Tom Brady looking for a breakout game against the undefeated Ravens, Peyton Manning putting up MVP numbers, and key injuries plaguing Miami and San Francisco. Tons to get to in Week 4 of our exhaustive game-by-game breakdown.
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That’s right, the byes start this week, so make sure you get the following players out of your lineups.
Arizona – Kurt Warner, Tim Hightower, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin
Atlanta – Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White
Carolina – Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Donte Rosario
Philadelphia –Donovan McNabb, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Brian Westbrook
Start – Matt Forte is pretty much at the Gerald Butler portion of his fantasy career, where he needs to finally put together one decent performance to justify all his hype or let everyone know he’s a one year wonder and get back to filming horrible movies with Katherine Heigl. So far, the Bears’ back is averaging 50 yards-per-game and apparently decided that September just wasn’t a good month to visit the end zone. However, against the Lions’ 28th ranked scoring defense, Forte (who had 126 yards rushing in his last game against Detroit) will either break out of his sophomore slump or begin reading scripts for The Ugly Truth Part 2. Either way, put that last bit of faith in him this week. Conversely, Jay Cutler has been great lately, leading all diabetic quarterbacks in completion percentage, while putting up five touchdowns in his past two games. Against the Lions’ 29th ranked pass defense (notice a trend here in Detroit?), there’s no reason he should have an off week. This means Devin Hester (two touchdowns in his first three games), Greg Olsen, and (for deeper leagues) Earl Bennett are also good starts.
Calvin Johnson sort of looks like LeBron James in high school. A man amongst boys, physically dominant and essentially unstoppable. Only he’s playing with grown men and has been facing quadruple coverage ever since opposing teams have figured out the Lions’ don’t draw up too many Bryant Johnson plays. Johnson looked spectacular in the final moments of the Lions’ first win since what seems like the Civil War, as he and Matthew Stafford continue to develop a nice rapport that has really started to blossom. Stafford still isn’t a start yet, but he took a big step forward in week three.
Sit – Kevin Smith left Sunday’s game against the Redskins with a shoulder injury and has not been given the green light to practice yet. Factor that into a Bears’ rushing defense that has held opponents to less than four yards-per-carry in two of their three games, and starting Smith – despite a great week three showing – is risky.
Start – After two impressive wins over the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, the surprising Cincinnati Bengals finally get a chance to enjoy an easy game when they travel to the most depressing sports’ town in America to take on a Cleveland Browns team that has secretly begun holding open quarterback tryouts at local high schools. Great news for Carson Palmer (four touchdowns in his last two games), his nut job receiver Chad Ochocinco and Cedric Benson - the Browns have given up more points than any AFC team this season and are absolutely terrible against the run.
Sit – Jamal Lewis sat out last Sunday’s loss against the Ravens (much like most of the team’s fan base) and is uncertain for this week’s game against the Bengals. But even if healthy, given the team’s inability to break six points in their past two losses, it would take a miracle for Lewis to put up decent numbers. And for the love of God do not even think about starting anybody involved with the Browns’ passing “attack.” For Cincinnati, Andre Caldwell and Laveranues Coles have been far too inconsistent this year to start. Coles has yet to post more than 34 yards, while Caldwell has only caught one touchdown.
Start – Peyton Manning (who’s become the NFL’s answer to Ron Popeil) has thrown three straight 300 yard games to open the season and has actually doubled his touchdowns in all three wins. (1, 2, 4). It’s unlikely he’ll hang eight scores on the Seahawks, but it is highly probable that the reigning MVP will have another big day with a little help from Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. And for risky fantasy buffs who enjoy French sounding receivers from Mount Union College, check out Pierre Garcon. His window is brief until Anthony Gonzales returns, but he has two touchdowns in his first three games. He’s a nice bye week fill-in here.
For Seattle, Julius Jones should be called upon to help carry the Seahawks’ offense this week after 100-plus total yard performances in two of his first three games. The Irish alum is coming off a 136-yard, one touchdown day against the Bears and has looked very impressive to start the season.
