1:00PM ET Games
Green Bay @ Chicago
The over-under on Packers-Bears is 50 points, third highest of Week 4. Shake off last week’s disappointment in Detroit and fire up your Green Bay skill players. … One week after losing RCB Charles Tillman to I.R., Chicago experienced additional injuries to FS Chris Conte (shoulder) and SS Ryan Mundy (stinger) in last Monday night’s win over the Jets. The Bears’ secondary is rag-tag beyond impressive rookie CB Kyle Fuller. Look for Aaron Rodgers to carve up this unit at Soldier Field. The Bears have allowed the fifth most pass plays of 20-plus yards (12) in the league through games, a worrisome number considering the quarterbacks they’ve faced: E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Colin Kaepernick. … The best bet to exploit Chicago’s mangled defensive backfield at the intermediate and deep levels is Jordy Nelson, who ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards (351) and third in catches (23). Jordy’s last four stat lines in Bears games are 10-161, 4-67, 6-84, and 6-115-2. … The Packers continue to use a No. 3 receiver rotation involving Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davante Adams. Adams handled 35 snaps to Boykin’s 36 in Week 3. Boykin’s grip on the position has to be loosening, however, after he dropped two more passes last week and has turned his seven targets on the season into just 17 yards. Adams has converted his 10 targets into seven catches for 61 yards. Adams is a crapshoot WR3 option at Chicago, but needs to be owned in all leagues.
Rodgers’ Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Nelson 37; Randall Cobb 21; Andrew Quarless 11; Adams 10; Eddie Lacy and Boykin 7; James Starks 4; DuJuan Harris 2; Richard Rodgers 1. … Cobb’s low usage rate finally caught up to him in Week 3, after he compensated with touchdowns in the first two weeks. He’s only averaging seven targets and 42 receiving yards per game. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Cobb owners to explore selling high after his next big week. Adams is more talented than Cobb and better suited for red-zone work at 6-foot-1, 212 compared to Cobb’s 5’10/191. In a short time span, Cobb has gone from an underrated to overrated asset in the fantasy community. … The Bears’ run defense has improved from last year, but remains leaky. In Weeks 1-3, they allowed 49ers, Bills, and Jets tailbacks to combine for 328 yards on 66 carries (4.97 YPC). Lacy gets a short-term pass for struggling against the Seahawks, Jets, and Lions smothering run defenses to open the season, but it’ll be a big concern if he can’t run effectively on the Bears. I like his chances. The Packers know they need a consistent run game, particularly with their pass protection scuffling. Expect Fat Eddie to eat. … Quarless churned a 4-43-1 effort in last week’s loss to Detroit, but his role in the offense hasn’t changed. He’s an in-line tight end whose focus is blocking and the occasional checkdown. Brandon Bostick still hasn’t played a 2014 snap, while rookie Rodgers has proven not ready for the NFL.
Jay Cutler is the No. 4 overall fantasy quarterback three games into the season. Through 14 starts in Marc Trestman‘s system — despite several shortened by injury — Cutler has completed 304-of-476 passes (63.9%) for 3,371 yards and a 27:14 TD-to-INT ratio with 157 rushing yards. Although Green Bay has fielded a top-six pass defense to this point, Cutler is simply playing at too high a level to be considered for fantasy benches with six teams on Week 4 byes. … Cutler’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett 26; Alshon Jeffery 25; Matt Forte 24; Santonio Holmes 10. … Bennett has a tendency to start seasons fast before slowing down, but he’s worth riding while he’s hot. He’s taken on a bigger role in Chicago’s passing attack with the run game stalled. Only Julius Thomas has scored more fantasy points than Marty B among tight ends. … Marshall aggravated his ankle injury in the second quarter of last Monday night’s win over the Jets. He missed 15 snaps, but played the entire second half. Whenever Marshall is expected to play in a game, he’s a top-shelf WR1. Marshall has also scored in three straight meetings with Packers DC Dom Capers‘ defense, registering box scores of 6-74-1, 7-107-1, and 6-56-1.
With Marshall hobbled in New York, Jeffery went to work. Showing few or no ill effects from his early-season hamstring injury, Jeffery parlayed 13 targets into 105 yards on eight catches and whipped Jets RCB Antonio Allen for a 42-yard gain. Jeffery is a borderline WR1 in Week 4. His two 2013 stat lines against the Packers were 5-60-1 and 3-80. … It almost goes without saying that Forte is one of the premier buy-low targets in fantasy football, but is worth keeping in mind that the Packers have played solid run defense the past two weeks. Green Bay has held Jets and Lions tailbacks to 190 yards on 59 carries (3.22 YPC). Opponents have moved the ball on Capers’ defense, however, generating scoring chances, and the Packers have coughed up four TDs inside the ten-yard line through three games. Forte is a good bet to hit pay dirt in Week 4. He absolutely shredded Green Bay in these clubs’ two 2013 tilts, dusting off 235 yards on 46 runs (5.11 YPC), nine catches for 101 yards, and four all-purpose touchdowns.
Score Prediction: Packers 28, Bears 24
Buffalo @ Houston
After appearing to be a near-even timeshare through two weeks, Buffalo’s backfield experienced a slight shift in Week 3 as the Bills played from behind virtually all game. C.J. Spiller still handled 13 touches to Fred Jackson‘s 14, but F-Jax played 20 more snaps, racked up ten targets in the passing game, and totaled 112 yards with a score. Jackson is Buffalo’s primary passing-down back in addition to his red-zone duties. Although he’s always a solid RB2/flex option, the early-season evidence suggests Jackson will be a superior fantasy bet when the Bills are at an in-game disadvantage. … The Bills don’t necessarily project to be at an in-game disadvantage against the Texans in Week 4, however, keeping Spiller on the high-ceiling RB2 scene. Getting gashed on the ground, Houston has coughed up 375 yards and three touchdowns on 72 carries (5.21 YPC) to enemy running backs. I think Spiller is worth a look in FanDuel tournaments. The Bills still aren’t using him ideally — giving Spiller too many inside as opposed to “space” runs — but he’s gonna break one soon.
E.J. Manuel opened the season playing comfortable and efficient football on just 24 pass attempts per game in Weeks 1-2. He fell to pieces in last week’s loss to San Diego, as negative game flow forced Manuel to take 42 dropbacks, resulting in just 238 yards, three sacks, one touchdown drive, and a fourth-quarter safety. Simply ineffective whenever the environment around him is anything less than ideal, Manuel can morph from game manager to game loser in an instant. In Week 4, I’d rather start the Texans’ fantasy defense than lean on Manuel in a two-quarterback league. … Manuel’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Watkins 23; Robert Woods and F-Jax 17; Mike Williams 10; Scott Chandler 8; Spiller 7. … Watkins has now turned in stat lines of 3-31-0, 8-117-1, and 2-19-0 through his first three NFL games. His Week 3 effort resulted in just 19 yards on eight targets, a reminder that rookie wideouts tend to be inconsistent, particularly when they have to deal with low-level quarterback play. Watkins is a Week 4 dice-roll WR3 against tough Texans corners Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph. … The only other fantasy-relevant Bills player is Woods, and that’s not saying much. Woods has 24 scoreless yards on 11 targets over his last two games.
Finally rounding into form following his late-preseason back injury, Garrett Graham is in play as a Week 4 streamer tight end. Buffalo’s defense allowed 8-70-1 to Martellus Bennett in Week 1, seven catches to Charles Clay in Week 2, and a combined 5-72 line to San Diego’s tight ends last Sunday. Graham played 80% of Houston’s offensive snaps last week, catching 5-of-6 targets for 41 yards. If you’re in a bye-week bind, Graham should be on your radar. … The Bills have played stout run defense under new DC Jim Schwartz, limiting Bears, Dolphins, and Chargers tailbacks to 240 yards on 70 carries (3.43 YPC) in Weeks 1-3. Buffalo hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown on the year. Schwartz’s 2013 Lions defense was also among the best in football. As Houston’s backfield lacks Week 4 clarity — Arian Foster (hamstring) is a game-time decision — the situation is going to be tough to invest in with any sort of confidence. If Foster is announced as inactive Sunday morning, rookie Alfred Blue would be set up for 13-17 touches against the Bills. Blue parlayed 14 touches into 88 total yards last week, although he averaged 2.67 YPC beyond a 46-yard run. Blue played 34 snaps while Jonathan Grimes handled 26, operating as Houston’s passing-down back. Ronnie Brown played six downs. Considering the matchup, RBBC, and Foster’s may-or-may-not status, I wouldn’t feel very good about any of the Texans’ running backs as more than risky flex plays.
