Fantasy football players seem to get smarter every year. The leagues get deeper. The competition gets better. That's partially because of the sheer amount of information available to fantasy geeks willing to put the time in.
But it's not always easy to find sound fantasy advice on players making up the back ends of fantasy depth charts. That's where we'll try to help fill in the gaps by providing you with information we've gleaned by being on the Patriots beat.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: TOM BRADY VS. SEAN McDERMOTT
Tom Brady has been the league's best quarterback through three games this season, according to Pro Football Focus, helped by a No. 2 ranking in their "big-time throw percentage" (7.4 percent). He's helped the Patriots average more than 35 points per game, and he's averaged better than 23 fantasy points per game as a 42-year-old in a league dominated by athletes almost half his age. Still, you might want to keep him on your bench this week.
Blasphemy? Nope. I'd play him if I didn't have any better options. But he's probably my 12th-best fantasy quarterback this week, meaning there's a very good chance you have better options. Plenty of you out there drafted Brady and Lamar Jackson late. Or Brady and Kyler Murray. Or Brady and Jared Goff. I'd rank all three ahead of Brady this week. For those of you who've jumped on the Daniel Jones bandwagon? I'd play him over Brady this week, too.
In four games against Sean McDermott as head coach of the Bills, Brady has thrown four picks and three touchdowns. His rating is 84.5 in those games. And in Buffalo, where he'll be this weekend, Brady hasn't thrown a touchdown against McDermott's defense. The Bills, meanwhile, are as good as they've been since McDermott's arrival. They're allowing just 5.5 yards per attempt (third in the NFL), a 70.2 quarterback rating (fourth) and 212.0 yards per game (ninth). According to Football Outsiders, they're the No. 4 pass defense in terms of their DVOA metric. Not great news for Brady fantasy owners.
Considering Brady's history against this defense, Buffalo's performance this year, New England's banged-up offensive line, its ineffective-to-this-point running game, and an injury that could impact Julian Edelman's effectiveness, I wouldn't be rushing to get Brady in my starting lineup. And I certainly wouldn't be paying the premium it'll take to get him in daily leagues; he's the third-most expensive quarterback on Draft Kings this week. Brady is still one of the best in the league. But he's not a good fantasy option this week. Sit him down.
SEE 'EM POPPING
JULIAN EDELMAN: If Edelman is playing — and he practiced on Wednesday, which is a good indication the team thinks he'll be healthy enough to be in uniform — then feel free to roll with the guy despite his rib injury. Of course you run the risk of him aggravating something Sunday and missing time, but if he's in uniform he's too good to sit. The Patriots are going to have to throw to someone, and Edelman will be Brady's best option. Not just because he's typically Brady's best option, but because he's performed against McDermott's defense before. In a man-to-man league, the Bills still mix in a lot of zone and Edelman is the human zone-beater. No one understands how to sit down in the soft areas of a secondary better than Edelman, and Brady knows it. In two games against McDermott's Bills (Edelman missed all of 2017), he has 15 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown.
JAMES WHITE: Part of the reason the Patriots offense stalled as it did through three quarters last week against the Jets was because they were without their best pass-catching back. Rex Burkhead saw more snaps as a result and was productive, but the 20-personnel groupings the Patriots liked through the first two weeks of the season — with White and Burkhead on the field together — were not an option. They should be back again Sunday. While the Bills have a pair of athletic linebackers who are effective in coverage in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, White should see enough work to make him a worthwhile start.
He had mixed results against the Bills last year. In his first meeting with Edmunds, he worked the rookie for four catches on four targets and catching 10 passes overall for 79 yards. In his second go-round, he caught just two passes for 13 yards as the Patriots went run-heavy late in the season. Brady attempted just 21 passes that day. I'd expect Josh McDaniels to go with a more balanced attack this time around. Benefitting White is the fact that while the Bills are good against just about every position in coverage, they're least effective against running backs, allowing a 43 percent success rate to backs, according to Sharp Football Stats. That's 15th in the league in that category. They're fifth against tight ends and 10th against receivers.
