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Ranks: Another shootout ahead for Pats?

9/28/2011

The New England Patriots are playing some very interesting football this season, with 79 points and 1,406 yards through three games. Of course, I'm not referring to what they're doing offensively. We know Tom Brady and Wes Welker are great; the offense has accounted for 1,621 yards, the most ever for a team through three games. But the team's defense has been, uh, not so great. The 2-1 Patriots have allowed 1,406 yards, the fifth-most for a defense through three games since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.

As a result, I can justify my generous Week 4 rankings of Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell and wide receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Moore, a speedy, exciting Tennessee product, had a huge Week 2 game against the Buffalo Bills, and last week against the New York Jets he scored on a 23-yard run. Meanwhile, Ford's hamstring injury, from which he's expected to return this week, doesn't scare me. Ford, who averaged a cool 18.8 yards per reception last season (which would have ranked tied for fifth in the league had he caught more passes), hasn't played since Week 1 but claims his goal was this game against the Patriots.

Well, these days, everyone's goal should be to play against the Patriots; this team ranks second in the league in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, behind only the Green Bay Packers. No team permits more points to wide receivers. And don't worry, Darren McFadden owners, the NFL's rushing leader should do just fine against the seventh-easiest defense for running backs. No team has given up more receptions or receiving yards to running backs than, you guessed it, the Pats.

Campbell is tied for 15th in fantasy points among quarterbacks, as McFadden has done the heavy lifting, but the quarterback has looked impressive. He has minimized his mistakes this season, with just one interception -- no starting quarterback has zero -- and he has rushed for two touchdowns. Campbell's yards per attempt are down a bit from last season, but the absence of Ford for two-plus games hasn't helped. Now Ford is expected to play. Moore has caught only nine passes -- but for 180 yards. Only five wide receivers boast a higher average. He and Ford should be lethal together, and the Patriots aren't likely to stop them.

That's why Campbell is my No. 12 quarterback this week, most notably ahead of Matt Ryan, Cam Newton (at the Bears!) and Joe Flacco. Moore cracks my top 30 wide receivers, more of a flex choice, and I admit I hedged a bit on Ford, though No. 38 isn't bad. I might move Ford up a few spots -- or 10 -- as the week goes on. The Patriots will get their 35 points this week, but they might allow even more. Get in on the fun.

Other bad defenses: When ranking the quarterbacks and wide receivers, I was absolutely thinking about which teams would enjoy fortuitous matchups. I placed Rex Grossman 15th at quarterback despite a matchup against the soft St. Louis Rams secondary; Grossman's proclivity for giving the ball away still concerns me, but I could see 300 passing yards here. Wide receiver Santana Moss earned the bigger jump for me, nearly making my top 10 there. And I always rank New York Giants leader Eli Manning well, but the fact that he's facing the Arizona Cardinals urged me to rank Hakeem Nicks the best of the group and Mario Manningham as a strong flex, even though the latter missed Week 3 with a concussion.

Then there's Pittsburgh: Do the Steelers still have a top defense? They sure haven't played like it. The Steelers' defense has produced 21 fantasy points so far, nearly half of Baltimore's total, and not top-10. I expect Matt Schaub and especially the Houston Texans' running backs to have little trouble this week. The Steelers have allowed 5.16 yards per rush up the middle this season, 26th in the league, and only one of the teams they faced featured an elite runner (Ray Rice, as opposed to Marshawn Lynch and Joseph Addai the past two weeks). I ranked both Ben Tate and Arian Foster as top-20 running backs; nobody else has that level of Tate love. He's fifth in the league in rushing, and Foster likely won't take on a full starter's rushing load.

Charging ahead? I reluctantly ranked San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates 11th at his position after originally leaving him out. Gates missed the Week 3 game, and it's certainly possible that becomes a trend. He also plans to see a foot specialist. This doesn't sound promising to me. I view Gates as similar to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, and not in a good way. Sure, when these fellows play, they should be terrific ... except we don't know how many games they will play, and neither has been terrific. Will either play this week? Vince Young is kind of like Randy McMichael, I suppose. They're backups likely to be called into duty soon. If you own Gates -- or Vick, for that matter -- and they do play, you start them, but be prepared for missed games. Hedge on trading full value for them. I ranked Gates poorly (for him), outside the top 10, but by Friday we should know more. I'm guessing I'll either remove Gates altogether or move him into the 4-6 range.