Fantasy football Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Navigating early bye weeks
Bye weeks are officially here, with Carolina and Green Bay taking an early breather this fantasy season. Now things get tricky.
This week we're losing out on two top-five quarterbacks, a couple of second running backs, four wide receivers that fantasy owners rely on and a pair of quality fantasy tight ends. We even lose an upstart Panthers defense coming off of a dominating performance against the Giants.
Those owners who stacked their lineups with Packers, you'll have to endure a lineup of backups for one week, but then you'll be smooth sailing for the next nine weeks for the most part.
For those with quality depth, remember to keep an eye on the players dropped as these bye weeks roll on. You'll be surprised at some of the players who land there, as some teams have tough decisions to make -- especially in leagues without any injured bench spots.
These Week 4 Start 'em, Sit 'em recommendations are based on standard scoring, non-PPR, 12-team leagues that start 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 1-FLEX, 1-K and 1-DST. I've tried to list most of the possible players at each position, but if you find one missing -- please comment below, and I'll share my recommendation.
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills
• Ravens: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Torrey Smith, Justin Tucker, Ravens DST
The Ravens are intent on getting the running game going, and Ray Rice (hip) expects to play. If he remains out, Pierce will get the ball -- a lot. Expect whoever starts for the Ravens to be a big fantasy performer against a Bills defense that ranks second-worst against the run.
• Bills: C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson
Spiller suffered a quad injury against the Jets, which caused his early exit. If he's unable to play, Fred Jackson becomes an intriguing fantasy replacement. The Jets are a tougher defense than they got credit for before the season, and Jackson ran well against them in Week 3. Johnson looks like a good start, as rookie E.J. Manuel goes to him often. Only 13 wide receivers have more than Johnson's 29 targets.
• Ravens: Joe Flacco, Marlon Brown, Dallas Clark
The Bills defense is average, but the Ravens are likely going to ground and pound, which negates any secondary passing targets for Flacco.
• Bills: E.J. Manuel, Fred Jackson, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler, Dan Carpenter, Bills DST
Just one interception for the Ravens pass defense so far this season, but the Bills are only throwing for 215 yards per game. The Ravens defense has not allowed a touchdown pass since Peyton Manning threw seven in the first game of the season.
Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay
• Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald played through a hamstring injury in Week 3, and he led the Cardinals in receiving. Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough to make much of a fantasy dent. He'll draw CB Darrelle Revis in Week 4, but as long as he's getting healthier, he's a good start in fantasy.
• Buccaneers: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams
The Bucs have a new quarterback at the helm, so that should change some things. Martin is being used in more ways lately, even lining up outside and getting several targets against the Patriots in Week 3. Unfortunately, Martin might end up getting overused, as he got a carry up the middle one play after getting pounded on a missed pass down the sideline, where he got laid out. It's time for the Bucs to come up with a secondary option at running back to make Martin last 16 weeks.
Jackson left Week 3 with a rib injury, but when he's healthy, he's a force in the Bucs' passing game. Williams is good for 10 points per game in PPR leagues, which works as a flex against a defense allowing more than 300 passing yards a game. Both of these guys could see some deep targets this week from the big rookie, Mike Glennon.
• Cardinals: Carson Palmer, Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Ellington, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Cardinals DST
Palmer had a tough time in Week 3, even though it turned into a passing game early. The Bucs are actually one of the NFL's leaders in sacks, and their pass defense is improving. But it's still not a game in which most Cardinals not named Fitzgerald should be started. Roberts has just four catches for 42 yards in the past two games, but Floyd continues to develop. Ellington is someone to keep an eye on -- he's fast and has opportunities ahead of him.
• Buccaneers: Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon, Rian Lindell, Buccaneers DST
Freeman had a good matchup ahead of him, but was benched for the rookie quarterback. The Bucs want to evaluate Glennon's first start over next week's bye. As the bye weeks continue, he might end up as a useful option at some point because of his offensive weapons. The Buccaneers defense could be a sneaky play this week. It started strong against the Patriots, but eventually, Tom Brady pinpointed some passes, and the running game got going late. Arizona is nowhere near as good as New England's offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings
• Vikings: Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh
Peterson led the Vikings in rushing and in receptions in Week 3, and he threw as many touchdowns as Christian Ponder (zero) against the Browns.
• Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller
Roethlisberger, if available, serves as a good bye-week replacement if you own Rodgers or Newton. Big Ben is being forced to throw it a lot, and the Vikings defense has allowed an NFL-high nine touchdown passes -- six to tight ends -- so far. Bell returns from a foot injury, and the rookie is a gamble to start against the Vikings. But running backs aren't as plentiful as they once were. Brown should prove effective again this week, coming off a huge game (196 receiving yards).
• Vikings: Christian Ponder, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, Vikings DST
With Ponder out due to a rib injury, the Vikings will turn to Matt Cassel, formerly of the Chiefs and Patriots, who's not worth a look in this game. One thing the Steelers are doing right is defending the pass. They have allowed just two touchdown passes so far, holding teams to fewer than 185 passing yards per game. Patterson led the Vikings in Week 3 with 49 receiving yards, and he's rising while Simpson and Jennings decline in fantasy value.
• Steelers: Felix Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, Shaun Suisham, Steelers DST
The Steelers running game is dependent on their offensive line, which is in complete shambles. But the promise of a healthy Bell finally playing is too good right now. Sanders is averaging 10 targets per game, but we like him as a third wide receiver only this week, mostly because of the return of Heath Miller.
New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs
• Giants: Victor Cruz
It comes to this, the beleaguered Giants offense, on the road, against an upstart and dominating Chiefs defense that had 10 days to prepare. In 12-team leagues, it's tough to consider any non-salsa dancing Giants. Cruz had a rough week (three catches at Carolina), but he has 27 targets through three weeks.
• Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Chiefs DST
Charles is playing like a top-three fantasy pick, leading the position with 24 targets, 18 catches and PPR fantasy points. One of Bowe's biggest problems, from a fantasy perspective, is that Alex Smith just doesn't throw downfield much ... or at all. Smith has just nine completions over 20 yards, and most -- if not all -- were thrown well shorter than 20 yards. Even so, the Giants defense has allowed seven passing touchdowns (only three teams have allowed more). Avery's coming off a big week that should be considered an anomaly, but No. 2 wide receivers have led Giants opponents in receiving each week: Miles Austin, Eric Decker and Ted Ginn Jr.
• Giants: Eli Manning, David Wilson, Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle, Brandon Myers, Josh Brown, Giants DST
The offensive line is brutally bad, which is affecting everything else. Eli is playing more like Danny Manning than Peyton Manning, and David Wilson continues to disappoint. (However, he's still not droppable! Offer up a WR3 for him now, and it'll pay dividends when bye weeks ramp up.) Nicks is a tough guy to sit in Week 4, but he'll be a super start in Week 5 at home against the Eagles. He voiced his displeasure at his lack of targets (just one in Week 3), and Manning understood.
• Chiefs: Alex Smith, Anthony Fasano, Ryan Succop
Smith is efficient -- and boring, from a fantasy perspective. Remember him in Week 9 at Buffalo, though, as several fantasy QB1s will be on bye weeks (including Eli and Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick).
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
• Colts: Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, Adam Vinatieri, Colts DST
Going from the 49ers to the Jaguars defense is the difference between pushing a rock uphill and then pushing it downhill. Luck and his receivers should have a big day, as should the newest Colt, Trent Richardson. With Ahmad Bradshaw sitting out this week, you can expect Richardson to play like a first-round running back again. The easiest skill position to plug and play is running back, and now that he has had 10 days in the system, he should be fine. Even if Bradshaw was healthy, Richardson was going to have a big day.
• Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew, Cecil Shorts
MJD was able to score against the Seahawks, but it was an inconsequential touchdown. He should see more daylight against a Colts defense that has already allowed four rushing touchdowns. Shorts leads the NFL with 39 targets, and he remains a very good start against the Colts. He has 236 receiving yards in two games since Chad Henne took over under center, and he has one more game as the unquestioned No. 1 WR on this team.
• Colts: Ahmad Bradshaw, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Dwayne Allen
Bradshaw's neck injury makes him unable to capitalize on a good Week 3. The Colts will use Donald Brown a little more, instead, but he's not someone to pick up in standard leagues for now. While DHB had a good game against the 49ers, he has just 14 targets in three games.
• Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Justin Blackmon, Ace Sanders
There's just one more game until Blackmon returns from suspension, which should certainly help this offense.
Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans
• Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks DST
Remember that time someone told you not to start Wilson against the Jaguars in Week 2? ... Me neither. It never happened. These aren't the droids you're looking for. The Texans are a much tougher defense than Jacksonville (second only to the Seahawks), but they have allowed six passing touchdowns in three weeks.
