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Inside the Matchup
Week 4

By: Bill Andereson | Brian Thorne | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 8 3 72.7
2 Thorne 9 5 64.3
3 Caron 7 4 63.6
4 Anderson 7 5 58.3

49ers @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After starting the season with an impressive 30 points (standard scoring formats) against the Packers, the wheels have come off for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers as a whole. Not only has he been unable to throw a single touchdown pass in either of the past two weeks, he has not yet ran for a touchdown in 2013. It doesn’t help that tight end Vernon Davis has been injured, but Kaepernick’s problems go much deeper than that. He hasn’t been accurate, throwing a total of four interceptions in Weeks 2 and 3, but he has also been under a surprising amount of pressure from opposing pass rushes. Kaepernick does have the skills to turn it around at any time, but fantasy owners have to be worried at the moment—especially those who don’t have access to a quality backup option. Lost in the offense seems to be Anquan Boldin who has just six catches for 74 yards since his gigantic 208-yard performance in Week 1. He did lead the team in targets with eight in Week 3, but the 49ers’ lack of offensive output has owners scratching their heads. Any player who leads their team in targets is a worthwhile fantasy consideration and with Davis questionable to play on Thursday, it seems like Boldin should fall into that category once again.

If this passing game is going to get things going, their Week 4 matchup against the Rams would be a good time to do it. The St. Louis defense has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in every game this season, while having forced only one total interception. Their pass rush has also taken a step back since a crushing Week 1 performance against Carson Palmer and the Cardinals. With the 49ers’ offense struggling, a short-week matchup against a struggling defense could be a remedy. The matchup might not be as favorable in reality as it is on paper, however, as the Rams did a good job of containing Kaepernick when they played in 2012. Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith during one of the games, but it is important to note that he did not throw a touchdown either time he faced the Rams a season ago. He did, however, rush for a total of 150 yards and a touchdown.

Running Game Thoughts: Frank Gore had his most productive rushing performance of the year a week ago in the loss to the Colts, rushing for 82 yards on just 11 carries. This 7.5 yards per carry average is a vast improvement from the 2.0 yards per carry he averaged over the first two games of the season. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he conceded the only rushing touchdown of the game to backup Kendall Hunter, who has just 11 carries on the year through three games. The running game is still centered around Gore, but it is a bit concerning that he has only ran the ball 31 times through the first three weeks combined. A powerhouse offensive line would typically dictate that a team would run the ball more often, but the 49ers have fallen behind in each of their past two games and have needed to rely on the passing game, which hasn’t worked out well for them.

Gore will have a good matchup this week as he goes up against a St. Louis Rams defense that has allowed 21 and 26 points to opposing running backs, respectively, over their past two games. In Week 3, it was DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys backs who ran all over the Rams to the rune of 193 yards and a touchdown during their blowout win. Gore himself had two productive fantasy days against the Rams in 2012, rushing for a total of 155 yards and two scores in those games. Gore’s career history against the Rams is very good, as well. In 13 games against them, Gore has scored 13 touchdowns and has over 1,200 yards of total offense. It’s a short week and the 49ers have been struggling in their passing game, which should mean increased touches for Gore in the running game. Feel confident putting him in your lineup as a RB2.

Colin Kaepernick: 175 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Frank Gore: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After two excellent performances to start the season, Sam Bradford fell back to earth a bit in a less-than-stellar performance against the Cowboys in Week 3. The Rams offensive line appeared to be gelling very well early in the year, but ran into a steam roller in Dallas, allowing six sacks in a disastrous loss where the offense scored just 7 points all day. One thing Bradford did do was spread the ball around against the Cowboys, targeting six different receivers at least five times. Unfortunately none of those receivers had more than eight targets, which made each player essentially fantasy irrelevant in standard-scoring formats. Only Austin Pettis, who caught his second touchdown in as many weeks, finished above six fantasy points. Chris Givens and Tavon Austin remain the fantasy receivers to own in this offense, with Givens being the potential big play receiver and Austin having caught exactly six passes in each of his first three games as a pro. Unfortunately those 18 total catches from Austin have only translated into 131 total yards this season. Pettis is someone to keep on your radar, but it’s hard to believe that he’ll keep sneaking into the end zone as the fourth option (behind tight end Jared Cook) in the passing game.

With the Rams offense struggling, a battle against a San Francisco defense that has only allowed one passing touchdown over their past two games might be a tough nut to crack. San Francisco held Andrew Luck to just 164 yards passing and Russell Wilson to 142 yards, each in losses, which tells us that this secondary really cannot be to blame for the team’s early season struggles. Bradford has been efficient in the past against San Francisco, but has never been particularly spectacular. In four career games against the 49ers, Bradford has thrown for an average of 259 yards and one touchdown. He has, surprisingly, never thrown an interception against this team. With all the new options in the passing game, very few of the other Rams players have a history against the 49ers, but Givens did have a nice game the last time he played the 49ers at home. In that Week 13 game, Givens caught a career-high 11 passes for 92 yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners of Daryl Richardson were disgusted to see their player leave last Sunday’s game after just one carry. In his stead, it was backup Isaiah Pead who stepped up and actually had a decently productive afternoon despite the Rams losing in a blowout. Pead carried the ball six times for 20 yards, but it was his seven receptions for 43 yards that would have made him a surprising contributor in PPR formats. Richardson is expected to be back in Week 4 but his upside is limited as Pead may have played himself into some additional snaps. Richardson touched the ball a total of 40 times through the first two weeks of the season, but somewhere around 15 touches for him in Week 4 seems likely.

Whether it’s Richardson or Pead, chances are that someone is going to do something against this astonishingly mediocre 49ers defense, which has somehow allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than any team this season. We’ve come to expect that the 49ers will struggle to slow down Marshawn Lynch, as they did in Week 2, but what we could have never predicted is that they would look so mismatched against the Indianapolis Colts and their duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson in Week 3. It wasn’t even Richardson that did most of the damage as Bradshaw himself put up 111 total yards and a touchdown. San Francisco has now allowed at least one touchdown to an opposing running back in each of their three games and although the Rams as a team have not rushed for a touchdown themselves yet in 2013, this seems like it could be a sneaky time to find a place for Richardson in your lineup, or even Pead in deep PPR leagues.

Sam Bradford: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 10 rush yds
Daryl Richardson: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Isaiah Pead: 20 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Chris Givens: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Tavon Austin: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Austin Pettis: 25 rec yds
Jared Cook: 20 rec yds

Prediction: Rams 20, 49ers 17 ^ Top

Ravens at Bills - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: The fewer passes QB Joe Flacco throws the better his team tends to do. In the Ravens one loss this season he accumulated roughly the same passing yardage and attempts as he did in the two victories. In those two he completed more than 66% of his passes but in the pass-heavy game he completed fewer than 55% of his throws. Most interestingly, in the two victories Flacco threw only one touchdown but did so without an interception, compared to two of each in the loss. The most popular receiver in Baltimore is by far Torrey Smith, who has recorded 85 or more yards in each contest but has yet to find the endzone. Over one third of the yardage gained through the air has come from his receptions. In most cases Baltimore uses the pass to spread out the defense and take a shot downfield every so often to take advantage of Smith’s speed. If they aren’t forced into passing situations, Flacco throws effectively but against a defense expecting a pass he struggles to be precise.

In the unlikely event that Baltimore is forced to throw on Sunday they probably won’t be challenged by the Bills who are average in most statistical categories. One area in which they are better than most is in sacks and given the inconsistencies of the Ravens offensive line, this could be an area to watch. In the most recent game however, Buffalo was unable to record a single sack, gave up over 330 yards, and surrendered scoring passing plays of 51 and 69 yards. They do not have a gifted secondary and are still dealing with injury issues as S Jarius Byrd has yet to play this season and CB Leodis McKelvin injured his hamstring during the third game. Coming into Sunday both teams are hoping the Ravens don’t throw very much; Baltimore because that means the game is getting out of control, and Buffalo because they most likely won’t be able to stop the passes that come their way.

Running Game Thoughts: With respect to yards per carry the Ravens are the second worst team in the league; in rushing yards gained they’re only slightly better. Perhaps history has a way of clouding the current perception of the team, remembering the Ravens of old imposing their will on the defense as they march the ball down the field with run after run after run, but this particular team is first and foremost a defensive machine. Turnovers and field position have given Baltimore short fields and/or directly led to points so they’ve been able to hide the fact that the offense is sometimes stagnant. The leading rusher for the three games has earned 37, 57, and 65 yards (in order) on the ground but in each of those games they were also responsible for a touchdown. The inconsistency again comes back to the O-line but is compounded by the perception that Flacco isn’t a serious threat through the air.

RB Ray Rice will likely return to the field against Buffalo and be greeted by the second worst rushing defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. Teams have found success running against the Bills, to the average of 155 yards per game. Despite the outrageous yardage they’ve only given up one rushing touchdown, perhaps because the strength of the defense is the front seven and in the redzone they are typically unable to matchup against most multi-receiver packages. This will be a good week to evaluate the Ravens rush attack to see if game situation, opponent strength, or general lack of execution has been to blame for the relative lack of success. Success on the ground against Buffalo doesn’t necessarily prove anything but a lack thereof would speak volumes.

