1:00PM ET Games
Chicago @ Detroit
Through three games in rookie coach Marc Trestman's offense, Jay Cutler is on pace for career highs in passing scores (32) and completion rate (67.6), and 16 sacks taken, which would be his fewest since 2008. There have been a handful of hiccups, but Cutler is getting the ball out quickly and playing his best football since Denver. In this potential shootout indoors against a Lions team that ranks fourth in the NFL in total offense, Cutler is squarely in the QB1 conversation. Detroit's pass rush has been a slight early-season disappointment, registering six sacks to tie for 27th in the league. ... Cutler's target distribution on the year: Brandon Marshall 28, Alshon Jeffery 21, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte 20, Earl Bennett 6, Michael Bush 2. ... The Bears made an obvious effort to get Jeffery more involved in Week 3 at Pittsburgh, targeting him a season-high eight times with five on the first drive alone. Unfortunately, Jeffery has yet to register any big plays and gets a difficult Week 4 draw against LCB Chris Houston, who is the Lions' top corner. Keep Jeffery rostered, but only as a WR4. ... On the other side, Marshall is set up for a blowup game against 33-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis. Mathis is playing only because Weeks 1-2 rookie starter Darius Slay couldn't cut it. Consider Marshall a top-three wide receiver play this week.
Bennett was held to ten yards on two receptions by Pittsburgh's defense, but remains fourth in fantasy tight end scoring. He's still more back-end TE1 than the to-date numbers indicate. ... Trestman announced this week that Bush would continue as Chicago's primary goal-line back, but there are clearly certain situations in which Forte will get the nod in scoring position; each of Forte's two early-season touchdowns have come at the five-yard line or closer. The No. 5 overall fantasy running back on the year, Forte is averaging 24.3 touches a game. The Lions are dishing out the eighth most yards per carry (4.52) in football and have allowed the third most rushing scores. Forte is an elite RB1 play. Bush is a handcuff only barring severe bye-week crunches.
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If the Lions' defense has been a slight early disappointment, the Bears have been a colossal one aside from fluky defensive touchdowns. Chicago is 25th in total defense and tied for the 13th most points allowed. They're 29th in sacks. The Bears lost franchise player DT Henry Melton to an ACL tear in Week 3, and 33-year-old RE Julius Peppers is showing signs of decline, grading 34th of 52 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' 4-3 end ratings. LE Corey Wootton is 44th and No. 3 end Shea McClellin is 36th. Meanwhile, the Lions are getting pristine pass protection for Matthew Stafford. In 121 pass attempts, Detroit has ceded a league-low two sacks. Stafford has a chance to be the best quarterback value pick of 2013 fantasy drafts. Roll him out as a high-end QB1. ... Bears RCB Charles Tillman is one of the league's few corners who's given Calvin Johnson past fits. Megatron managed scoreless stat lines of 3-34 and 5-72 in their two 2012 meetings. Tillman is battling groin and knee injuries, however, and missed 22 snaps in last week's win over the Steelers. Tillman told reporters this week he does not anticipate shadowing Megatron. "As of now I'm just on the right side," he said. Fire up Calvin. ... Stafford's targets entering Week 4: Johnson 30; Nate Burleson 23; Joique Bell 19; Brandon Pettigrew 12; Reggie Bush 11; Kris Durham 7; Joseph Fauria 6; Theo Riddick, Ryan Broyles, Tony Scheffler, and Pat Edwards 3.
Patient Broyles owners are about to be rewarded, potentially in a major way. The Lions play high-volume passing offense, are getting efficient quarterback play, and Burleson is out until November with a fractured arm. Burleson quietly ranked 11th in the NFL in receptions through the first three weeks. Running high-percentage routes, Broyles will be a plug-and-play WR3 for the foreseeable future. ... Edwards is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury after an apparent late-week setback. ... I don't necessarily see Pettigrew, Scheffler, or Fauria experiencing major leaps in production. Broyles will slide right into Burleson's role, and Detroit likely won't miss a beat. It can't help that Pettigrew and Scheffler have been ineffective real-life players. Fauria is playing 14.3% of the snaps. ... The Bears have been better against the run than pass, though Bush isn't the type of runner about whom you worry when it comes to defensive stoutness. He is a space back and the Lions get him in space, where Bush cracks ankles and outruns defenders. Bush owners should be happy he sat out last week, because his knee bruise will be 100% healed for Sunday's tilt. Lock in Bush as a confident RB1 in all formats. ... Bell remains one of fantasy's premier handcuffs, but he can't be trusted as more than a desperation bye-week flex when Bush is active for games. Bell will probably see no more than ten all-purpose touches against the Bears.
Score Prediction: Bears 27, Lions 24
Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota
It's another wait-and-see week for the Steelers' backfield. Projected rookie workhorse Le'Veon Bell is returning from a six-week Lisfranc sprain with a wholly uncertain workload behind an O-Line generating 2.98 yards per carry for its other backs. Felix Jones could stay involved as a change of pace, and Jonathan Dwyer is excelling in pass protection. The matchup is right -- Minnesota's defense ranks 21st in rushing yards allowed and 24th in YPC -- we just have no feel for which Steelers runner will get the ball when and how much. Bell is a risky flex. Jones and Dwyer aren't on the fantasy-lineup radar. Assuming he emerges from Sunday setback free, look for Bell to take over as a true bellcow after Pittsburgh's Week 5 bye. ... The Vikings' inability to generate pass rush is leaving its young secondary vulnerable. Minnesota has allowed a league-high nine TD passes while managing four sacks in three weeks. The Steelers made Week 3 strides against a talented Bears defense, showing signs of turnaround. Ben Roethlisberger is an intriguing QB1 streamer at Wembley Stadium, which has historically hosted some high-scoring results. The Patriots downed the Rams 45-7 in London in 2012, and in 2008 the Saints outlasted the Chargers 37-32. All time, six of the seven Wembley games have produced at least 40 points. Improving Roethlisberger's outlook is the inactivity of Vikings top CB Chris Cook (groin) and SS Jamarca Sanford (hamstring).
Big Ben's Weeks 1-3 targets: Emmanuel Sanders 30, Antonio Brown 29, Jerricho Cotchery 20, David Paulson 9, Heath Miller 4, Dwyer 3, Jones 2. ... Brown dominated the Bears' secondary in Week 3 and could give Minnesota's oversized cornerbacks matchup problems as a shifty, elusive, and versatile receiving presence. Brown is running most of his pass patterns down the middle and along the right sideline, where he'll take on rookie LCB Xavier Rhodes and struggling slot CB Josh Robinson. After a slow going in Weeks 1-2, Brown is back in the mix as an every-week WR2/3. The Steelers made a tangible effort to get Brown the football against Chicago, using him in higher-percentage spots and targeting him a team-high 13 times. Brown responded with a career-best 9-196-2 stat line. ... Sanders is seeing plenty of balls -- he got eight targets against the Bears -- but is averaging 10.9 yards per catch without a touchdown. Like Nate Washington, Sanders is a solid real-life NFL player who lacks the requisite playmaking ability for major fantasy impact. ... Still recovering from last year's triple-knee ligament tear, I'd like to see Miller's role grow before leaning on him in fantasy leagues. He played 59% of Pittsburgh's Week 3 offensive snaps and is rotating with Paulson and David Johnson until further notice. ... Rookie Markus Wheaton's snap counts through three games: 7, 5, 8. Wheaton dropped his lone target against Chicago.
Stacked boxes have limited Adrian Peterson to 203 yards on 68 carries (2.99 YPC) since his opening run of the season went for a 78-yard score, but he still ranks third among fantasy backs and is getting some help in Week 4. All-Pro FB Jerome Felton's three-game substance abuse suspension is up, restoring A.P.'s lead blocker. The Steelers have defended the run well for the most part this season, although Giovani Bernard and Matt Forte combined for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries (5.21 YPC) against them the past two weeks. Nonexistent is the matchup in which Peterson can be benched. ... Christian Ponder's stats over his last 16 games: 291-of-486 (59.9%) for 2,913 yards (5.99 YPA) and a 16:18 TD-to-INT ratio with seven fumbles, losing five. He did rush for two touchdowns last week. Off to an 0-3 start, Ponder remains at risk of being benched for Matt Cassel in any given game. ... Ponder's target distribution through three weeks: Jerome Simpson 21, Greg Jennings 19, Kyle Rudolph 18, Peterson 12, Jarius Wright 8, Cordarrelle Patterson 7, John Carlson 5, Toby Gerhart 4. ... Patterson's early-season snap counts: 5, 6, 19. Patterson's usage is indeed on the rise -- he caught 2-of-4 targets for 49 yards in Week 3 -- but he's still a rotational player only worth a bench stash in standard fantasy leagues.