As both of these teams play run-committed offense in an effort to mask their quarterbacks’ limitations, this projects as a low-scoring affair. The Vegas prognosticators agree, assigning Bills-Texans a 41-point over-under. Only Carolina-Baltimore has a lower projected point total this week. … Ryan Fitzpatrick played functional football in the first two weeks as a heavy dose of rushing attempts allowed him to stay under 25 pass attempts in wins over the Redskins and Raiders. When Fitzpatrick is asked to do more than manage a game — like battle back from an early 17-0 deficit as he attempted to last week — bad things happen. He threw three interceptions against the Giants, fumbled, took a pair of sacks, and finished with a 59.6 quarterback rating. Because Buffalo lacks a prolific offense, this game sets up well for Fitzpatrick to maintain game-managerial duties. He’s a low-upside two-quarterback-league play. … Fitzpatrick’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Andre Johnson 27; DeAndre Hopkins 19; Graham and Damaris Johnson 7; Foster 5. … Hopkins was spectacular in Houston’s Week 3 loss to the Giants, parlaying nine targets into a 6-116 stat line that could’ve been much bigger had Hopkins’ 40-plus-yard one-handed downfield reception not been negated by an illegal formation penalty. We may not see any receiver make a better catch all year. Coach Bill O’Brien openly admitted this week that Hopkins deserves more targets. He’s earned high-end WR3 value with arrows pointing up. … Johnson played really well in the first two games. He was abysmal last week, dropping a pass and managing 24 yards on 11 targets. The good news is Buffalo’s cornerbacks are also playing poorly, particularly perimeter CBs Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Johnson plays on the perimeter.
Score Prediction: Texans 20, Bills 17
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
Facing an inept Titans team that isn’t scoring points on offense or stopping anyone on defense, this is a game Indianapolis should pretty much control. Oddsmakers have installed the Colts as eight-point favorites, the second highest spread of Week 4. Dial up Ahmad Bradshaw, who currently ranks sixth among running backs in fantasy points and remains Indy’s primary red-zone back, contributing to three touchdowns over the past two weeks. All three occurred on plays inside the opposing ten-yard line. Bradshaw sees fewer touches when the Colts play with a lead, but the ones he gets are valuable because so many of them occur in scoring position and on passing downs. It doesn’t hurt that he’s averaging 6.00 yards per carry. … Cowboys and Bengals tailbacks gashed the Titans for 321 yards and four TDs on 69 carries (4.65 YPC) in Weeks 2-3. While Trent Richardson is never an ideal fantasy start, he’s worth flex consideration in bye-week crunches simply based on anticipated volume. OC Pep Hamilton hasn’t quit feeding Richardson in spite of his struggles — T-Rich has 39 touches over his last two games — and this is a plus matchup in which the Colts should play with a lead. Hamilton did call two goal-line runs for Richardson last week, though he was stuffed on both. The bottom line is that the opportunity has been and likely will continue to be there, even if what’s left of Richardson’s talent isn’t great.
Coming off a 385-total-yard, four-touchdown demolition of Jacksonville, Andrew Luck is the No. 1 quarterback in all of fantasy. The Titans currently rank No. 2 in pass defense, although that metric is deceiving because they’ve faced the third fewest pass attempts in the league. Keep riding Luck as an elite QB1. … Luck’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: T.Y. Hilton 27; Reggie Wayne 25; Coby Fleener 16; Bradshaw 14; Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Allen 12; T-Rich 9; Donte Moncrief 7; Jack Doyle 5. … I’m interested to see which Colts receiver Titans top CB Jason McCourty covers in Week 4. My guess is it will be Hilton, as McCourty works predominately on the perimeter. Hilton mostly plays outside as well. Coming off an ankle injury, Hilton is a boom-or-bust WR3 as usual. He managed stat lines of 5-44 and 5-46 in last year’s two meetings with Tennessee. … Nicks hasn’t topped 50 yards in a game yet this season and over the last two weeks has played 45% of the Colts’ offensive snaps. There’s no reason to value him above a WR4. … Wayne has settled in as a somewhat high-floor, low-ceiling WR3 option. His Week 4 matchup is difficult with underrated Titans slot CB Coty Sensabaugh. Wayne is a relatively safe, if unsexy fantasy play this week. … The Titans are 22nd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Allen’s four targets-per-game average locks him in as a low-end TE1, while Fleener gets more usage but is a poor player. They’re both touchdown-dependent options against Tennessee.
With Jake Locker nursing a sprained and swollen wrist, the Titans are expected to start Checkdown Charlie Whitehurst this week, otherwise known as “Clipboard Jesus.” A 32-year-old journeyman, Whitehurst has completed 54.2% of his 155 career NFL throws with three touchdowns and four picks. Nothing Whitehurst has ever done in a regular season or even preseason game suggests he’s capable of consistently moving an offense. Strongly consider streaming the Colts’ fantasy defense this week. … The Titans will presumably try to run the ball with volume against the Colts in an effort to both keep Luck off the field and minimize Whitehurst’s impact on the game. They’ll be in trouble if Whitehurst ends up attempting more than 25 passes. Unfortunately, Tennessee’s backfield remains muddled from a carry distribution standpoint. Rookie Bishop Sankey gave the Titans’ offense a spark off the bench last week, turning 10 runs into 61 yards, but Whisenhunt expressed concern with Sankey’s “footwork” despite his production, promising Sankey’s snaps won’t increase until that aspect of his game improves. It reminds me of the scene in “Moneyball” where it is discussed how Kevin Youkilis couldn’t get a big-league shot because of his odd batting stance. All he did was rake. All Sankey did was produce in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. He’s a worthwhile flex option against the Colts, but won’t ascend above that until Whisenhunt starts giving Sankey a bigger piece of the rushing pie.
Shonn Greene remains a roadblock for Sankey, handling ten carries last week and playing ahead of the more-talented rookie. Dexter McCluster is coming off a three-touch game, but played more snaps (20) than Greene (14). Sankey played 29 snaps, albeit most when the Bengals were trailing big. Leon Washington didn’t touch the ball against Cincinnati, but did handle eight snaps. Again, the Titans’ backfield is essentially a four-man rotation. I wouldn’t even bother rostering anyone but Sankey at this point. … Is there hope for the Titans’ receivers this week? Whitehurst isn’t known as Checkdown Charlie for nothing. Kendall Wright is still in play, although his chances of ripping off a truly long gain are diminished considerably. Delanie Walker runs the sort of routes that complement Whitehurst’s passing style, but Whitehurst’s efficiency is a major question mark. You’re on your own starting Walker this week. … Justin Hunter turned in stat lines of 3-63-0, 2-26-0, and 3-37-0 with Locker under center. Locker has his weaknesses, but he is a much more vertically-oriented, power-armed passer than Whitehurst, and Hunter is a vertical receiver. Put simply, Hunter isn’t a good bet against the Colts. If he somehow has a big game, he’ll be beating the odds. … Primarily a blocking receiver in Whisenhunt’s scheme, Nate Washington is averaging 20 yards a game. He isn’t worth owning in 14- or even 16-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Colts 27, Titans 14
Carolina @ Baltimore
The Vegas prognosticators expect this to be a low-scoring slugfest. The over-under on Panthers-Ravens is 40.5 points, lowest of Week 4. I wouldn’t be thrilled to start fantasy players in this one. … Playing above-average pass defense, Baltimore has held enemy quarterbacks to just two touchdown passes through three games. This isn’t a great matchup for Cam Newton, who disappointed last Sunday night against an inferior Steelers defense and has lost a huge chunk of his fantasy value with designed quarterback runs removed from OC Mike Shula‘s playbook. Newton is still hobbling around on his surgically repaired ankle, which didn’t hinder his performance in Week 2 against the Lions but did in the loss to Pittsburgh. Cam should be treated as a borderline QB1 until his health and production improve. … Through three weeks, Baltimore has limited enemy tailbacks to 225 yards on 55 carries (4.09 YPC). Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Mike Tolbert‘s (hairline leg fracture) multi-week absences position DeAngelo Williams for a heavier-than-usual workload, but 31-year-old Williams is battling back from a thigh injury of his own, and UDFA Darrin Reaves could be involved. Volume should theoretically work in Williams’ Week 4 favor, but there are reasons for caution.
