remain without the services of Greg Hardy, who finds himself in a somewhat similar situation to peterson, as he was placed on the NFL's exempt list while his domestic assault case is resolved. The Panthers have made do without Hardy, but his presence would have been a major bonus in terms of attacking Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense.
For fantasy purposes, go ahead and start Stewart. Pittsburgh is surrendering a staggering 170 yards per game on the ground, bad enough to rank 30th in the league. If Tolbert plays, he will likely handle the short-yardage and goal line work, but Stewart should be poised for a big game, and a better outing than he had against a stingy Detroit defensive front last week.
New Orleans Saints
With Mark Ingram sidelined up to a month with a broken hand suffered in last week's loss at Cleveland, it is all about Khiry Robinson in the Saints' backfield. Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet will see some action, while rookie receiver Brandin Cooks may get a designed run play or two, but Robinson, by and large, is the back to start in week 3 as New Orleans takes on the Vikings in their home-opener.
The Saints, as a whole, are looking to make things right after a disappointing 0-2 start in 2014, and a return to the Mercedez-Benz Superdome should benefit them greatly. Drew Brees and the passing game should be clicking on all cylinders, and if the Saints get in goal-to-go situations, Robinson will be the man most likely to have his number called. Khiry Robinson is set for an increased role with Mark Ingram out for at least the next two games.
Ingram was really starting to round into form, playing the best football of his career up until his injury. Robinson, who along with Ingram, started to click towards the back-end of last season, stands to absorb the workload vacated by the former Heisman Trophy winner's absence, and could be in line for a big day against the Vikes.
Minnesota allows about 111 yards on the ground per game, right around the middle of the pack in terms of league rankings. It should be noted that Ingram has notched three goal line scores in this young season, and Robinson, who has one of his own, will undoubtedly get those opportunities while seeing additional work in the passing game.
Play Robinson with confidence this week. He is an underrated runner, often mistaken for a thumper when his elusiveness stands out on tape just as much as his physicality. He should see opportunities in the passing game, as well, and with Brees under center, any target in the New Orleans offense has potential for a big day.
Fresh off their resounding win over the Bucs on Thursday night, Atlanta can rest on their laurels for a few days ahead of next weekend's trip to Minnesota. Atlanta was without the services of WR Roddy White Thursday, but Harry Douglas filled in nicely, with Julio Jones dominating on the outside. Devin Hester had a vintage performance of his own, setting the NFL record for combined return touchdowns on a night where virtually nothing went wrong for Atlanta. Julio Jones looked like his dominant self on Thursday night.
Even with White likely to return next week, Jones should continue to put up dominant stat lines moving forward. He looks, and more importantly, is healthy, after a 2013 season that was plagued by foot issues. Jones caught 9 balls for 161 yards and 2 scores Thursday, and upon White's return, should have even more freedom to get open as defenses will have to properly account for his running mate.
The 'don't ever bench your studs' rule of thumb clearly applies to Julio. No matter the matchup, keep him in your lineup each week. His performances should be especially brilliant at home, or inside of domes, where Matt Ryan plays at his best.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Speaking of thumbs, the Bucs' 56-14 public humiliation was capitulated by the loss of QB Josh McCown, who suffered a significant sprain to the outermost digit on his right throwing hand.
McCown has been poor through three games, but he is far from the only problem in Tampa. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the veteran could miss a game or two, which would hand the reigns over to second-year man Mike Glennon. Lovie Smith has already stated that McCown will continue to start when healthy, so Glennon's time under center could be quite brief. The North Carolina State alum started 13 games as a rookie last year, leading Tampa to a 4-9 record over that stretch. Mike Glennon will get a chance under center if Josh McCown is out for an extended period of time.
The fantasy impact of this injury is not resounding, as neither McCown or Glennon will be recommended fantasy plays for the time being, as the Bucs' offense is badly in search of an identity. They have yet to establish the run, which has been made even more difficult by Martin's absence, while Logan Mankins has been playing with a bad knee since week 1, and appeared to reaggravate the injury on Thursday. Mankins returned to the game, but the last thing Tampa needs is for its standout offensive lineman to be battling a nagging ailment this early in the year.
Outside of Vincent Jackson, who salvaged a touchdown for his owners on Thursday, most of the Bucs are not recommended fantasy plays in the immediate future. This would include Martin, who may find himself as part of a committee with the likes of Bobby Rainey and Mike James upon his return.
Keep an eye on Glennon's performances in McCown's impending absence. We'll see if he can ignite the offense, and if Smith stands by his decision to reinsert McCown when the veteran's thumb is healed up.