Friday Update: Nursing a rib injury, Ponder missed his third straight day of practice Friday and will not play in London, giving Cassel the nod. Perhaps he will play better than Ponder, but Cassel's track record certainly doesn't offer a lot of room for optimism. The outlook of Vikings skill-position players is largely unchanged.
Jennings' production and performance have disappointed through three games as a Viking. He has two drops and is doing very little after the catch. Steelers corners are unimposing aside from RCB Ike Taylor despite their top-three pass defense ranking, but Jennings is a low-end WR3. ... Jennings plays the slot and on the strong side of the formation, so Simpson is likely to spend most of Sunday's game in Taylor's coverage. Confidently scratch Simpson off your Week 4 sleepers list. ... Rudolph is 19th in fantasy tight end scoring through three weeks. He has yet to clear 42 yards in any game. Consider Rudolph a fantasy backup until something changes, but I'm not optimistic Rudolph's "light" will flip on until the Vikings upgrade at quarterback. Cassel likely isn't that guy, although at this point I like Rudolph's chances better with him than Ponder.
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Vikings 17
Baltimore @ Buffalo
Buffalo will field the NFL's most injury-depleted defense when it hosts the 2-1 Ravens in Week 4. Already minus top CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist surgery), the Bills lost LE Alex Carrington to a year-ending quadriceps tear in Week 3, while RE Mario Williams (ankle), DT Marcell Dareus (ankle), and CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) all left the game early and did not return. FS Jairus Byrd is questionable with plantar fasciitis. This pass "defense" -- most noticeably fill-in CB Justin Rogers -- was a remedy for scuffling Jets receivers Santonio Holmes (5-154-1) and Stephen Hill (3-108-1) last week, and ought to get Torrey Smith back into the end zone. On pace for career highs in catches (86) and receiving yards (1,435), it's only a matter of time before Smith resumes scoring touchdowns. Start him as an every-week WR2. ... Joe Flacco's target distribution through three weeks: Smith 30, Dallas Clark 20, Brandon Stokley 16, Marlon Brown 15, Ray Rice 14, Vonta Leach 8, Ed Dickson 6, Bernard Pierce 4. ... Clark lacks fantasy start-ability despite being Baltimore's second-most heavily targeted pass catcher. The 34-year-old is playing 50% of the offensive snaps and in Week 3 only played on obvious passing downs. He's a bottom-barrel TE2.
Flacco's stats have underwhelmed to this point, but he may not get a more favorable matchup all year. He's squarely on the quarterback streamer radar and should be locked into two-QB league lineups. ... Brown is coming off a two-catch, six-yard game against the Texans. While Brown is a good-looking young prospect, the Ravens don't make an obvious effort to call plays for him and get him the ball. Even in great matchups like this, Brown will be a risky WR3. He's yet to top six targets in any game. ... Buffalo's up-front injuries will be felt in run defense, where the team is already getting gashed. The Bills have allowed Jets, Panthers, and Patriots tailbacks to combine for 440 yards on 94 runs (4.68 YPC), including career days for Shane Vereen and Bilal Powell. Rice's hip flexor strain was initially expected to cost him 2-3 games, but he practiced on a limited basis this week and will be a game-time decision. He's an RB1 in a cake matchup if he goes. If not, Pierce will be set up for 20-plus touches after handling 26 in last week's win over the Texans.
Since ceding seven of them to Peyton Manning on opening night, the Ravens haven't allowed a touchdown in either of their past two games. They're sixth in the league in sacks. Baltimore has a top-five NFL defense in terms of talent, and it'll give E.J. Manuel fits. I'd worry about the Bills generating ball movement. Manuel was Buffalo's biggest Week 3 liability against the Jets, taking eight sacks and connecting on 1-of-8 passes beyond 20 yards. Avoid Manuel outside of desperate two-QB league scenarios, and fire up the Ravens' fantasy defense. Manuel has accuracy issues and is beginning to look like a sitting duck. ... Manuel's Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Stevie Johnson 29, Scott Chandler and Robert Woods 18, Fred Jackson 17, C.J. Spiller 11, T.J. Graham 9. ... This is not a great matchup for Johnson -- he'll see a lot of Ravens top CB Lardarius Webb in the slot -- but sheer target volume has and can continue to buoy him into respectable WR3 territory. No other Buffalo pass catchers are stepping forward as reliable competitors for Manuel's throws. ... Switching up their safety corps with Matt Elam entering the lineup, the Ravens held hot-starting Owen Daniels to 29 yards on nine targets and Garrett Graham catch-less in Week 3. Chandler is coming off one of the better games of his career (5-79-1), but is a long shot to repeat. Chandler has topped 70 yards just three times in 46 career games played.
Manuel targeted Woods ten times against the Jets, but the rookie secured just two for 35 yards, dropped one, and the rest of the incompletions were errantly thrown. Woods is only worth stash consideration in the deepest leagues. ... Not only have the Bills thrown Spiller into a near-even timeshare with 32 1/2-year-old Jackson, they've consistently failed to get Spiller into space and in the flats, instead slamming him into eight-man boxes. Spiller fumbled twice last week and missed the fourth quarter with a thigh bruise. Spiller's mammoth upside can never be benched in fantasy, but there's no ignoring his questionable usage or difficult Week 4 matchup. Through three games, the Ravens have stymied Broncos, Browns, and Texans rushers for 224 scoreless yards on 66 runs (3.39 YPC). Spiller should still be considered a high-ceiling RB2 play against Baltimore, and is a recommended buy-low target. Before getting hurt in last week's clunker, Spiller was averaging 20.5 touches per game. ... Unless Spiller were to miss time, Jackson will remain a middling flex play. Jackson's relatively heavy usage in the passing game increases his appeal in PPR settings. Strictly as a ball carrier, Jackson is unlikely to get much going against Baltimore's stout front.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Bills 14
Seattle @ Houston
We're still dealing in small sample sizes, but Arian Foster is averaging 3.88 yards per carry in what would be a YPC drop for his third consecutive season. Ben Tate is at 6.81 YPC, and 4.77 even if you exclude his 60-yard Week 2 run. The Texans' backfield timeshare is here to stay. On Sunday, Foster and Tate square off with a Seahawks defense that has limited opposing running backs to 155 yards on 54 carries (2.87 YPC). Start Foster as an RB2 and hope you luck into a goal-line plunge. ... Tate will remain involved, but isn't working in scoring position and has yet to clear nine carries in any game. He's a low-end flex. ... I noticed tape gurus Greg Cosell and Ron Jaworski both say last week Matt Schaub wasn't playing nearly as well as his Weeks 1-2 stats suggested. Schaub bottomed out with 194 scoreless yards on 35 pass attempts at Baltimore in Week 3, managing a 17.8 QBR. Seattle ranks No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 against the pass, No. 1 in passer rating allowed, and No. 3 in interceptions. Schaub is a weak two-quarterback-league play. ... Schaub's target distribution on the season: Andre Johnson 35, DeAndre Hopkins 26, Owen Daniels 21, Foster 14, Tate and Garrett Graham 10, Keshawn Martin 5, DeVier Posey 4.
Perimeter receiver Johnson bruised his shin in Week 3. He will play Sunday, but gets an awfully difficult Week 4 draw against extremely physical Seahawks press-man CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Johnson is too good and targeted too heavily to ever be benched in fantasy leagues, but he's more of a WR2 than WR1 this week. ... After his monster Week 2 game when Johnson missed a chunk of snaps, Hopkins returned to Earth in a possession role against the Ravens, securing 6-of-7 targets for 60 scoreless yards. The Week 3 line is probably closer to the norm for Hopkins, who remains in a weekly competition for targets with Daniels and Graham behind target monster Johnson. Hopkins is running a heavy majority of his pass routes at left cornerbacks, so he's likely to see a lot of Sherman in coverage. Consider Hopkins a WR3/4 against Seattle. ... The Seahawks' perimeter-oriented defensive scheme is sometimes vulnerable to tight ends who run patterns underneath and down the seam, but unfailingly makes life difficult on passing games in general. Daniels is a back-end TE1 option. Graham is a bottom-barrel TE2.
The Seahawks' offense had its way with the Jaguars' defense in Week 3, using the opportunity to kickstart its previously sputtering passing attack as Russell Wilson sprinkled four TDs among just 21 throws. Wilson is 32nd in the NFL in pass attempts, which means in order to meet fantasy expectations he'll have to lean on sheer playmaking ability. Wilson has that, but I'm not convinced he's a good bet to improve on last year's No. 9 fantasy quarterback ranking in such a decidedly run-first offense. Houston also poses a tough test for enemy passing attacks. DC Wade Phillips' defense ranks second against the pass, sixth in yards-per-attempt allowed (6.2), and ninth in completion percentage (56.6). View Wilson as a low-end fantasy starter until his rushing numbers improve. ... Wilson's Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Golden Tate 17, Sidney Rice 15, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin 11, Marshawn Lynch and Luke Willson 6, Robert Turbin 4, Jermaine Kearse 3. ... Rice caught two of Wilson's scoring passes against Jacksonville, but they aren't indicators of box scores to come. Rice's stat lines were 2-35 and 1-13 in the first two weeks. On Sunday, look for Rice to square off with Texans LCB Kareem Jackson on the majority of the snaps. Jackson was excellent in Houston's first two games, but got roughed up a bit by Torrey Smith last week.