Cam’s target distribution on the year: Kelvin Benjamin 18; Greg Olsen 14; Jason Avant 13; Philly Brown 9; Tolbert 5; Jerricho Cotchery and Stewart 4; Brenton Bersin 2. … Look for Olsen to have another strong game against Ravens SS Matt Elam, on whom a heavy majority of passes are being completed. Olsen is currently the No. 6 overall fantasy tight end. … Benjamin dominated Pittsburgh’s secondary in last Sunday night’s loss, dropping an 8-115-1 number on 11 targets while drawing two penalties on Steelers LCB Cortez Allen. Benjamin’s matchup will be much tougher this week when he draws Ravens RCB Jimmy Smith, but Baltimore is vulnerable at the other cornerback spot with LCB Lardarius Webb battling a bad back, and reserves Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson struggling. Benjamin should remain a target monster all year. Rather than punish Benjamin for miscues — he already has three drops on the season — the Panthers are and will continue to keep going back to him. He’s a WR2. … Of complementary receivers Avant, Brown, and Cotchery, only the latter is worth rostering in deep leagues. Cotchery missed Week 3 with a hamstring injury.
The outlook for host Baltimore is even more concerning after standout LT Eugene Monroe‘s knee scope. He’ll miss 3-4 weeks, forcing UDFA James Hurst to man Joe Flacco‘s blind side. All quarterbacks play worse when pressured, but the bottom tends to fall out when it happens to Flacco. Hurst will need frequent help, presumably from rookie blocking TE Crockett Gillmore. Also having lost Dennis Pitta for the season, I would seriously consider dropping Flacco for someone like Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, or Mike Glennon in two-QB leagues. … Flacco’s target distribution through three games: Steve Smith Sr. 32; Pitta 22; Torrey Smith 18; Justin Forsett 15; Owen Daniels 11; Jacoby Jones 9; Kyle Juszczyk and Kamar Aiken 4; Bernard Pierce and Marlon Brown 2. … The Panthers have so far held opposing No. 2 receivers Mike Evans (5-37-0), Golden Tate (5-57-0), and Markus Wheaton (4-35-0) in check. Combined with pass-protection maven Monroe’s loss, that doesn’t bode well for slow-starting Torrey’s chances of a bounce-back week. I’m keeping Smith rostered as a WR4, but we’re through three games now and neither his usage nor production has inspired confidence a turnaround is imminent. … Daniels will inherit Pitta’s role, in theory, though there isn’t reason to believe Daniels has much left in the tank. Juszczyk, Brown, and Torrey are also all candidates for increased work. The top tight end stat lines against Carolina so far are 4-51-0 (Heath Miller), 3-38-0 (Eric Ebron), and 6-41-0 (Brandon Myers).
The “revenge card” is being thrown around as a reason to start Smith Sr. How about the Panthers going all-out to eliminate Smith after releasing him this offseason? The better reason to use Smith is his high-percentage role in Carolina’s offense, where he’s put together stat lines of 7-118-1, 6-71, and 5-101 through three weeks. Pitta’s loss could result in even heavier targeting because Smith is doing so much work underneath, where Pitta used to roam. … The Baltimore backfield is where things get interesting. OC Gary Kubiak is going to have to make changes on offense following the Monroe and Pitta losses, and one conceivable approach would be to ride the run game heavily, at least until Monroe returns. A non-nonsense, extreme-downhill runner, Lorenzo Taliaferro ripped off 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries (5.06 YPC) and was the lynchpin of Baltimore’s first-half offense in last week’s win over Cleveland. Pierce is due back this week, but has looked like the inferior runner both on tape and statistically (4.04 YPC). He also can’t play in the passing game, while Taliaferro is a stout pass blocker. The Ravens have told us what they think of Forsett, and he’s just a change-of-pace back. The Panthers’ normally impenetrable defense looked positively penetrable last Sunday night. After limiting Bucs and Lions backs to 83 scoreless yards on 30 carries (2.77 YPC) in Weeks 1-2, Carolina was exposed for 265 yards and a touchdown by Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, who combined to average 8.55 YPC on 31 rushes. RE Greg Hardy‘s loss appears to be catching up to the Panthers, and WLB Thomas Davis (hip, leg) potential Week 4 absence doesn’t help. I think the Ravens will use a hot-hand approach at running back in Week 4. Although he’s still only a dicey flex option, I like Taliaferro’s chances of establishing the hotness.
Score Prediction: Panthers 20, Ravens 17
Detroit @ NY Jets
Although Geno Smith quietly ranks 12th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, his Week 4 outlook is adversely affected by top wideout Eric Decker‘s repeated hamstring aggravations and Detroit’s smothering pass defense. Through three games, the Lions have stifled Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, and Eli Manning to a combined 56-of-94 passing (59.6%) for 606 yards (6.45 YPA), three touchdowns, and two interceptions. Detroit has sacked those quarterbacks eight times. This is a daunting matchup for Geno, who’s only a low-end two-quarterback-league option this week. I think Lions DC Teryl Austin is an early sleeper for defensive coordinator of the year. … At the same time, this is a game where the Jets may need Smith to fire off 40-plus pass attempts because the Lions’ run defense is so stout. So perhaps two-QB leaguers can hang their hats on that. But it could also result in turnovers. Particularly if Decker is declared inactive Sunday morning, the Lions’ defense will be a viable streamer. … Smith’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Jeremy Kerley 24; Decker 14; Jeff Cumberland 13; Chris Johnson 10; Jace Amaro and David Nelson 9; Greg Salas and Bilal Powell 5. … Due to Decker’s sub-par health, Kerley has emerged as the best weekly bet for targets in New York’s passing game. He’s averaging five receptions and 59.3 total yards per week, putting Kerley on the map for fantasy owners desperate to fill a WR3 slot.
Especially with a stout Lions pass defense on the Week 4 slate, Decker owners should probably put him on “wait-and-see” weeks until he does something, or at least shows he can make it through a full game without a setback. Decker played just 16% of New York’s Week 3 snaps. … Through three games, Ivory has gained 189 yards with two touchdowns on 33 carries (5.73 YPC). Ivory has caught 5-of-5 targets for 55 yards. CJ?K has gained 123 yards on 35 carries (3.51 YPC). He’s caught 6-of-10 targets for 23 yards. Watch the tape, look at the stats: It’s abundantly clear that Ivory is the Jets’ best back and Rex Ryan knows it, openly suggesting this week that Ivory deserves more carries going forward. Unfortunately, his Week 4 matchup is brutal against a Lions defense that’s held Giants, Panthers, and Packers tailbacks to an anemic 163 yards on 62 carries (2.63 YPC). Owners planning to spin Ivory as an RB2 or flex play can hang their hats on Lions MLB Stephen Tulloch‘s ACL tear and Ivory’s goal-line role. Rashad Jennings and Jonathan Stewart have both scored short TDs on Detroit, and Tulloch was their best run-stopping linebacker. … A lowly 40th in fantasy running back points compared to Ivory’s top-ten ranking, CJ?K is a wholly boom-or-bust player in both real life and fantasy. He needs long touchdown runs to pay off, and he hasn’t had one in ten games. Good luck starting him because you’ll need it.
Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have pasted the Jets’ undermanned secondary over the last two weeks, combining to convert 48-of-80 throws for 571 yards and a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio against Rex Ryan‘s defense. Matthew Stafford is somewhere in between Rodgers and Cutler on the NFL quarterback totem pole. Stafford could be set for a box-score tear over his next five games (@ NYJ, vs. BUF, @ MIN, vs. NO, @ ATL). … Stafford’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Calvin Johnson 35; Golden Tate 21; Reggie Bush 17; Joique Bell 12; Eric Ebron 8; Joseph Fauria and Jeremy Ross 6; Brandon Pettigrew and Corey Fuller 2. … Shake off Megatron’s shockingly slow Week 3 game and roll him against the Jets, who’ve surrendered notable wideout stat lines of 9-209-1 (Jordy Nelson), 8-105 (Alshon Jeffery), 5-39-2 (Randall Cobb), 5-46-1 (Rod Streater), and 3-34-1 (James Jones) in a three-game stretch. … The Jets’ inability to cover also bodes well for Tate, despite his somewhat sluggish start from a counting stats standpoint. I expect Tate’s overall production to pick up as Detroit’s offense kicks into high gear because he’s playing awfully well in real life. Stafford’s clear No. 2 pass option, Tate’s 84% catch rate is currently fourth in the NFL among wideouts with more than 15 targets, per Pro Football Focus, while he’s yet to drop a pass. He’s also running over half of his routes in the slot, giving Tate high-percentage looks. As alluded to above, the Jets are hemorrhaging touchdowns to wide receivers.
The Lions’ tight end group has been a fantasy black hole, although there is some hope this week for Ebron after Fauria suffered a mid-week ankle injury. Ebron and Fauria have been splitting sub-package snaps. I would view Ebron as a wholly boom-or-bust Week 4 streamer option, if Fauria is indeed declared inactive. … Pettigrew has essentially been eliminated from the passing game under new OC Joe Lombardi. … After leading Detroit’s backfield in snaps and touches in the first two games, Bell played 36 downs to Bush’s 37 in Week 3 and handled 15 touches to Bush’s 18. It’s a reminder that the Lions’ backfield is very much a near-even timeshare, with both backs capable of contributing big weeks. Unfortunately, both Bell and Bush have imposing Week 4 matchups. In Weeks 1-3, Rex’s defense held Eddie Lacy to 13-43-0, Maurice Jones-Drew/Darren McFadden to 13-26-0, and Matt Forte to 13-33-0 on the ground, “good” for a combined YPC average of 2.62. Bush would theoretically be the better bet for yardage because he is utilized so often in space and won’t be hammered into New York’s Muhammad Wilkerson–Sheldon Richardson–Damon Harrison defensive brick wall. Bell will be the favorite for touchdowns because he gobbles up goal-line opportunities in a talented, ball-moving offense.
Score Prediction: Lions 23, Jets 17
Tampa Bay @ Pittsburgh
The Steelers got a huge win last Sunday night in Carolina, but were ransacked by injuries. They lost OLB Jarvis Jones to a fractured wrist, RCB Ike Taylor to a broken forearm, and ILB Ryan Shazier to a sprained MCL. GM Kevin Colbert is so desperate that he lured 36-year-old LB James Harrison out of retirement. Even with the former three players on the field for most of the snaps, Pittsburgh has coughed up 360 yards and two touchdowns on 65 carries (5.54 YPC) to enemy tailbacks. We don’t know which Bucs back will carry the mail in Week 4, but whoever it is should have running lanes. … Bobby Rainey had a big Week 2 against St. Louis, but has lost three fumbles on the season and has 53 yards on 15 runs (3.53 YPC) in Tampa Bay’s other two games. After Rainey lost two fumbles in last Thursday night’s blowout loss to Atlanta, my guess is Doug Martin will get the first crack at establishing a “hot hand” at Heinz Field. I’d view Martin as a dicey, if necessary flex option against the depleted Steelers. Best suited to a change-of-pace role, in my opinion, Rainey is an even higher-risk flex. … The Josh McCown signing backfired spectacularly on Lovie Smith‘s Bucs. With McCown (thumb) now on the shelf, Tampa will turn to Mike Glennon in hopes of kick-starting its passing attack. A big, plus-armed passer who’s willing to pull the trigger on intermediate and vertical shots, Glennon is worth grabbing in two-quarterback leagues. Pro Football Focus gave Glennon a top-four accuracy grade on throws of 20-plus yards downfield as a rookie. He converted seven for touchdowns and only threw one pick.
And for those reasons I’m optimistic Glennon’s insertion will help Vincent Jackson, who registered a combined receiving line of 63-959-7 in Glennon’s 13 rookie-year starts. Those numbers extrapolate to 78-1,181-9 over a 16-game slate. As Jackson runs most of his routes against right corners, he will square off early and often Sunday with 5-foot-9, 192-pound Antwon Blake, who replaced Taylor at RCB against the Panthers. Jackson is 6-foot-5, 241. If fill-in playcaller Marcus Arroyo can’t find ways to exploit Jackson’s matchup, the Buccaneers have more problems than a winless record. … Glennon’s target distribution off the bench last week: Mike Evans 6; Jackson and Rainey 5; Brandon Myers 4; Luke Stocker 2; Robert Herron 1. … Evans also has an intriguing matchup with Steelers LCB Cortez Allen, who through three games has graded out 96th among 96 qualifiers in PFF’s cornerback ratings. (That’s dead last.) Evans has begun his rookie season slowly (5-37-0, 4-49-0, 4-52-0), but is playing 83% of Tampa’s offensive snaps and worth a look as a bye-week WR3. … Pittsburgh coughed up a combined 5-90 stat line to Browns tight ends in Week 1, followed by Owen Daniels and Dennis Pitta‘s 8-58-2 in Week 2, and Greg Olsen‘s 5-69-1 number last Sunday night. Although this is a good matchup on paper for Myers, he is always a bottom-barrel streamer.
NFL Network’s LaDainian Tomlinson recently deemed Le’Veon Bell the NFL’s best running back and I wouldn’t vehemently disagree. He’s certainly up there. Slimmed down with much-improved cutting ability after shedding 20-plus pounds since his Michigan State days, Bell is on pace for 70 receptions and leads the league in yards-per-carry average (5.94) among players with over 30 runs. In Weeks 1-3, the Buccaneers held Rams, Falcons, and Panthers tailbacks to a combined 311 yards on 89 carries (3.49 YPC). But they’ve surrendered four rushing scores over the past two weeks while suffering numerous front-seven injuries on defense. This game should either be competitive from start to finish or with game flow working in Pittsburgh’s favor, allowing Le’Veon to pile up attempts. On Sunday night’s telecast, I loved Cris Collinsworth’s comparison of Bell to Marcus Allen. He’s a top-three fantasy pick if we were to re-draft today. … LeGarrette Blount also went to work in last week’s win over the Panthers, but did almost all of his damage in garbage time. He’s a complete crapshoot flex option against the Bucs. I personally would avoid.
The Buccaneers are getting torched by the pass. In Weeks 1-3, Derek Anderson, Austin Davis, and Matt Ryan combined to complete 67-of-87 passes (77.0%) for 751 yards (8.63 YPA) and a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio with just four sacks absorbed against Tampa Bay. This should be a walk in the park for Ben Roethlisberger, who I’d rank pretty high for Week 4 and might consider “stacking” with Antonio Brown on FanDuel. … Roethlisberger’s target distribution in Weeks 1-3: Brown 28; Markus Wheaton 20; Bell and Heath Miller 16; Justin Brown 12; Blount 2; Dri Archer 1. … I realize Miller has started slow, but he’s an excellent streamer this week against Lovie Smith‘s Tampa 2. Bucs FS Dashon Goldson is getting flamed in coverage. A “contrarian” FanDuel stack would be Roethlisberger and Miller. Greg Olsen dropped an 8-83-1 line on Tampa Bay in Week 1, before Rams tight ends combined for 9-79 against the Bucs in Week 2. … Long pass plays are how Wheaton must make a living in Pittsburgh’s offense, but he’s not delivering them to this point and doesn’t figure to this week. Lovie’s defense is designed specifically to limit long pass plays. Wheaton’s stat lines since his 97-yard Week 1 outburst against since-benched Browns rookie CB Justin Gilbert are 5-38-0 and 4-35-0. Watch for Brown, Bell, and Miller to eat underneath.
