NFL Week 4 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
Whether you're 3-0 or 0-3, say goodbye to stress free lineup setting. This is the last full week of action before byes kick in, so viable fantasy options are more readily available today than they will be again until around Thanksgiving.
It doesn't mean you shouldn't be looking at the matchups. There are some premium teams with elite fantasy options looking at bad production, namely the Jets facing the Ravens, the Texans playing host to the Steelers -- uh, welcome back Arian Foster (we suppose) -- and the Lions traveling to Dallas and the Bills going to Cincinnati.
Yes, even the likes of early season stars Matthew Stafford and Ryan Fitzpatrick might be dealt a case of the hiccups this week for fantasy owners. This doesn't mean they should sit, but like Philip Rivers last Sunday, they could be disappointing for the first time.
Meanwhile, Shonn Greene likely still won't break out and those breakthrough Week 3 receiver stars Torrey Smith and Victor Cruz probably shouldn't be trusted just yet.
Here is this week's Start 'em and Sit 'em. Enjoy the respite before the bye-week roster wrangling kicks in:
• QB Matthew Stafford, RB Jahvid Best, WR Calvin Johnson, TE Brandon Pettigrew
Stafford is clearly capable of being an elite fantasy quarterback as long as he stays healthy. He makes everyone around him better, including Pettigrew. Megatron is Stafford's go-to guy, but the tight end is a big part of the Lions' offense. Best should be better than he was a week ago, even though the Cowboys run defense is pretty stout.
• QB Tony Romo, WR Dez Bryant, RB Felix Jones, K Dan Bailey
Romo might not be 100 percent, but he is still likely better than what you have as an alternative. Jason Witten should be considered his primary receiver right now, but Bryant will get healthier and more productive as the weeks go on. The biggest beneficiary to Miles Austin's absence might be Jones, though. With the injuries, the Cowboys are going to play a little more conservatively. Jones broke through for 100 yards and, while the Lions run defense is solid, it is not as good as that of the Jets or 49ers that slowed Jones in the first two weeks.
• D/ST Lions, D/ST Cowboys
These are not bad defenses, but there are better weeks to play them. If you have alternatives, sit these for a D/ST with a better matchup.
• QB Jay Cutler, D/ST Bears, K Robbie Gould
After an early-season buzz saw schedule against the Falcons, Saints and Packers, the Bears get a reprieve against the Panthers. There is no reason to sit any Bears players this week. Cutler tends to be a fringe starter in standard leagues, but he has proved productive against much better competition, so now is the time to use him. Also, the Bears defense will enjoy facing a rookie quarterback, no matter what you think of him long term.
• WR Steve Smith, TE Greg Olsen
After everyone jumping back on board through two weeks, we need to share a vote of confidence for Smith here. Sure, the Bears are a tough defense to face, and Smith did zilch against lesser competition last week, but the threat of 140 yards and a score are there. Keep Smith and Olsen active, something we cannot say for the rest of the Panthers offense.
• QB Cam Newton, RB DeAngelo Williams
Newton didn't have ideal conditions to continue his tear last week and this should be an especially tough place for him to produce. The Bears swallowed Matt Ryan and contained Aaron Rodgers. You cannot be excited about Newton coming into Chicago as a rookie. Williams has been lapped by Jonathan Stewart in fantasy value, if only because Williams doesn't get the pass receptions Stewart gets. The Bears have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, so consider Stewart to start for you but not Williams.
• QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Rashard Mendenhall, D/ST Steelers, K Shaun Suisham
The Steelers haven't gotten their running game going, but you shouldn't jump off Mendenhall just yet. They are saving him for games like this and will use him to control the clock and play keep away. Big Ben should have another productive day if this one becomes a shootout. It is not something to bank on and start the Steelers' secondary receiving targets after Mike Wallace.
• K Neil Rackers
The Texans figure to have their worst offensive game of the season in this one, especially since the Steelers are coming off an embarrassing effort against the sunken Colts. You won't sit Andre Johnson or even Matt Schaub in most leagues, but if you're looking to take advantage of someone on the Texans, it should be the kicker as those drives stall in the red zone and become field-goal attempts.
• RB Ben Tate, TE Owen Daniels
Arian Foster is returning to the starting lineup just in time to face the Steelers' run defense. You likely have to start Foster, because you have waited weeks for this, but you definitely don't want to be using Tate here. Even if Foster is limited and needs relief, the Texans figure to throw to set up the run and may never get to that second part of the game plan.
• QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, D/ST Eagles, K Alex Henery
Since his non-throwing hand is not actually broken, despite early reports, Vick is a must-start for fantasy owners. He should have his best day of the season against a 49ers team that stops the run but can give up yards in the air. Vick's Eagles might not be in midseason form, but you should fully expect them to rebound with a vengeance here. McCoy remains a must-start, despite the matchup. Jackson will rebound, even if the Eagles settle for field goals against the 49ers defense.
• RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis
Gore should have his best week yet, against an Eagles defense that has given up the most points to RBs in fantasy to date. The way to beat the Eagles is to pound the ball right at them and keep Vick off the field. If Alex Smith can get anything done in the passing game, it should be down the middle of the field and away from those corners. Davis rebounded last week and should go back to being an every-week starter in fantasy.