Tate is Seattle's target leader, but Wilson continues to spread the ball around and throw to the open man in a low-volume pass game. Tate will be a shot-in-the-dark WR3 in Sunday's battle with RCB Johnathan Joseph. ... As is the case with Rice, Miller's two goal-line touchdowns against Jacksonville are unreliable as we try to project what will happen this week and going forward. Miller scored all of three TDs over his previous 32 regular season games. He's far from a fantasy starter. ... Baldwin is a good real-life slot receiver and currently leads the Seahawks in receiving yards, but he's only playing 61% of the snaps and the offense will lead to inevitable inconsistency. On a week-by-week basis, Baldwin is a poorer fantasy bet than both Tate and Rice. ... Houston ranks ninth in the NFL in run defense and permits the fifth lowest YPC average (3.26) to opposing rushers. I'd still start Lynch with every ounce of confidence as an RB1. His disappointing stat line against the Jags resulted from Wilson's fluky four-passing-score game and Seattle's removal of its first-team offense with over a quarter to play. ... It was during garbage time that we received confirmation on which Seahawks backup would get the most carries should Lynch ever fall victim to injury. Christine Michael was the primary back with the twos, ripping off 37 yards on nine runs. Turbin only handled three carries, gaining five yards, and remains strictly a passing-down specialist.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 21, Texans 20
Cincinnati @ Cleveland
Fantasy owners can't expect Brian Hoyer to throw for three touchdowns and 320-plus yards every week, but there were many promising takeaways from his first start. Hoyer moved the offense. Despite limited arm talent, he was willing to test downfield. OC Norv Turner let Hoyer make fifty-seven dropbacks, an incredibly high number for a debuting quarterback. Per Pro Football Focus, Hoyer's average time to throw was 2.4 seconds. Brandon Weeden averaged 3.1 seconds in Cleveland's first two games. So Hoyer is playing aggressively, getting the football out quickly, and his coaching staff is willing to let him spray it around the yard. Great news for Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. ... Hoyer's quick decision making and release give him a chance to continue generating ball movement even against Cincy's fierce pass rush. Hoyer is surrounded by reasonably effective pass-game personnel, and the Bengals' DBs are their defensive weakness. Hoyer is worth a look in two-QB leagues. ... Hoyer's target distribution: Gordon 19, Cameron 11, Davone Bess 10, Greg Little 8, Chris Ogbonnaya 5, Bobby Rainey 1. ... Top Bengals CB Leon Hall and FS Reggie Nelson missed practice time with hamstring injuries this week, improving Gordon's matchup. 19 targets in last week's win suggest the Browns may be showcasing him for a trade. On game tape, Gordon reminds me of Andre Johnson in size, movement, and ball-plucking skills. Consider him an every-week WR2 until further notice.
Friday Update: The Bengals' top corner (Hall) and top safety (Nelson) are both listed as doubtful on the injury report. As is CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), who likely would've started for Hall if healthy. Gordon and Cameron both have strong fantasy matchups. It's now on their inexperienced quarterback to capitalize.
Another promising element of Hoyer's Browns debut was his noticeable affinity for the Browns' premier pass catchers. This may sound obvious, but some first-time quarterbacks target backups with whom they are most familiar from practicing on the second and third teams. Hoyer didn't, peppering Gordon and Cameron with footballs, and finding Bess seven times for 67 yards in the slot. Cameron is safe to lean on as a high-end TE1. Only Jimmy Graham is outscoring him. ... Bess got a lot of action against the Vikings and is now starting over Little, but remains a low-ceiling WR3 option in PPR leagues. Bess has never been a touchdown scorer or big-play threat. Aim higher. ... Hoyer's pass attempts should remain relatively high versus Cincinnati because Cleveland has little or no chance to run the ball effectively. Through three weeks, the Bengals have held enemy tailbacks to a pedestrian 266 yards on 66 runs (4.03 YPC), and the Browns' backfield is still searching for clarity. Ogbonnaya led the group in snaps (47) against the Vikings, but only handled six touches. In-season street free-agent pickup Willis McGahee is still learning Norv's pass protections, and managed nine yards on eight carries, playing 14 downs. Rainey played 22 snaps and gained 21 yards on five touches. It's an obvious fantasy situation to avoid.
Andy Dalton sits a lowly 20th in fantasy quarterback scoring and is in for a tough test Sunday versus a Browns defense that ranks 12th versus the pass, third in sacks (12), and 31st in passing TDs allowed (2). The Cleveland front seven is as legit as it gets, and the back end isn't bad, either. Dalton is just a two-QB-league option. ... Dalton's 2013 target distribution: A.J. Green 35, Jermaine Gresham 19, Mohamed Sanu 18, Tyler Eifert 12, Marvin Jones 10, Giovani Bernard 8, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2. ... Although neither is a qualified TE1, we're seeing slight separation between Gresham and Eifert. Gresham is shaping up as the minimally superior TE2, just based on targets. The Browns have allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Possession receiver Sanu only muddies the outlook of passing-game options behind Green. Sanu is a WR5, and won't pay off as a standalone fantasy play unless he scores a red-zone TD in a given week. He's yet to do so on the year. Sanu does get a favorable draw this week versus Browns liability CBs Chris Owens and Buster Skrine. Still, only consider Sanu if you're amazingly desperate.
Shadow CB Joe Haden is off to a hot start under new Browns DC Ray Horton, but may get a rude Week 4 awakening. Green has had Haden's number in each of their last two meetings, torching Cleveland's top corner for stat lines of 7-135-2 and 3-110. In between, Green worked the Browns for 7-58-1 in September of 2012, although Haden was on suspension at the time. Regardless, Green owners shouldn't sweat Haden's coverage because A.J. has had so much past success against him. ... Bernard led the Bengals' backfield in Week 3 snaps (30) and touches (14), and coach Marvin Lewis announced in his post-game presser the run-game roles would not change going forward. Green-Ellis played 23 downs, handling ten carries but gaining 29 yards. Bernard has now scored three touchdowns the past two weeks, two of them coming inside the opposing ten-yard line. So while Law Firm remains in the mix for close-in scoring chances, Bernard is getting plenty, based on formation and personnel packages. Bernard is a solid flex play despite this matchup with Cleveland's No. 7 run defense. Green-Ellis is out of the fantasy-lineup mix.
Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Browns 17
NY Giants @ Kansas City
If the Giants pass protect anything like they did in Week 3 at Carolina, they'll have no prayer at Arrowhead. Kevin Gilbride's offense was torpedoed by a combination of the Panthers' dominant defensive front and New York's inability to win one-on-one trench battles. OTs Will Beatty and Justin Pugh combined to allow five of the seven sacks absorbed by Eli Manning as Eli completed 12 passes for 119 yards, his lowest single-game yardage total since 2007. Beatty and Pugh will now take on OLBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who've combined for 8.5 sacks through three games. Houston is the NFL's sack leader. It's likely to be another long day for Eli barring miracle working from Gilbride. The Giants already look like a team that could really use a bye, but their open date isn't until Week 9. ... Seemingly the only player on the Giants' offense who showed up against the Panthers was David Wilson, who didn't blow any pass-blocking assignments, played a season-high 49.1% of the snaps, and earned 41 yards after contact per Pro Football Focus' charts, despite taking repeated hits in the backfield. Wilson was New York's best player at Carolina. I suspect Gilbride saw that when he reviewed the tape and may reward Wilson on Sunday. The Chiefs are playing top-five pass defense, but rank dead last in the NFL in yards per carry (5.64). That number is admittedly skewed, however, by Michael Vick's 99 rushing yards in Week 3. Still, this Giants team will inarguably continue a downward spiral until it gets its running game fixed.
