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Ten most intriguing players of Week Three

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Recent posts by Pat Fitzmaurice

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By Pat Fitzmaurice

1. Matt Schaub — In the Texans' 30-27 overtime win over the Redskins last week, Schaub picked apart the Washington defense with the clinical precision of a veteran biology teacher demonstrating proper frog dissection to high school students. Schaub threw for 497 yards and three TDs and was nearly flawless after throwing an interception in his first series of the game. How will Schaub and the Texans attack the ailing Cowboys in this week's Lone Star State throwdown? In Week One, the Texans were content to let Arian Foster pound away at the Colts' run defense. In Week Two, Schaub took a scalpel to the Redskins. Will this tendency of offensive lopsidedness continue, or is this the week the Texans strike a run-pass balance?

2. Maurice Jones-Drew — MJD is off to a poor start, raising questions about the fitness of his knee. He looked very un-Jones-Drew-like (how's that for hyphenation?) in the Jaguars' blowout loss to the Chargers last week, with only 13 touches and 48 yards from scrimmage. The status of MJD's knee remains a mystery. Reports that he recently had arthroscopic knee surgery were quickly refuted as erroneous, and Jones-Drew insists that the knee is a non-issue. But to the naked eye, Jones-Drew has not appeared to be his typically explosive self in his first two regular-season games. This week he faces an Eagles defense that was just steamrolled by another mighty mite, Jahvid Best. Let's see if MoJo can get back his mojo.

3. Brett Favre — It appears that old No. 4 blew his chance to retire on top, or at least something very close to it. He played brilliantly last season and came ever so close to leading the Vikings to the Super Bowl. He exacted the revenge he craved against his former team, the Packers, beating them twice. Now, his team is 0-2, he's playing poorly, his offensive line is rapidly deteriorating, and he has a shortage of credible targets at wide receiver. But dare we write off Favre so soon? He gets a gift from the schedule maker this week: a home game against the Lions, whose defense remains wretched despite upgrades on the D-line. If Favre turns in a bad performance against Detroit, it's probably safe to assume that his illustrious career is not going to end well.

4. LeSean McCoy — The interesting thing about McCoy's big rushing day against the Lions last week (120 yards, three TDs) is that he needed only 16 carries to do all that damage. And, actually, a 16-carry day amounts to a huge workload for "Shady," who has been given more than 14 carries in only four of 18 career games. As sparingly as he has been used in the running game, perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising that last week's game against the Lions was the first 100-yard rushing game of McCoy's career. Heck, he's still getting a little less than 10 carries per game for his career. The moral of the story: Andy Reid loves his passing game. McCoy is a reasonably good pass catcher, which helps him keep the cobwebs off, but McCoy owners obviously want to see their guy get more carries than, say, the seven carries he got against Green Bay in Week One. Good luck trying to figure out how many handoffs McCoy will take this week when the Eagles visit Jacksonville.

5. Demaryius Thomas — Not a bad NFL debut for the guy nicknamed "Bay-Bay," eh? A foot injury kept the big rookie out of the preseason, and he was inactive for Week One. Last week, we finally got to see why the Broncos spent a first-round draft pick on him: He caught eight passes for 97 yards and a TD. Thomas is a well-sculpted 6-foot-3 and runs like a gazelle. He claims to have run the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds before breaking his foot, and when you watch him glide downfield, you don't doubt him. Thomas and the Broncos host the Colts this week, and if Peyton Manning rolls into Denver with guns blazing, this game could turn into a shootout, with Bay-Bay playing a prominent role.

6. Ray Rice — After a quiet Week One performance against the rugged Jets defense, Rice started to get into a groove last week against the Bengals, rushing 16 times for 87 yards and catching four passes for 30 yards. Rice is still looking for his first touchdown of the season, and some Rice owners are already starting to fret that he won't improve on his modest TD total (eight) from last season. The little guy stands a decent chance of fattening his stats this week against the Browns. Expect him to get plenty of carries as the Ravens try to gently mend Joe Flacco's psyche, limiting his number of dropbacks after his four-INT performance last week.

7. Steve Smith (Panthers) — It would be interesting to see what this cat could do if he were to hook up with a good quarterback. I'm not sure "good" is a fitting way to describe even the peak of Jake Delhomme's career, but in 2005, when Delhomme's career was cresting and Smith was returning to action after missing all but the first game of 2004, Smith caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 TDs. The Panthers are now madly cycling through quarterbacks in an effort to find Mr. Right. They've pulled the plug on Matt Moore after only two games and are handing over the job to rookie Jimmy Clausen. Smith's dependence on a rookie QB makes his immediate fantasy prospects appear bleak. But, if you prefer to look at it from a glass-half-full angle, it's entirely possible that Clausen will lean heavily on the only exceptional receiver at his disposal, leading to a whole bunch of targets. But back to the half-empty glass: The Panthers will be facing the Bengals, who have a terrific CB tandem in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.

8. Aaron Hernandez — The Patriots' rookie tight end has amassed more receiving yardage than either Randy Moss or Wes Welker so far, and neither is within 40 yards of the new guy. Hernandez had six catches for 101 yards against the Jets last week, and he has had receptions of 45 yards and 46 yards in his first two games. Not bad for a guy who wasn't even the first tight end to be selected by the Pats in this year's draft. (That honor went to Rob Gronkowski, the blocking yin to Hernandez's pass-catching yang.) As if there weren't reason enough to be enthused by his fantasy prospects, Hernandez figures to become an even more vital component of the New England passing game now that pass-catching RB extraordinaire Kevin Faulk is out for the season with a knee injury. The Patriots are preparing to host the Bills, who gave up 103 receiving yards to Packers TE Jermichael Finley last week.

9. Michael Turner — The big guy is supposedly good to go after making an early exit from last week's 41-7 win over the Cardinals because of a groin injury. The prognosis is encouraging, but even a minor early-season injury has to be worrisome to Turner's owners. Turner missed five regular-season games last season and has a running style that invites punishment. Tuner and the Falcons travel to New Orleans, and in Turner's one game against the Saints last season, he gashed them for 151 rushing yards and a TD.

10. Greg Jennings — It's hard to figure out whether Jennings is an elite receiver or merely a good one. In 2008, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Jennings was destined to become a superstar. He had 80 receptions for 1,292 yards and nine TDs that season, only his third in the league. His reception and yardage totals regressed slightly last season, and he produced only four TDs. It's fair to wonder whether Jennings is even the most dangerous pass catcher on his own team these days. TE Jermichael Finley is rapidly becoming an Antonio Gates-caliber weapon. The Packers also have the rock-steady Donald Driver and the improving James Jones at receiver, meaning Jennings could be marginalized in any given week. That was the case in Week Two when he checked in with a measly three catches for 36 yards against the Bills. But Jennings is still a must-start for his fantasy owners, and he has a favorable Monday-night matchup against a Bears defense that's much tougher against the run than the pass.

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