Joe Flacco: 200 yards passing, 1 TD
Ray Rice: 90 yards rushing, 1 TD / 20 yards receiving
Bernard Pierce: 40 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving
Torrey Smith: 80 yards receiving, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Three games into his young career QB EJ Manuel has led the Bills in three competitive matchups despite only earning one win; both losses have been by one score or less and the victory came from a last minute drive and concluded with a redzone pass for a touchdown. On the year he’s averaged 215 passing yards per game and has turned in a 4-1 TD to interception ratio while targeting WR Steve Johnson and his two running backs most frequently. He’s demonstrated good decision-making and does well to distribute the ball to the best playmakers. The offensive line has done either very well or extremely poorly protecting Manuel, giving up only one sack in the first two games but then allowing eight to the Jets in the most recent contest. Buffalo isn’t an overly dangerous passing team but they’re much improved from last year.

After facing their toughest passing challenge so far, Buffalo must now face a Ravens defense that is equally as difficult. When they’re not going against Peyton Manning they’re generally able to force offenses into short throws and trust their pass rushers to pressure quarterbacks into mistakes. To this point in the season they’ve only recorded one interception (returned for a TD) but have recorded 11 sacks. The 2013 defense looks rather different than the squad that won the Super Bowl last season but much like last year they’re opportunistic and tend to take advantage of mistakes made by non-elite quarterbacks. Manuel will have his work cut out for him but will be given opportunities to make plays if he can continue to avoid bad throws.

Running Game Thoughts: A rookie QB’s best friend is a solid running game and Manuel has a friend, a pair of friends actually, in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Buffalo is in the top eight of yards rushing, yards per carry, and total carries but has scored only one rushing touchdown. In addition, Manuel is a running threat and his ability to scramble is a weapon that defenses currently can’t contain. Used sparingly, this will begin to demand more attention from the defensive gameplan and will improve other areas of the Bills offense. He averages four rushes for 25 yards per game, almost exclusively on broken plays or after running away from pressure. Spiller and Jackson constitute one of the best backfield duos in the league and Buffalo will continue to give them the ball until the defense is completely worn down.

The outcome of the game will likely hinge on turnovers and the success of the running game; to reduce turnover risk the Bills should shy away from extra passes and lean on Spiller and Jackson more, thus increasing the significance of the rushing attack. Unfortunately it is in that area where Baltimore thrives, ranking fourth best in the league for yards allowed, seventh in the league for average, and best in the league for rushing touchdowns allowed with zero. Most recently the Texans gained 94 yards on 23 carries (4.1 yards per carry average) and had no rush longer than 10 yards. The Bills should expect to see similar results, as Houston and Buffalo resemble each other offensively. The most difficult aspect of the Ravens defense is their ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage and close running lanes once a play has been diagnosed. Without an elite offensive line it will be hard to regularly eke out significant gains but a dedication to the running game should eventually pay dividends as the game wears on and the defense tires against the RB tandem.

EJ Manuel: 180 yards passing, 1 INT
C.J. Spiller: 50 yards rushing / 30 yards receiving
Fred Jackson: 40 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving
Steve Johnson: 80 yards receiving

Prediction: Ravens 27, Bills 9

Cardinals at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer has been up-and-down in his short tenure in Arizona. In fantasy terms, he hasn’t been anywhere near a QB1, throwing only three touchdowns with four interceptions and ranking just 28th at his position in fantasy points. His offensive line isn’t great, but the quality of receivers has led many to believe his production would be better. Larry Fitzgerald has the only touchdown catches among receivers and both of those came in Week 1. This week will be tough for Fitzgerald, Floyd and Roberts, as they face a Tampa defense that has been stingy allowing fantasy points to receivers.

The Bucs are 15th in the league against the pass and in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. They’ve given up the fourth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but the third-most to tight ends with Jimmy Graham destroying them for 179 yards and a pair of scores in Week 2.

Running Game Thoughts: Rashard Mendenhall leads Arizona with 40 rushes and 155 yards with one touchdown, but he played fewer snaps than Andre Ellington last week and is averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per carry. I wouldn’t expect him to be very productive this week and would only use him as a flex play if I had no other options.

Though Tampa is 17th in run defense, they are one of just three teams who have yet to allow a rushing score and have given up just 3.9 yards per carry. They have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to running backs so far this year, so they’d be a tough play even for a good fantasy RB.

Carson Palmer: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 65 rec yds
Robert Housler: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 25 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Alfonso Smith: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tampa made a change at the quarterback position, benching the erratic and underwhelming Josh Freeman for rookie third-round pick Mike Glennon. Freeman had a miserable completion percentage of 45.7 this season and was 30th in fantasy points so fantasy owners should not be losing anything here because he had no business being on rosters in the first place. The biggest question is how this move affects Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and though neither ranks in the top-25 among wideouts, each has the ability to do so, with Jackson a potential top-10 receiver. It’s hard to envision that happening now and fantasy owners should not expect a big week out of Jackson in particular, as he is nursing a rib injury and has to face a top corner in Patrick Peterson.

Despite the presence of Peterson, Arizona’s pass defense has struggled this year. Only six teams have given up more passing yards than they have and just three teams have sacked the quarterback fewer times. Due to this seeming ineptitude, the team has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and though they are giving up the ninth-fewest points to wideouts, no team in the NFL has allowed tight ends to gather more fantasy points.

Running Game Thoughts: Doug Martin was almost certainly a top-five pick in fantasy drafts this season, and though he hasn’t quite lived up to that status yet, he’s still been good. Martin is second in the league in rushing, but has just one touchdown and a measly 19 yards on four receptions which has limited his production. He’ll likely be depended upon for plenty of carries this week as the team tries to limit Glennon’s exposure, but has a tough task against Arizona’s rush defense.

The Cardinals have the league’s number three run defense, have allowed only a single rushing score and are ceding a mere 3.2 yard per carry, which is fourth in the NFL. Though they’ve allowed the second-most receiving yards to running backs this year, they’ve given up the sixth-fewest fantasy points.

Mike Glennon: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 65 rec yds
Mike Williams: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Kevin Ogletree: 30 rec yds
Eric Page: 15 rec yds
Doug Martin: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Cardinals 20, Buccaneers 17

Colts at Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: There are currently just two quarterbacks in the league with at least 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns, one of which is Michael Vick. The other? Andrew Luck. That’s the main reason he is 12th at his position in fantasy points because his passing numbers are unremarkable. Luck is 26th in the league in passing yards and has four fewer touchdown throws this season than Peyton Manning had in Week 1. Those numbers are likely to even out over the course of the season but for now it’s put a damper on the numbers of Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and company. It should be of comfort to the fantasy owners of those players that the Colts face the Jaguars this week. In two games against them last year, Wayne had 184 receiving yards and Hilton had 113 yards and one touchdown.

This season, Jacksonville has a top-10 pass defense in terms of yards allowed, but are tied for 23rd in touchdown passes given up and have just a single interception. Still, they’ve ceded the 11th-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks, the 14th-most to tight ends and the 15th-most to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: The Colts made headlines last week with their trade for Trent Richardson, who was selected just two spots after Luck in last year’s draft. But he’s not come close to being the type of player one would expect to get with the third overall pick, with a career yards per attempt average of 3.5 and just over 1,000 rushing yards in 18 games. He ran for only 39 yards last week against the 49ers with Ahmad Bradshaw piling up 95 yards. The duo will continue to split carries, and against Jacksonville, that’s a good thing for fantasy owners of both backs.

No team has allowed more yards on the ground than the Jaguars this season. They are tied for 23rd in rushing scores given up and just two teams have surrendered more than the 5.2 yards per carry they have. As a consequence, the Jags have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to running backs on the year.

Editor's Note: RB Ahmad Bradshaw has been ruled out with a neck injury.

Andrew Luck: 265 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Reggie Wayne: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 70 rec yds
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 15 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 55 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners have to be thrilled that Blaine Gabbert has returned under center for the Jaguars – those that own the Colts D/ST, anyway. The inept Gabbert has few options to throw to, though Cecil Shorts should be a WR2 for fantasy owners. He’s currently 25th among wide receivers in fantasy points, 10th in the league in receiving yards, and torched Indy last season for a two-game total of seven catches, 185 yards and two touchdowns.

The Colts have allowed just a pair of touchdown throws this year, which is tied for second-fewest allowed in the league, and are 11th in pass defense. They have relinquished the 11th-fewest fantasy points to opposing signal callers, are in the middle of the league when it comes to tight ends, but have given up the eighth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: It has been a miserable start to the season for Maurice Jones-Drew, who has run for a total of 115 yards and is averaging 2.6 yards per carry. He does have a touchdown, but also just three receptions for 20 yards, and is 32nd at his position in fantasy points. MJD played only once against the Colts last season, but tore through them for 177 yards and one score. Its wishful thinking to expect anything close to that this week, but fantasy owners should expect him to have his best game of the season, though I realize that’s not saying too much.

Indianapolis is middle-of-the-road in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs, ranking 15th. That’s true despite them ranking 26th in rush defense, rushing scores relinquished and yards per carry allowed. The reason for the disparity between points and yards is two-fold: they’ve allowed the eighth-fewest receiving yards to running backs and a quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) beat them up for over 100 yards rushing.