SONY MICHEL: This one might confuse you. All we've done is hammer the Patriots running game of late. The problems have been multi-layered with that portion of their offense. And there don't seem to be any immediate remedies available to McDaniels and Bill Belichick. Let's be clear: I'd be wary of starting Michel in standard re-draft leagues. But in deeper leagues — and particularly in daily fantasy formats where Michel can be had on the cheap — I'm in on Michel this week. The Patriots aren't bailing on the running game, even with James Develin now on injured reserve and a couple of fill-ins starting on the offensive line.
They're still running almost as much as anyone on first down, trying to get themselves going on the ground. It hasn't been successful, but I don't see them giving up the pursuit. Especially this week as they go against a tough-to-crack secondary and a rush defense that's only a middle-of-the-pack unit. The Bills are 19th in the league against the run, allowing 4.4 yards per carry, and Football Outsiders ranks them as the 21st run defense in football by DVOA. Buffalo also just lost one of its best run defenders, defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, to a torn ACL. And remember, late last year the Patriots ran all over the Bills to the tune of 275 yards on 45 carries (6.1 yards per attempt). If ever they were going to get their running game going, and resuscitate Michel's fantasy relevance, this would be the week.
SEE 'EM DROPPING
JOSH GORDON: We've already mentioned just how effective the Bills defense has been against opposing passing gams this season, and Gordon's numbers could suffer as a result. In one game against Buffalo last season, Gordon caught four passes for 42 yards. When covered by talented young corner Tre'Davious White, Gordon reeled in two targets for 15 yards. White has been a bit up and down this year, but he's coming off a strong performance against the Bengals in which he picked off two passes and allowed just one catch for 26 yards on six targets. The Bills will likely use their safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde to try to prevent Brady from hitting on chunk gains with Gordon. They've been great in that regard so far this season. Buffalo is the No. 2 team in the league in terms of limiting explosive pass plays (20 yards or more), giving up just six all season on 129 attempts (4.7 percent), according to Sharp Football Stats, which is a slightly better percentage than even the vaunted Patriots defense boasts (six on 121 attempts, 5.0 percent).
REX BURKHEAD: Burkhead has been the most dynamic back the Patriots have. He's been better between the tackles than Sony Michel, averaging 4.7 yards per carry thanks in part to quickness that allows him to avoid tacklers who've penetrated the Patriots backfield. Burkhead has also been a more productive receiver, racking 13 grabs for 110 yards. But White's return to the lineup Sunday should return Burkhead to the unpredictable role he typically holds. He's always a threat to score. He's always a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield or when lined up in the slot or out wide. And recently he's been a more dynamic runner than the team's early-down backs. It's still very difficult to know when he's going to be used and how.
PHILLIP DORSETT: If teams continue to elect not to cover Dorsett, then he's going to continue to pick up long gains and be a threat to score every week. But that's less likely to happen against a defense like Buffalo's. Plus, with Edelman and White in the mix, the target share we saw Dorsett take last week (seven, resulting in six catches, 53 yards and a score) will drop. He'll likely be the fourth or fifth option in the Patriots passing game against a very good defense. Not exactly a recipe for fantasy success.
THE BILLS: At this point, it's a good idea to go ahead and sit anyone the Patriots are playing. Until they prove they're susceptible somewhere, you can't feel good about playing anyone they're trying to stop. They've stopped No. 1 receivers cold thanks to another superb start from Stephon Gilmore. They've prevented running games from getting going, allowing just 2.3 yards per carry and 36.7 yards per game. (Jumping out to early leads and forcing teams to be one-dimensional has helped in that regard.) They've been damn near impossible to beat on third down (12.8 percent conversions allowed). What they've done has been historically good.
Of course they haven't seen much of an offense yet. And while Josh Allen has shown improvement in certain areas — he's sixth in the league in adjusted completion percentage, according to Pro Football Focus — he's still prone to turning it over (5.2 percent turnover-worthy play rate, fourth in the NFL, per PFF). It's going to be a rough day for anyone invested in Bills fantasy options.
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