A Rex Ryan disciple, Chiefs DC Bob Sutton may have frothed at the mouth when he reviewed the Giants' Week 3 film. Expect heavy blitzing. Slot man Victor Cruz and TE Brandon Myers will likely most often serve as Eli's blitz-beating "hots," although I wouldn't bother playing Myers in fantasy for fear of further pass-game dysfunction. The Giants need Myers to block, which isn't his strong suit. ... Eli's targets through three games: Cruz 27, Myers 25, Rueben Randle 19, Hakeem Nicks 16, Da'Rel Scott 15, Bear Pascoe 4, Wilson 2. ... Nicks was targeted once at Carolina and will now do battle with Chiefs shadow CB Brandon Flowers, who helped hold Cecil Shorts to 3-40 in Week 1 and screaming-hot DeSean Jackson to 3-62 two Thursdays ago. Flowers was abused by Dez Bryant in between. Downgrade Nicks from locked-in WR2 to a WR3 in K.C. ... Maybe the most underrated offseason signing so far has been the Chiefs' addition of CB Sean Smith, who will handle Randle whenever Flowers follows Nicks. Inevitably inconsistent due to his formation-based role, Randle is no more than a desperation WR3. ... Essentially just a blitz-pickup specialist at this point, Scott hasn't hit double-digit touches since the season opener and is fantasy waiver-wire fodder. ... Brandon Jacobs may be the favorite for Giants goal-line carries, but has lost all semblance of burst. It is truly painful to watch him run. It's as if there's a grand piano on his back.
One season after ranking second-to-last in total defense, the Giants are playing bad defense again. They've allowed the most points in football -- by 17 -- and only eight teams have surrendered more yards. The Giants rank 27th against the run because they're falling behind and teams are gashing them in keep-the-lead mode. Jamaal Charles is the No. 2 fantasy back and has a great matchup. ... New York is also vulnerable in pass defense, although so was Week 3 Chiefs opponent the Eagles, and Alex Smith couldn't exploit them beyond Charles checkdowns and wide-open crossers to Donnie Avery. Smith finished without a touchdown. Smith can "manage" teams to victory, but is one of the least talented quarterbacks in football. He's just a two-QB-league option. ... Smith's target distribution: Charles 24, Dwayne Bowe 17, Avery 16, Dexter McCluster 13, Sean McGrath 8, Anthony Fasano 7, Anthony Sherman 6. ... The Chiefs are the only team in the league whose running back leads them in targets. ... Don't be fooled by Avery's Week 3 stats. The Eagles' defense couldn't defend a crossing route to save its skin. The G-Men similarly struggle at safety and linebacker, but can't possibly be inept enough to leave Avery uncovered over the middle like Philly did. Or maybe I'm giving Perry Fewell too much credit.
Smith is an inside-the-numbers, checkdown-oriented passer, which is why perimeter threat Bowe ranks an abominable 64th in fantasy receiver scoring through three weeks. He's getting the old Michael Crabtree treatment. Bowe is capable of big games -- and he has a fine Week 4 matchup -- but he's just a dice-roll WR3 at this point. He's had great matchups against the Jaguars and Eagles this year, too, and finished with stat lines of 4-30 and 1-4. Best of luck playing Bowe. You'll need it. ... First-year Chiefs coach Andy Reid allegedly loved McCluster coming out of Ole Miss. He's tried to involve McCluster on offense, but it isn't working. McCluster has gained 55 scoreless yards on seven touches and dropped a pass in each of Kansas City's first three games. Leave him on waivers. ... Rookie Knile Davis is Charles' backup. Davis is worth stashing as a handcuff.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 23, Giants 17
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville
Rookie OC Pep Hamilton's influence on Indy's offense is taking hold, particularly after the Trent Richardson deal. Pep the Playcaller wants to be an impose-our-will, run-ball team, and through three weeks has twice held Andrew Luck under 30 pass attempts. Hamilton's strategy lacks in logic from the standpoint that he more often than not takes the ball out of his best player's hands. It does make sense in that the Colts have shoddy pass protection and a leaky defense. Playing Ground 'N Pound allows the O-Line to focus on run blocking, and limits defensive field time. Long term, I worry Luck's limited pass attempts will cap his fantasy ceiling. If Luck has a huge game against the Jags, consider selling him for a quarterback whose season-long trajectory is pointing up, like Colin Kaepernick or Tom Brady. ... Luck's targets distribution through three weeks: Reggie Wayne 23, T.Y. Hilton 21, Darrius Heyward-Bey 14, Coby Fleener 11, Ahmad Bradshaw 8, Donald Brown 1. ... Fleener wound up blocking on 25-of-49 snaps (51%) in last week's win at Candlestick. Fleener is big and can run, but he's shaping up as too unreliable for confident start-ability as the fourth option in the passing game on a run-first team. ... Due to the Colts' new mentality, expectations need to be reset for Wayne. Wayne will remain Luck's go-to receiver, but still won't see enough volume to deliver more than back-end WR2 season stats.
Friday Update: Giving Luck and Wayne's Week 4 matchup an assist will be the absence of Jaguars FS Dwight Lowery, who hasn't been cleared after last week's concussion. Lowery is Jacksonville's best and most veteran defensive back.
With Heyward-Bey back from his shoulder injury against the 49ers, Hilton resumed third receiver duties. He played 54% of the offensive snaps and was targeted four times, securing two for 13 scoreless yards. Hilton will still have some big weeks because he can make big plays, but he's settling in as a boom-or-bust WR3. ... DHB is blocking well in the run game and working as a possession receiver on wideout screens and underneath. Heyward-Bey still can't be treated as more than a WR4 while essentially sharing production with Hilton and to a lesser extent Fleener behind Wayne. ... The Jags rank 32nd in run defense and third to last in yards-per-carry allowed (5.19). They're an optimal opponent for run-minded Hamilton to hammer on the ground. Look for 18-plus touches from Richardson and RB1 dividends. Pep the Playcaller vows to keep Bradshaw involved after he outplayed Richardson last week. Bradshaw could pay off as a flex starter, though his value and role are likely to dwindle by the week. Bradshaw would be a nice trade chip for owners seeking more upside from a slow-starting running back like Stevan Ridley or David Wilson. It's worth noting Bradshaw (neck) missed most of the practice week, allowing Richardson to gobble up first-team reps and more fully digest the offense. This could be his blowup game.
Friday Update I: Hilton missed Friday's practice after not being listed on Wednesday or Thursday's injury reports. He was suddenly in a walking boot Friday, but is listed as probable for Week 4 and will play. Though wildly talented, Hilton remains a dicey WR3 destined for inevitable inconsistency due to his limited role on a run-first team.
Friday Update II: Bradshaw missed every practice this week due to the neck injury, the extent of which is unknown. He's been ruled out against the Jaguars. Look for a heavy workload out of Richardson in a rushing-friendly matchup.
Sunday's home date could provide Maurice Jones-Drew owners with a terrific pre-Week 5 sell-high window. MJD has struggled mightily in terms of yards per carry (2.61) while battling foot woes and showing obvious indicators of decline. Not only will Indy be without run-stuffing DE Ricky Jean-Francois (groin) and box safety LaRon Landry (ankle), the Colts rank 26th in both run defense and YPC allowed (4.66). Perhaps Indianapolis will experience a bit of a letdown one week after upsetting the 49ers at Candlestick, allowing MJD to pile up attempts in a competitive game. I'd bail quickly if Jones-Drew delivers. Start him as an RB2. ... Blaine Gabbert is back from his hand laceration, all but torpedoing the fantasy outlooks of Jaguars pass catchers. Cecil Shorts has a great matchup and led the NFL in targets (29) during Chad Henne's two starts, and I still wouldn't feel good playing him. Shorts' stat lines in his last five games when both he and Gabbert have played together extensively: 3-40, 3-56, 8-116, 2-43, 1-8. Compare those to these numbers in the Jaguars' last nine games where Henne has played extensively: 8-93, 8-143, 4-79-1, 6-105-1, 3-81-1, 4-105-1, 7-77-1, 6-101, 6-54. Gabbert's re-installation drops Shorts from borderline fantasy WR2 into ultra-shaky WR3 territory.
The rest of Jacksonville's skill-position players are fantasy non-factors, though it's worth noting Jordan Todman looks to be MJD's main handcuff. Whereas Todman has handled 11 touches and played 52 snaps through three games, Justin Forsett has played 36 downs with one carry and five receptions. In the event of a Jones-Drew injury, it appears Todman would be the early-down-carry favorite with Forsett operating on passing downs. Denard Robinson (12 snaps, four carries, -1 yard) clearly isn't ready for primetime. ... Rookie slot receiver Ace Sanders was a training camp all star, but it hasn't translated to real games at all. Sanders has dropped 2-of-19 targets, generating 103 yards. He played behind Stephen Burton last week. ... Justin Blackmon will return from suspension in Week 5 and is worth grabbing in 12-team leagues as a bye-week WR3 candidate.