Blaine Gabbert: 175 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Cecil Shorts: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Ace Sanders: 35 rec yds
Stephen Burton: 25 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 31, Jaguars 20

Seahawks at Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Seahawks are a rushing team first and foremost, with the most pertinent evidence being that Russell Wilson has thrown the fewest passes of any starter in the league (note: he was pulled from last week’s game against the Jaguars early because they were blowing them out). Though he’s tossed six touchdowns with only two picks, Wilson is 25th in the NFL in passing yards and has only 54 rushing yards, which is why he’s 16th in fantasy scoring at his position. His fantasy owners would like to see more production but without Percy Harvin, the ‘Hawks have no game-changing wideout, and none in the top-35 in fantasy scoring. I wouldn’t be putting any Seattle receiver or Wilson in my starting lineup this week against Houston.

The Texans are second in the league in pass defense, but have allowed six touchdowns with only one interception and are tied for 14th in sacks. Still, the lack of yards surrendered has served them well, as they have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks, 10th-fewest to tight ends and 12th-fewest to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch is seventh among running backs in fantasy scoring, 11th in rushing yards, but would be higher if the Seahawks didn’t destroy the Jaguars last week, prompting Lynch’s early exit. While he is running for just 3.4 yards per carry, I wouldn’t be concerned about that right now and though the Texans are a tough match-up, Lynch is an every-week starter regardless of the opponent.

Houston has given up only one rushing score this season, are ninth in the league against the run and their 3.3 yards per carry allowed ranks fifth. They are 20th in the league in fantasy points allowed to running backs though they are one of only nine teams to give up a receiving score to a back.

Russell Wilson: 225 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Golden Tate: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 30 rec yds
Luke Willson: 15 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Robert Turbin: 20 rush yds
Christine Michael: 10 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub is 10th in the NFL in passing yards, but 13th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring due in large part to his four interceptions, which are tied for fourth-most in the league. He had less than 200 passing yards last week in the team’s loss to the Ravens and did not throw a touchdown. It only gets tougher this week and with Andre Johnson a game-time decision (as of this writing) due to his shin injury, the outlook isn’t good for Schaub against the Seahawks. And while I think DeAndre Hopkins will be a fantasy contributor all season, I wouldn’t play him this week except in deep leagues.

With the Seattle secondary widely considered to be the best in the league it should come as no surprise that their pass defense is ranked first. They have also given up the fewest pass yards per attempt, the fewest touchdown throws (one) and allowed the third-lowest completion percentage. It should also come as no shock to learn that the ‘Hawks have given up fewer fantasy points to wideouts than any other team, the second-fewest points to quarterbacks and third-fewest to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Right about now, those fantasy owners that selected Arian Foster with a top-three pick in their drafts are probably regretting it. Though he’s 13th in the NFL in rushing, Foster has one score, is 20th at his position in fantasy points, and is averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Meanwhile, his teammate Ben Tate has only six fewer rushing yards than Foster and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Logic would indicate more carries for Tate in the near future but expectations should be limited this week against Seattle.

Just two teams have relinquished fewer fantasy points to running backs than the Seahawks this season. Though they are 12th in the league in rush defense, tied for 15th in rushing scores allowed and are 18th in yards per carry ceded, running backs haven’t done a lot of damage. It’s been quarterbacks, namely Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick, who have picked up almost half of the rushing yards Seattle has allowed.

Matt Schaub: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 70 rec yds
DeAndre Hopkins: 55 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Keshawn Martin: 20 rec yds
Arian Foster: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Ben Tate: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 27, Texans 20

Jets at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite the fact rookie Geno Smith has twice the number of interceptions (six) as touchdown throws (three), he’s 13th in fantasy scoring because of his 78 rushing yards and one touchdown. I still wouldn’t be quick to insert him in my fantasy lineup because I don’t trust his weapons. Santonio Holmes exploded last week for 154 yards and one score, and Stephen Hill is a solid WR3, but inconsistency from rookie quarterbacks leads to inconsistent fantasy numbers for both he and his receiving corps and they have a challenge this week against Tennessee’s surprisingly solid pass defense.

The Titans are 10th in the league in pass defense and are somehow the only team in the league who has yet to allow a rushing yard by an opposing quarterback. So it makes sense that they’ve allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to both quarterbacks and wide receivers, even though they’ve surrendered the ninth-most points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: With Chris Ivory likely out this week, the running game belongs to Bilal Powell with a bit of Alex Green mixed in. Powell is seventh in the league in rushing and 12th in fantasy points at his position. He had 149 rushing yards last week against Buffalo and I expect to see a heavy dose of him this week. Fantasy owners should consider Powell a very solid RB2 against the Titans.

Tennessee has been just above average against the run this year, ranking 14th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, 13th in rush defense, tied for 15th in rushing scores given up, but 23rd with a yards per carry average of 4.4 allowed.

Geno Smith: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Santonio Holmes: 70 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeff Cumberland: 30 rec yds
Jeremy Kerley: 25 rec yds
Kellen Winslow: 15 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Alex Green: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker had one of his better games as a pro last week against the Chargers, throwing for 299 yards and one touchdown without an interception. It was his first game with even 150 passing yards this year and a forgettable corps of pass catchers is at least one reason why. Nate Washington and Kendall Wright are the team’s top receivers, but neither is among the top-40 fantasy scorers at their position and New York offers a significant roadblock to both Locker and his receivers.

No team has allowed a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks than the Jets with signal callers connecting on just 47.3 percent of their throws. They are seventh in pass defense, have given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, the sixth-fewest to tight ends and rank 15th in points allowed to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners know the drill with Chris Johnson by now as he’s off to another mediocre start. Though sixth in the league in rushing, Johnson has not found the end zone this year and is running for only 3.7 yards per carry, leaving him at 25th in fantasy scoring among his peers. I’m confident he’ll rise as the season goes on, but his chances for a big game this week aren’t high against a Jets squad that has stifled opposing runners.

There is just a single team in the league who is surrendering fewer than 10 fantasy points per game to running backs – the Jets. They are sixth against the run, but have allowed only one score on the ground, given up the second-fewest receiving yards to running backs and have ceded the third-lowest yards per carry average in the league at 3.2.

Jake Locker: 190 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, 20 rush yds
Nate Washington: 55 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Britt: 30 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Justin Hunter: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 65 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Titans 20, Jets 17

Patriots at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: EJ Manuel, Christian Ponder and Terrelle Pryor. What do these three quarterbacks have in common? Each has more fantasy points this year than Tom Brady. In fact, there are 25 quarterbacks who hold that distinction through the season’s first three weeks. That doesn’t mean fantasy owners should bench him; it just means Brady has been without his top weapons. I expect that to change this week with the return of Rob Gronkowski, which should mean an immediate increase in Brady’s fantasy numbers as he does not have to depend as much on rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Against Atlanta, that should mean Brady’s best game of the season.

The Falcons rank 25th in the league against the pass and are tied for 23rd in touchdown throws given up. This futility in pass defense has shown up on the fantasy scoreboard as well as the team has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the fifth-most to wideouts and the 12th-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Stevan Ridley was a first-round selection in many fantasy drafts, but after a lost fumble in Week 1, he hasn’t gotten the carries most expected he would. Ridley has not scored a touchdown and has yet to gain even 50 rushing yards in a game this year. LeGarrette Blount led the team in carries last week and I expect the time share between Ridley and Blount to continue against the Falcons, making neither more than a flex play against the Falcons.

Despite having allowed the third-most receiving yards in the league to running backs, Atlanta has relinquished the 11th-fewest fantasy points to players at the position. They’ve allowed one rushing touchdown, are fifth in rush defense and 11th with a yards per carry average allowed of 3.8.

Tom Brady: 260 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rob Gronkowski: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
Julian Edelman: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenbrell Thompkins: 40 rec yds
Aaron Dobson: 25 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 55 rush yds
LeGarrette Blount: 45 rush yds
Brandon Bolden: 15 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan has been solid this season, ranking seventh in the league in passing yards and ninth in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks but the expectations for him were higher. His numbers have clearly been stifled in part due to the ankle injury suffered by Roddy White, which has limited the wideout to only seven catches for 56 yards on the year. Still, Ryan does have Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez to throw to with Jones leading the NFL in receiving yards and leading wide receivers in fantasy points. Even with New England having shut down opposing passing games this season, both are must-starts for fantasy owners.

The Patriots are sixth in the NFL against the pass and are top-five in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating and touchdown throws allowed. Their stout defense has made fantasy points hard to come by as they are holding quarterbacks to the third-fewest total in the league, wideouts to the sixth-fewest while no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: With Steven Jackson out a while longer, the running game has been put into the hands of Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling. While not at the level of Jackson, both are capable backs and Rodgers, in particular, has fantasy worthiness. He ran for 86 yards last week against the Dolphins and should be in fantasy lineups this week against the Patriots as a RB2 or flex play at the very least.

New England has allowed just a single rushing score, but they are 19th in yards per carry average ceded and rank 24th in rush defense. They are currently 17th in fantasy points allowed to running backs and even without Jackson, there should be room for Rodgers and/or Snelling.

