Sunday September 28th, 2014

Hopefully all fantasy owners listened to Aaron Rodgers when he said everyone just needs to relax. The real Packers offense showed up on Sunday, and Rodgers, as he usually does, directed all of the action. He threw for 302 yards, 10.8 yards per attempt and four touchdowns in Green Bay’s 38-17 win over Chicago. The Packers got off to a quick start, scoring touchdowns on all three of their first-half drives. Eddie Lacy got on the scoresheet first, but after that it was all Rodgers and the passing game. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb each went north of 100 yards and evenly split Rodgers’ four touchdown passes. The Packers struggled to start the year with tough matchups against the Seahawks, Jets and Lions. With that slate behind them, expect them to keep the offensive fireworks going when they take on the Vikings on Thursday night.

NFL Week 4 Coverage Hub: Catch up on all the action

• Rodgers wasn’t the only player to calm down his fantasy owners after some early-season struggles. The Bears finally committed to the run, and it resulted in a huge game for Matt Forte. He picked up 122 yards on 23 carries and added 49 yards through the air on five receptions. Forte still has yet to find the end zone this season, but as long as he’s a focal point of the Bears offense, he is going to be a huge producer the rest of the season.

• On the other side, Lacy did get his first touchdown of the season, but he didn’t exactly inspire much confidence. Going up against a Bears defense that had allowed 4.9 yards per carry through the first three games, Lacy had just 48 yards on 17 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per rush. He’s still a key player in one of the league’s best offenses, but it’s officially time to worry a little bit about Lacy. He has just two carries for at least 15 yards this year and hasn’t been a major part of the passing game. Lacy is outside my top-10 running backs for the rest of the season.

• With Brandon Marshall still clearly not 100 percent, Jay Cutler once again leaned on Martellus Bennett. He had nine catches for a career-high 134 yards. He’ll continue to rack up the targets so long as Marshall is at less than full strength.

• In one of the most predictable developments of the season, Steve Smith had a monster performance in his reunion game with the Panthers. He kicked off the scoring with a 61-yard touchdown pass, and finished the game with seven catches for 139 yards and two scores. Torrey Smith finally registered a pulse, catching two passes for 53 yards and his first touchdown of the year, but it’s clear that Steve Smith is the No. 1 option in the Baltimore passing attack.

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• The Ravens continued to mess with fantasy owners across the country. Bernard Pierce was active after missing last week’s game with a thigh injury. He didn’t touch the ball once. Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro split the carries almost right down the middle, and both hit paydirt once. Forsett was slightly more productive on the ground, and also caught three passes for 31 yards. Everyone wants to focus on Pierce and Taliaferro, but Forsett has had at least 12 touches in all four games this year.

• DeAngelo Williams carried the ball 11 times for 34 yards, but had to leave the game with an ankle injury. Darrin Reaves ended up notching 26 yards on 12 carries, and could have a brief spell of fantasy relevance if Williams joins Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert on the shelf. He would still be no more than a flex play in deep leagues.

NFL
Week 4 superlatives: Most valuable player, must-see play and more

• Arian Foster was able to give it a go on Sunday, but he was clearly still hampered by his injured hamstring. He had just six yards on eight carries, though he did catch seven passes for 55 yards. Alfred Blue was ineffective, as well, running nine times for nine yards. Foster will likely take over as the workhorse when he’s healthy, reducing Blue’s fantasy value to next to nothing.

• The best bang-for-your-fantasy-buck player in Houston might prove to be DeAndre Hopkins. He caught his third touchdown of the year on Sunday, pulling down a 35-yard score from Ryan Fitzpatrick. He caught five of his six targets for 64 yards, and again outperformed Andre Johnson. That’s a trend that is likely to continue.

• Andrew Luck entered the week as the top-scoring fantasy quarterback, and all he did in Week 4 was widen the gap. He lit up the Titans for 393 yards, 9.6 YPA and four touchdowns. That gives him three games this year with at least 370 passing yards this year. He got more help for his backfield this week, with Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson combining for 151 total yards and two touchdowns. Richardson got 20 carries while Bradshaw got just nine, and the Alabama product is going to be the lead runner no matter what the fantasy community wants. Even so, Bradshaw will continue to be a viable fantasy option.

• Bishop Sankey may have finally put Shonn Greene owners out of their misery by freeing them to drop him. Sankey had eight touches against the Colts, picking up 57 yards and his first career touchdown. That’s two straight productive fantasy games for Sankey, and while he got just six carries on Sunday it was double Greene’s three. Sankey has to get more touches going forward, and is a potential flex play against the Browns next week.

NFL
Steve Smith lights up Panthers in first game against former team

• Chris Johnson may have scored a 35-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the Jets backfield clearly belongs to Chris Ivory. He picked up 84 yards on 17 carries and caught two of his six targets for 16 yards. Johnson, meanwhile, had just nine yards on five carries outside of his touchdown ramble. Ivory will shoulder the load in the backfield and can be a legitimate RB2.

• The Jets defense is going to be a problem for running backs all season long. After shutting down Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte the last two weeks, they held Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to 78 yards on 20 carries and, most importantly, zero splash plays. Certain players are matchup-proof, but this is a defense you want your running backs to avoid.

• I’m not totally sure how the “Geno Smith is playing better” narrative got started, but I think we can safely write it off at this point. He got just 209 yards and 6.3 YPA on Sunday. You can’t trust anyone in this passing offense other than Eric Decker.

• Lamar Miller again put up a huge game with the backfield all to himself, running for 64 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. He spent most of the fourth quarter on the sideline with the Dolphins comfortably ahead, but fantasy owners got all they expected out of him this week. The Dolphins have a bye in Week 5, and Knowshon Moreno could end up coming back the following week, so now would be a good time to see what Miller could fetch you on the open market. There isn’t, however, a guarantee that Moreno will dominate the touches out of the backfield when he returns. Don’t sell Miller at a discount merely because Moreno could be back.

• There’s no indication that the Raiders will make a permanent change to Matt McGloin, but Derek Carr hasn’t gotten it done as the starter. Either way, the only person worth paying any attention to in this passing game is James Jones. Andre Holmes could also be a guy in very deep leagues.

• The only early game in which both quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns was, of course, Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t a surprise there, as he torched the Buccaneers defense for 314 yards, 7.9 YPA and three touchdowns. Mike Glennon, however, doesn’t look like a guy who will be handing the reins back to Josh McCown. He threw for 302 yards, 7.2 YPA and two touchdowns, leading the Buccaneers to a come-from-behind win over the Steelers. Glennon isn’t all of a sudden going to jump into fantasy starting lineups, but he can be a decent backup or deep starting option in two-quarterback leagues.

• Unfortunately for Glennon, he may have lost one of his best weapons on Sunday. Mike Evans was having the best game of his rookie year, catching four passes for 65 yards and his first career touchdown. He had to leave early with a groin injury, though, and those have a way of lingering. We’ll have to keep an eye on his status this week.

• Capping off the early games, Antonio Brown had another huge performance, catching seven passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. It was his 21st straight game with at least five receptions, which is a new NFL record.

• Blake Bortles struggled in his first career start, throwing for 253 yards, 6.8 YPA, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was under a lot of pressure, and that’s going to be a theme for him for as long as he’s playing behind this Jacksonville offensive line. It also limits his upside for the rest of the season. He’s a deep option as a starter in two-QB leagues, and still doesn’t need to be owned in traditional one-QB formats.

• Toby Gerhart showed minimal signs of life, running for 32 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He was once again marginalized in the offense with the Jaguars chasing down a big deficit. That, too, is likely to be a theme. He can be a matchup play, but that’s about it.

• Philip Rivers had another big game, throwing for 377 yards, 9.7 YPA and three touchdowns. With the way Rivers has played for the last year and change, he has to be considered one of the best fantasy quarterbacks. It also helps when he gets his best receiver involved. Keenan Allen finally showed up for his fantasy owners this week, catching 10 of his 11 targets for 135 yards. It was just a matter of time before he got more involved, and it was easy to see this coming with a great matchup against the Jaguars. Donald Brown was very disappointing, picking up just 19 yards on 10 carries. He’s not a real threat to Ryan Mathews’ job security.

• While Allen led the Chargers in catches and yards, Eddie Royal had two touchdown receptions, five catches and 105 yards. Royal now has four scores on the year, and after finding the end zone eight times last year, he has to be respected in fantasy leagues. He still shouldn’t be thought of as more than a WR4 or so, but he should definitely be owned.

NFL
Bridgewater lifts Vikings with stellar starting debut; more Snap Judgments

• All football fans are likely united in hoping that Teddy Bridgewater’s ankle injury is not serious. The only way the Falcons were able to stop the rookie out of Louisville in his first career start was to roll up on his ankle on a run in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, he carved up the Falcons in leading the Vikings to a victory. He threw for 317 yards and 10.6 YPA and also ran for 27 yards and a touchdown. Bridgewater put up the most fantasy points by a quarterback against the Falcons this season, and they’ve played against Drew Brees and Andy Dalton. If Bridgewater’s ankle injury isn’t serious, he’s a high-end QB2 with upside to be a starter in traditional leagues based on matchups. Unfortunately for those of you thinking about starting him next week, the Vikings have a short week and play the Packers on Thursday night.

