After enjoying the Detroit Lions pulling off an unexpected upset in the first Thursday Night Football game of the season two weeks ago and watching the Minnesota Vikings fall to an ominous 0-2 record last week, we’re in for the first David vs. Goliath TNF of the year.
The New York Giants (1-1) were able to edge the Arizona Cardinals following an 0-60 offensive start through the first six quarters of 2023 play with a miracle second-half comeback Sunday.
The San Francisco 49ers (2-0) are considered by some a clear favorite to hoist the Super Bowl trophy and possibly the best team in the league through two weeks.
There are saucier matchups in the full Week 3 slate of games when it comes to over/under total points projections, but the TNF clash between the Niners and Big Blue isn’t that bad, all things considered. Oddsmakers project 44.5 total points, but they’re favoring San Francisco by a humongous 10 points over New York, the third-largest difference across Week 3 games.
Are we sure they should be called the New York … Giants?
How do the Giants and 49ers arrive at their TNF matchup?
If you paid attention to the introduction or just happen to follow the league closely, you already know the Giants fumbled the ball in their season opener (40-0 against the Dallas Cowboys) but somehow came back from 20 points down against the Arizona Cardinals last weekend to make their record an even 1-1 so far.
The 49ers, on the other hand, have been too good too soon. They kicked things off with a 30-7 trouncing of Pittsburgh, and although the Rams put up some fight against them last weekend, they were able to fend them off, too, on their way to a 2-0 record. Both victories were earned on the road.
More important than what these two have done is what they will have to do going forward, especially the Giants. Case in point: Injured RB1 Saquon Barkley, who played all but two snaps in Big Blue’s victory over Arizona but left the game with a sprained ankle that could rule him out for the next few weeks.
The fantasy seasons of players belonging to these two teams pretty much replicate their real-life results. Only QB Daniel Jones is currently inside the top 30 fantasy players of the season, with Barkley a borderline top-40 player, even though he has completed virtually two full games.
On the flip side, San Francisco has three players inside the top 35, including a running back (Christian McCaffrey, nearly inside the top 10), a wide receiver (Brandon Aiyuk) and the quarterback (Brock Purdy).
TNF Week 3: Injury Report
We’ve already gone through this for the past two weeks, and things are not changing ahead of the third TNF of the season. It was Travis Kelce out in Week 1, then Kenneth Gainwell in Week 2, and now fantasy GMs out there won’t be able to count on Saquon Barkley to lead their teams.
Both teams are entering Thursday’s matchup carrying some banged-up players, but there is no one even remotely close to boasting the potential Barkley offers and the production we know he has in him.
The Giants have practiced without OL Ben Bredeson (concussion) this week, and OT Andrew Thomas (hamstring) has already been ruled out. WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee) is expected to make his regular-season debut Thursday.
For its part, San Francisco nearly lost WR Brandon Aiyuk (shoulder) to injury early last Sunday, though the wideout stayed on the field rotating with rookie WR Ronnie Bell and ultimately playing 30 snaps. He's been ruled out for Thursday's matchup.
While the Giants have serious, confirmed injury problems, the 49ers are in a position in which they might decide to give some rest to some of their leading performers in what looks like a favorable matchup and winnable TNF game.
Temper your expectations for Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, as their playing time and snaps might go down a notch Thursday if the Niners get up quickly and decide to give them some rest throughout the game.
One stat that can swing the balance
The 49ers average the second-most yards per play and limit opponents to the fifth-fewest. The Giants average the seventh-fewest and allow the fifth-most.
Simply put, the 49ers are what you’d consider a dominant team, and the Giants are what you’d call a struggling squad (at best).
It’s old news by now, but the 40-0 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 will resonate for months on end because it was an absolute disaster for New York from start to finish. Similarly, Big Blue’s bounce-back last Sunday was equally impressive, with the offense putting up incredible numbers in the second half of the matchup.
In NFL history, there had been 102 games lost by 40-plus points without scoring a single point before the Giants did it in their season opener for just the 18th time this century. They also allowed the lowly Cardinals to score 20 points without an answer, making it an ugly 0-60 start to the season. Sheesh …
Then, in the second half of their Week 2 game, the Giants went on to score on every possession, with Jones completing 17 of 21 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns (along with 44 yards on seven carries including another TD) in those two quarters alone.
The 49ers, on a very contrasting start to the 2023 season compared to New York’s, have won 12 consecutive regular-season matchups spanning all the way back to an October 2022 loss to Kansas City.
The Niners are 14-1 in their past 15 games, including two postseason wins and a loss to Super Bowl runner-up Philadelphia in January. They have scored at least 19 points in each of their past 10 wins. They have scored 30 in back-to-back games to start this season. They have allowed 30 points combined through two weeks of play, and they limited opponents to 20 or fewer points in 14 of 17 regular-season games in 2022.