Sit – Donald Brown and Joseph Adai simply don’t get enough carries to warrant a start. Neither gets more than 12-15 touches per game and predicting who will get the rock at the stripe is impossible. Matt Hasselbeck looks like he’s going to be out for a second straight week, leaving Seneca Wallace to handle the quarterbacking duties. This may not work out that great given Indy’s top ten passing defense that shut down Kurt Warner and company last Sunday. Give Wallace a seat, and put Nate Burleson and TJ Houshmandzadeh on the bench too. Tight End John Carlson had a nice start to the season, but has tapered off of late with zero touchdowns in his last two games, while averaging less than 40 yards per contest over that time.
Start – The Kansas City defense are the hipsters of the football world. They’ve become non-conformists, insisting on letting the other team score at will (and they love Radiohead). But, while adorable like a middle class kid from Encino wearing a Che’ Guevara t-shirt, letting up 28 points and over 360 yards per game should allow the Giants core of Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Mario Manningham, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith to all have monster fantasy days.
Sit – The Giants defense is already in Super Bowl form and is only getting better. With the amount of pressure their front seven will put on Matt Cassel it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get the passing game going, especially after the Eagles set out the “How to Stifle Matt Cassel” blueprint by holding him to 90 yards last week. Yes, he had two touchdowns (one of which came when the game was already out of hand), but don’t expect him to get that lucky against a Giants team coming off a shut-out victory. The Giants have the number one pass defense in the NFL, so Cassel and his receivers shouldn’t be on any start lists. And with Larry Johnson averaging less than 50 yards per game with zero trips to the end zone, this probably isn’t the week he breaks out. On a side note, remember when people thought he could rush for 2,500 yards a few seasons ago? Crazy how average a lot of backs look with no offensive line. No one else on the Chiefs is even worth discussing.
Start – Wow, now here’s a game only fantasy owners will be watching. “Tune in this week to see the team that actually lost to the Detroit Lions battle a squad coming off a 34-0 defeat. Fumbles, interceptions, quarterback controversy, the looming smell of unemployment stemming from the coach’s locker room… this one has it all!” Well, despite the lack of public interest - for owners still screaming at Jim Zorn for basically benching Clinton Portis in the first half last week, this one may be a bounce back game for the former Hurricane, as Tampa Bay’s league worst defense just gave up 226 rushing yards to the New York Giants and will probably be on the field after the Bucs’ patented three-and-out offense continues to return the franchise back into its early ‘80s form. It actually took them three and a half quarters to get a first down last week. Also, look for Jason Campbell to put up nice numbers after a 340 yard, two touchdown performance against the Lions, which means Santana Moss (178 yards and a touchdown last week) and Chris Cooley will have start-worthy days. Antwaan Randle El is even worth starting in this one as a flex player in deep leagues. For the love of all that is good, start the Redskins defense.
Sit – In order to help an offense that has looked like the NFL equivalent of the Washington Generals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have benched QB Byron Leftwich and given the nod to Josh Johnson, who if you don’t count the division 1-AA Pioneer Conference or an Oakland high school league as major football – has never taken a meaningful snap. This is going to be bad. Very bad. Especially when a running game that’s supposed to carry the offense has less than 100 combined yards in their past two losses.
Start – After finishing the 2008 campaign with a 12-4 record, the Tennessee Titans are on the verge of beginning the year at 0-4 if they can’t go into Jacksonville and do what only six of the last seven road teams to play there have done (win). To do this, head coach Jeff Fisher will rely heavily on the running game (not to be confused with relying on their heavy running game of LenDale White). Chris Johnson, who has put up over 375 total yards in his past two games will get the ball early and often against a mediocre Jags’ run defense. Additionally, as awkward as it sounds – this is the time to put faith back in Kerry Collins and the Titans’ passing game. Jacksonville has one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses after surrendering 300 yards through the air and three touchdowns to Matt Schaub last week. Give Collins a shot, along with tight end Alge Crumpler, Nate Washington (one touchdown in each of his last two games) and for deeper leagues or players looking to make up for drafting anybody associated with the Carolina Panthers’ passing game, go with Justin Gage against a Jags’ team that has allowed five passing touchdowns in their last two contests.
For as bad as their defense has been, the Jacksonville offense has actually looked surprisingly adequate thus far. Maurice Jones-Drew has rushed for 100 total yards in two of his first three games, while David Garrard has put up nice fantasy numbers in his last two starts (which should continue against the Titans’ 27th ranked pass defense). Get behind Jack Del Rio’s offense this week, because even though he’s two losses away from coaching women’s volleyball at a community college, he seems to understand the value of fantasy points. Keep an eye on Mike Sims-Walker. This guy is consistently putting up flex-worthy numbers every week and has emerged as Garrard’s top target.