Score Prediction: Steelers 27, Buccaneers 23
Miami vs. Oakland
This game will be played in London with an over-under of 41 points, tied for second lowest of Week 4. Wherever reasonable, avoid this game in fantasy lineup decisions. There’s simply not likely to be much scoring. … With his starting job on thin ice following back-to-back miserable performances against Buffalo and Kansas City, look for Ryan Tannehill‘s impact on games to be minimized in favor of a more run-oriented attack. It’s the logical approach for the Dolphins, at least, whose offense currently ranks second in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt (5.2) but dead last in yards per pass attempt (5.0). Feature back Lamar Miller is averaging 5.76 yards per carry, the NFL’s second highest clip among runners with over 30 attempts. Oakland is a good place to start, as enemy tailbacks have stung the Raiders for 441 yards and two TDs on 97 carries (4.55 YPC). In addition to his efficient running, Miller has ten receptions through three games and is an upside RB2. With LBs Sio Moore (ankle), Miles Burris (foot), and Nick Roach (concussion) all sidelined, and SS Tyvon Branch (broken foot) sent to I.R., the Raiders plan to start people named Kaluka Maiava and Bojay Filimoeatu at linebacker. Usama Young will start at safety.
Tannehill may be at risk of an in-game benching, but he’s certainly got a positive matchup for two-quarterback leaguers, even if the Dolphins smartly scale back his attempts. In Weeks 1-3, Geno Smith, Tom Brady, and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined to complete 61-of-84 throws (72.6%) for 594 yards (7.07 YPA) with a 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio against the Raiders. … Tannehill’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Wallace 31; Brian Hartline 19; Charles Clay 18; Miller 15; Jarvis Landry 12; Brandon Gibson 9; and Rishard Matthews 6. … Even with an anticipated drop in team volume, Wallace’s WR2 stock should be safe as Miami’s clear go-to option in the passing game. No one in Oakland’s overaged secondary will be able to cover him, and especially not with Branch on the shelf. … This would be a good matchup for Clay if he wasn’t hobbling around the field. Clay has seemingly never gotten over his early-August knee scope, managing an average of 26.3 yards per week. He’s bench fodder until he picks it up. … Hartline scored a touchdown last week, but has to be viewed in a similar light with a lot less room for improvement in Miami’s increasingly muddled wideout corps. He’s averaging 29 yards a game. … Landry continued to run ahead of Gibson and Matthews in last week’s loss to Kansas City, but ultimately the three are rotating sub-package snaps. Landry has some value in return-yardage leagues. He’s returning both kickoff and punts and had a 74-yard runback against the Chiefs.
A concern I’d have for this London game from Oakland’s perspective is the matchup of Dolphins LE Cameron Wake versus Raiders RT Khalif Barnes. Wake has been an early-season animal, notching two sacks, two forced fumbles, and PFF’s highest grade among 4-3 defensive ends — by a significant margin. 32-year-old journeyman Barnes is going to have a long day at the office. I wouldn’t feel good about starting a single member of Oakland’s offense in most weeks, and this week especially. … Carr’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: James Jones 22; Denarius Moore 20; Mychal Rivera 16; Rod Streater 13; Marcel Reece 11; Andre Holmes 9; Darren McFadden 8; Maurice Jones-Drew 3. … I mentioned Holmes as a deep league roster add in this space last week. With Streater (fractured foot) out for at least the next month, look for Holmes to play in all three-receiver sets. He’s a daily-league dart throw at 6-foot-4, 215 with 4.51 speed. I think Holmes is worth rostering in 14-team leagues. … Carr has thrown in Moore’s direction 20 times this season, resulting in 60 yards, no touchdowns, three drops, and last week’s game-ending interception by Patriots NT Vince Wilfork. Don’t be surprised to see Moore on the bench soon in favor of in-season free agent pickup Vincent Brown.
Raiders target leader Jones still isn’t starting and is only playing 67% of Oakland’s snaps, but I would expect him to enter the first-team lineup soon. The Raiders simply can’t keep trotting Moore out there. Jones is on the WR3 radar for owners in bye-week binds. It’s worth noting, however, that both Miami cornerbacks — LCB Brent Grimes and RCB Cortland Finnegan — have opened the season playing at high levels. … Rivera is averaging 24.3 yards per game without a touchdown. He didn’t score TDs in college, either, and isn’t a viable streamer. … McFadden spent two games as Oakland’s starting tailback, turning 30 carries into just 96 yards (3.20 YPC). With Jones-Drew (hand) due back this week, I would expect Oakland’s backfield to devolve back into a fantasy-value-draining timeshare, with Reece and Latavius Murray sprinkled in lightly. Through three weeks, enemy running backs have gained 314 yards on 80 carries (3.93 YPC) against Miami. They have scored three touchdowns, but this isn’t a favorable matchup for the Oakland backfield, and we have little to no clarity regarding which backs will get however many touches. Avoid.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 20, Raiders 17
4:05PM ET Game
Jacksonville @ San Diego
The Jaguars have allowed 112 points over their last 10 quarters. They’re coughing up 446 total yards per game, 306 passing yards, and 160 on the ground. The Chargers are a predominately ball-control team under second-year coach Mike McCoy and will likely be content to jam the ball down the Jaguars’ throat in what figures to be an easy home-game win against a Jacksonville team traveling cross country. Forgive Donald Brown for last week’s inefficiency (2.0 YPC) and fire him up as a high-end RB2 in this cupcake. He should continue to be a volume monster in the absence of Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews. … The Chargers could toy with UDFA Branden Oliver in Woodhead’s role, although it would be surprising if he handled similar usage, at least initially. Oliver is on the radar for 12- and 14-team PPR leaguers, however. I just wouldn’t be ready to flex him yet. Woodhead went down on San Diego’s first possession last week, but Oliver only played six snaps, seeing three carries without a passing game target. … Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, and Robert Griffin III combined to wax the Jags for 1,175 all-purpose yards and eight TDs in the first three games. That’s an absurd 392-yard, 2.7-TD average. Shredding opponents in San Diego’s quick-hitting passing attack, Rivers has compiled a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio through three games. Rivers’ volume is likely to be light versus Jacksonville, but he’s a mid-range to top-shelf QB1 in a week with six teams on bye.
Rivers’ Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Eddie Royal 22; Antonio Gates 18; Keenan Allen 17; Malcom Floyd 11; Donald Brown 10; Ladarius Green 8. … Royal also started last year fast, scoring five touchdowns in San Diego’s first two games, before managing three over the final 15, including playoffs. I’d resist adding him to 12- and 14-team rosters despite last week’s two-TD game. … Floyd’s stat lines through three weeks: 4-50-1, 0-0, and 2-98-0. He runs low-percentage routes down the sideline and will be a hit-or-miss producer all year in an offense that spreads the ball around. … I’ll become concerned with Allen if he doesn’t do anything against a Jacksonville defense that has given up a league-high 18 pass plays of 20-plus yards and an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio against. Allen has played 97.2% of San Diego’s offensive snaps this season. Perhaps downgrade him from a WR2 to high-end WR3, but I’m still viewing Allen as a must-start. … The Jags have allowed the most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. They coughed up a 6-92-1 stat line to Eagles tight ends in Week 1, before Niles Paul gutted them for 8-99-1 in Week 2. Colts tight ends tagged Jacksonville for 11-102-2 last week. My money is on Gates having a bigger day than Green, however. Although Ladarius set season highs in catches (4) and yards (64) in last week’s win over Buffalo, his 33% snap rate was barely up from Week 2 (32%) and lower than Week 1 (39%), when Green recorded stat lines of 0-0 and 2-24-0, respectively.
Replacing Chad Henne at halftime of last week’s blowout loss to Indianapolis, Blake Bortles threw two interceptions — including a pick-six — but led three scoring drives, two ending in touchdown passes to Allen Hurns and Cecil Shorts. It was a mostly-promising debut for a rookie coming in cold off the bench. Bortles added 30 rushing yards and averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt, aggressively taking shots at the intermediate level. Albeit in garbage time against a sub-par Colts defense, he generated 253 total yards of offense and two TDs in two quarters. 20.5 standard-league fantasy points in one half of work just hints at the 22-year-old’s potential. I do fear San Diego controlling this game so much that it limits Jacksonville’s offensive possessions, but Bortles is already worth QB1 streamer consideration. Carson Palmer, Russell Wilson, and E.J. Manuel combined to complete 64-of-101 throws (63.4%) for 744 yards (7.37 YPA) and a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio against San Diego in the first three weeks, to go with 71 rushing yards. Similar to Andrew Luck, Bortles will have to put his playmaking ability to use to compensate for his team’s leaky defense. I think he’s worth rostering in all 12-team leagues as a high-upside QB2.