Two players to start, one to leave on your bench
Start: QB Daniel Jones (NYG)
Jones is currently ranked as the 10th-best quarterback in fantasy leagues. Jones is also the most volatile player in fantasy football without regard to position two weeks into the season. That’s because he put up 6.46 FP in Week 1 and scored 31.74 FP last Sunday. The most probable outcome against the stout 49ers defense is going to be somewhere in the middle of those two figures, but that’s more than enough for a streamer and a DFS play with upside.
Jones can do it both passing and rushing, and his Week 2 second-half numbers alone might be attainable for him on TNF. He completed 17 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns while scrambling for 44 yards and another score. Even if you remove one passing touchdown and add some completions (Jones completed 26 passes against the Cardinals), that’s a solid 20+ FP outing.
The Giants will need Jones to do everything on the field with Saquon Barkley out, so he is in a prime position to throw passes in bunches and rush the ball a lot with no threatening running back in New York’s backfield.
Start: QB Brock Purdy (SF)
Purdy might be coming off his worst game ever in the NFL, both in real and fantasy purposes. Mr. Irrelevant was still good enough to complete 17 of 25 passes last Sunday for 206 yards without touchdowns or interceptions. He also scored a rushing touchdown on just three carries. That’s not going to be a week-winning type of outing any time, but he was still solid, and again, that was Purdy’s worst game and a likely example of his floor.
Purdy is going to rebound because the 49ers are so good, and the Giants simply don’t know how to stop an offense these days. Since becoming a full-time starter in Week 13 last season, Purdy has completed at least 15 passes each time he has been out there in a regular-season game, he has passed for more than 200 yards in six of those eight games (including the two games played this season), and he has thrown 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
The most ridiculous thing is that before failing to complete a touchdown pass last Sunday, Purdy had thrown for two or three TD passes in all regular-season games he started in 2022 and 2023. He also had receivers open three separate times in Week 2, but he overthrew all of them, so any other day, he would have easily completed at least one of those for a score.
Bench: RB Matt Breida (NYG)
A lot of fantasy GMs out there will jump at the chance to add and start Breida this weekend, thinking he will just slide into the RB1 role and put up numbers as if he were Barkley. Spoiler: That won’t happen.
In the unlikely event it were to happen, there is no real way of knowing in advance because Barkley has logged 38 touches through Week 2 compared to Breida’s four.
Breida is the veteran rusher on the Giants rotation behind Barkley, but it’s not that clear that he will be the man tasked with carrying the ball the majority of the time or contribute that much in the passing game. The Giants might opt to side with Gary Brightwell over Breida, while rookie Eric Gray might also factor into the rotation a bit.
The Giants' backfield has scored 35.7 fantasy points as a unit. Thirty-two of those points belong to Barkley, 2.1 to Brightwell and 1.6 to Breida. The Niners have a great defense, and Jones can carry the ball well enough. The Giants will be better off using their quarterback than handing the rock to unproven running backs, including Breida.
Two players to scout as prospective waiver-wire pickups
WR Jalin Hyatt, NYG (12% rostered)
Hyatt looks like the preternatural boom-or-bust type of player, according to what we know and what we’ve seen from the rookie this early in the season. Hyatt was targeted once in Week 1 and couldn’t grab that toss. Then, last weekend, Daniel Jones targeted the rookie a couple of times, and all the freshman did was haul those two passes in for 89 yards.
It’s too early to know if Hyatt will turn that small sample (one reception went for 58 yards, the other for 31) into steady production when he gets more looks, but getting more looks would already be a nice first step to build toward that, and it could happen as early as in Week 3.
With Barkley injured and the running game limited to what Jones can do and improvise from the pocket, the Giants will need to throw the ball more often than not (they already pass on 68% of their snaps). Giving a deep-field threat such as Hyatt more chances and targets across the field won’t hurt them.
Don’t rush any decision involving adding/starting the Giants rookie, but check his usage on TNF just in case he becomes one of Jones’ favorite targets going forward.
RB Elijah Mitchell, SF (41% rostered)
Whether Mitchell gets any fantasy value will depend on how the San Francisco 49ers are approaching the regular season and how much rest they give some players, depending on their results as the year progresses. Considering they are already 2-0 and looking at a possible 4-0 start (they play Arizona after facing New York), odds are they give Christian McCaffrey some rest ahead of their matchup with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5.
That’s the only way Mitchell is going to crack the rotation by the early looks of it, but if it happens, then Mitchell might turn into a viable deep-league addition and flex play in some leagues. The thing is, both coach Kyle Shanahan and San Francisco fans seem to be a bit concerned or at least not entirely pleased about the backfield snap share.
After McCaffrey played every snap in Week 2, Shanahan said that was not the plan. Meanwhile, Mitchell appeared in 10 snaps in the season opener and stayed on the sideline for the full duration of the game against the Rams last Sunday.
With McCaffrey (115) having the second-most snaps played through Week 2 among running backs and the Giants having allowed the seventh-most rushing yards to opposing running backs so far this season, this looks like a great matchup for the Niners to give CMC some rest and use Mitchell. If he can take advantage of the opportunity, it’s probable his role will expand at least a little bit in the next few weeks.