Sit – Remember when LenDale White was USC’s version of the lovable fat kid that everybody seemed to believe in? Well, those days are over and now he’s a chubby NFL washout with defensive lineman speed, and offensive lineman fantasy value. We do not recommend rolling the dice on his chances of vulturing a TD from Johnson. Marcedes Lewis has been held to fewer than 25 yards in two out of his three games. Torry Holt has become the possession receiver in Jacksonville.
Start – Tom Brady isn’t going to throw 50 touchdown passes this year. But, what he will do is continue to give solid performances week in and week out. In their first three games, the Ravens have given up over 230 passing yards per game (which includes bouts with both Kansas City’s Brodie Croyle and whatever the hell Cleveland is putting on the field these days), which means Brady should be able to do some major damage with the 47 pass attempts he’s averaging. Even with Wes Welker’s status uncertain at this point, Randy Moss will still be matched-up against a smaller Baltimore secondary and should see at least two or three deep balls. Julian Edelman is a nice start if Welker stays on the bench one more week.
As strange as it sounds, for as good as Tom Brady is, at this point in the season the Baltimore Ravens are a better offensive football team. In their first three games they have put up 13 touchdowns, and are trailing only the New Orleans Saints in total yards. Joe Flacco has looked unstoppable and Willis McGahee (five touchdowns) has been the benefactor of lots of red zone carries. Todd Heap has been superb of late.
Sit- The Ravens have the leagues’ number one rush defense and will be playing a team that wants their quarterback to finally take over a game. The New England rushing attack should be virtually non-existent in this one. Give Fred Taylor a rest. He’s sort of old and could use the time off. After a big week one, Ben Watson has gone invisible. In fact, last week Chris Baker got all the looks at tight end.
For Baltimore, it seems as though Mark Clayton is seeing a lot less looks these days (only four receptions in his last two games) and Ray Rice (12 rush attempts per game) shouldn’t see enough balls to make a great fantasy impact. Derrick Mason tanks the first two games, everyone sits him, and then he blows up. Stay away from the drama if you can.
Start - For Houston, despite a 1-2 record, their fantasy passing game has been top notch. Matt Schaub is averaging over 325 yards in his past two games, while Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels have performed exceptionally well. And look out for Kevin Walter – who put up nearly 100 yards and a touchdown in his first game back. He’s been the best-kept secret in fantasy football for a couple seasons now. Steve Slaton (an early nominee for fantasy bust of the year) had 100 all-purpose yards last week, and should give a good performance against the black and silver at home.
Sit – If football fans were given a multiple choice survey and asked “How would you rate the Oakland Raiders’ performance this season, which of the following do you think they’d choose.
A) About what I expected.
B) I can’t believe I actually drafted someone from the Raiders.
C) Can Al Davis die already?
D) As a Calgary Stampeder fan, I think JaMarcus Russell would make an excellent free agent signing.
Well, for those of you who answered “B,” things aren’t going to get much better this week. The Raiders have only put up 13 points in their past two games and haven’t had a player break 70 rushing yards yet this year. Sit the team.
Start – Can you hear that? It’s the sound of Ronnie Brown’s fantasy owners still crying over the Chad Pennington injury. The Wildcat icon has over 250 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, and should increase his workload with Chad Henne taking the snaps. He’ll play quarterback, running back, receiver and may even kick a field goal. Sunday should be the Ronnie Brown show all day long against Buffalo’s 28th ranked defense. The fear here is that the Bill stack the box and dare Chad Henne to beat them. He’s still worth starting, though. Marshawn Lynch is finally back from suspension this week. They’re saying he’s going to split carries with Fred Jackson, but we don’t believe it. He’s a beast, so start him even though he had two bad games against Miami last year.
Sit- And now, starting at quarterback, a guy who still uses his high school recruiting ranking to get laid, a man that couldn’t beat Ohio State if you paid him (well, legally anyways) – please give it up for Chad Henne! Anyways, even with the Bills’ struggling secondary, it’s highly unlikely that the Miami passing game gets going. Anthony Fasano will probably be Henne’s favorite target/security blanket, but he’s about the only other Dolphins player worth consideration. Terrell Owens decided three weeks was long enough to wait before his first temper tantrum and Trent Edwards looks like a deer in the headlights. For fantasy purposes, these distractions won’t help the Bills (after averaging less than 10 points per game against the Dolphins last year). Against a Miami team that will look to grind the clock, the chances of this game turning into a shootout are slim.
