For the Buccaneers, this matchup is their chance to start/build some momentum from last week, and another week for the offense to mesh. For Buccaneer fantasy owners, Sunday’s game will go a long way in instilling some confidence in players who were off to a slow start this season.
For the Falcons and their fantasy owners, this game is full of questions. Wide Receiver Julio Jones, who led all fantasy WRs this season is now lost for the year. Fellow WR Roddy White has been declared out for the game. Free agent acquisition RB Steven Jackson will miss his fourth straight game. Can the backup receivers step up, and are any (Harry Douglas, perhaps) worth a fantasy start this week? Can TE Tony Gonzalez carry the offense with the defense keying in on him? How will QB Matt Ryan cope with the absence of two of his top weapons? Let's discuss.
* BUCCANEERS OFFENSE
Mike Glennon gave a nice welcome-to-the-NFL performance last weekend. He showed poise in the pocket, an ability to manage the game and a fondness for targeting his big men, Vincent Jackson and Tim Wright. That duo was targeted 23 times, resulting in 16 receptions and 205 yards (53%, 62% and 75% of Glennon’s total output in those categories, respectively).
The Falcons have allowed just two rushing touchdowns this year, and only one team has managed to break 100 yards rushing against them. However, Martin has had success against the Falcons in the past, putting up 192 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Atlanta in the two times he has faced them.
Chances are Martin owners are a bit frustrated with his output so far this season, making Martin an ideal “buy-low” candidate if you are in the market for a running back. He is having a promising year to start the season yardage-wise, on pace for 1,300+ rushing yards; however, has struggled to find the end zone and has not been much of a factor in the passing game. The scores could come at any time, of course, and Martin’s receptions have gone up each week with Glennon under center. If the Martin owner in your league has expressed some dissatisfaction with his or her first-round selection, now is the time to swoop in and offer a trade, so you will be the one to capitalize when his scoring and receiving numbers potentially return to last season’s pace.
As pointed out, Mike Glennon seems to have found his go-to receiver (and it's an obvious choice), aiming for Vincent Jackson 14 times last week, and finding him on two touchdown passes. With Mike Williams questionable for Sunday’s game, Jackson could against see the majority of Tampa Bay passes coming his way as they face the 26th-ranked fantasy defense against opposing receivers.
Jackson will be facing a much more experience secondary than he saw last weekend, but should have confidence playing in the slot, a position where he has found most of his success this year. Slot receivers have had the most success against Atlanta this season. In their last game, Jets WR Jeremy Kerley had 68 yards and a score; against New England Julian Edelman has 118 yards on seven receptions; and Rams’ receiver Tavon Austin, who has mostly been a fantasy wasteland, had two touchdowns from the slot. Jackson comes in much more imposing than the aforementioned WRs and could do some damage on the inside if the Glennon-Jackson duo is hitting again Sunday afternoon.
Finally, rookie TE Tim Wright was a welcome surprise for the Buccaneers offense last week. This 0.0% owned tight end hasn’t seen much of a jump in waiver wire claims (now 0.4%), but a second consecutive week of top-10 receptions and yardage could make him a surprise sleeper option for the rest of the season. Last week, Jets’ tight ends scored twice and put up 80 yards versus Atlanta. In the past two games, with Glennon throwing to him, Wright has 132 yards on 12 receptions, and nine have resulted in a first down. Wright will look to maintain that pace and be a big target in third-down situations, and could potentially take advantage of a Falcons defense that has given up five touchdowns to tight ends this season.
* ATLANTA OFFENSE
Coming out of their bye week, the Falcons look like a very different team than they did going into it. Star receiver Julio Jones was sitting at number-one in fantasy points for wide receivers in Week Five before being put on IR to miss the rest of the season. On the other side of the field, long-time starter and fantasy mainstay Roddy White will be missing the first game of his career, ending a 133-game streak. Without his two top receivers, QB Matt Ryan will need to work some magic to maintain any fantasy relevance for the remainder of the season. However, he is quite capable of doing so.
Ryan’s 19.2 fantasy points per game have him tied for fifth among quarterbacks. Of his 1,649 passing yards, 709 have gone to Jones or White, and Jones is the only wide receiver on the team to have caught a touchdown pass this year. Without those two in the lineup, Ryan has completed just 17 passes for 231 yards to WRs this season. Even with those numbers, it is hard to count Ryan out. The offense is rushing for just 78.4 yards per game, which is not a surprise when you consider that Ryan is throwing just shy of 44 passes per game. With the sheer volume of attempts, he is bound to put up yardage and some scores. Now the only question is: Who exactly will he be throwing it to?
The leading candidate to take over Atlanta’s massive fantasy point void would be WR Harry Douglas. He has shown flashes in his career, but has proven to be very hit-or-miss when called upon, a certain frustration for fantasy owners. He did score a touchdown against the Buccaneers in the final game last season. The Bucs’ secondary is 16th in points allowed to wide receivers, a big jump after allowing some big plays last week. Douglas can be a deep threat, and the Bucs have been susceptible in that aspect of their game. Kevin Cone is the likely second receiver, and not likely to be a good fantasy play.
On paper, the strategy for the tight end position seems much clearer: Throw the ball to Tony Gonzalez a whole lot. With Jones on IR, Gonzalez is now the receptions, targets, yardage, touchdown and first down leader for the team. Through five games he has 33 receptions for 339 yards and three touchdowns, and it would not be a stretch to imagine that his targets and receptions will increase significantly in this game. How the Buccaneers choose to defend him is really the key to the success of either team.
In Week 2, against the New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers were burned by TE Jimmy Graham for 179 yards and a score. Since, the Bucs have cracked down on the position, giving up just eight receptions for 87 yards to tight ends, but those opponents aren’t the caliber of player they will face Sunday. One must expect that the Buccaneers will do whatever it takes to blanket Gonzalez (a la New England vs. Jimmy Graham in Week 6), but with limited receiving options elsewhere, Gonzalez could still rack up the receptions.
Don’t count out Levine Toilolo, a rookie tight end opposite Gonzalez. With a depleted receiving corps, he could be in line for a number of looks as well if the Bucs focus heavily on Gonzalez. He has just five receptions this season, but two have been in the end zone.
Finally, the Falcons showcase two more minor receiving options out of the backfield with RBs Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers has 52 carries for 177 yards and two scores compared to Snelling’s 28 rushes for 111 yards and one TD. They are also both receiving threats with 33 combined receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. With their lack of a run game so far this season, and the Buccaneers sturdiness defending the run (eighth in fantasy points allowed to RBs, zero RB touchdowns allowed), it would seem that these two most likely find their points on receptions.
The Buccaneers quarterback is a rookie making his third start of the year. The Falcons are without their young star receiver, and the receiver who has lead the team in receiving yards every season since 2007. Yet, this still looks like a matchup with the potential for a lot of fantasy points in the passing game. For the Falcons, get ready to see a lot of Matt Ryan drop-backs. And when the Bucs have the ball, look Martin to get involved early, and Glennon to then pepper passes to his favorite targets to get the team rolling.