• Texans: Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins, Randy Bullock, Texans DST
Has Arian Foster been disappointing so far? Yes. Should you sit him against a tough Seahawks defense? No. Do you hate people that interview themselves? Yes. The former No. 1 fantasy pick is not getting the touches he needs to be effective. Along with Ben Tate, they should be getting enough touches each to still make a mark in fantasy leagues. But now, these running backs face the Seahawks, 49ers, Rams and Chiefs defenses before a Week 8 bye. If you don't own Foster, consider trading for him before the Rams game, when his value might be at its lowest. Between weeks 11 and 14, Houston faces the Raiders, Patriots and the Jaguars twice.
• Seahawks: Robert Turbin, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, Steve Hauschka
This game should be relatively low-scoring, and again, it's tough to pinpoint one receiver to suggest from a fantasy perspective. Miller had a huge game in Week 3, with two touchdowns, but Houston has allowed just seven catches for 105 yards and one touchdown to tight ends this season.
• Texans: Matt Schaub, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels
Tate is averaging just under 12 touches in three games this season. Johnson is battling a painful shin injury, which should open the way for Hopkins to get even more targets against the Seahawks. Seattle has allowed just 95 receiving yards to tight ends -- and no touchdowns -- through three games.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
• Bengals: Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Mike Nugent, Bengals DST
Bernard continues to work behind starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he's scoring points like a fantasy RB1. His 5.0 yards per carry suggests he'll be seeing more carries going forward, compared to BJGE's 2.8 YPC. In two games against the Browns last season, Green had 14 catches for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
• Browns: Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron
Gordon came off of his two-game suspension to have one of the best games of the week, with 10 catches for 146 yards and a score at Minnesota. Gordon had 19 targets in the game, which is a total higher than all but 51 wide receivers over the entire season! Cameron ranks just behind Jimmy Graham among fantasy tight ends, and he appears to be a top-three fantasy tight end from here on out.
• Bengals: Andy Dalton, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham
Sanu was fantastic last year until an injury derailed him, and he's starting to turn some heads once again. He led the Bengals with 68 receiving yards this past week, and he should be picked up in most leagues. Gresham will be useful in fantasy play soon, especially as bye weeks hit, but not this week, as the Browns are one of the toughest defenses against tight ends, allowing 57 receiving yards in three weeks.
• Browns: Brian Hoyer, Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, Bobby Rainey, Greg Little, Davone Bess, Billy Cundiff, Browns DST
In spite of the Browns' impressive effort against the Vikings, no one in their backfield is worth a start this week. McGahee will get better, behind an above-average offensive line, but his ceiling is likely a low-end RB2 in fantasy.
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
• Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Robbie Gould, Bears DST
Most of the Bears are worth a look this week. Cutler looks like another decent bye-week replacement for Rodgers or Newton owners this week. Forte continues to solidify himself as one of the top five most reliable running backs in fantasy football. Despite being banged up last season, he had 11 quality games in 15 games played, and he was even more consistent in 2011. Also, only the 49ers (six) and Browns (five) have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the Lions defense (four). While the Lions have kept tight ends out of the end zone, they did give up 50 yards to Redskins rookie Jordan Reed in Week 3. Jeffery has 18 targets and 13 catches, and he should be good for six or seven catches again in Week 4. Gould has seven field goals in his past three games against Detroit. If you can get the Colts or Titans defenses off waivers, consider using them over the Bears DST, which is a borderline group this week.
• Lions: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson
Bush (knee) reportedly begged his coaches to let him play in Week 3, but they sat him anyway. Facing the Redskins defense is a little different than facing the Bears defense, which is one of the top-five toughest for running backs to score against in fantasy. Even so, the Lions pass attack is tough, and opens up space for both backs.
• Bears: Michael Bush
Bush got his first touchdown of the season in Week 3, but he has just 16 touches on the year. The Bears will use him more as they try to keep Forte healthy, but he's not a fantasy play until Forte goes down with injury.
• Lions: Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles, Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew, David Akers, Lions DST
A broken arm suffered in a car accident Tuesday morning derailed Burleson's season, but should open up playing time for Broyles. He caught all three passes thrown to him in Week 3, but it's tough to recommend him against the Bears, outside of leagues that start both a third wide receiver and a flex. Fauria has two touchdowns on four catches this season, but relying on him in fantasy is not recommended yet -- especially in PPR leagues.