Start – After last weeks’ nail-biting finish, Brett Favre can add San Francisco to the list of cities that hate him. The Niners were three seconds away from a 3-0 start and essentially running away with the division. Instead, Mike Singletary’s boys will go against the Rams’ 26th ranked defense. Frank Gore is out, which means former Crimson Tide stud Glenn Coffee will see a lot of action against the Ram’s God awful rush defense. A risky start, but it could hook you up if you’re in bye week trouble. Shaun Hill should also have a nice day and improve on his two touchdown showing against a talented Vikings defense last week. Look for Hill and Vernon Davis (who stopped being “the guy with great combine numbers” in his fourth season after a 97 yard, two touchdown performance last week) to keep improving.
Across the country, people in St. Louis must be ecstatic that Steven Jackson is all about the money and individual glory – because if he cared about winning (like, at all) he might be getting upset right about now. He has 100 yards in each of his last two games and is the only Rams’ player who actually appears to regularly attend practice.
Sit – For as good as the Niners have been this year, their one disappointment has come at wide receiver, where neither Josh Morgan nor Isaac Bruce has caught a touchdown pass. Is this the week where this changes? Maybe, but it’s probably not worth betting your fantasy standing on it. What happens when you combine a ferocious defense, an immobile quarterback battling shoulder injures, and a passing game that has mustered 24 total points in three games? Tune in Sunday on the St. Louis sideline to find out. (Plus, if the ailing Marc Bulger can’t play, this could be an opportunity to bet against Kyle Boller. It’s like Christmas has come early!) Laurent Robinson is down for the season, so you’d think that Donnie Avery might actually catch a ball. Right? Maybe?
Start – This is the kind of game that every childless drunk that sets over-under lines in Vegas has nightmares about. The New Orleans Saints have the most explosive offense in recent memory, scoring at will and putting up huge numbers through the ground, air, and sea. But, this week they’ll have to load up their artillery against a New York Jets’ defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher or multiple passing touchdowns all year. As they say in crappy Dianne Keaton movies – something’s gotta give. And this week, it should be the Jets’ defense on turf, away from home. Drew Brees is coming off a mediocre week three, but did enough to win. This week, along with running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas (who went ballistic in the second half of last week’s game), Brees should get back on track and continue his pursuit of Tom Brady’s single season touchdown record. Jeremy Shockey is a must start at the tight end spot, while Marques Colston and Deverey Henderson (combined 400 yards and 4 touchdowns after three weeks) should produce solid numbers.
In the big apple, for three weeks now, Mark Sanchez has been a “game manager,” making sure to not lose the game, but not win it either. (A style developed at the Trent Dilfer School of Mediocrity in the late ‘90s) This week, however, Sanchez will be forced to keep up with the New Orleans’ offense, which is either great news for his fantasy owners or a disaster waiting to happen. With a relatively limited workload this season, the former Trojan is one of the few NFL quarterbacks to throw a touchdown pass in each of his first three starts, and is coming off a three touchdown (two passing, one rush) showing against the Titans last week. And as long as he has Jerricho Cotchery (95 yards per game) and Dustin Keller at his disposal – he should post a similar stat line against the Saints.
Sit – Robert Meachem and Lance Moore have combined for five receptions all year, and are no longer even on the fantasy football radar. For as much attention as the Saints’ offense is getting, one of the most pleasant surprises down in cajun country is the team’s rush defense. They are only allowing 67 rushing yards per game and have kept Kevin Smith, Brian Westbrook and Fred Jackson from making any real fantasy impact in their first three wins. Think Thomas Jones or Leon Washington will buck that trend?
Start – With Felix Jones out for this game and Marion Barber’s status still uncertain, it looks like Tashard Choice is going to be Dallas’ featured back in this one. Last season, while filling in for the two injured starters, Choice had 85 yards in three straight games and two touchdowns over that span. Factor in his 118 all purpose yards and one touchdown on Monday night and this may be the beginning of a Michael Turner/Darren Sproles-type situation.