Matt Ryan: 275 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 110 rec yds, 2 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 30 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 25 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Jason Snelling: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 28, Patriots 24

Dolphins at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: While Ryan Tannehill has been solid, his numbers don’t amount to a starting fantasy quarterback, as he ranks only 24th in fantasy scoring at his position. Mike Wallace has had one good game, but the team’s best wideout has been Brian Hartline, who is 13th in fantasy scoring among wide receivers and should be a fantasy starter this week against New Orleans. The Saints who have been much improved defensively over last year, though I want to see more before declaring them a tough fantasy match-up.

The Saints’ defense has seemingly improved drastically from last season with a pass defense that currently ranks fourth in the NFL. It shows up in fantasy as well as they are allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, and seventh-fewest to both wide receivers and tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Lamar Miller has been a disappointment for fantasy owners this season, ranking 30th in fantasy points among running backs, which is one spot behind teammate Daniel Thomas. Over the course of the season I think Miller will become the lead back, but the investment fantasy owners likely made in Miller has yet to pay off. Will that change this week? The opportunity should be there against a Saints defense that has been gashed at times by opposing backs.

New Orleans hasn’t completely transformed their defense. After all, they still rank 20th in the league against the run and are allowing 5.3 yards per carry – the second-worst mark in the NFL. Yet they are a truly mediocre 16th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, mostly because they’ve given up just one rushing score on the year.

Ryan Tannehill: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, 25 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Wallace: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Gibson: 40 rec yds
Charles Clay: 30 rec yds
Lamar Miller: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 35 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees has only six touchdowns with four interceptions, but he’s still third in the NFL in passing yards and fourth in fantasy points, and I expect his touchdown throws to rise in a hurry. Right now, his only fantasy-worthy weapons are Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, with every other Saints pass catcher coming up short. Graham is the top fantasy tight end and there is little evidence he can stopped, and has a fabulous match-up this week.

The Dolphins are 20th in the NFL against the pass, but are 16th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, and are one of eight teams to have more interceptions of QBs than touchdowns throws allowed to them. They have dominated wideouts as well, having given up the third-fewest fantasy points to them, but just three teams have allowed more fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram should not be on fantasy rosters at this point as he’s run for an embarrassing 1.8 yards per carry. He didn’t play last week due to a toe injury and may not suit up this week. If Ingram does not play against the Dolphins, then Khiry Robinson will take his place, though neither should be considered fantasy options at this point. Pierre Thomas has been okay but the only fantasy option among Saints backs is Darren Sproles and he does most of his damage as a receiver and will continue to do so against the Dolphins.

Miami has surrendered the 12th-most fantasy points in the NFL to running backs and though they’ve allowed just one score on the ground, they did allow a touchdown catch to a back, are 19th in rush defense and 27th in yards per carry ceded.

Drew Brees: 335 pass yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 105 rec yds, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 45 rec yds
Robert Meachem: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Stills: 15 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 25 rush yds, 45 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Saints 31, Dolphins 21

Giants @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The complete offensive collapse of the New York Giants was on display in Week 3 when the team failed to score a single point, falling to the Carolina Panthers by a final score of 38-0. This is an astonishingly bad drop-off from the 54 points that the team averaged through their first two games of the year. While the Panthers played well, much of the blame has to be placed on Giants quarterback Eli Manning who performed like an inexperienced rookie, completing just 12 of his 23 passes for 119 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Fantasy owners of every player in the Giants offense were disgusted, but those who had Hakeem Nicks on their roster were particularly offended by the single pass attempt that went their receiver’s way. Nicks himself was frustrated and made it known in the media by calling out the coaching staff and his quarterback in a single sentence, “I can’t throw it to myself.”

Victor Cruz remains the most important contributor in the Giants passing game but will likely also draw the attention of Brandon Flowers. While Flowers struggled against Dez Bryant, Cruz is the kind of receiver that Flowers typically shines against, which could mean a tough week for the Giants top target. With Nicks speaking out publicly about being underutilized, it’d be wise to expect a significant increase in targets going his way this week against Kansas City. Rueben Randle was one of the hottest preseason fantasy “sleepers” and started the season nicely with a 100-yard game against the Cowboys, but has since fallen to just 54 yards in Weeks 2 and 3 combined. He is a WR4 in most leagues, at least until the Giants prove that their offense is back. Tight end Brandon Myers is a particularly weak play this week, given the offensive line struggles the Giants have been dealing with with. He will likely be asked to pass protect more often than usual, which could lead to a dip in his already mediocre fantasy numbers. The Chiefs have allowed just 100 total yards to opposing tight ends this season and that includes the Cowboys’ Jason Witten in Week 2.

Running Game Thoughts: An ugly start to the season for Giants running back David Wilson continued on Sunday as the former first round NFL draft pick rushed for just 39 yards during the loss to the Panthers. Although that number is awful, it’s actually a step up from where he was in Weeks 1 and 2 when he rushed for just a combined 36 yards on 14 carries. Wilson appears to still be in the doghouse, but the complete lack of talent competing with him for snaps makes it an easy decision for the Giants to give him the majority of the touches. Still, it is worth noting that backup Da'Rel Scott played 40 percent of the snaps on Sunday, to Wilson’s 48 percent. Third string back Brandon Jacobs had some hype coming into the game after his Week 2 touchdown. Jacobs is only fantasy consideration in touchdown-only leagues and Scott is the primary handcuff to Wilson should he be injured or come down with a case of the fumbles again.

Wilson himself needs to start performing better himself before any of the Giants backs is worth more than a FLEX option, especially in Week 4 when they go up against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that has allowed just one touchdown to an opposing running back all season and an average of just 86 rushing yards (from running backs) against them. That number would be even more daunting if not for a big performance by LeSean McCoy a week ago, who rushed for 158 yards in the Eagles’ loss to Kansas City. Don’t get too caught up in that, however, as the Giants and Eagles offenses are operating on completely different wavelengths at the moment. The worry of Eli Manning pulling the ball down and running for a 60-yard touchdown just isn’t there to give the Giants running backs that extra space. David Wilson does have the physical talent to have a big game, he simply is not getting the opportunity to do so at the moment. If you have to pick a Giants runner to have in your lineup, he is the guy...but that doesn’t mean he’s a great option.

Eli Manning: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
David Wilson: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Victor Cruz: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Rueben Randle: 40 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s not often going to be a huge game, but Alex Smith has done exactly what many analysts said he would do when they predicted that his efficiency would smoothly translate from the San Francisco offense to the Kansas City offense. His fantasy numbers haven’t been great but when players like Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III have performed as poorly as they have, sometimes the asset of simply having a quarterback who won’t kill you goes under-appreciated. Smith has still not turned the ball over this season and although he failed to throw a touchdown pass in Week 3 against Philadelphia, he still threw for a season-high 273 yards and added 32 yards to his surprisingly solid rushing totals. It might surprise some to know that Smith is currently fourth in the league in rushing yards among quarterbacks, putting him ahead of the likes of Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Although we can’t expect him to run for 30+ yards every week, the ability to run the ball does add to his fantasy prospects.

In Week 4, Smith will be up against a New York Giants defense that has been dreadful against opposing quarterbacks thus far in 2013. They’ve allowed multiple touchdowns to every quarterback they’ve faced for a total of seven, and have forced just two interceptions to go with those numbers. They’ve also allowed a total of 46 receptions to opposing wide receivers already in 2013, including three touchdowns to the Panthers’ less-than-stellar group a week ago. This has to be a welcomed opportunity for the Chiefs’ receivers, particularly Dwayne Bowe who has just nine receptions on the year. Smith and Bowe have simply been unable to get on the same page, especially down the field, and it has certainly hurt the star receiver’s numbers. His only score of the season came on a red zone pass over the middle past blown coverage against the Cowboys. Surprisingly, it might be Donnie Avery who has become Smith’s most trusted receiving option, especially after his seven catch, 141-yard performance in Week 3. Both Bowe and Avery are low-end WR3 options because we simply don’t know yet what we’re going to get out of them. Smith himself, however, could find himself as a low-end QB1 option this week, particularly for those who have bye weeks to contend with.

Running Game Thoughts: Jamaal Charles has continued to prove that 2012 wasn’t a fluke as he ran for 92 more yards and a score in the Chiefs’ Week 3 win over the Eagles. Charles’ utilization in the passing game has made him one of the premier players in all of fantasy football through the early part of the season as he has already caught 18 balls for 151 yards and a score this season. His 18 receptions are tied with Chicago’s Matt Forte for the most among running backs. Charles has been a monster even in non-PPR formats, though, as he has already carried the ball 52 times for 224 yards and two touchdowns. His status as an every-week RB1 is unquestioned at this point and as long as the Chiefs keep winning, he should see plenty of opportunities to tally up huge fantasy numbers.

Charles will be searching for his first 100-yard rushing performance of the season when he goes up against a New York Giants defense that has allowed an average of 112 rushing yards against them per game so far this season. The Giants also struggled to slow down opposing running backs in the passing game in Weeks 1 and 2, allowing a total of 14 receptions to the Cowboys and Broncos’ backs, which could mean even more utilization for Charles in the passing game. This lack of ability to stop opposing running backs is a bit surprising considering the Giants allowed just six rushing touchdowns against them in 2012. Then again, this is a new season and the Giants have a whole new list of problems, largely centered around their own offense’s inability to move the ball, which has put the defense in some tough situations. Kansas City is very efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over, so the Giants defense could be in for a long day again, this time as they try to stop Jamaal Charles.

