It's gut-check time for the Patriots: They're 2-2 on the season, the defense is in shambles, and they're flying to Tampa Bay on a short week to take on an ascendent Bucs club. A decisive win, and they're back on track as AFC East kings. Another last-second victory or a loss, and the alarms will reach a fever pitch.
Charles Krupa / AP
Tom Brady is off to one of the best starts of his career--at the season's quarter pole, he's on track for 40 touchdowns (at age 40) and an NFL-record 5,596 passing yards. The way the Patriots defense has looked so far, he's going to need to keep up that breakneck pace. As always, he's a lock. Going up against that defense, Jameis Winston looks like another QB1. There's a risk the Pats defense might finally put things together, but until we see proof every QB they face is going to be an easy start.
James White had another big PPR performance last week, catching 10 passes for 47 yards. If you're in a PPR format, he's another solid start this week. Mike Gillislee, on the other hand, will be a roll of the dice: the Pats have been outstandingly awful in short-yardage situations so far, but one or two goal-line carries could be all he needs to be a fine flex play. Start him if you want, but it's probably best to keep him on the bench until he demonstrates more ability outside of the 5 yard line. For the Bucs, Doug Martin is set to make his 2017 debut after a three-week suspension. It seems like he's been explosive one year and awful the next since entering the NFL, so it's probably best to give him a week as well and figure out which type of year this will be.
Mike Gillislee: 5 points
51 rushing yards (5 points)
Chris Hogan is on pace to score 16 touchdowns this year. That's not a typo. He's not the fastest, and he's not the quickest, but he does seem to get the ball in scoring situations, making him a solid start this week once again. Brandin Cooks is set to reprise his role as the team's deep threat, giving him deep-ball TD potential as well, while Danny Amendola soaks up receptions and yards underneath. As long as Tom Brady is running the offense, every starting Pats receiver merits consideration in fantasy. Tampa Bay has two killer receivers in Mike Evans (6'4" and freakishly athletic) and DeSean Jackson (one of the fastest receivers in the league). While Jackson might give the Patriots problems like Tyreek Hill did in the opener, Evans is a more complete receiver and has the physical tools to dominate New England's smaller corners. Given the way the Pats defense has played so far this year, expect a massive night for the former first-round pick.
Rob Gronkowski was announced as a late scratch hours before kickoff, meaning that the Pats will have to rely on a combination of Dwayne Allen and undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister at tight end. Allen has been utilized more as a blocker so far, while Hollister hasn't seen many in-game snaps (but has seen targets in the past three weeks). It's tough to forecast whether either one will be viable, but don't expect a big night in any case. Tampa Bay rookie OJ Howard broke out against the Giants, but for now Cameron Brate is still firmly entrenched as the team's starting tight end. He should be startable, considering how awfully the Pats have played so far.
The Pats defense is on pace to se the NFL record for yards allowed in a season. Put bluntly, they're not startable until they demonstrate improvement. Going against Tom Brady, the Bucs defense is in the same boat. As far as kickers go, Stephen Gostkowski and Nick Folk are both fine options, as usual.
That's it for this fantasy breakdown. Enjoy your Thursday night, and Go Pats!