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
• Jets: Bilal Powell, Jets DST
It's official. This Jets team is NOT last year's Jets team. Gone are Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and a broken version of Santonio Holmes. Powell is officially a top-15 running back as of now, and while he won't stay there all season, he will remain a decent RB2 this year. The Titans are allowing 4.4 yards per rush, so he's a good start once again.
• Titans: Chris Johnson, Titans DST
CJ2K has been anything but spectacular, but at this point owners should just be excited he's not posting 20-yard games. His 150-yard games will come, but at least when he's not hitting that number, he's average. The Titans DST trumps the Jets offense, making them a nice bye-week start.
• Jets: Geno Smith, Chris Ivory, Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Kellen Winslow
At some point this season, Smith, Holmes, Hill and Winslow will be start-worthy (most likely in Week 9 at home against the Saints when six teams are on byes). Ivory is dealing with a pulled hamstring, also.
• Titans: Jake Locker, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Delanie Walker, Rob Bironas
The Jets defense has been tough against both the run and the pass, and Britt has been tough on both his coaches and his owners.
Washington Redskins at Oakland Raiders
• Redskins: Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon
The Raiders still haven't recorded an interception, although that will probably change this week. Even so, RGIII continues to put up fantasy points, despite not being a great NFL quarterback this season. Morris is having a very good sophomore season, and Garcon should have a big game.
• Raiders: Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore
McFadden is quietly having a very nice season, ranking in the top 10 in PPR leagues. He even threw a touchdown pass Monday night, out of the Wildcat offense, which is something he ran a bit while at Arkansas. Moore has taken back the top spot among Raiders fantasy receivers from Rod Streater, and he has a great matchup against a horrible Redskins pass defense. The veteran has also built up a nice rapport with Pryor.
• Redskins: Roy Helu, Leonard Hankerson, Jordan Reed, Redskins DST
Helu will be starting in fantasy leagues at some point this season, but just not right now. The same can be said for rookie TE Jordan Reed, who has caught all but two of the 15 passes thrown his way this season.
• Raiders: Terrelle Pryor, Rod Streater, Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders DST
If you have Rodgers or Newton as your starting quarterback, and Big Ben or Jay Cutler is not available, then consider Pryor, if he's able to start despite the Week 3 concussion. If not, Matt Flynn becomes a viable bye-week replacement against the struggling Redskins. He's still tied for the most passing yards in a game for the Packers (480) in 2011.
Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos
• Eagles: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Alex Henery
The Chiefs defense held up fine against the newfangled Eagles offense, but Vick and Co. will have had 10 days to prepare for this game, as opposed to the six days the Broncos defense will have after their Week 3 Monday night victory. Vick, McCoy and Jackson might be must-starts every week Vick is more than 90-percent healthy, like this week.
• Broncos: Peyton Manning, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Matt Prater, Broncos DST
If it's orange, start it. The Broncos DST, however, should see some trouble with Vick's offense, making it a borderline start in 12-team leagues. Moreno remains the best bet among the Broncos running backs, although that could change by midseason.
• Eagles: Bryce Brown, Jason Avant, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Avant was a sneaky fantasy play in Week 3, but he's not a high-targeted option most weeks. The Eagles tight ends have just 15 total targets between them, so look elsewhere for a tight end. The Broncos defense has allowed a league-best 43.3 rushing yards per game, which means McCoy gets a pass, but not big Bryce Brown.
• Broncos: Ronnie Hillman, Montee Ball
Hillman had 10 touches, some good plays and a touchdown against the Raiders Monday night, but it's tough to count on that from a backup running back on any given week. Ball, meanwhile, coughed up his second fumble in as many weeks, and the rookie will likely get shoved down the batting order for now.
Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers
• Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Dan Bailey
The Chargers are allowing over 340 passing yards per game, which ranks dead last in the league. Romo, Bryant and Witten should all have big fantasy days. Murray exploded for 175 rushing yards against the Rams, and he'll get used more in the passing game this weekend. Broncos K Matt Prater is the only kicker with more points than Bailey so far.
• Chargers: Antonio Gates
San Diego will have to go through the air to take out the Cowboys in Week 4. Philip Rivers and Eddie Royal had a hiccup game against the Titans in Week 3, and we're still trying to figure out just who they are in 2013. This Cowboys team is allowing more than two touchdown passes a week, but Gates is the best player to rely on in fantasy among the Bolts.
