MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Panthers (vs. Eagles)
Cam Newton and Carson Wentz are two of the NFL’s hotter passers, but it’s Carolina, with ascending wideouts Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, that's built to outlast the Eagles’ susceptible secondary. Newton last week logged over 300 passing yards for the second consecutive game — a first since Weeks 1 and 2 of his rookie season — adding three touchdowns for a second straight outing. Although we don’t expect Ed Dickson to channel Greg Olsen again, and Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey get the NFL’s No. 2 run ‘D,’ it’s impossible to ignore what Carolina’s two power forwards are doing through the air. Funchess is suddenly a target magnet (27 for 18-181-3 since Olsen was injured) and scoring machine. Infamously unsure-handed Benjamin’s plucking almost everything in sight, including his first touchdown — a game-winner — Sunday.
Must start: Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess
Solid play: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers D/ST
Worth a look: Jonathan Stewart, Ed Dickson
Saints (vs. Lions)
The Lions have surrendered a combined 17 points on the road, where they’re 2-0, and 80 while going 1-2 at home. Detroit hasn’t had a test away from Ford Field like Sunday’s at the Superdome, where the rested and rejuvenated-on-defense Saints await. The trade of Adrian Peterson and likely debut of Willie Snead should only diversify the options for Drew Brees and Sean Payton, and it’s not as if they need the help. Darius Slay gets another physical force in Michael Thomas, one week after Benjamin beat the Lions’ top corner on a downfield TD. Worse, the Lions’ issues covering tight ends and backs might be reappearing just as Alvin Kamara’s role expands and Coby Fleener looks to break out of a mini skid.
Must start: Drew Brees, Michael Thomas
Solid play: Willie Snead, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram
Worth a look: Coby Fleener
Washington (vs. 49ers)
Kirk Cousins and his offensive line have progressed each game since a Week 1 dud, and the Niners just cannot get off the field on third down. Before the bye, Cousins had the Chiefs beaten at Arrowhead, if not for Josh Doctson dropping a would-be game-winner. Slowly but surely, Cousins’ chemistry is building with Terrelle Pryor, whose 70 yards are his Washington high, including a 44-yard touchdown (his first). The Niners could again be without Eric Reid and Reuben Foster in a back seven that has ceded the most catches and second-most yards to running backs, and Week 4 bad beat deliverer Chris Thompson and a healthy Rob Kelley could feast. Plus, unlike just about everything else, a bye week can’t hurt Jordan Reed.
Must start: Kirk Cousins, Jordan Reed*, Rob Kelley*
Solid play: Terrelle Pryor, Chris Thompson, Washington D/ST
Worth a look: Josh Doctson
Vikings (vs. Packers)
The Pack has Aaron Rodgers, but the Vikes have Case Keenum … at least we assume they will after he bailed out Mike Zimmer’s poor handling of still-hobbling Sam Bradford on Monday. Keenum sports a 4:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 97.6 rating and has effectively spread the ball around to Minnesota’s suddenly deep receiving stable. The Packers are hurting in the secondary, where Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs each went scorched earth once last season. Jerick McKinnon, fresh off his RB3 overall showing in Minnesota’s first foray without Dalvin Cook, and not Latavius Murray looks like the Vikings’ new RB1 — an advantageous gig with a Packers defense just worn down by Zeke Elliott up next.
Must start: Stefon Diggs*, Adam Thielen
Solid play: Jerick McKinnon
Worth a look: Case Keenum, Kyle Rudolph
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Rams (at Jaguars)
They fell to No. 2 in scoring after mustering 10 points and giving away five turnovers at home against the Seahawks. Jacksonville improved to No. 2 in scoring ‘D’ and first in interceptions after making Big Ben long for Club Med with five picks. We’re buying both club’s transformations, but we don’t need the receipt for the Jaguars ‘D,’ a nasty, playmaking group with bona fide stars at every level. It was a rough Week 5 for the Rams’ brightest stars — Sammy Watkins was held catch-less and now visits perhaps the NFL’s top corner, Jalen Ramsey; Todd Gurley was held to 50 total yards, less than a third of his average. The 21st century L.A. Rams are 1-0 in Florida, but this is Sean McVay’s Rams’ first cross-country trek, after a 60-minute slobberknocker with Seattle.
Must start: Todd Gurley
Worth a look: Cooper Kupp
Last resort: Jared Goff, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods
Buccaneers (at Cardinals)
Jameis Winston didn’t turn it over in a duel with Tom Brady last week — which is good — although he didn’t turn his defense’s strong showing into an upset, either. Winston turned it over five times in his last trip to the desert, Week 2 last season, which was not the heat check he sought after a blistering 2016 debut. The Bucs are 2 ½-point favorites on the road, and come off the “mini bye” with a new lead back in refreshed Doug Martin. But this matchup is tougher than last week at home vs. the Patriots, with Patrick Peterson looking to avenge Mike Evans’ 6-70-1 game last season, and Arizona still stout defending the run and seething after getting Wentz’d.
Solid play: Doug Martin, Cameron Brate
Worth a look: Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson
Bears (at Ravens)
Rookie quarterbacks with better weapons than Mitchell Trubisky have struggled vs. John Harbaugh’s Ravens, who’ve never lost against one in 10 tries, per ESPN. Dowell Loggains hasn’t consistently rode his ground game, a clear necessity in Baltimore vs. the NFL’s No. 23 run defense. The Ravens, surprisingly, have had issues covering tight ends despite sound safeties, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. But Trubisky’s targeting his tight ends 44 percent of the time in his NFL debut yielded a fluky touchdown, but also an interception and multiple drops.
Must start: Jordan Howard
Worth a look: Zach Miller, Tarik Cohen, Kendall Wright
Dolphins (at Falcons)
What a week, and season for that matter, thus far for Adam Gase’s Dolphins. They won their home opener despite gaining 178 yards of offense and losing top playmaking wideout DeVante Parker. Monday their offensive line coach resigned after the leaking of a social media video that made his star pupil, Laremy Tunsil’s, look like a PG film. Now they head to Atlanta to face a rested Falcons club as 11-point ‘dogs.
Solid play: Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry