Through two weeks of the 2013 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 0-2. The New England Patriots are 2-0. The Bucs have lost both games on last-second field goals, creating a slim negative-three scoring differential. The Patriots beat the Bills in Week One on a last-second field goal, making their total point differential just plus-5. The Buccaneers have allowed 34 points, putting up 31 of their own. The Patriots have allowed 31 points, scoring 36.
Both defenses have proven strong, but neither offense has found its stride and lived up to its advance billing. Thus, it is difficult to predict what will happen when the two teams clash this Sunday. Will we witness a low-scoring, back-and-forth defensive struggle, like both teams have played so far? Or can the Bucs and Pats reverse this trend and light up the scoreboard?
There are big fantasy names on display: Tom Brady, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin. And there are big names on the injury report, like Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, meaning this game has quite a few question marks, but also the potential for some under-the-radar performances for fantasy owners to tap into. Let's take a look at how that might unfold.
1. Can QBs Turn the Corner?
As the fantasy football season began, Bucs' quarterback Josh Freeman was being drafted as the 25th overall quarterback. He is currently owned in just 9.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady flew off draft boards as the 4th quarterback selected on average. He is currently owned, unsurprisingly, in 100% of leagues.
At this point in the season, however, neither quarterback has made a splash in fantasy football. Over the first two weeks, Brady's 26 fantasy points and Freeman's 16 add up to be less than each of the top six fantasy quarterbacks have earned so far. So the question is, can either of these quarterbacks turn that around and put up the numbers you would expect from your starting quarterback, especially one that you spent a second round-pick on?
Both the Buccaneers' and Patriots' pass defenses have been solid so far this season, ranking in the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Neither QB has tossed more than 300 yards in a single game, a milestone that has been topped 23 times in the first two weeks by other NFL quarterbacks. Brady and Freeman have faced one like opponent, the New York Jets. They fared similarly, with Brady earning 11 points and Freeman getting 10.
Josh Freeman has the weapons around him to succeed, that much is evident from his 4,000+ yards last season. Doug Martin quietly has the second most rushing yards in the NFL. Vincent Jackson is fifth in the league with 231 receiving yards. However, the offense has yet to find a groove, or the long-ball touch that it had last season.
Freeman had 35 completions in 2012 of more than 25 yards, fourth most in the NFL. This season, he has thrown just three, on pace for a third fewer than his 2012 total. With Martin continuing to rush well for the team, Freeman will need to find his touch and give the Buccaneers that sort of explosiveness if he hopes to re-experience the fantasy relevance that he enjoyed last season. The Patriots' defense ranks fourth in points allowed to quarterbacks, but they have yet to face a non-rookie QB this season. If Freeman can establish a rhythm, New England will be an opportunity to turn his fantasy output around.
Brady's potential success lies heavily in the status of his two top receiving threats, WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski. Going into the Week Three matchup, Amendola is listed as doubtful and Gronkowski is questionable. Only one of the top eight Patriots receivers from a season ago (Julian Edelman) played in Week Two. Edelman's 2012 stat line looks like this: 21 receptions, 235 yards, 3 touchdowns. Next on that list: Stevan Ridley with a grand total of six catches last season.
Should neither Amendola nor Gronkowski play, Tom Brady could be in for another frustrating week similar to is 185-yard performance against the Jets. The Buccaneers defense has the tools to limit this offense should they be missing key players, which leads us into…
2. A Perfect Storm Brewing for Bucs?
It is no secret that in 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense gave up the most passing yardage in the NFL, leading to the second most fantasy points conceded all season long. The Bucs ranked 31st in the NFL when it came to defending wide receivers: per game, WRs averaged 25.8 points against Tampa Bay. And the Bucs were 29th when it came to defending tight ends: 8.3 points per game.
This resulted in the popular mindset that if your quarterback, receiver or tight end was playing the Buccaneers, they were a pretty safe bet to put up a good deal of points. The tides in 2013 have taken an interesting change over the first two weeks, and the statistics suggest that a Week Three matchup with the Patriots might work in the Buccaneers favor.
This season, in fantasy points allowed, the Buccaneers have the second BEST defense against receivers and the worst defense against tight ends.
This is significant against the Patriots because through the first two games, only WR Edelman has presented as a viable fantasy football option and he will be facing the second-best WR-defending secondary in the league. Where opposing offenses get their fantasy football money's worth is with the tight end, but New England's top tight end may not even take the field.
All of this amounts to a potentially golden situation for the Buccaneers' defense, as no Patriot's name stands out to throw into a fantasy lineup this week. Edelman should see a lot of looks, but how well will he do facing Darrelle Revis and company? Rookie WRs Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have combined for just nine receptions, 145 yards and one TD over the last two weeks; can they be trusted to throw into your starting lineup with one of them potentially getting stranded on the island? And the only Patriot tight end to even touch the ball this season has been Michael Hoomanawanui, with a grand total of one catch for five yards. Their other Gronk-replacement, Zach Sudfeld, is returning from a hamstring injury and will see his first action of the year against the Bucs. Can either take advantage of the only real fantasy flaw in this Buccaneer defense?
Gronkowski is likely to be a game-time decision. Naturally, should he or Amendola play, they should make your lineup. Amendola proved in Week One and in his preseason match against the Bucs that he is certainly a PPR threat. And, as stated above, it looks that the only way the Patriots offense will be able to move the ball through the air is if Gronkowski comes back healthy. If not, it might be a long fantasy day for New England owners.
3. Buccaneers Skill Players
Doug Martin has the second most rushing yards in the NFL this season with 209. However, he finds himself ranked 15th in terms of fantasy points in PPR leagues. Why? So far this season, he has just two receptions for -1 yard. Compare that to his 49 catches for 472 yards last year.
This week, Martin is facing a Patriots defense that has given up 110 yards per game on the ground to opposing running backs, translating into 11 fantasy points per game. But it is in the passing game that opposing RBs have been putting up the majority of their points. In the two previous weeks, the Pats have allowed 11 running back receptions for 77 yards. In 1-point PPR leagues, that is 18 additional points.
Doug Martin can continue to be a danger on the ground and have another solid performance should he keep to his current average stat line, but for him to take the next step and earn his top-five draft pick designation, he needs to be more involved in the passing game out of the backfield and find his stride from last season.
Like Martin, Vincent Jackson is at the top of his position from a yardage standpoint (fifth in the NFL with 231 receiving yards), but just 20th in fantasy points, having not found himself in the end zone.
Based on Jackson's stats, it is really a matter of time before he breaks the goal line. Last season, he led the league in yards per catch with 19.2. This season he has 12 receptions, averaging 19.3 yards. And all of these stats do not include a 73-yard touchdown reception from last week that was negated by penalty. That reception would have added 14 points to his fantasy total this year.
The Patriots secondary is ranked fourth in points allowed to opposing receivers, giving up 14 fewer points per game than the average team. However, their two games were facing rookie quarterbacks that completed just 14 passes to their receivers for a total of 236 yards. Based on Jackson's first two performances, he is still a must-start receiver this week. Each week, he has the potential to eclipse 100 yards and should put up his first touchdown sooner than later. His yardage and reception numbers are right where his fantasy owners want him to be, and once the offense starts clicking and the big plays re-develop, the touchdowns will come as well.