Alex Smith: 200 pass yds, 2 TD, 35 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 100 rush yds, 1 TD, 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Chiefs 23, Giants 17

Redskins @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite his on-field play not exactly matching the statistics, Robert Griffin III has actually been fairly consistent in terms of final output. He’s thrown for between 300-329 yards each week, but he has also thrown at least one interception in every game. His “garbage time” production in Weeks 1 and 2 allowed him to throw for five touchdowns, but when the Redskins were actually competitive for an entire game as they were in Week 3 against the Lions, Griffin was not involved enough for his fantasy owners. Griffin failed to throw a touchdown pass and although he ran for his highest total of the 2013 season, it was just 37 yards. By contrast, Griffin only failed to reach 37 yards five times in his entire rookie regular season of 2012. The rumors of Griffin not being utilized in the running game as much this season might be true, and that’s not a good thing for fantasy owners as their quarterback’s passing skills alone simply aren’t polished enough to make him a high-end QB1 at this point.

An opportunity has arrived for Griffin and the Redskins to finally get in the win column as they head to Oakland in Week 4. The Raiders have performed very poorly against the pass so far in 2013 and that was to be expected as many analysts agreed during the preseason that the Raiders’ secondary was among the very worst in the league. The Raiders have allowed a total of seven touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks this season. The only time that they slowed down an opposing passing game was when they were up against the anemic Jaguars. The player to look out for most for a big game in the Redskins passing game is Pierre Garcon who has been excellent so far this season, catching at least seven passes in all three games. He is a big play target who has also developed into a very productive possession receiver for Griffin and the Redskins. The Raiders have allowed more receptions (55) to opposing wide receivers than any team in the league this season, so Garcon could be in for another nice day.

Running Game Thoughts: When a team goes 0-3 to start the season, it can often times be difficult for a running back to stay fantasy relevant. For Alfred Morris, however, that has not been the case. Despite poor performances by his team, Morris has already ran for 225 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. He hasn’t had the huge game that made him such a great fantasy contributor in his rookie season of 2012, but what’s great is that he has been productive with the opportunities he has been given, even though the Redskins were blown out in their first two games. The unfortunate part of Morris’ game is that he still remains one of the least productive receivers out of the backfield among the top-tier fantasy running backs. He has just three catches on the year and just simply is not involved in that area, which substantially limits his value in PPR leagues. On the positive end, has to expect that Robert Griffin will eventually get his legs back and be a bit more of a threat to opposing defenses, which could open things up for Morris, so better things may still be to come.

When you consider how poorly the Raiders have performed this season, it might be somewhat surprising to hear that Oakland has actually been very good against the run so far in 2013. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, having held the Jaguars and Colts running backs to just a combined 10 points in their first two games. Although they were beaten up by the Broncos a week ago, to the tune of 166 total yards and a touchdown, it’s hard to be too down on the run defense. The Raiders fell behind early and were unable to keep up with Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense, so Denver ended up running the ball a ton in the second half. The Redskins offense certainly can move the ball, but they have not shown the explosive ability that would indicate them getting far ahead in any game, therefore we can’t expect them to run the ball 32 times as the Broncos did.

Robert Griffin III: 215 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 5 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Many expected the Oakland Raiders to have one of the worst offenses in the league, and they haven’t been great, but quarterback Terrelle Pryor has certainly had his moments for fantasy owners. Pryor had double digit fantasy points (standard scoring) in each of his first three games this season, including leading all quarterbacks with 198 yards rushing through the first three games of the season. Unfortunately that likely won’t matter this weekend as a concussion is expected to keep Pryor out, leading the way for Matt Flynn to get his first start since the 2011 game, as a member of the Packers, that made him a big ticket NFL free agent prior to the 2012 season. Flynn has since lost two training camp battles to Pryor and Russell Wilson, but will have a chance to prove the coaches wrong. Flynn himself is not likely to be much of a fantasy option, but the big question will be whether or not receiver Denarius Moore can pick up where he left off in Week 3, when he caught six passes for 124 yards and a score. Moore has been a great fantasy option in two of his three games this season, but the problem is that his Week 2 performance against a bad Jacksonville team, when he failed to catch a single pass, makes him a risky play from week to week.

We’ll get our first glimpse of Moore and Flynn working together as they are up against a Redskins secondary that has been nothing short of awful against opposing passing games so far this season. They’ve allowed a league-worst nine total touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks and are only five yards away from allowing the most passing yards against them this season. While it’s true that they’ve been up against three high-octane offenses in Green Bay, Philadelphia and Detroit, it is certainly something to be positive about if you are a fantasy owner who is relying on a member of this Oakland Raiders passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: An otherwise dreadful performance for running back Darren McFadden in which he ran for just nine yards and didn’t catch a single pass was saved by two touchdowns—including a touchdown pass—against the Broncos. It’s hard to expect much out of a running back when his team falls so far behind in the first half, but McFadden’s less than 1.0 yards per carry on 12 attempts were humiliatingly bad. McFadden’s entire career has been a Dr. Jeckyl / Mr. Hyde story, but fantasy owners were at least able to salvage the day with the two touchdowns. McFadden owners should be thankful, however, that neither Marcel Reece nor Rashad Jennings has broken significantly into his carry totals. Despite his up-and-down performances, McFadden is still “the guy.”

McFadden does have a great matchup this week as he goes up against a Redskins defense that has been almost as bad against opposing running backs as they have opposing passing games. Washington has allowed an average of 138 rushing yards to opposing teams’ running backs this season and a touchdown in every game. Sadly, that number includes a performance in Week 2 when they allowed the Packers to snap their string of 44 games without a 100 yard rusher when James Starks did it. With Matt Flynn making his first start as a member of the Raiders, we have to expect that the Raiders will lean heavily on McFadden and the running game. If the game stays close, look for McFadden to approach 25 touches in Week 4, which should make him a solid RB2 with RB1 upside.

Matt Flynn: 200 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, 10 rush yds
Darren McFadden: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 40 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Rod Streater: 45 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Redskins 27, Raiders 24

Eagles @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Two of the league’s most exciting offenses will be on display in this one, with Michael Vick leading his Eagles to Denver. Vick, who at one point during the preseason was not even believed to be the lead arm in the race for the Eagles’ quarterback job, has made fantasy owners remember that he is a very capable QB. Vick is currently the No. 2 fantasy quarterback in standard scoring fantasy leagues and is also second among all quarterbacks in rushing yards. His passing can still be inconsistent at times, but his rushing makes him a must-start for most fantasy owners right now. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was held mostly in check last week by Brandon Flowers and the Chiefs and had just 62 yards without a touchdown, but his overall numbers this season have been very impressive. He is second in the league in receiving yards going into Week 4 and could very easily have been the runaway top receiver in the league if Vick hadn’t narrowly missed him on a couple deep passes.

Jackson could have a tougher time this week, however, as he goes up against a stacked group of Denver cornerbacks that could have future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey back for the first time this season. Cornerbacks Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have played well, but having Bailey back will be a welcome addition to a defense that has been thin at cornerback so far this season. Denver’s defensive statistics are a little skewed due to the fact that opposing teams have been forced to throw against them a lot this season after falling behind in the first half of games, but they are beatable. Opposing receivers have gone over 200 total yards in every game this season and although they’ve only allowed two touchdowns to the position, the Broncos are susceptible to “garbage time” points, meaning that Jackson needs to be in all lineups and Jason Avant may even be an interesting bye week fill-in.

Running Game Thoughts: When 1200+ total yards and five touchdowns in just 12 games is considered a “down” year, you know that a player is superbly talented. That’s just what LeSean McCoy had in 2012 and what had somehow knocked him down fantasy boards into being a late-first or early-second round fantasy selection in most leagues. McCoy is already off to a great start to proving the doubters wrong, however, as he is currently the NFL’s leading rusher by nearly 100 yards. McCoy’s 132 rushing yards per game are a staggering number, but what’s even crazier is that he is yet to have a game this season where he hasn’t gone over 150 total rushing and receiving yards. McCoy is currently on pace for 2,741 total yards—a number that would completely shatter the NFL record for total yards by a running back in a season.

There is not a hotter back in the league and McCoy is an absolute must-start even against a Denver defense that held the Raiders to just nine yards rushing a week ago. Philadelphia’s running game has been as effective as many NFL passing games, so even if they fall behind, McCoy should stay involved in the offense, whether it be as a runner or a receiver. Although they have allowed a running back to score against them in each game this season, Denver has allowed just 90 total yards rushing this season, largely due to the big leads their offense has given them. It will be very interesting to see the league’s most productive runner go up against the team that has allowed the fewest rushing yards.

Michael Vick: 260 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 45 rush yds
LeSean McCoy: 80 rush yds, 2 TD, 30 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 60 rec yds
Brent Celek: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: What more can be said about the Denver Broncos passing game so far this season than that it has been positively spectacular? Peyton Manning is the easy, runaway choice for NFL MVP at the moment and he’s leading the way as the best fantasy quarterback as well. With 12 touchdowns, Manning already has four more than any other quarterback in the league, but more importantly he is yet to throw a single interception this year. Some thought that there wouldn’t be enough footballs to go around for all three of the team’s top receivers to get involved, but Eric Decker’s 220 yards over the past two weeks has proven that not only are Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas still performing well, but that Decker himself is still a big part of this offense. But even more surprising than the production of the Broncos’ trio of receivers has been the breakout season of tight end Julius Thomas who caught his fourth touchdown reception of the season a week ago against the Raiders. Thomas is currently the No. 3 fantasy tight end in standard scoring formats and should be in all fantasy lineups at the moment.

Running Game Thoughts: We still don’t exactly have a grasp of what the Broncos are doing with their running backs, but what we do know is that the team has embraced the idea of using the running game to put games away. Despite the preseason battle for the starting gig between Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball, it has been veteran running back Knowshon Moreno that has been the team’s leading rusher through the first three games of the season with 160 yards and two scores in three games. Moreno is the team’s best pass protecting running back, has shown that he might be the best pass catcher at the position and he may very well also be the best runner. Unfortunately, the Broncos have been out front in every one of their games so far, so we haven’t had much of an opportunity to see what they’re going to do in regards to running back touches in games that are actually close. What was telling, however, is that Moreno was used most prominently in the first half of last week’s big win over the Raiders before conceding to Ball and Hillman in the second half.

Whoever touches the ball out of the Broncos backfield should have a fairly decent chance for a production against an Eagles defense that has allowed 365 total yards of offense to opposing running backs over their past two games. They were abused by Jamaal Charles a week ago, who had 172 of offense himself and they could be in for another tough day against this three-headed-backfield in Denver. Until we see otherwise, we have to believe that Moreno will be the most-utilized runner for Denver, but Ball has seen an uptick in carries, including a few near the goal line, so try to keep your expectations in check for Moreno this week. He is a low-end RB2 but would be best utilized in the FLEX.

Peyton Manning: 310 pass yds, 3 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Montee Ball: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 10 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 70 rec yds
Eric Decker: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Julius Thomas: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 34, Eagles 21

Cowboys @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a frustrating Week 2 loss in Kansas City, the Cowboys got back into the win column in Week 3 when they had their most dominating win in quite some time, defeating the St. Louis Rams by a final score of 31-7. Quarterback Tony Romo did not put up spectacular fantasy numbers, but did have his first three-touchdown performance of the season in the win, increasing his TD/INT ratio to six touchdowns and only one interception thus far in 2013. Romo’s top target, Dez Bryant, scored for the second straight week despite battling foot problems, but it is encouraging to consider that Week 3 was the first time all season that he played all 100 percent of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps. One player who has not performed well this season despite offseason hype is Bryant’s partner in crime, Miles Austin, who suffered yet another hamstring injury in the win over St. Louis. Austin has just 125 yards receiving on the year and hasn’t practiced this week as of Thursday. He may suit up to play on Sunday, but will likely be limited, leading the way for backups Dwayne Harris and Terrance Williams to compete for playing time. Neither Williams nor Harris is a real option for fantasy owners at the moment, but they could be players to keep your eyes on if they perform well and Austin’s injury continues to linger as it has in the past.

Dallas will have an exceptional matchup in the passing game this week as they head to San Diego to challenge a San Diego Chargers defense that has allowed more passing yards to opposing QB’s than any other team in the league this season. Opposing quarterbacks are completing over 67 percent of their throws and averaging nearly 360 yards passing per game against this defense. In addition, the Chargers have forced just one interception in their first three games. Even with Bryant at less than 100 percent and Austin possibly out of the game, Romo is a solid QB1 this week with the potential to have a monster performance if this becomes a shootout. Bryant and Witten are also must-starts against this atrocious secondary, even if they have not quite lived up to expectations yet.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s been said many times before, but DeMarco Murray reminded us last week why he is still a threat to nearly single handedly carry fantasy teams—and his Cowboys—to victory. Murray ripped off 175 rushing yards, added 28 receiving yards and ran for his first touchdown of the season in the Cowboys’ victory this past week. Murray’s inconsistent play can be frustrating at times, but his usage in the passing game has made him a serviceable fantasy back in every game this season. He already has 16 receptions, which ties him with PPR machine Darren Sproles for fourth-most among running backs, and despite his injury history, Murray has seen the field on more plays (173) than any other running back in the league heading into Week 4. Clearly the Cowboys have not scaled back the workload for their top runner and although that may spell problems for him down the road, fantasy owners would be wise to make use of Murray’s increased usage early in the season.

A week after shredding the Rams for over 200 total yards, fantasy owners of DeMarco Murray will have their fingers crossed for another big game as he goes up against a San Diego Chargers defense that has conceded an average of 145 total yards to opposing running backs through their first three games. The one thing that has kept the unit from looking completely inept from a fantasy standpoint is that they have somehow been able to make tackles before the running backs get into the end zone as they have not allowed a single touchdown to an opposing running back this season. Still, Murray’s yardage alone makes him an obvious starter as a RB2 and even a low-end RB1 in PPR formats.

Tony Romo: 335 pass yds, 3 TD
DeMarco Murray: 70 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 110 rec yds, 2 TD
Miles Austin: 30 rec yds
Dwayne Harris: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Terrance Williams: 25 rec yds
Jason Witten: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Having thrown seven touchdown passes through his first two games this season, expectations were high for Philip Rivers as he and the Chargers traveled to Tennessee. Wide receiver Eddie Royal had seen a career resurgence during that timeframe, as well, having caught five of those seven touchdowns, and he appeared to be finally settling in after a disappointing few years. The Chargers passing game came back to reality, however, as Rivers threw for just 184 yards for one touchdown despite completing 20 of his 24 passes, in a close loss to the Titans. Royal also struggled to find space as he caught only two passes for 34 yards. The bland performances from Rivers and Royal were perhaps overshadowed by the first touchdown of the season for Antonio Gates, who caught five balls for 55 yards and the score after an excellent Week 2 performance where he made eight catches for 124 yards. Gates had been nearly forgotten by fantasy owners after a subpar 2012 season, but appears to be healthy and may be re-establishing himself as Rivers’ favorite target in the passing game.

Gates does have an interesting matchup in Week 4 as the Dallas Cowboys have struggled to contain opposing tight ends thus far in 2013. Only one team (Arizona) has allowed more receptions to the position thus far in 2013 and it’s not as if the Cowboys have been up against elite tight ends. Eddie Royal has become about as big of a question mark as anyone in the league right now. Although he has caught 75 percent of the passes thrown his way, Royal was targeted only twice in Week 3 and somehow only saw the field for 54 percent of the Chargers’ offensive plays. In fact, it was receivers Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen—who caught just three total passes between them—who were on the field for 93 and 83 percent of the snaps. Without much talent out wide, the Chargers passing game is a bit of a mystery, but Philip Rivers does have an interesting matchup here, as the Cowboys have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season. This includes a gigantic 450-yard, four touchdown performance for Eli Manning back in Week 1. Although his 2013 statistics don’t exactly show it, Rivers has turned the ball over quite a bit over the past few seasons and with DeMarcus Ware applying pressure and the Cowboys’ corners finally getting healthy, there could be a few turnovers forced in this one. Still, Rivers is an intriguing option because this game could very well turn into a shootout and the Chargers’ rushing attack simply isn’t productive enough to keep them in the game.

Running Game Thoughts: As if there weren’t enough question marks in the San Diego offense with the passing game alone, now the running back situation seems to be getting increasingly competitive. Although he has been on the field for just 34 percent of his team’s snaps this season, running back Ryan Mathews has somehow taken over three times as many carries as either Danny Woodhead or Ronnie Brown. That would seem to make him the obvious fantasy back to own, right? Not so fast. Brown, who carried the ball just five times for six yards during the Chargers’ loss to the Titans in Week 3, was the recipient of the team’s lone rushing touchdown of the season. Meanwhile Woodhead, who has actually been on the field more than either Mathews or Brown, has emerged as one of the league’s premier pass-catching options out of the backfield. His 17 receptions are third among all running backs and have made him a somewhat surprisingly good FLEX option in PPR formats. Although he has just 12 fantasy points in standard scoring formats, Woodhead suddenly jolts ahead of Mathews in total points for PPR formats. All three of these backs can have value depending on the scoring format of your league, but Mathews and Woodhead clearly stand above Brown, at least for the time being, as viable FLEX options in most formats.

Having allowed the second-fewest amount of rushing yards in the league and zero rushing touchdowns so far this season, the Cowboys are a tough matchup for any runner. They do, however, provide an interesting test for Danny Woodhead. Dallas has actually allowed more yards receiving (148 and a touchdown) to opposing running backs than they have allowed rushing (133 yards). The damage hasn’t all been done in one week, either, as the Cowboys have allowed between 48-51 receiving yards to opposing backs in each of their first three games. One has to believe that the Chargers are well aware of the Cowboys’ inability to slow down the pass to the running back, so Woodhead could see an even higher number of snaps, and subsequently targets, than he normally does.