Now supported by a quarterback who gives Jacksonville some chance of generating ball movement and scoring opportunities, Toby Gerhart‘s arrow should be pointing up. This week, he’s a hit-or-miss flex play against an underrated Bolts run defense that held Arizona, Seattle, and Buffalo tailbacks to 180 yards on 45 carries (4.00 YPC) in Weeks 1-3. … Bortles’ Week 3 target distribution off the bench: Cecil Shorts and Allen Robinson 8; Allen Hurns 2; Jordan Todman, Mickey Shuler, Denard Robinson, and Gerhart 1. … Although Robinson and Shorts are technically the Jaguars’ starting receivers, Hurns actually played more Week 3 snaps than Robinson and all three will continue to see heavy playing time. The Jags’ base offense is a three-receiver set, particularly with Marcedes Lewis (high ankle sprain) out until Week 11. Trying to pick which Jacksonville wideout is going to have a big week will be difficult. I think Robinson will provide fantasy owners will the highest week-to-week ceiling. Although 21 years old, Robinson has the premier athletic profile and size. And over his last two games, Robinson has converted 11-of-16 targets into 154 yards. The Jaguars called bubble-screen plays for Robinson last week, which was a good sign. I’d view Robinson as a high-upside WR3, Shorts as a solid WR3, and Hurns as a WR4/5. But that could change week to week.
Score Prediction: Chargers 28, Jaguars 20
4:25PM ET Games
Philadelphia @ San Francisco
Only Saints-Cowboys has a higher Week 4 over-under than Eagles-49ers, where the forecast is 50.5 points. You’re increasing your odds if you lean toward these two games in lineup decisions. … The NFL’s lone quarterback to top 300 passing yards in each of the first three weeks, Nick Foles is positioned for success at San Francisco. Since Tony Romo‘s nightmarish Week 1, the 49ers’ Aldon Smith-, Navorro Bowman-, Donte Whitner-, and Tramaine Brock-less defense has a 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio against. That’s a ten-quarter span. Over Foles’ last 16 games, he’s completed 302-of-473 throws (63.8%) for 4,064 yards (8.59 YPA) with a 35:4 TD-to-INT ratio, and three more touchdowns on scrambles. … Foles’ Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Jeremy Maclin 31; Riley Cooper 18; Darren Sproles and Jordan Matthews 17; Zach Ertz 14; LeSean McCoy 13; Brent Celek 5. … I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I never expected Maclin to dominate targets in Philly’s pass-catching corps like he is. He’s eighth among all NFL wideouts in targets, fifth in yards (296), and tied for second in touchdown catches (3). … Cooper tends to have blowup games when people don’t foresee them. This could be one. Cooper runs most of his routes at right cornerbacks, which is 49ers RCB Chris Culliver‘s position. Culliver currently ranks 75th among 96 qualifying cornerbacks in PFF’s coverage grades.
The 49ers’ defense is also getting tormented in the slot. Although starting Jordan Matthews might feel like chasing last week’s points, he plays the slot in Philly’s offense. 49ers rookie slot corner Jimmie Ward coughed up three TDs to Brandon Marshall in Week 2, before Cardinals rookie third receiver John Brown burned Ward for an additional score last week. Just keep in mind Matthews is a dice roll as a limited-snap player. His Weeks 1-3 snap rates are 65%, 49%, and 64%. … As Patrick Willis is typically tasked with covering enemy tight ends — and he is arguably the NFL’s premier cover ‘backer — it’s no surprise that San Francisco is annually among the NFL’s stingiest teams against that position. They’re at it again this year, allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points and third fewest yards to tight ends. It’s worth noting that Ertz played only 51% of Philly’s snaps in Week 3, his lowest rate of the season. He also got blown up as a pass blocker and finished with year lows in targets (3), catches (2), and yards (14). All bets are off if Chip Kelly gets Ertz matched on Ward in the slot, however. That is the one ray of light for Ertz owners. … After dominating the Weeks 1-2 box score, Sproles’ playing-time restrictions caught up to him in last week’s win over the Redskins. He’s now played just under 33.9% of the Eagles’ downs. Sproles remains an every-week flex play, but expect hits and misses. It appears his week-to-week usage will be game-plan dependent. … Off the injury report after appearing to play last week’s game in a daze, McCoy is more mid-range to low-end than elite RB1 this week. The Eagles’ offensive line is decimated by injuries, and San Francisco is playing stout run defense. Over their last two games, the 49ers have limited opposing tailbacks to 85 scoreless yards on 32 carries (2.66 YPC).
Colin Kaepernick has been frustratingly inconsistent from a week-to-week and even play-to-play basis early this season. Buoyed by four passing touchdowns and 129 rushing yards, however, Kaepernick ranks a sturdy 11th in fantasy quarterback scoring and faces perhaps the most favorable matchup he’ll get all year in Week 3. Entirely unable to generate pressure, Philadelphia has been shredded by Kirk Cousins, Chad Henne, and Andrew Luck for a combined 74-of-125 passing for 865 yards and an 8:2 TD-to-INT ratio. The Eagles have only three sacks through three games, and all three were against Henne. Worry about Kaepernick if he doesn’t have a big Week 4. … Kap’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Michael Crabtree 24; Anquan Boldin 21; Stevie Johnson 15; Vernon Davis and Derek Carrier 6; Brandon Lloyd 5; Carlos Hyde 4; Frank Gore and Vance McDonald 2. … This game sets up perfectly for another big outing by Crabtree, who will run most of his routes against burnable RCB Cary Williams. Outside receivers like Crabtree are torching Philadelphia. Here are three notable wideout stat lines the Eagles have served up so far: 11-138-1 (Pierre Garcon), 5-117-1 (DeSean Jackson), 4-110-2 (Allen Hurns). … The Eagles are much tougher on slot receivers, where top CB Brandon Boykin roams. It doesn’t bode well for Johnson’s chances of repeating last week’s 9-103 performance, or for Boldin. Both see time in the slot. Philly held Reggie Wayne to 28 scoreless yards in Week 2 and Andre Roberts to 4-38-0 last week while the rest of Washington’s wideout corps ate.
Due back from his ankle injury this week, Davis will take on an Eagles defense that allowed six catches to Marcedes Lewis in Week 1, a 3-25-1 stat line to Colts tight ends in Week 2, and 8-75 to Washington’s tight ends last week. Due to Philly’s lack of pass rush, Davis should be able to drop some of his blocking assignments and run more routes. In a projected high-scoring affair, Davis is a good bet for a touchdown this week. Davis’ matchup would further improve if Eagles top coverage LB Mychal Kendricks (calf) didn’t play. Kendricks missed Week 3 and was out of practice this week. … The 49ers understandably abandoned their run game in last Sunday’s loss to Arizona. It simply wasn’t working against the Cardinals’ stout front. The Eagles are a bit less stout on the ground. Colts and Redskins backs have rushed for 227 yards and a touchdown on 58 carries (3.91 YPC) against Philadelphia over the past two games. It’s not a great matchup for Gore, but it’s better than last week, and he continues to handle the majority of snaps and work in San Francisco’s backfield. So far, Gore has logged 125 snaps to Hyde’s 51, on top of 37 touches to the rookie’s 17. Gore is a solid if unspectacular RB2/flex option in Week 4. Hyde is a touchdown-dependent flex.