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Jaguars 17
Arizona @ Tampa Bay
Arizona's backfield has devolved into a value-killing committee with Rashard Mendenhall as the starter and nominal lead back, but Andre Ellington seeing increased work and special teamer Alfonso Smith siphoning snaps and goal-line carries. Against the Saints, Smith kicked off last week's scoring with a three-yard TD run as all three runners were involved on the opening drive. Now facing a stout Tampa defense that ranked No. 1 versus the run in 2012 and is allowing under four yards per carry without a touchdown on the season, Cards backs should be avoided in Week 4 start-sit decisions. Pro Football Focus grades Arizona's O-Line 27th in run blocking through three games. ... The Cards will have to throw to move the ball in this one, although Carson Palmer's pass protection has predictably become an increasing concern. Arizona could not block New Orleans' pass rush, allowing Palmer to absorb four sacks for the second time in three games. Palmer's box-score production has dipped in three consecutive weeks. Able to blitz more because they have Darrelle Revis, the Bucs rank third in the NFL in sacks (12) and have been largely stingy against the pass despite early-season meetings with Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Palmer can't be considered more than a dicey QB2 until Bruce Arians sorts out his protection.
Palmer's target distribution: Larry Fitzgerald 25, Andre Roberts 21, Michael Floyd 19, Ellington 11, Jim Dray 9, Mendenhall 4, Rob Housler 3. ... At least since Week 1 against Santonio Holmes, the Bucs have not used Revis as a shadow corner. Tampa is playing zone coverage, confining Revis to the outside or at safety on 186-of-189 snaps (98.4%). Per PFF's Mike Clay, Revis has only played three snaps in the slot. Under Arians, Fitzgerald is playing 50% of his downs in the slot or in a tight end-like position and the rest outside at Z or X. Healthy after his Week 2 hamstring scare, Fitz is a full-time player again and has a chance to match up with Bucs slot CB Leonard Johnson on a big chunk of Sunday's plays. I'd start him with confidence. ... Floyd and Roberts have been role-type players at Nos. 2 and 3 receiver, with no real separation between the two. I think Roberts will have a bigger Week 4 game because Floyd projects to match up more with Revis on the perimeter. Still, neither is more than a low-end WR3. ... Housler returned from his high ankle sprain against the Saints to secure 1-of-3 targets for 13 yards, playing 39-of-58 snaps (67.2%). I thought the playing time was promising, but Arians has never made a serious effort to feature tight ends in his passing game. Housler's return could ultimately have a negative effect on Roberts and Floyd's numbers. Beyond Fitz, this passing game is shaping up as difficult to predict.
The Bucs couldn't have dreamed up a better first NFL start for Mike Glennon than a home date with pass rush-bereft Arizona. Even before losing OLBs Sam Acho (fibula), Alex Okafor (biceps), and Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc) to year-ending injuries in Week 3, the Cards ranked 29th in sacks, 27th in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics, and 28th in coverage. They're far removed from the Ray Horton era under new DC Todd Bowles. Free-agent pickup John Abraham has been a colossal bust. ... A potential concern for Glennon, however, was Mike Williams (hamstring) and Vincent Jackson's (ribs) inability to practice this week. Glennon spent Wednesday and Thursday throwing to Kevin Ogletree and Russell Shepard. It may be an ominous development ahead of Glennon's debut. ... Whether Glennon can get him the ball remains to be seen, but Williams has an intriguing matchup with undersized Cards LCB Jerraud Powers (5'9/192). Williams (6'2/212) should avoid Patrick Peterson's shadow on a majority of snaps. Williams is a boom-or-bust WR3. Big-armed Glennon was a risk-taking shot-play passer at NC State. ... Is Peterson a shutdown corner? My eyeball test has said no, aside from when opposing offenses simply decide against throwing at him, which sometimes happens. PFF has graded Peterson 72nd in pass coverage among 103 qualifying corners, and Calvin Johnson lit him up for an 8-116-2 stat line in Week 2. Jackson isn't Megatron, but will pay fantasy dividends if he can match 75% of that production.
A factor restricting Freeman was Tampa's utter lack of chain-moving possession targets in the pass game. Ogletree is one of the worst third receivers in football, and the Bucs have nothing at tight end. So Freeman was left attempting to throw to V-Jax and Williams on "iso" routes down the sidelines, which are inherently low-percentage passes. I did notice Ogletree set a season high with six targets in Week 3, and Martin match his previous high with six as well. So perhaps the Bucs' coaching staff is noticing this on tape. Martin has delivered at least 100 total yards and/or a touchdown in three consecutive games to open the season, ranking tenth among running backs in fantasy points. Due to Glennon's likely lack of timing with Williams and V-Jax, Martin could be a frequent checkdown valve on Sunday. While the Cardinals rank top three in run defense early in the year, they haven't exactly faced elite rushing attacks (STL, DET when Reggie Bush got hurt, NO). They'll also be without gap-controlling NT Dan Williams (personal). Start Martin as an RB1, and hope his passing-game involvement continues to grow. Freeman was playing so poorly that I'm not sure the quarterback change has any truly negative impact on Tampa Bay's feature back.
Score Prediction: Bucs 21, Cardinals 20
4:05PM ET Game
NY Jets @ Tennessee
Jets-Titans unsurprisingly has the lowest Week 4 over-under at 39.5 points. Both teams are playing top-seven defense, and the Titans rank 29th in total offense. Look elsewhere for sleeper plays this week. ... Geno Smith has an unattractive matchup on the road. The blitz-heavy Titans will make Smith's pre- and post-snap reads extremely complex, and Tennessee is playing top-ten pass defense while grading out sixth in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metrics, and fifth in pass coverage. Time will tell whether the Titans' defense is legit, but to this point it certainly looks the part and could eat a rookie quarterback alive. ... With Chris Ivory (hamstring) out indefinitely, Bilal Powell is a strong RB2/flex at Tennessee, and could be an excellent sell-high candidate following Week 4, especially with more talented Mike Goodson returning from suspension in Week 5. The Titans have been more vulnerable to the run than pass, serving up the tenth highest YPC average (4.36) in football despite facing the pedestrian rushing attacks of Pittsburgh and San Diego in two of their three games. Titans NT Sammie Lee Hill has a high ankle sprain, and MLB Moise Fokou has been a major liability. Start Powell against the Titans, then trade him to the highest bidder.
Smith's target distribution: Stephen Hill 22, Santonio Holmes 19, Powell and Kellen Winslow 14, Clyde Gates 13, Jeremy Kerley 9, Ivory 2. ... Holmes flashed dynamic vertical skills in last week's win over the Bills, even if he preyed on fill-in CB Justin Rogers in coverage. This is a much more difficult matchup, although Holmes' improvement and role (76.1 percent snap rate) can't be ignored. He's back on the WR3 radar. ... Hill has been the Jets' best receiver this season, seemingly improving every game. He only has one drop among 22 targets and sits 26th in fantasy wideout scoring. Playing 93.2% of the snaps, Hill has emerged as a better dice-roll WR3 than Santonio. Hill will run most of his routes at LCB Jason McCourty, who is susceptible deep. ... Although Winslow's target numbers look respectable in total, he only has 16 yards since the season opener and went catch-less in Week 3. Part-time TE Jeff Cumberland (3-26) was a bigger factor last week. ... Playing the Jason Avant slot role in former Eagles OC Marty Mornhinweg's offense, Kerley has to this point been on the outside looking in. He's a WR5 in PPR and not worth a standard-league roster spot.
The Titans have a brutal run of defenses forthcoming. They face the Jets and Chiefs the next two games, then head to Seattle in Week 6 and host San Francisco in Week 7 before a Week 8 bye. It's a stretch during which the bottom could fall out for an average to sub-average team. ... Utilized as a game manager by OC Dowell Loggains, Jake Locker ranks 16th in quarterback points while playing the most efficient football of his career. He's in for an incredibly difficult test against Rex Ryan's No. 3 overall defense, which ranks third in the league in sacks, seventh versus the pass, and No. 1 in completion rate allowed (47.3). Locker isn't on the standard-league radar and is a low-end two-quarterback-league play. He's cleared 150 passing yards in 1-of-3 games this year. ... Locker's updated target distribution: Nate Washington 22, Kendall Wright 21, Kenny Britt 16, Delanie Walker 14, Damian Williams 4, Chris Johnson 3, Justin Hunter 2. ... Britt has as many penalties as receptions (five) this season and will attempt to play through a cracked rib against Antonio Cromartie's Jets. Britt is also in danger of losing snaps to rookie Hunter. No thanks.
Friday Update: Britt has injuries to his ribs and neck and barely practiced this week. Coach Mike Munchak indicated he was disappointed in Britt's level of participation in Friday's workout. Britt is off the fantasy radar and is listed as questionable. If he's inactive against the Jets, Wright (slot), Washington (Z), and Hunter (X) would likely form Tennessee's primary three-receiver set with Williams the top backup at all three positions.