Philip Rivers: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Ryan Mathews: 40 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds, 60 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 15 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Eddie Royal: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Vincent Brown: 30 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Chargers 23

Bengals @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bengals passing game is kind of like your favorite old jeans. They are comfortable, consistent, reliable and used a lot, yet they don’t look that great and certainly don’t over-impress anyone. Andy Dalton and the Bengals consistently put up between 225 and 275 yards and a touchdown or three through the air yet never seem to be in that upper-echelon of passing units that pass for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns. This is partly because they have a defense that keeps them in all games and partly because Dalton and the Bengals' secondary receivers are very average. Outside of Green there are still no reliable options, as both Gresham's and Eifert’s split playing time hurt each other, and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is nothing more than a limited possession receiver. In elite matchups Dalton could probably be trusted as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2, but most of the time he's an average QB2. This week, the Bengals travel to Cleveland, whose defense continues to be underappreciated but is quietly one of the better all-around units in the NFL. The Browns are third in sacks, have an elite cover corner in Joe Haden, and have not allowed a pass play of more than 37 yards this season (3rd best in the NFL). Fantasy-wise, the Browns are giving up about the league average in points to QBs and WRs but have yet to really give up a monster game to any player. While A.J. Green easily provides Haden with his biggest challenge of the year so far, he was held in check by a similarly talented cornerback in Ike Taylor in Week 2, so another average game could certainly be in store for Green. This game is as a defensive battle between division rivals that provides few fantasy stars, and thus each player's potential drops down a notch. Although Green has one of his tougher matchups of the year, he still must be started as a low-end WR1 simply because of his talent and the way Dalton locks onto him. In standard size and scoring leagues I would simply avoid all other Bengals passing game players, as they are either inconsistent or have a very low upside in a tough road game.

Running Game Thoughts: The changing of the guard is certainly at hand in Cincinnati, as rookie Giovani Bernard is earning more touches each week and veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis is getting less and less. Bernard has just 19 yards less than BJGE despite having less than half the carries of his older backfield mate. He's also outpacing Green-Ellis in receptions and touchdowns. While BJGE will certainly continue to get touches, both to keep Bernard fresh and to provide a force between the tackles, the future of the Bengals backfield, and fantasy owners' starting rosters, is in Bernard. Unfortunately for both these players, this week is a difficult matchup versus the NFL’s seventh best run defense (in yards allowed) who are giving up just 2.8 yards per carry (second best in the NFL). The only back to have any kind of success against the Browns this year was Adrian Peterson, and he fell well below his average in that game. Neither of the Bengals' backs are nearly as good as Peterson, and by splitting reps it diminishes each of their value even more. The saving grace for Bernard in this game is that he'll get a lot of check-downs, and in what should be a close game till the end, the Bengals will most likely run the ball upwards of 25 times. Bernard to me is the guy to start here, and while his upside is limited by a committee approach and a tough matchup, he should get enough touches to be considered a mid-range RB2. As for Green-Ellis, unless Bernard gets hurt, it's going to be tough to use him anymore this year as more than a low-end RB3 unless it's just a killer matchup, which this is not.

Andy Dalton: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Giovani Bernard: 55 rush yds, 45 rec yds
Mohamed Sanu: 55 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If the Bengals defense can hold Aaron Rodgers to a very pedestrian game, what are they going to do against Brian Hoyer this week? A crazy week of trading and quarterback switching by the Browns ended in an unexpected victory against the Vikings in Minnesota last week. While Hoyer did not exactly look great (3 INTs), he did move the chains (321 yards) and make good use of his best weapons, Josh Gordon (10/146/1) and Jordan Cameron (6/66/3). This week the Browns have a much more difficult matchup versus the Bengals, who rank as one of the league’s better defensive units and are better on the ground than through the air. Playing in the Browns' favor is an injury to cornerback Leon Hall, who is questionable to play, and another arrest by cornerback Adam Jones, who may or may not be suspended for the game. For the Browns, it may be an ugly game with multiple sacks, three-and-outs, and turnovers. But, with very little run game to speak of, Hoyer may be forced to throw the ball 30 or more times, meaning there is some opportunity here for fantasy stats. Hoyer should be avoided simply because he will no doubt have multiple turnovers and there are simply much better options out there. Josh Gordon, on the other hand, has a chance for another 15-plus targets (he had 19 last week), and with his long speed, he may break one or two and make himself a solid WR3 this week. Jordan Cameron yet again provides solid TE1 value simply because he is one of very few tight ends in the league who are the focus of their offense. Cameron should be a constant red-zone target and, with Gordon stretching the outside, should find himself open more times than not in the short middle of the field. While the Browns are gonna make it look ugly and do not have a traditional offense, the presence of Gordon and Cameron make this team surprisingly fantasy relevant, even in tougher-than-average matchups like this one.

Running Game Thoughts: There is perhaps no other NFL backfield right now that is uglier than the Cleveland Browns'. It is so ugly that their leading rusher last week was defensive back Josh Aubrey. Of course that will not happen again, but it is a sign of where the Browns are right now in their run game. With his first full week of practice under his belt, newly signed Willis McGahee is expected to be the leader in rushing attempts this week (he also was last week with almost no practice), but very little is expected from him because of the tough matchup and the fact that he is a soon-to-be 32-year-old veteran still knocking the rust off. While the Browns may not be talent-rich right now, they are smart enough to know that their offense has two playmakers (Gordon and Cameron), and getting the ball to them as much as possible is going to give them the best chance to win. While a close, defensive battle is probably in store for this one, allowing the opportunity to run 25 or more times, the Browns will probably either (a.) not run that much and simply use short passes as their run game, or (b.) run a lot and average about two yards per carry. Either way, McGahee and any other combination of Browns running backs will not produce enough to make them worth starting, even if you're desperate. If McGahee can get in game shape and get some rhythm going, he may be a guy to use later on in above-average matchups, but this is neither the time nor the place to get cute.

Brian Hoyer: 240 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Josh Gordon: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Willis McGahee: 35 rush yds
Jordan Cameron: 55 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 24

Bears @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Bears' stats through the air were not all that impressive last week (159 yards, 1 TD), the matchup versus Pittsburgh was a tough one, and Jay Cutler was efficient in the passes he did attempt. The matchup this week gets a lot better, as the Lions rank in the bottom half of the league in most defensive passing statistics, although they have given up just two passing touchdowns thus far. In the fair conditions of the dome against a high-flying offense, this game could easily turn into a shootout. And for once in a long time, the Bears have the personnel and offensive game plan to keep pace. Because of the Lions' defensive strength being more in the run department, coupled with the fact that the Bears seem fine to go pass-heavy, Jay Cutler has a chance to be a borderline QB1 this week and attempt 35 passes. While the Lions have been a bit stingy to opposing wide receivers thus far, a quick look at who they have faced tells the real story. The Vikings, Cardinals, and Redskins all are average offenses and, outside of Larry Fitzgerald, do not have any elite receiving options. This week the Lions will have to deal with perhaps their toughest wide receiver matchup (Marshall) and tight end matchup (Bennett) this year—and very close to their toughest No. 2 receiver matchup (Jeffery). While the Lions defense is better, I look to Chicago’s Week 2 opponent, the Vikings, as a guideline to what kind of numbers the Bears could approach this weekend. This being said, I like Marshall to get to 100 yards receiving and continue being a solid WR1. Bennett had an off week last week but continues to be Cutler’s favorite target from inside the 15 yard line, so another touchdown is a likely bet, making him a low-end but solid TE1. As for Jeffery, he tied for the team lead in targets last week and it is clear that, unlike last season, he is more than a decoy and is truly part of the game plan. He is still a bit risky as a WR3, but with some good WRs from the Packers out on a bye this week, he could provide a decent fill-in in this matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Other than Michael Bush stealing a goal-line touchdown last week from Matt Forte, there is not a lot to report here. Forte continues to roll as a solid low- to mid-tier RB1 because of his work in the passing game and, besides the occasional lost touchdown to Bush, is more than tripling Bush in touches. The good thing with Forte this year is that the passing game is taking pressure off him and the new coaching staff seems to like him enough to give him opportunities on all downs, situations, and matchups. The Lions, while stingy with the amount of yards they have given up to opposing running backs, actually are very favorable to fantasy RBs so far because of the six touchdowns they have allowed in three games (4 rushing, 2 receiving). Because of Forte’s dual ability—the best the Lions have faced thus far—he has a great chance to get into the end zone one way or another. And with the amount of touches he gets added in, he is a no-brainer start this week as a solid RB1. While Bush got a touchdown last week and was given the anointment as the Bears goal-line back this week by Coach Trestman, he does not get anywhere near enough touches to warrant any fantasy consideration unless Forte gets hurt, you are very desperate, or the matchup is out-of-this-world good.

