Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta is a fast rising star as he's become a top target for Ravens QB Joe Flacco. (Photo courtesy of Getty Image)
Every year after Week 2, I get to pull out one of my all-time favorite football stats: In 1997, Barry Sanders had just 53 rushing yards after the first two games. He finished that season with 2,053 rushing yards.
You can probably guess where I'm going with this. Another 2,000-yard rusher, Chris Johnson, is the most hated man in fantasy football right now. Through two weeks, he has 21 rushing yards on 19 carries. It's a safe bet that many Johnson owners will have him on their benches this week in favor of guys like Alfred Morris, Pierre Thomas or maybe even Andre Brown if he starts in place of Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) on Thursday. When your first-round pick disappoints like this, frustration and overreaction take over.
I wouldn't blame anyone for benching Johnson this week, even with a pretty favorable matchup against the Lions. He's looked terrible, there's no denying that. But keep in mind that the Titans have been blown out both weeks, and 9.5 carries per game is a paltry number for a featured back. Johnson hasn't helped himself, but the Titans haven't helped him find a rhythm. He can still take it to the house on any play, so you know a big game is coming eventually. Who knows -- maybe he has 14 straight big games in him like Sanders did back in '97.
Johnson isn't the only player whose stock is falling or rising in fantasy circles. Let's take a look at other movers at each offensive position.
Eli Manning put up a career-high 510 yards against the Bucs last week, and while that total did come with three interceptions, there's little doubt that the Giants will once again be a pass-heavy team. With Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz (at least 10 catches and 179 yards each) and TE Martellus Bennett (second straight week with a TD), Manning should eclipse the 4,500-yard mark again this season.
Several other quarterbacks, including Oakland's Carson Palmer (24-of-48, 373 yards), Philadelphia's Michael Vick (23-of-32, 371 yards) and, of course, New Orleans' Drew Brees (31-of-49, 325 yards), also look like they'll be throwing a lot this year, which is ultimately a good thing for fantasy owners even if it means a few more INTs.
Notable Riser: Philip Rivers, Chargers. Rivers was a bit of a forgotten man in drafts, but after his 284-yard, three-TD effort against the Titans, he's averaging 257.5 yards and two TDs per game this year. And last week's performance was without Antonio Gates (ribs). Favorable matchups aside, Rivers should once again be a stellar, every-week QB1 even after Ryan Mathews returns. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (24-of-31, 275 yards, two TDs) fits this bill, as well.
Notable Faller: Matthew Stafford, Lions. Let's be clear: Stafford is going to be just fine. But this marks two straight shaky performances marred by inaccurate mid-range throws and a couple head-scratching interceptions. Obviously, Stafford has had a couple tough matchups -- and he's not falling down the QB rankings quite as quickly as, say, Jay Cutler -- but fantasy owners need to see more consistency from their first-round pick.
Heading into the season, there were several “cloudy” RB situations, and through two weeks, most are still pretty cloudy. The Chiefs confused everyone by giving Jamaal Charles just six carries last week, while the Panthers, Saints, Steelers and Cardinals still have the look of full-on committees. Charles dealt with some knee soreness on Sunday, but he's expected to be fine going forward. Either way, expect more Peyton Hillis.
Arizona's situation might have resolved itself, with Ryan Williams losing a key fumble for the second straight week. Beanie Wells (14 carries, 44 yards last week; 21-58 on the season) hasn't exactly played well, but as long as he can hold onto the ball, he should be in line for more RB touches this week.
Notable Riser: Reggie Bush, Dolphins. With apologies to C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson, both of whom had big days on Sunday, Bush stood out the most thanks to his mix of big plays and high-usage (29 total touches). Also, like Spiller, this is just the continuation of a trend for Bush that started toward the end of last season. Bush is legit and injuries look like the only thing that will slow him down.
Notable Faller: Donald Brown, Colts. Brown managed just 45 yards on 16 carries last Sunday. Even worse, for the second straight week he was shut out in the passing game. Brown has had a pair of tough matchups, but he'll need to do more to hang onto his RB2 status. Fortunately for Brown, injuries to Bradshaw and Shonn Greene will keep his value above their respective replacements, Brown and Bilal Powell.
If Larry Fitzgerald wasn't so likable, more owners would be complaining about him the way they are about Chris Johnson. Fitzgerald has just five catches for 67 yards this season after being limited to one catch for four yards against the Patriots last week.
But there's probably less reason to worry about with Fitzgerald than Johnson. Remember, he put up big numbers last year playing with poor quarterbacks, so that's nothing new for him. Bill Belichick clearly devised a game plan to try to stop Fitzgerald on Sunday, and it worked. That's not the first time that's happened to a good player. Fitzgerald will bounce back soon, as will Andre Johnson (3-21 last week), Brandon Marshall (2-24), Julio Jones (4-14) and Dez Bryant (3-17). They're too good not to.
Notable Faller: Titus Young, Lions. Young was a popular preseason sleeper, but after Sunday night's one-catch, 11-yard performance, he's sitting at just two catches for 25 yards this season. Young is still fighting through maturity issues which appear to be costing him playing time, and without the trust of his coaches, he'll be hard-pressed to have the breakout season so many were expecting. Rookie Justin Blackmon (shut out on Sunday) is in a similar boat but for a different reason. He hasn't exhibited any maturity issues on the field, but he's being limited by a weak passing offense and the usual growing pains of being a rookie receiver.
It was all about injuries for tight ends this week -- with Aaron Hernandez's ankle injury being the biggest blow.
While Hernandez's injury will likely knock him out for two-to-six weeks, it opens the door for even more production from Rob Gronkowski and possibly even newcomer Kellen Winslow (and the mysteriously disappearing Wes Welker). Likewise, Jeremy Maclin's hip injury in Philadelphia opened the door for major production from Brent Celek this week (8-157). That will likely continue, as Celek has averaged a solid 7.2 fantasy points per game dating back to Week 6 last year.
The other big injury belonged to Gates, who was a surprise inactive last week because of a rib injury. Gates is no stranger to injury, but normally it's his foot that forces him to the sidelines. Backup Dante Rosario caught all three of Rivers' touchdown passes, which is probably a good sign for when Gates gets back on the field. Ultimately, though, it was a bitter pill to swallow for his owners, and his late-game absence should serve as a reminder to always have a alternative ready if you have a “questionable player.”
Notable Riser: Dennis Pitta, Ravens. Pitta was targeted 15 times last week -- tops among tight ends – and hauled in eight passes for 65 yards. Philadelphia's talented corners did a good job locking down Baltimore's receivers, which clearly led to more targets for Pitta, but he still leads all TEs with 24 targets through two games. He's clearly a big part of Baltimore's offense. The same might be true for Oakland's Brandon Myers (6-86), but he's padded his stats in garbage time both weeks, so tread carefully.
Notable Faller: Greg Olsen, Panthers. Olsen was targeted just three times in Carolina's win over the Saints on Sunday. While that's disappointing, it's important to note that the Panthers were having success running the ball, and nursing a lead for most of the second half, they didn't need to air it out as much. Owners are probably thinking about dropping Olsen, but he's worth hanging onto. He'll get his chances soon enough.
Giants at Panthers
Stat to know: The Giants have given up five passing TDs this year, which is tied for second most. Carolina showed its balanced attack last week with two players with at least 90 receiving yards and three players with at least 50 rushing yards. Look for a little more passing from the Panthers this week, making
Sleeper: Andre Brown (Panthers have allowed an average of 146.5 rushing yards per game).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage at http://fantasysource.sportingnews.com/football/free?affiliate_code=sn_navigation