Washington and Wright appear to have risen atop Locker's target pecking order, though neither can be trusted on a regular basis in a spread-the-wealth passing "attack" that ranks 30th in pass attempts. They're WR3 rolls of the dice. I do like Wright's matchup this week versus slot corner Kyle Wilson, who is the weakest link on Ryan's defense. Wright runs the highest-percentage routes of any Titan and is Loggains' go-to slot man. He's picked it up big time since a slow start. ... Battling turf toe this week, Walker is just a guy as a pass catcher and has no place on the rosters of fantasy owners in search of difference makers. ... In three straight weeks, Rex's defense has shut down an elite NFL running back (Doug Martin 24-65-1, Stevan Ridley 16-40, C.J. Spiller 10-9). Martin was at least able to save himself with a goal-line plunge; Chris Johnson gets vultured at the goal line and is used sparingly in the passing game. 47 tailbacks and eight fullbacks around the league have more pass targets than Johnson through three games. Johnson is 53rd among 57 qualifying tailbacks in PFF's yards after contact-per-attempt metric. He's a painful RB2/flex in Week 4.
Score Prediction: Jets 17, Titans 13
4:25PM ET Games
Washington @ Oakland
Playing on a short week, the Raiders return home from their Monday night 37-21 dismantling in Denver as the NFL's No. 31 defense in QB rating allowed (120.0) and No. 32 in completion rate permitted (76.5) with a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio against. If Robert Griffin III is ever going to bust his slump, the time is now. Oakland sits 30th in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics and 24th in coverage. They'll continue to play without top DB Tyvon Branch (ankle/fibula). View RG3 as a high-ceiling QB1. ... Griffin's distribution of targets: Pierre Garcon 37; Santana Moss 23; Leonard Hankerson 17; Jordan Reed 15; Josh Morgan 13; Logan Paulsen 9; Roy Helu, Fred Davis, and Aldrick Robinson 6; Alfred Morris 4. ... Hankerson has let us down many times before, but his outlook appears to be on the rise again. He's started each of Washington's last two games over Morgan, and in Week 3 played a season-high 71.3% of the snaps. There are worse WR3 fliers. ... Garcon is a locked-and-loaded WR1 on the verge of a blowup game and perhaps a string of them. Among wide receivers, only Cecil Shorts has more targets, and only Julio Jones, Julian Edelman, and Andre Johnson have more catches. Start Garcon with excitement in Week 4.
Avoid Redskins tight ends in the Black Hole. Reed (quad) and Davis (ankle) are beat up and barely practiced this week. Reed is not expected to play. Davis likely will, but figures to rotate with Paulsen. ... Although Moss is seeing a somewhat steady dose of targets, he's cleared 60 yards in one of his last ten games. Hankerson is a better bet. ... Oakland ranks 18th against the run and served up 166 yards with a touchdown on 32 carries (5.19 YPC) to Broncos tailbacks in Week 3. Just one of Morris' 40 carries so far this year has come with the Redskins ahead, and Washington should have a lead more often against the Raiders. One of the few first-round fantasy running back picks who hasn't been an early-season disappointment, Morris ranks 13th in scoring at his position and is averaging a robust 5.63 yards per rushing attempt.
Terrelle Pryor's (concussion) expected Week 4 inactivity is a major blow to Raiders skill-position players. Matt Flynn could take a torpedo to this already shaky Oakland offense. The primary reason Flynn was benched this preseason was that a limited-arm pure pocket passer can't function behind the Raiders' swinging-gate offensive line. Pryor has been masking an awful lot of flaws. Although Washington's defense has struggled mightily early in the season, they still have enough pass-rush juice in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo to repeatedly exploit Oakland's front five. The Skins' fantasy defense is worth considering as a desperation streamer. ... The Raiders know Flynn's limitations and will likely attempt to control this game on the ground. While Pryor starting certainly would've been preferable, Darren McFadden remains an attractive RB2 against a Washington defense that ranks 30th versus the run and is shelling out 4.84 yards per carry. Quietly off to a red-hot start, DMC is No. 8 in fantasy running back scoring, seeing 18.3 touches a game. Owners should fire up McFadden on Sunday and against the Chargers in Week 5, then sell high before it's too late. DMC's schedule toughens thereafter, and he's always been injury prone.
Denarius Moore has surrounded a Week 2 goose egg with stat lines of 5-43-1 against the Colts on Opening Day and 6-124-1 at Denver last Monday night. His big-play ability is as undeniable as his inconsistency. Now dealing with a quarterback downgrade, start Moore at your own risk. ... Because Flynn has a possession-type arm and Rod Streater is a possession-type receiver, my guess would be Flynn targets Streater more than any other Oakland pass catcher. There are no guarantees, of course. Moore and Streater have plus matchups versus Washington's No. 31 pass defense, but the quarterback situation is a potentially major obstacle. ... The only other Raider with any semblance of fantasy value is FB Marcel Reece, to whom the Raiders made a public commitment for increased offensive usage after signing him to an extension last week. Pryor and the coaching staff followed through, targeting Reece a season-high five times in the pass game. Reece converted four for 45 yards and a TD thrown by McFadden. Reece is a huge long-shot flex.
Friday Update: Pryor practiced on a limited basis Friday and is listed as questionable. Coach Dennis Allen said Pryor will play -- not necessarily start -- if he passes one more concussion test on Saturday. We're left in the dark because Allen won't announce his Week 4 starter publicly for "competitive reasons." Because this is a late game, fantasy owners of Raiders skill-position players should probably take the glass-half-empty mindset that Pryor isn't starting. Hopefully we'll get clarification on Saturday.
Score Prediction: Redskins 27, Raiders 16
Philadelphia @ Denver
At 58 points, Philly-Denver predictably has the highest over-under of Week 4 and any game to date this year. The Broncos and Eagles rank Nos. 1 and 2 in offense, respectively, and Philly's sieve-ish defense doesn't hurt the scoring projections on either side. ... Peyton Manning is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback on the season, and Philadelphia ranks 29th against the pass. Um, start 'em. ... The Eagles have shown an utter inability to defend crossing routes in consecutive games, getting torched by Eddie Royal in Week 2 and Donnie Avery two Thursdays ago. You can be sure Peyton noticed this on tape. The Philly defense is swiss cheese. They are slow and tackle poorly. Fire up Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker. ... Manning's target distribution so far this year: Decker and Demaryius 28, Welker 27, Thomas 20, Knowshon Moreno 8, Virgil Green and Ronnie Hillman 3, Montee Ball 2. ... The Denver wideouts most likely to run crossers are Welker and Decker. Welker is the No. 11 overall fantasy receiver, and Decker is 19. They are both every-week WR2s. ... Demaryius is running most of his pass patterns at right cornerbacks and over the middle. Philly's RCB is Bradley Fletcher, who is 52nd in Pro Football Focus' pass coverage grades. Demaryius is my pick to lead Denver in Week 4 receiving yards.
The Eagles have the NFL's worst safeties outside of Washington and will be minus FS Pat Chung (shoulder). "Orange Julius" is a top-five tight end start. ... The Broncos' backfield devolved back into a Week 3 timeshare against the Raiders last Monday, but it's tough to draw conclusions from a game that so quickly got out of hand. Moreno was the clear-cut lead back until Denver got up 28-0 at halftime. I charted the game, and the touch distribution to that point was Moreno 10, Hillman 4, Ball 1, with another Moreno carry nullified by penalty. Moreno had three more carries on Denver's opening second-half possession, and never touched the ball again. Hillman didn't play until the score was 14-0. He did play well, which could perhaps translate to more work going forward. Ball ran hard in garbage time, but lost a fumble. I still think Moreno is the favorite for touches and snaps whenever games are competitive. I'd start him as a flex against Philly's No. 22 run defense. ... Hillman would be a much dicier flex, but provides juice and shiftiness Moreno and Ball can't. Hillman is worth a 12-team-league roster spot, but probably will never be Denver's lead back. The organization views him as a change-up runner. ... Ball has lost fumbles in back-to-back games, but the fact the Broncos continued to give him carries versus Oakland confirms they aren't throwing in the towel. Ball only fumbled five times in 1,001 career touches at Wisconsin.
It's not enough to sit any member of Philly's Big Three (Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson) in fantasy, but the one risk the lopsidedly-built Eagles run in a game like this is falling behind by a lot of points because they can't stop Peyton. Chip Kelly's offense is designed to run the football at a voluminous and crisp pace. Not to rally back from deficits. ... The Eagles rank fifth in the league in rushing attempts, first in rushing yards -- by a whopping 174 -- and first in yards per carry (6.60). Vick alone is on pace to rush 101 times for 976 yards with ten scores. Only Peyton has scored more fantasy points among quarterbacks. Consider Vick a matchup-proof, every-week top-five QB1 until something changes. ... Denver's No. 1 run defense has eliminated rushing attacks early in the year, though their mettle will be tested by No. 1 overall fantasy back McCoy. The element of Philly's run-game success that doesn't get enough credit is the offensive line. Very arguably the most talented front five in football, the Eagles' O-Line ranks a head-and-shoulders first in Pro Football Focus' run-block grades, with rookie RT Lane Johnson fifth among tackles, LG Evan Mathis first among guards, and Jason Kelce as PFF's top run-blocking center.
