Eli Manning and the New York Giants take on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to kickoff Week 3 of the 2012 NFL regular season. In what looks like a potential barn-burner, we should see some big numbers put up for fantasy leagues everywhere.
We'll examine the sit/start matchups for all of Week 3 later on, but here is a rundown on who you should keep an eye on Thursday night.
Eli Manning, quarterback - Could Eli throw the ball any more? He leads the league in passing yards, and last week shattered his personal best by throwing for 510 yards in one game. However, wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon have been ruled out for Thursday night, along with running back Ahmad Bradshaw and tackle David Diehl. It's looking like the Giants will have to rely on Manning to win this one. Last year he threw for 250 yards, two touchdowns and one pick against the Patriots with no Nicks or Bradshaw. New York's defense looked awful this past week, so Manning might have to be throwing for another 500 yards to keep them in the ball game. He's a decent play this week considering Carolina's secondary is mediocre at best, but Victor Cruz and Martellus Bennett will have to step up and carry the load.
Andre Brown and David Wilson, running back - If you were starting against the Panthers this week, you could rush for 100+ yards. Yes, you. They're that bad. Carolina is allowing an unbelievable average of 146.5 yards per game on the ground so far in 2012. New Orleans, mainly Pierre Thomas, dominated on the ground last week in Charlotte. Brown carried the ball 13 times last weekend for 71 yards and a touchdown, while Wilson took five touches for just 16 yards. Brown should handle the workload again with Bradshaw out, and he's a solid play if you're willing to start him.
Victor Cruz, Ramses Barden, Rueben Randle, wide receiver - Cruz is likely a starter in just about every lineup, but this week he is an absolute must-start, no questions ask. Barden appears to be next in the pecking order. According to Pro Football Focus, Barden played 47 of 84 snaps last week, running routes on 34 of those. Randle on the other hand was in for just three snaps total against the Buccaneers. It seems the Giants are on board with the rookie quite yet. Barden only caught one pass in Week 2, but he could have some value in such a depleted receiving corps.
Martellus Bennett, tight end - Bennett was targeted twice in the red zone against Tampa Bay. He caught one of those targets for a touchdown. He now has found the end zone both of his games in 2012, and continues to look like an excellent start for your lineup. Jimmy Graham caught seven passes for 71 yards and a score last week against Carolina, but could have finished with two touchdowns after dropping one at the goal line. Expect a big week from Bennett, as he and Cruz are the main targets for Manning.
Giants defense/special teams - After allowing 29 points per game in two weeks so far, the Giants defense isn't much of an option for your team. Cam Newton and his squad looked sharp in Week 2 after a poor opening performance, and should carry that momentum into Thursday night at home. You can do better than New York this week.
Cam Newton, quarterback - Cam bounced back nicely from a rather unimpressive against the Saints in Week 2, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown while running for 71 yards and another score on top of that. Tony Romo killed the Giants secondary in Week 1, and even Josh Freeman looked like a respectable fantasy play this past Sunday. Newton probably doesn't get bench often, but you should feel confident starting him this week.
DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert, running back - In Week 1 the Panthers running backs rushed for a single yard on seven total carries without Jonathan Stewart. Week 2 with J Stew? 27 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Stewart might miss Thursday night after missing practicing all week. If he is ready to go, it will be tough to put your faith in a back who likely isn't 100 percent after a short turnaround from Week 2. Williams should be a solid play if Stewart sits, but we saw how that scenario in Week 1. The Giants contained rookie Doug Martin well, although DeMarco Murray this week prior was a completely different story. Williams is a decent flex play. Tolbert found the end zone last week, but let's face it, he's not at all worth a start like in 2011.
Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, wide receiver - This one is simple. Start both of these guys. Smith enters Week 3 riding back-to-back 100-yard performances, and is always worth a start with Newton throwing him the ball. LaFell finally broke out last week, catching six passes for 90 yards on eight targets. If you're in a 10-team league or one larger than that, LaFell is worth a spot in your lineup, as this game should see plenty of offense from both sides.
Greg Olsen, tight end - The Giants haven't faced a tough test against a tight end this season. After playing Jason Witten when he probably shouldn't have been in action and Dallas Clark when...well, he's Dallas Clark, no one has posed a real threat. Olsen was pegged as a potential sleeper, but after catching just one pass in Week 2 he's left fantasy owners questioning his value. New York gave up big points to tight ends in 2011, but considering the level of competition the Giants faced at the position, it's a tough call either way. You should probably hold off on Olsen until he proves himself.
Panthers defense/special teams - Injuries plagued this defense last season, but the jury is still out on this year's squad. The Panthers run defense, as we've already noted, isn't to be trusted. As for the secondary, it's hard to what to make of them, as they've played the Buccaneers, who weren't interested in throwing the ball, and the Saints, who haven't fully adjusted to the absence of Sean Payton. Manning and the Giants know how to put up points, so be careful of this matchup.
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