Score Prediction: 49ers 30, Eagles 28
Atlanta @ Minnesota
Mike Zimmer‘s Vikings have been unkind to enemy quarterbacks — holding Tom Brady and Drew Brees to a disappointing three combined touchdowns the past two weeks — but Matt Ryan is fantasy’s No. 2 overall QB and an every-week starter, particularly with No. 2 wideout Roddy White returning. This isn’t an ideal matchup for Ryan, but he’ll be a good bet for a pair of touchdowns and over 250 yards. … Ryan’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Julio Jones 33; Harry Douglas 17; White 15; Levine Toilolo 11; Devin Hester 8; Devonta Freeman 7; Antone Smith 5; Steven Jackson and Eric Weems 4; Jacquizz Rodgers 3. … Dating back to last season, Julio has at least 99 yards and/or a touchdown in eight consecutive games. Over his last 16 games, he’s posted an insane 113-1,548-12 stat line. This year, Julio has a legitimate shot to finish as the No. 1 overall fantasy receiver. … Keep in mind Roddy missed Week 3 with a hamstring injury, negatively affecting his target total. Expect a bounce-back performance against LCB Josh Robinson while Julio deals with Vikings top CB Xavier Rhodes for most of this game. Roddy is a high-end WR2 whenever he dresses. … Hester has scored two all-purpose TDs in three games and is helping his team win, but he’s only played 30% of Atlanta’s offensive snaps and has one reception in back-to-back games. Outside of return-yardage leagues, Hester no fantasy value.
Battling back from a Week 3 foot injury, Douglas might have the toughest matchup of all Atlanta receivers, doing battle with Vikings slot CB Captain Munnerlyn. Enemy slot receivers Tavon Austin (3-34), Danny Amendola (0-0), and Marques Colston (2-25-1) have all struggled with Munnerlyn, who’s earned positive coverage grades from PFF. He did allow Julian Edelman‘s nine-yard touchdown in Week 2, however. … Block-first TE Toilolo has yet to top 25 yards in a game this season. His role in Atlanta’s passing offense is minimal. … Although S-Jax’s body has stiffened up late in his career and his big-play potential has all but evaporated, he remains the Falcons’ clear lead runner. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s four-back committee locks in Jackson as a week-to-week flex option only. He’s averaging 13 touches per game while losing passing-down work to Rodgers, Smith, and Freeman. I do think Jackson is a solid bet for a goal-line score against the Vikings, but he is entirely touchdown dependent at this point. Playing solid run defense, Minnesota limited Rams, Patriots, and Saints tailbacks to 313 yards and two TDs on 79 carries (3.96 YPC) in Weeks 1-3. … Whereas Jackson averages 13 touches per game, Rodgers is averaging six and Smith three. The latter two are rotating change-of-pace backs. … Freeman gave up a sack in pass protection and lost a fumble in last Thursday’s win over Tampa. With 27 yards on 13 carries (2.08 YPC) through three games, the once-seemingly-promising rookie has no business being rostered in 12- or even 14-team leagues.
The Falcons have given up five rushing touchdowns to enemy tailbacks this season, but have held them to 328 yards on 83 carries (3.95 YPC). The offseason additions of NT Paul Soliai and LE Tyson Jackson have provided a noticeable lift. This isn’t the cake matchup it may seem for Matt Asiata, who’s managed 81 scoreless yards on 27 runs (3.00 YPC). Further working against Asiata is Minnesota’s loss of RG Brandon Fusco (shoulder), a high-impact run blocker who was placed on I.R. Wednesday. I get the belief that Vikings OC Norv Turner might try to “protect” his rookie quarterback by feeding the run game, but I’m pessimistic it’ll work. Just not very good at running, Asiata is a shaky flex play who figures to need a goal-line plunge to pay fantasy dividends. … After rookie Jerick McKinnon allowed a sack in pass protection in Week 2, his snap rate fell from 33% to 30% in Week 3. These are small numbers, but they are notable for a player who’s competing for playing time and must capitalize on his small-sample opportunities to earn more. McKinnon has managed seven yards on five carries (1.4 YPC) and dropped two passes last week. He’s just an RB4 stash.
I’m interested to see how Norv utilizes Bridgewater in his first NFL start. Many coaches try to simplify things for a rookie by riding the running game and attempting to create favorable down-and-distances. I think Norv might let Bridgewater sling it around the yard, though. This is a home game. The Vikings do not have a reliable, consistent ground game. The Falcons have three sacks on the season. Matt Ryan is probably going to put up some points on Minnesota’s defense. When Norv didn’t have a running game in Cleveland last year, he let Brian Hoyer — a similar-style albeit inferior passer to Teddy — fire off 70 combined attempts in his two starts. The 2013 Browns actually led the NFL in pass attempts. I’m not saying Bridgewater is going to go bonkers in Week 4, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Norv lets him rip. At a bare-minimum cost, he’s a somewhat intriguing FanDuel “punt” play in tournaments. I’d also seriously explore starting him in a two-quarterback league. … Bridgewater’s target distribution off the bench last week: Greg Jennings 6; McKinnon 5; Asiata 4; Cordarrelle Patterson 3; Kyle Rudolph 1. … Jennings’ big-play ability has eroded with age — he’s averaging 11.2 yards per catch since 2011 — but he’s a rock-solid WR3 option in PPR leagues this week. Rudolph’s groin surgery locks in Jennings as Minnesota’s security blanket. If Norv lets Bridgewater loose like I think he might, Jennings could have a big day. … Patterson’s Week 1 usage was promising. It’s been greatly disappointing since. Logic would tell you that Norv should start scheming the rock to his most dynamic playmaker with Rudolph and Adrian Peterson gone, but logic doesn’t always translate to real football games. Patterson remains a boom-or-bust WR2 versus Atlanta.
Score Prediction: Falcons 23, Vikings 17
Sunday Night Football
New Orleans @ Dallas
At 53.5 points, Saints-Cowboys predictably has the highest over-under of Week 4. This is a game to target when making fantasy lineup decisions. New Orleans is only favored by three, so the Vegas wizards anticipate plenty of scoring from Dallas’ side as well. … The Cowboys re-confirmed their run-game commitment in last week’s comeback win over St. Louis by sticking with DeMarco Murray despite a 21-0 early-game deficit. They came back and won the game. Averaging an NFL-high 27.7 touches per game, Murray is the foundation of Dallas’ offense and playcaller Scott Linehan has stayed impressively devoted to him, even when trailing and amid three lost fumbles. Although the Saints have played surprisingly stout run defense, holding Falcons, Browns, and Vikings tailbacks to 264 yards and two touchdowns on 66 runs (4.00 YPC), Murray’s heavy workload locks him in as a top-shelf RB1. If you’re interested in stashing Murray’s backup in light of his usage and injury history, you’re on your own. Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar would likely form a near-even committee if Murray went down. … Tony Romo‘s stats look promising from last week’s victory — and his on-field performance was much improved, to be sure — but he owes plenty to St. Louis’ pathetic defense, which left Dez Bryant wide open for a 68-yard touchdown jaunt. Romo is worth QB1 consideration in Week 4 only because of this game’s high-scoring projection. Dallas continues to utilize Romo as a game manager, averaging under 30 pass attempts per game. He’s a matchup-dependent fantasy commodity at this point.
Romo’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Bryant 27; Jason Witten 18; Terrance Williams 13; Murray 10; Cole Beasley 8; Gavin Escobar, Dunbar, and Devin Street 3. … Although Dallas is dinking and dunking more than ever in the passing game these days, Bryant ranks a respectable 13th among NFL receivers in targets, eighth in receptions (20), and 11th in yards (247). The emphasis on a high-volume run game could gradually help Dez, earning him more one-on-one looks downfield, particularly on play-action. … New Orleans has allowed the sixth fewest fantasy points to tight ends, the seventh fewest receptions, and the second fewest yards. Aside from the high over-under, nothing about this game suggests Witten is headed for a big box score. The 32-year-old has turned in stat lines of 2-14-0, 4-32-0, and 4-49-0 through three weeks. So maybe he’s “due”? Per PFF, Witten has blocked on 55% of his snaps this season. For comparison, Jimmy Graham has blocked on 45%. Greg Olsen has blocked on 42%. … The third option in the passing game on a team that has scaled back its passing-game volume and isn’t throwing the ball downfield, Williams is a week-to-week WR3 crapshoot. He’s averaging 4.3 targets per game, but so far has compensated with a pair of red-zone scores. In the seemingly unlikely event Williams does deliver in Week 4, fantasy owners should consider selling high.