Vick's target portioning through three games: Jackson 31, Jason Avant 18, Riley Cooper 16, Brent Celek 9, McCoy 8, Zach Ertz 6. ... Philly's low-volume pass game will produce random big weeks from the role players behind D-Jax. Predicting when one will come and for whom will be virtually impossible. Avant (5-87-1) was the guy in Week 3 against Kansas City. Celek (2-56-1) had dibs in the opener. McCoy stepped up in between (5-114). Otherwise, Avant, Celek, Cooper, and Ertz have been fantasy non-factors. I wouldn't bother with any of them in 12-team leagues. ... Jackson is coming off his slowest game of the season, but should still be viewed as an every-week starter. The Broncos' secondary has displayed susceptibility to big plays, which are D-Jax's bread and butter. Denver has surrendered the third most 20-plus-yard receptions (16) in football. If the Eagles do fall behind early, it would be logical to expect Jackson to benefit in the box score.
Score Prediction: Broncos 33, Eagles 27
Dallas @ San Diego
The Chargers enter Week 4 with the most banged-up offensive line west of East Rutherford. RT D.J. Fluker is back from his concussion, but LT King Dunlap was concussed in Week 3. RG Jeromey Clary missed the work week with a collarbone injury, and LG Chad Rinehart is out indefinitely with a toe problem. C Nick Hardwick was "limited" by a shin injury. The Cowboys rank second in the NFL in both sacks (13) and run defense, where they're one of just two teams yet to surrender a rushing TD. This Chargers offense could be in for a long day. ... Philip Rivers & Co. struggled to move the ball in Week 3 against the Titans after their game-opening touchdown drive. Although Rivers has been a high-percentage passer, the offense is dink-and-dunkish in nature, and Rivers ranks 18th in the league in 20-plus-yard pass attempts. We can't expect big plays from the Chargers' passing game. Rivers is a high-end QB2 against Dallas with obvious risk due to his protection. ... Rivers' targets through three games: Antonio Gates 21, Danny Woodhead 20, Eddie Royal 16, Vincent Brown 14, Keenan Allen 4, Ryan Mathews 3. ... Gates is the one Chargers pass catcher I'd feel good about starting in Week 4. He's eighth in fantasy scoring among tight ends, and Cowboys DC Monte Kiffin's unit has a talent shortage at safety. Gates is moving better this season than he has in years. It's very noticeable on tape.
Royal returned to Earth with 34 yards on two targets against the Titans. While his role in San Diego's offense has exceeded preseason expectations, Royal is still only playing 63% of the snaps and isn't heavily targeted. Despite the five fluky early-season touchdowns, consider Royal a WR4 going forward. ... Running routes primarily down the sidelines, Brown isn't getting open and has not won any of his three targets 20-plus yards downfield. If Royal is a WR4, Brown is a WR5. ... Allen has the best matchup of San Diego's wideouts against Cowboys whipping-boy RCB Morris Claiborne, but has been an afterthought in the passing game so far. Perhaps you could view Allen as a super sleeper this particular week, but he's not remotely worth starting in standard leagues. ... Mathews played only 19-of-59 snaps (32.2%) in Week 3, probably because the Bolts were worried about his inability to pass protect against the blitz-heavy Titans. Mathews simply isn't playing much, and he's now getting vultured at the goal line by Ronnie Brown. View Mathews as a poor flex play against the stout Cowboys defense. Back on the PPR flex radar, Woodhead could easily play the most snaps again because Dallas rushes the passer so well.
Friday Update: Dunlap is optimistically listed as questionable. Rinehart won't play, and Clary is doubtful. So the Chargers will be without both of their starting guards against Dallas, and quite possibly their left tackle, too. Woodhead is an interesting flex play in PPR leagues. Rivers will have to get it out quick, and Woodhead could be a major part of Mike McCoy's game plan on screens and dump-offs. They're high-percentage pass plays that don't require sustained pass protection.
The Chargers are getting dumptrucked defensively. Only the Redskins have given up more total yards, and no team in football is allowing more yards per play (7.0). It's a great week to fire up Dallas skill-position players. ... Although Tony Romo's start has been somewhat slow in fantasy terms, he's completing a career-best 72.2% of his throws and has a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Likely to have a clean pocket Sunday, this could be a funk-breaker for Romo. ... The Chargers don't have anyone who can cover Dez Bryant. RCB Shareece Wright is 96th of 102 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' cornerback ratings, while LCB Derek Cox is 66th. San Diego ranks dead last against the pass. ... Stiff, straight-linish DeMarco Murray is a virtual lock to get injured at this rate, but he's seventh in the NFL in carries and tied for fourth among running backs in receptions. Ride Murray while he's hot and facing San Diego's 28th-ranked run defense, but it'll be time to contemplate selling high soon. ... Romo's 2013 target distribution so far: Bryant 27; Jason Witten 23; Miles Austin 21; Murray 19; Terrance Williams 7; Dwayne Harris, Gavin Escobar, and James Hanna 5.
The Chargers have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends through three weeks, and Witten is tied for third at his position in receptions, behind only Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron. He's a mid-range TE1 in this matchup. ... Battling hamstring woes again, Austin is going to be a game-time decision for Sunday's 4:25ET affair. Austin can't be trusted in fantasy lineups, and neither can his backups. Rookie Williams isn't making anything happen downfield or after the catch. The Cowboys have relegated Harris to fourth receiver and special teams duties, but he is a better player than Williams. Even in an ideal matchup, Cowboys pass catchers beyond Dez and Witten are Week 4 fantasy commodities to avoid. ... Trying to handcuff Murray is a tricky proposition. The Cowboys view Lance Dunbar as a change-of-pace back, and Phillip Tanner is probably second in line for early-down work. I'd rather own Dunbar than Tanner, but wouldn't bother outside of deep leagues. Dallas would resort to a timeshare if Murray missed time.
Friday Update: Austin (hamstring) missed a third straight day of practice Friday and will be inactive at San Diego. I'd rather start Harris than Williams if deciding between Dallas' two reserve wideouts. I've seen Harris play a lot more pro football and he is good. Williams is an incredibly raw rookie. I suppose you could argue Williams gives you more upside, while Harris is "safer." Slot receiver Cole Beasley is also in the mix.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Chargers 23
Sunday Night Football
New England @ Atlanta
The Sunday nighter has a 50-point over-under, the second highest of Week 4 behind only Philly-Denver. It's a good game to peruse for sleepers and lean toward for borderline fantasy-lineup calls. ... Having lost WLB Sean Weatherspoon to short-term I.R. and LE/SLB Kroy Biermann for the year, the Falcons' defense looks vulnerable to power run games. Atlanta is now using UDFA Joplo Bartu as an every-down linebacker, and undersized (6'2/264) Jonathan Massaquoi as its primary left end. 33-year-old RE Osi Umenyiora has never been a great run stopper. Three games represent too small of a sample for genuine worry about an established fantasy stud like Stevan Ridley, but I'd be concerned if he doesn't regain clear feature-back duties in this plus matchup. Start Ridley as a good bet to score. ... Brandon Bolden's usage increased in Week 3 because the Patriots used more four-wideout formations to avoid Tampa Bay's stout defensive front and attack the Bucs' leaky zone coverage with the pass. Playing the "passing-back" role vacated by Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen, Bolden is a low-end flex play at the Georgia Dome. His week-to-week role is based solely on game plan. Bolden had eight touches last week, fewest of all three Patriots backs. ... More than anything else, LeGarrette Blount's usage has had the biggest drain on Ridley's value. Blount has stolen 25 early-season carries. He was averaging 2.36 YPC before killing late-game clock in last week's 23-3 win over the Bucs. It's possible Blount's role increased in that specific game as a nod to putting away his old team. Blount remains off the fantasy radar.
This game has a high-scoring projection and will be played indoors. There are only four fantasy quarterbacks I'd play over Tom Brady this week: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Michael Vick, and Matthew Stafford. ... Brady's target distribution on the season: Julian Edelman 34, Kenbrell Thompkins 28, Aaron Dobson 20, Bolden 6, Michael Hoomanawanui 5, Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld 3, Ridley 1. ... Rob Gronkowski (back, arm) and Danny Amendola (groin) will not play on Sunday Night Football. Edelman will continue to hog targets and is borderline WR1 in PPR leagues. He's a WR2/3 in standard. Falcons slot cornerback Robert McClain has struggled in coverage this year, allowing both of Tavon Austin's Week 2 touchdowns and six catches to Brandon Gibson last week. ... Thompkins is coming off a two-score game, but has secured only nine of his 28 targets with a bad drop in back-to-back weeks. Thompkins remains a dicey WR3 because he's not playing particularly well, but he has a great matchup against Falcons rookie RCB Desmond Trufant. ... Dobson will run more routes at LCB Asante Samuel, who played a leading role in limiting Mike Wallace to 22 yards on four targets last week. Dobson is a WR4.