Jay Cutler: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1INT
Brandon Marshall: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Matt Forte: 70 rush yds, 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 70 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The biggest news in the Lions passing game this week came when Detroit’s No. 2 receiver, Nate Burleson, broke his arm. He is out indefinitely. While Burleson was nothing more than an average WR3 for fantasy purposes, the repercussions spread to more people than just his owners. Luckily, the Lions are deep enough at wide receiver that this injury should not affect Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford much, as both were, and continue to be, solid WR1 and QB1 options. The effect could be felt in how the targets will now be divided up and who may see a bump in value. The best bet is wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who made his season debut last week and caught three balls on three targets for 34 yards. While this obviously was not a big game, Broyles was reportedly on a snap count so that they would not rush him back from injury too fast. This snap count has now reportedly been lifted and Broyles could see at least double the time he did last week. While he is not a speed guy, he runs great routes and finds ways to get open, which is big considering that Megatron runs deep a lot and often draws double coverage. With this formula in place, Broyles could get 8-10 targets in this and most matchups going forward (without Burleson), which could make him a solid WR3 in many matchups. Of course there are plenty of others (Scheffler, Pettigrew, Bush, Bell, Edwards) who could pick up the slack and make Broyles not much more valuable than he is now. Because of this uncertainty, it is tough to recommend any Lions receiver right now other than Johnson until we see how this shakes out, at least for one game. Speaking of Johnson, he should be in for a huge day, as the Bears have let up the most points to opposing teams No. 1 receivers the first three weeks, with A.J. Green and Antonio Brown combining for four touchdowns, 18 catches, and well over 300 yards. While you were going to start Johnson either way, this could be a week where he straight out carries your team to victory. Besides the aforementioned Stafford as a solid QB1, let’s take a wait-and-see approach to the rest of the guys in this unit until someone steps up and starts hogging those available targets.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Bears have done well against opposing running backs thus far, they have really only faced one challenge (Adrian Peterson), while holding less-than-average running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Jonathan Dwyer to a combined 64 yards on the ground. With Reggie Bush expected back this week and the emergence of Joique Bell, the Bears will have their hands full with two backs that can be dangerous both on the ground and in the passing game. With the home crowd behind them, and running in favorable conditions, the Detroit backs present a great combination of speed, quickness, hands, and even a little power, with Bell looking a bit bulked up from last season. The Bears will have a tough time game-planning for these two backs, but so will fantasy owners. We are not sure how valuable each one will be or how each will be used. They both have been productive thus far and both have similar skills. With Bush coming off a minor injury, I certainly do not expect him to be overworked, especially with Bell obviously being a capable backup. In this way, Bush’s upside is capped by the Lions' wanting to keep him fresh and healthy. However, Bush is a talented player and the Lions will want to keep him on the field for most passing downs, so this limits Bell’s upside this week as well. Overall, I’d say Bush is the better start this week, but because they will split so much time, I don’t see either back as anything more than a low-end RB2, with Bush getting the bit better chance at more snaps. If they get near the goal line and run it, I actually prefer Bell. But that is so hard to predict that it might not be worth gambling on. Both guys are safe to start but both have limited upside, so do not expect a blowup game from either. Still, there is something to be said for solid and safe.

Matthew Stafford: 320 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Reggie Bush: 45 rush yds, 55 rec yds
Joique Bell: 35 rush yds, 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Calvin Johnson: 135 rec yds, 2 TDs
Ryan Broyles: 70 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 30, Lions 27

Steelers @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Steelers passing attack has improved each week so far, and there are signs that this unit could actually be a reliable source of fantasy points from several positions. Last week Roethlisberger threw for 406 yards (2 TDs, 2 INTs) and, despite taking a few big sacks, looked accurate and efficient. It marked the return of one of Ben’s favorite targets, tight end Heath Miller, but the star of the show was wide receiver Antonio Brown, who caught nine of his 13 targets for 196 yards and two touchdowns. If Ben can get a little better production and perhaps work in rookie dynamo wide receiver Markus Wheaton, this unit has some real potential to do some serious damage. This week, the Steelers should have a nice matchup through the air, as the Vikings have struggled mightily to stop anybody to this point, allowing the fifth most passing yards in the NFL. In addition, they have allowed the most touchdowns through the air (9) and have sacked opposing quarterbacks only four times (second worst in the NFL), something they built their defense around in recent years. The scary thing for the Vikings defense is that last week (at home) they gave up 321 yards and three touchdowns to a quarterback (Brian Hoyer) who was previously third string and had never started an NFL game. With all this being said, the Steelers certainly have multiple who guys can be useful fantasy starters in this one. For Roethlisberger owners, 300-plus yards is certainly possible this week. He has a full and healthy set of weapons at his disposal, making him a solid low-end QB1. While Brown is not the traditional size of a true No 1 receiver, it is obvious that his complaining about wanting the ball more after Week 2 paid off. Last week’s stat line will likely go down as his best of the year, but Brown should now be started with confidence as a very solid WR3 going forward, with this week’s matchup being juicy enough for him to be considered a decent WR2. Emmanuel Sanders has yet to have that breakout game this year but is averaging about 60 yards a game and, in his best matchup to date, could be a decent WR3 this week if needed. Heath Miller is expected to play a full array of snaps this week and it could not come at a better time, as the Vikings have given up the second most fantasy points to TEs this season. While Miller has never been the most athletic tight end around, he has Ben’s confidence and is a reliable red-zone and medium-range target. I look for Miller to have a semi-breakout game this week and be a borderline TE1 in a plus matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Maybe, finally, hopefully! These are words that Steelers fans, and Le’Veon Bell owners, are thinking this week as we anticipate the debut of the rookie running back who went down with an injury before the regular season started. With the running game committee being so bad the first three games (31st in rushing, no TDs), Bell is expected not only to play, but immediately start and get the most touches. What Bell will do with those touches is anybody’s guess, as he is just a rookie in his debut, running behind a line that has not exactly opened the biggest holes in the league... but still, it's progress. The Vikings defense, even coming off a game where they held the pitiful Browns rushing attack to just 103 total yards, is struggling so far in yardage allowed (21st in the league) and fantasy points allowed to RBs (4th most generous). It is a great matchup for the Steelers run game, especially if they can get the Vikings to respect the passing game early on, which they should be able to do. It is very tough to recommend a guy like Bell in his first game, coming off an injury, on a team that has done almost nothing on the ground the first three weeks. Still, with bye weeks starting and injuries around the league occurring, Bell is a startable player in his debut, though probably as just a flex player until we see something out of him. While it is hard to guess what kind of player Bell will end up being, the fact that he is returning to action is a positive sign for his owners and for the Steelers, who had one of the worst running attacks in the NFL the first three weeks.

Ben Roethlisberger: 300 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Antonio Brown: 90 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 70 rec yds
Heath Miller: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Le’Veon Bell: 55 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Christian Ponder is questionable this week (Matt Cassel would start if Ponder can’t go), but this is a fantasy football column, meaning the Ponder info is not that important because you are most likely (and hopefully) not going to start him. You are not going to start him first because he is bad, throwing more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (2), and currently ranking outside of the top 20 in passing yards, completion percentage, times sacked, and quarterback rating. You are also (hopefully) not going to start him this week because the matchup is a bad one, with the Steelers giving up the least amount of fantasy points to opposing QBs thus far. Add this to the fact that Ponder is hurt (ribs) and his replacement would be making his first start on a new team, and you have a QB situation to avoid. Along with not starting any Vikings QB, chances are you are not going to start any Vikings WRs this week unless you are in a big league or are having some bye-week issues. It’s not that there is no talent in the receiving corps, because Greg Jennings isn’t bad, tight end Kyle Rudolph is a great red zone target, and rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson could be a game-changing player. The problem is that none of them are consistent enough as a go-to guy to start with confidence any week yet. The yardage is not there through the air, and with only two receiving touchdowns through three games, the scoring opportunities are obviously not there either. On top of this, the matchup is pretty rough, with the Steelers being the second toughest for opposing fantasy WRs and 12th toughest for opposing TEs to score against. In a 12-team league, I can see the argument for starting Rudolph, as he is still the Vikings' best option for catching touchdowns, but his yardage numbers are way down so far, and you are gambling on any Vikings touchdown that is not from Peterson. Jennings had a nice Week 2 but otherwise has not looked anything like the guy who spent his glory years in Green Bay. He is a very low-end WR3 this week. Patterson may eventually be the guy in Minnesota, but he is still not getting enough looks to warrant anything more than WR4 status.

Editor's Note: Matt Cassel will start for the injured Christian Ponder.

Running Game Thoughts: The Adrian Peterson show rolls along again this week in his second home game of the year, but this time with a bit of a boost. Fullback Jerome Felton is back from suspension and should immediately make a positive impact on Peterson, who struggled a bit last week versus a stout Browns run defense. Last year Peterson gained 2.3 more yards per carry with Felton on the field compared to when he was not. While the Steelers run defense has been among the league’s best the past few seasons, they are off to a bit of a rough start, allowing 70-plus yards to a single running back each of the first three weeks, along with at least one rushing touchdown each week. While the Steelers are no pushover on defense (just 3.3 ypc allowed), they are currently the fifth most generous defense to opposing fantasy RBs. With their quarterback situation in flux and going up against the Steelers' strong pass defense, and with the strength of the team being in the ground game anyway, I expect the Vikings to run 30-plus times and provide Peterson with plenty of opportunities to break some big runs. The matchup is not perfect, but you are starting Peterson anyway, and the numbers say that he should at least be a low-end RB1. But being the running back that he is, that is probably his floor this week.

Christian Ponder: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Adrian Peterson: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 40 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 40 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 30 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 24, Vikings 17