With all the talent in the Dallas backfield, it’s easy to overlook Denver’s Correll Buckhalter in this game, who has had 100 all purpose yards in two straight weeks. This success should continue against a Cowboys’ rush defense that gave up 5.8 yards per carry to DeAngelo Williams last week. As good as Buckhalter has been, last week Knowshon Moreno got double the carries and started to come on at the end of the game. Different coach, same confusing back-by-committee approach in Denver. Both are worth flex starts.
Sit – Say what you will about his unorthodox style of getting rid of Pro Bowl quarterbacks, but Josh McDaniels has put together one hell of an impressive start in Denver – largely thanks to the play of his defense. In three games, the Broncos have given up less than six points and a shade over 200 yards per contest. Granted, they have played two of the worst teams in the league. If the Broncos play half as good against Tony Romo (less than 400 total yards with one touchdown and four interceptions in his past two starts), they should effectively eliminate the Dallas passing attack – minus Jason Witten, who is simply a fantasy football machine.
For Denver, Kyle Orton may be undefeated, virtually mistake-free, and winning over difficult Denver fans. But in the fantasy world, he hasn’t had a multiple touchdown game and has only broken 250 yards one time. He’s a game manager – and a pretty good one – but will rarely air it out, which hasn’t helped his receivers Brandon Marshall, Brandon Stokely and Eddie Royal. All of them have struggled to put up consistent numbers and that should continue here.
Start – The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers played on national television they lost their best defensive player for half the season, and then commenced to drop two straight games. To say things could have gone better would be like claiming Steelers’ fans are mildly disappointed with their 1-2 start. If the Steelers are going to turn things around this week they’re going to need Willie Parker to have a big day against a Chargers’ defense that ranks 26th against the run. Parker (coming off a 129 all purpose yard, one touchdown day against the Bengals) had 146 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers’ playoff win against the Chargers a few months ago. Hines Ward and Heath Miller are also starts as they will likely be the focal point of Ben Roethlisberger’s passing game.
If San Diego hopes to avenge their playoff loss, they’re going to need Phillip Rivers to have a solid start – which shouldn’t be a problem considering he’s banked consecutive 300 yard performances and is playing a weakened Steelers’ defense that ranks 15th against the pass. With the help of Vincent Jackson (over 100 yards per game) and Antonio Gates, Rivers should continue to make his fantasy owners plenty happy. Also start Darren Sproles who should enjoy playing without Troy Polamalu clogging up the field. Last year Sproles had 106 all purpose yards against Pittsburgh.
Sit – In the past two weeks, Ben Roethlisberger has put up very respectable fantasy numbers in losses against the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals. But this week against the Chargers top 10 pass defense (allowing less than 180 yards per game), Big Ben probably won’t be able to get much going to overcome his 181 yard, one touchdown performance against the Chargers last year. And as Santonio Holmes continues to nurse a wrist injury that held him to one reception last week, it’s a good idea to keep him on the shelf for one more game. Plus he’s dropping balls left and right.
For San Diego, Malcom Floyd and Chris Chambers have shown little signs of life thus far and likely won’t change their fantasy fate this week. LaDanian Tomlinson is reportedly not walking with a limp, but is uncertain to play. Be sure to check injury reports on Sunday, but even if he does play he’s not a great start against the stiff Steelers run D.
Start – There’s three certainties in life - death, taxes, and Brett Favre never missing the chance to be a prick. Watch number four put a spiteful exclamation point on an already impressive start to his season against the team he seems to be obsessed with showing up. Along with Adrian Peterson (four touchdowns this year) and a surprisingly effective Percy Harvin, Favre will be looking to put points on the board like they’re going out of style.
Speaking of something to prove, Aaron Rodgers will finally get a shot to go against the man who ruined his life in the Monday night showdown - and coming off a three touchdown game last weekend, he seems up for the challenge. His weapons of choice, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, combine to average a touchdown and nearly 150 yards per game and will be ready to show their former quarterback just exactly what he’s missing. Give Ryan Grant a chance to keep the ball rolling, too. He’s coming off a 99-yard rushing performance and had 167 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Vikings last year.
Sit – Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice may benefit from the Brett Favre revenge show, but thus far neither has become a legit fantasy threat. It’s just too risky to give either the nod against a defense that only gives up a shade over 200 pass yards per game. Same goes for Visanthe Sciancoe.