Friday Update: All week, indications pointed to Gronkowski and Amendola missing Week 4. On Friday, however, the Boston Globe reported they are both tentatively expected to play against the Falcons. It's a difficult fantasy situation. This is a Sunday night game, and lineup decisions need to be made on Sunday morning. Even if Gronkowski and Amendola are surprise "actives," they may not be available for full-time roles. Barring more clarification on Saturday or early Sunday, fantasy owners should treat Gronk and Amendola as if they will not play. You don't want to get caught with zeroes in your starting lineup.
Attempting to compensate for arguably the league's leakiest pass protection, Falcons OC Dirk Koetter has made noticeable and impressive adjustments. Atlanta is running wideout screens with high frequency, allowing Matt Ryan to get the ball out quickly and Julio Jones to rack up targets and receptions. Through three weeks, Jones ranks first in the NFL in receiving yards (373), and tied for first with Edelman in catches (27). Among wide receivers, only garbage-time kings Cecil Shorts and Pierre Garcon have more targets. ... Seemingly settling in as a back-end QB1, Ryan is tenth in fantasy quarterback scoring and will probably stay in that territory until he begins getting two things: 1. Better protection. 2. More production from Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. The Patriots rank sixth in pass defense, though they've faced E.J. Manuel, Josh Freeman, and Geno Smith. Ryan's matchup is unimposing enough for him to solidly stay in the QB1 mix. ... Ryan's targets through three games: Julio 35, Gonzo 19, Harry Douglas 17, Jason Snelling 12, White 9, Jacquizz Rodgers 8. ... Running NFL pass routes on a high ankle sprain that ostensibly isn't getting better, White is still only playing 61% of the Falcons' offensive snaps and operating as a decoy. Ryan threw at White four times last week. Until we see tangible signs of improved health, White is fantasy bench fodder.
Gonzalez lost his speed several seasons ago, so I'm not buying the notion his lack of explosion explains his lack of stats. He's been a box-out power forward for years. Perhaps it's attributable to missing so much camp and preseason time due to his hand-shake agreement with Falcons management, but Gonzalez is 21st among fantasy tight ends despite ranking second on a pass-happy team in targets. I think Gonzo is far more likely to pick it up than hit rock bottom. I'd start him Sunday night and hope for a shootout. ... Despite White's ineffectiveness, Douglas' yardage totals have declined each week this season, and he caught one ball for nine yards in Week 3. Just not a very good player, Douglas is off the fantasy radar. ... Since Steven Jackson strained his hamstring in Week 2 against the Rams, Quizz has handled 35 touches compared to Snelling's 21. Rodgers has played 81 snaps to Snelling's 66. Snelling may be the slight favorite for red-zone carries, but I'm taking my chances with the guy playing more and getting the football more if I'm deciding between the two. Coming off a 22-touch, 93-yard game, Quizz is a solid flex play in all formats against New England. Snelling is a touchdown-dependent, low-end flex with scant upside.
Score Prediction: Patriots 28, Falcons 24
Monday Night Football
Miami @ New Orleans
The Dolphins head to the Superdome undefeated, but at significantly less than 100% health. Star LE Cameron Wake (MCL sprain) may only be available for passing downs, and NT Paul Soliai (knee) is week to week. Slot CB Dimitri Patterson (groin) suffered a setback last week and didn't play against Atlanta, allowing Julio Jones (9-115) to light up RCB Nolan Carroll. Drew Brees is catching fire again following a slightly slow start, and has a plus matchup on Monday night. The Dolphins currently rank 20th in passing yards allowed. ... Playing 59% of his snaps split outside or in the slot, Jimmy Graham leads all tight ends in targets (by seven), receptions (by three), yards (by 89), and standard league fantasy points (by nine). The Dolphins get heated up frequently by tight ends because coordinator Kevin Coyle is a believer in blitzing, and tight ends are often the quarterback's hot read. Coyle may blitz Brees even more than usual in an attempt to compensate for a banged-up Wake. As usual, Graham is the No. 1 fantasy tight end play in Week 4. ... Brees' target distribution through three weeks: Graham 38, Marques Colston 21, Darren Sproles 20, Pierre Thomas 15, Lance Moore 11, Kenny Stills 8, Ben Watson 5, Robert Meachem 3. ... Graham has hogged early receiving production, but it's only a matter of time before double teams begin benefiting Colston. Colston also started slow last season (4-71, 3-49, 3-40 in Weeks 1-3), only to finish as the No. 12 fantasy receiver. He's probably the best buy-low wideout in fantasy.
Brees has eight straight 300-yard games, the second longest streak in NFL history and one short of his own record. He's set up for a lot of yards Monday night. After Graham and Colston, Sproles is the favorite for targets, catches and yards in New Orleans. Like Colston, Sproles is off to a slow start, but is a recommended RB2/flex against Miami and should be on all buy-low radars. ... Though effective real-life players, Moore and Stills are canceling each other out of weekly box scores. Moore hasn't cleared 25 yards in any game yet. Stills' yardage totals have dropped in back-to-back weeks, and he went catch-less against the Falcons. They're both fantasy WR5s. ... Normally one of the league's stoutest defenses, Miami is shelling out 4.72 yards per carry to enemy ball carriers, the sixth highest average in the league. Soliai's absence is hurting here, and Wake's limited role won't help. With Mark Ingram (toe) not expected to play Monday, Thomas is squarely in the flex mix. Thomas racked up 17 touches in last Sunday's win over Arizona, his highest touch total in any game since December of 2010. I noticed Thomas' Week 4 pricetag on FanDuel is only $5,400, 37th among running backs. He's a nice, cheap gamble in daily leagues.
Friday Update: Moore (wrist) missed practice on Thursday and Friday and may not play Monday night against the Dolphins. If he doesn't, rookie Stills could be a deep Week 4 sleeper.
Until they begin springing leaks, it's time to take Saints DC Rob Ryan's defense seriously as a tough fantasy matchup for enemy skill-position players. Ryan has built a unit with which to be reckoned. The Saints rank fourth in total defense, and only four clubs have allowed fewer points. New Orleans is No. 4 versus the pass. Ryan Tannehill has carried the Dolphins' offense through offensive-line talent shortages and run-game inconsistency, but is likely to face a lot of pressure on Monday night. The Saints are a top-seven team in Pro Football Focus' pass-rushing metrics, blitzing in an efficient and responsible manner. Tannehill only ranks 23rd in fantasy QB scoring. He could still pay off as a two-quarterback-league start if this game turns into a shootout. ... Miami is more likely to have rushing success at the Superdome, as Ryan's defense ranks 20th versus the run and second to last in yards-per-carry allowed (5.30). Unfortunately, the Dolphins' coaching staff has refused to commit to a feature back. Starter Lamar Miller has played 94 snaps on the season, but is struggling in pass protection and averaging 12 touches for 50 yards a game. He had a bad drop in last week's win over Atlanta, costing the Fins a long gain. Daniel Thomas has played 93 snaps and is averaging eight touches per game. In pass pro, Thomas has allowed a sack in back-to-back games. He got Tannehill hit repeatedly last week.
Tannehill's target distribution: Brian Hartline 28, Mike Wallace 21, Brandon Gibson 20, Charles Clay 19, Miller 6, Rishard Matthews 4, Thomas 3. ... Resistant to bracket coverage as a press-man believer, Ryan's defense has shown some vulnerability to opposing No. 1 receivers. Julio Jones touched up the Saints for a 7-76-1 line in Week 1. In Week 2, Vincent Jackson registered a 5-77 spot that would've been much larger had a 73-yard TD not been called back. Coming off a debilitating hamstring injury last week, Larry Fitzgerald caught 5-of-6 targets for 64 yards against New Orleans. Wallace dropped 95 yards on Ryan's Dallas defense last December. He's a strong WR2 on Monday night. ... Hartline has been the beneficiary of Wallace's attention-commanding presence, leading Miami in targets and ranking 14th in fantasy receiver scoring through three games. I'm very skeptical Hartline keeps up those numbers, but he's worth a WR3 start in a potentially pass-happy affair. ... H-back Clay is a chain-moving possession receiver underneath and gets random goal-line carries. Clay's upside is minimal, but you could do worse in a crunch. Clay is playing 85% of Miami's offensive snaps and does far more route running than blocking.
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Dolphins 24