I expect Drew Brees to have a big Sunday night game, but there are two concerns to consider when approaching Brees as a daily fantasy start: 1) His home-away TD-to-INT splits since the beginning of 2013 and including playoffs are 29:3 compared to 17:13. 2) The Cowboys play a ball-control style that could conceivably limit New Orleans’ offensive possessions. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from starting Brees against the NFL’s most talent-less defense, but it’s worth considering both sides of the coin. … Brees’ Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Jimmy Graham 31; Brandin Cooks 24; Pierre Thomas and Marques Colston 13; Kenny Stills 9; Robert Meachem 8; Mark Ingram 5; Ben Watson 4; Joe Morgan 3; Khiry Robinson 1. … Getting obliterated by tight ends, Dallas’ defense has served up stat lines of 4-44-2 to Vernon Davis (Week 1), 10-142-1 to Delanie Walker (Week 2), and 13-104-1 to Rams TEs Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks (Week 3). Graham is a pretty good bet. … Although it was a home game for New Orleans, these teams met in October of last year, when Dallas’ defensive personnel was, in fact, better than it is now. The Saints wiped the floor with the Cowboys and Colston led the team in receiving (7-107-1). I understand Colston’s consistency has been an issue — and it will continue to be — but this is a good week to start him. … Stills remains in the boom-or-bust WR3 conversation. Coming off a preseason calf injury, Stills’ snap rate rose from 42% in Week 2 to 58% in Week 3. Stills runs low-percentage routes and is not a heavily targeted player, but his arrow is pointing up. If you’re trying to hit a Week 4 home run, he gives you an outside shot.
In addition to his 24 targets, which rank second on the Saints, Cooks has three rushing attempts and is averaging a healthy 72.3 total yards per game. The Cowboys are weak throughout the backend, so it’s not really worth worrying about which Dallas defensive back might end up covering which New Orleans receiver. Cooks moves around enough that he’ll likely see time on everyone. He’s a safer WR2 play than Colston, albeit without the touchdown upside. … The Cowboys have played predictably soft run defense, serving up 309 yards on 62 combined carries (4.98 YPC) to 49ers, Titans, and Rams tailbacks. Robinson was a bit of a disappointment in last week’s start, managing 69 scoreless yards on 18 carries without a passing-game target. His matchup is more running back-friendly in Week 4. Until Ingram (hand surgery) returns — which isn’t expected for at least two more games — Robinson should be penned into fantasy lineups as an RB2. The workload was definitely there last week, even if the fantasy points weren’t. … Thomas is another Saints player who’s experienced weekly volatility. He handled 13 touches in Week 1, six in Week 2, and 11 in Week 3. Promisingly, Thomas got a goal-line carry in last week’s win over Minnesota, executing from a yard out in the first quarter. I’d view Thomas as a solid every-week flex play in PPR leagues and a mid-range flex option in non-PPR. His limited workload limits his upside, but he’s the primary passing-down back in an explosive pass-based offense.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Cowboys 23
Monday Night Football
New England @ Kansas City
Kansas City’s early-season Achilles’ heel has been run defense. Since ILB Derrick Johnson ruptured his own Achilles’ 32 snaps into Week 1, Titans, Broncos, and Dolphins tailbacks have combined to rip off 347 yards on 63 runs (5.51 YPC) against K.C. The Patriots can attack this weakness while silencing the raucous Arrowhead crowd by feeding power back Stevan Ridley inside the tackles, with Shane Vereen working the edges and as a high-percentage route runner on quick hitters out of the backfield. (Johnson was also the Chiefs’ top coverage linebacker.) With Johnson and fellow projected starting ILB Joe Mays (wrist) on the shelf, the Chiefs are trotting out ex-Jets special teamer Josh Mauga and former Browns fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson at inside linebacker. Both have earned decidedly negative grades from Pro Football Focus thus far. I like Ridley as a good bet to hit pay dirt and Vereen as an RB2 in PPR leagues, in spite of their slow starts. … Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill, and Peyton Manning combined for a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio against Kansas City in Weeks 1-3. Although the matchup appears favorable on paper, New England’s continued pass-protection woes could be exposed by explosive Chiefs outside-edge rushers Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Dee Ford. Considering his to-date performance, Tom Brady can only be viewed as a lower-end QB1 at Arrowhead. The Patriots would be better off attacking the Chiefs with a dink-and-dunk passing offense and high-volume running game. Hali, who has a sack in back-to-back games, will line up for most of the night against struggling Pats LT Nate Solder.
Brady’s Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Julian Edelman 28; Rob Gronkowski 23; Vereen 16; Brandon LaFell 14; Kenbrell Thompkins 11; Danny Amendola 6; Tim Wright 4; Brandon Bolden and Ridley 3. … Gronk played 44% of New England’s offensive snaps in Week 1, 42% in Week 2, and 58% in Week 3. He’s Gronk Smashed in two of the Patriots’ first three games and is an elite TE1 option at Kansas City. The Chiefs’ defense has coughed up three touchdowns to tight ends through three games and will be without SS Eric Berry (high ankle sprain) on Monday night. … If Gronk and the running backs have the best on-paper matchups in New England’s offense, Edelman isn’t far behind. Based on normal offensive and defensive alignments, Edelman projects to run most of his pass routes at Chiefs LCB Marcus Cooper, who’s been burned for TDs in back-to-back games. … The rotating triumvirate of LaFell, Thompkins, and Aaron Dobson is officially a black hole for fantasy purposes. We don’t know which of them will so much as dress for the game ahead of time, and only LaFell has experienced somewhat consistent usage. The Patriots like LaFell’s blocking, which doesn’t help much in fantasy. … Essentially being phased out of the offense, Amendola’s snap rates were 28% in Week 2 and 36% in Week 3. He’s averaging two targets per game. … Wright’s snaps are an even more anemic 12% and 6%. I suppose he might have some value in deep Dynasty leagues.
Jamaal Charles (ankle) is tentatively expected to return on Monday Night Football, and should be reinserted into fantasy starting lineups. His matchup is still worth exploring. Since they were shredded by Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller on Opening Day, the Patriots’ run defense has stiffened up, holding Vikings and Raiders tailbacks to 110 scoreless yards on 37 carries (2.97 YPC) the past two weeks. Of course, Minnesota and Oakland’s running backs are not remotely on the same level as Charles. Fire him up as an RB1. … Knile Davis paid off as a Week 3 fantasy spot start (132 yards, one touchdown), but didn’t threaten for an “increased role” by fumbling twice, losing one, dropping a pass, and allowing two sacks in pass protection. Perhaps Davis will see a few more change-of-pace carries than usual with Kansas City’s starter coming back from an injury, but when 100% this should remain Charles’ backfield. … New England currently has the No. 1 pass defense in football, limiting enemy offenses to league lows in passing yards per game (168.7) and yards per pass attempt (5.4). Opponents’ quarterback rating is a paltry 57.4 with a TD-to-INT ratio of 3:6. The Pats have six sacks over their last two games. This is a forbidding matchup for Alex Smith, who should be treated as a low-end two-quarterback-league play.
Smith’s target distribution through three games: Donnie Avery 22; Travis Kelce 15; Anthony Fasano 12; Dwayne Bowe and Davis 11; Junior Hemingway 8; Joe McKnight 7; Charles 5; A.J. Jenkins 3. … Keep in mind Avery’s 22 targets are skewed by his 13 looks in Week 1, when Bowe was suspended. Avery has averaged 4.5 targets per game since and is always a poor fantasy bet. … Kelce’s snap rates have climbed from 33% on Opening Day to 37% in Week 2 and 65% last Sunday in a game where the Chiefs led for three-plus quarters. Now a near-full-time player, Kelce is a legitimate fantasy TE1. He offers (easily) the highest ceiling in Kansas City’s pass-catching corps on Monday night. … Having managed stat lines of 3-40-0 and 3-32-0 in his two games back from suspension, Bowe can’t be trusted as more than a potential garbage-time WR3 punt. Running most of his routes at left cornerbacks this year, Bowe is likely to square off often with Patriots LCB Darrelle Revis in this game. Although Revis has not played to his typical shutdown levels through three weeks, Bowe simply isn’t a good bet to beat him. … As Kelce has taken on a larger portion of Kansas City’s receiving pie, Fasano’s role has diminished. His target totals read 6, 4, 2, respectively over the past three games. Fasano could score a fluke red-zone touchdown against the Patriots, and still wouldn’t be worth picking up.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Chiefs 20
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