• Matt Asiata is going to be a fantasy playmaker for the rest of the year simply because the Vikings are committed to their ground game and he dominates the touches at the goal line. Asiata had another poor game from a yards-per-carry standpoint, rushing for 78 yards on 20 carries, but he had three scores. Jerick McKinnon had a monster game and was clearly Minnesota’s best running back. He racked up 135 yards on 18 carries. McKinnon should be owned in fantasy leagues, while Asiata is an RB3.

• Jarius Wright had eight catches for 132 yards on 10 targets. Meanwhile, Cordarrelle Patterson had just four targets, catching two of them for 38 yards. Anything can happen in an individual game, but Wright clearly had a connection with Bridgewater. It could have been a scheme or matchup advantage the Vikings uncovered, but it’s safe to say that Patterson’s play has been very disappointing for his fantasy owners this year. He’s averaging just five targets per game, and the big plays haven’t been there. Given that his value is based entirely in his ability to get explosive plays, inconsistency like this was always a possibility.

• Roddy White’s hamstring looked fine, and he caught four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. You shouldn’t have any concerns about playing him against the Giants next week. Devin Hester had five catches for 70 yards and a score, and can be an option in deeper leagues so long as Harry Douglas is out.

• The 49ers got Frank Gore plenty of work on Sunday, and he repaid them by rumbling for 119 yards on 24 carries. He also caught one pass for a 55-yard touchdown on a play where the Philadelphia defense completely broke down and lost sight of him. The Niners didn’t exactly light it up against an Eagles defense that had been ripped apart by Indianapolis and Washington. They got back in the win column, but Colin Kaepernick had just 218 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was effective as a runner, too, picking up 58 yards on seven carries. Expect them to keep on feeding Gore and relying on the run game.

• I’m still preaching patience on LeSean McCoy, but it’s understandable that his owners are beyond frustrated at this point. After getting just 22 yards on 19 carries last week, he had 17 yards on 10 totes on Sunday. McCoy’s struggles will get the deep dive treatment in this week’s Fact or Fiction, but you should still try to do what you can to buy him low. This will be your only chance to get a guy like this at any sort of a discount.

• The whole Eagles offense might be worthy of a deep dive after San Francisco shut it down on Sunday. The Eagles didn’t score at all on offense, and got just 213 total yards and 3.8 yards per play. Nick Foles was sacked just once, but he took a lot of hits and threw two interceptions (though one was on fourth down on Philadelphia’s last possession). With Jason Kelce out for about two months, the line could be a real issue for all the skill players.

NFL
Cowboys look like new team with old-school approach in rout of Saints

• Another week, another 100-yard game for DeMarco Murray. This week, he ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. That gives Murray 534 yards and five touchdowns in the first four games of the season. Even though he was off the board by the middle of the second round in nearly all leagues, he’s looking like a steal.

•​ The Dallas offense had its best game of the season, with Tony Romo adding in 262 yards, 9.0 YPA and three touchdowns. He hit eight different receivers, with Terrance Williams leading the way with six receptions, 77 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys’ offensive line is a true strength of the team, and that’s good news for everyone involved. You’ll be able to count on Romo when the Cowboys take on the Texans next week.

•​ The Saints dug a deep hole that they had to try to pass themselves out of on Sunday night. So it wasn’t a surprise to see Khiry Robinson’s eight carries lead the team. He had 18 carries against the Vikings last week in what was a much different game situation. We can expect that to be the greatest determiner of how many carries he gets as long as Mark Ingram is out.

•​ Brandin Cooks caught five of his six targets for 31 yards. Since his big game Week 1, he has a total of 16 catches for 122 yards. The upside is clear with him, but the production just hasn’t been there. Outside of Jimmy Graham, who caught eight passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, Drew Brees hasn’t really had another go-to pass catcher. With that being the case, Cooks should be considered a WR3 for the rest of the year. Marques Colston has similarly been a no-show since Week 1, his touchdown last week notwithstanding. He, too, is no better than a WR3.

• Pierre Thomas hasn’t reached 90 total yards in a game this year and has just one touchdown. It seemed like bluster when Thomas said he’d be more involved in the offense this year than he was last year, simply because he appeared to have maxed out his role a year ago. One-quarter into the season, that notion seems true. Thomas is mostly a flex guy, and even in that role you’ll need to hunt for good matchups.

•​ Finally, after the combined performance of Graham and Josh Hill, who caught a 12-yard touchdown, on Sunday, the Cowboys have now allowed 36 catches for 388 yards and six scores to tight ends this year. That’s an average of 18.7 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Whichever tight end is playing the Cowboys is going to be a viable fantasy starter.

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