• Cowboys: Miles Austin, Cowboys DST
While this matchup is great for Cowboys receivers, Austin tweaked his hamstring and fantasy owners should remain cautious here. Dwayne Harris is also a little banged up, so Terrence Willliams could see more action. The Cowboys defense look to be a borderline fantasy starter this week, but Rivers did throw four touchdowns in his last home game.
• Chargers: Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews, Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, Nick Novak, Chargers DST
Dallas is the second-best team against the run, allowing around 60 rushing yards per game. Royal had a touchdown in Week 3 called back, and he should get starts in PPR leagues this week. The same goes for Woodhead, who has 15 catches in his past two games.
New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons
• Patriots: Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Stephen Gostkowski
Bolden has picked up where Shane Vereen left off, with five catches for 49 yards (and another 51 rushing yards). He will be a borderline play because the Falcons do allow pass-catching running backs plenty of room. Brady finally started connecting with his rookie wide receivers, and Thompkins should be a fantasy weapon this week, too. While Edelman helped lead the team in catches in Week 3 with seven, he only picked up 44 yards. He mostly gets targeted on quick slants, and his best chance to score is to make a couple defenders miss up the middle. That could happen with Atlanta, since its pass defense is way below average.
• Falcons: Matt Ryan, Jason Snelling, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Bryant
Ryan continues to be a must-start player, and don't be misled by the Patriots' numbers against the pass. They've faced two rookie quarterbacks (E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith) and a quarterback who plays like a rookie (Josh Freeman). Snelling could become a bigger threat in the passing game this week, especially if this game becomes a shootout.
• Patriots: Rob Gronkowski, LeGarrette Blount, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Zach Sudfeld, Patriots DST
Blount's yards were picked up mostly after the Bucs game was in hand, and he is not a fantasy threat. Gronk and Amendola didn't travel with the team and will sit Sunday.
• Falcons: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Falcons DST
Jackson is down with a hamstring injury that should cost him another week or so, and White still isn't himself, as he's trying to work through a high ankle sprain. Rodgers got more looks than Snelling in Week 3, but Snelling should see more work closer to the goal line. PPR owners should consider Rodgers over Snelling, however.
Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints
• Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Caleb Sturgis
The Saints have given up almost 100 receiving yards per game to running backs, and if Miller can get some room to run, he'll get his second touchdown. That is -- if he can catch the ball. He dropped an easy touchdown pass late in their Week 3 game against Atlanta. Wallace's up-and-down debut season with Miami continues, but the Saints have been surprisingly good against the pass. Look at Wallace as more of a flex possibility this week. It's time to give Sturgis some credit, as the rookie kicker has four made field goals, including two 50-yarders in the past two weeks.
• Saints: Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Garrett Hartley
It's doubtful you'll sit any of the above players, but the Dolphins have yet to give up a touchdown to a wide receiver. Jamaal Charles is the only running back with more than Sproles' 20 targets. Graham (23 catches, 358 yards, four touchdowns) has doubled his yardage from the first three games last season (17 catches, 172 yards, three touchdowns).
• Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Daniel Thomas, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay, Dolphins DST
The Saints found a pass defense in the offseason, which tends to happen when you bring in a defensive coordinator like Rob Ryan. Thomas has two touchdowns, but his vulture work is just too unreliable for fantasy owners.
• Saints: Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Lance Moore, Kenny Stills, Saints DST
The Saints defense ranks in the middle this week, which means you can make an argument to start them if you don't have better alternatives. They're just not forcing many turnovers or getting many sacks, but they are holding teams to low scores. Only three other NFL defenses have allowed fewer than the Saints' 38 points.
David Gonos is a fantasy sports veteran of over 20 years and over 100 fantasy football leagues. You can also follow him @davidgonos on Twitter. If you have some good Week 4 Start 'em, Sit 'em opinions, drop them in the comments below.
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BELLER: Week 4 player stat projections -- Expect big things from the Colts this week
SI STAFF: Week 4 composite player rankings -- Manning tops QB rankings for second week
FLOOD: Waiver wire -- Uncovering the best replacements for players with Week 4 byes
BELLER, FLOOD: Weekly Roundtable -- Will Spiller start performing like a first-rounder?
McQUADE: Risers, Sliders -- Richardson will continue to rise with new team
BELLER: Fast Forward -- Browns aren't crazy; Giants' offense a disaster