• D/ST 49ers, K David Akers, WR Michael Crabtree
These two are useful options in most weeks, but the Eagles are coming off a loss and were abused by the Giants last Sunday. They have a blowout effort coming. Crabtree is improving health-wise, but the bad quarterback play and those corners make him tough to trust outside of being a bye-week replacement at this point.
• WR Lance Moore, WR Devery Henderson, WR Robert Meachem, TE Jimmy Graham, RB Darren Sproles
Drew Brees' receivers all are worth a look. The Jags have played solid defense, perhaps, but they haven't faced a wide-open offense like the Saints' yet. Moore broke through in Week 3, muddying this up a bit. It is had to tell which one of Brees' targets is going to get the most looks, but at least each of these four have the promise to be pretty good.
• WR Mike Thomas, TE Marcedes Lewis
These two are risks, but if you need to start them, they stand to be better every week Blaine Gabbert grows into the starting role. Thomas made an impact in Gabbert's first start and Lewis finally played amid his calf injury. Lewis should improve health-wise, and the fact the Saints are fourth-worst in fantasy against TEs helps build a bit more trust. Maurice Jones-Drew should be a busy man, for as long as his knees hold up.
• RB Pierre Thomas
Thomas' best fantasy days are behind him. Sproles is now the No. 1 Saints RB to have because of his threat as a receiver while Mark Ingram is getting more of the carries on the ground. You can start Ingram against a Jags defense that has help RBs to the second-lowest point total this season, but you don't want to be taking a chance on Thomas before the bye weeks kick in.
• QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Steve Johnson, RB Fred Jackson, K Rian Lindell
After beating the Chiefs, Raiders and Patriots, the Bills look like a fantasy gold mine. That may not be the case this week. The Bengals play close to the vest and we just cannot see the Bills orchestrating a blowout victory yet. You still have to start this trio because of their performances to date. You might even consider the Bills D/ST an option against a rookie quarterback.
• WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, Cedric Benson
Here is a vote of confidence for Andy Dalton's primary targets, even if we cannot be sure how good Dalton is going to be from week to week. The Bills did make the Raiders offense look like an aerial show and they have given up a lot of points and yards the past two weeks. As for Benson, an appeal of his suspension shouldn't be heard until next week, giving him another one-week reprieve on the fantasy pine.
• WR David Nelson, TE Scott Chandler
They have proved productive to date, but we won't see the Bills running up 30-plus points in this one, unless it is a blowout. A blowout would mean a lot more production with the backs than the secondary receiving targets.
• RB Bernard Scott
His time is going to come, but Benson will have to officially go on suspension before you consider using Scott.
• WR Percy Harvin, D/ST Vikings
Harvin hasn't been featured in the Vikings passing game, but you have to trust he will eventually rise above his team's misuse. This matchup is a good time for that to happen. Donovan McNabb figures to be his best yet and you might even consider using WR Michael Jenkins or TE Visanthe Shiancoe, if you have needs at those positions. The Vikings defense has had a tough start to the season, but things should improve here against a offense that really misses Jamaal Charles and Charlie Weis.
• WR Dwayne Bowe
There is not much to like about the Chiefs offense right now, but Bowe remains a solid start in all leagues. Matt Cassel should only get healthier and the lack of a running game should force Cassel and company to open it up, especially back at home. RB Dexter McCluster is going to be a larger part of the Chiefs offense now and he is a sleeper in deeper leagues at the flex position, particularly in PPR formats.
• RB Thomas Jones
There is nothing to really like about either team's offense in this game -- except Adrian Peterson facing the team that is second-worst in fantasy against RBs -- but there is no good reason to sit any of their fantasy options either, save for Jones. He is the Chiefs' primary back now, especially if you consider McCluster more of a receiver. The Vikings still have a good run defense and starting Jones in any league shouldn't be a priority right now.
• RB Chris Johnson, WR Nate Washington, K Rob Bironas, D/ST Titans, TE Jared Cook
The Browns run defense is better than it has shown, allowing the third-most yards in the league to date, but C.J. remains too important to your fantasy team to sit him. With Kenny Britt suffering his season-ending injury, the Titans won't have the vertical game to get in Johnson's way. If they do pass, Johnson figures to get more involved. He is going to benefit from Britt's loss, as is Washington on the outside and Cook down the seam. As for the offense as a whole, one less red-zone target, and more improvement in the running game, should make Bironas one of the elite kickers in fantasy again.
• RB Peyton Hillis, TE Ben Watson
Strep throat won't hold Hillis back this time. Madden Curse, anyone? Montario Hardesty wasn't overly impressive in Hillis' absence, so the Browns figure to go back to their horse this week. The Browns just don't have anything going on the outside, so consider Watson one of the few tight ends in the league that is his team's primary receiver. He is a solid option if you are coping with a hole at the tight end spot.
• WR Mohamed Massaquoi, TE Evan Moore
Colt McCoy's promising preseason just hasn't taken hold yet in the early going. He should continue to improve but his targets just don't look ready to help him through this maturation process. Massaquoi did catch a late TD last week, and Moore has been a target in the red zone, but counting on a passing score from this offense week to week is a crapshoot. We have already seen how there is no go-to threat for McCoy to trust, unless you're counting the veteran Watson.
• RB Tim Hightower, TE Fred Davis, WR Santana Moss
The Redskins lost Monday night because they could not commit to the run. The Rams have allowed the most rushing yards in the NFL through three games, so it should be another productive week for Hightower owners. Davis should rebound, even if the Rams are No. 1 in fantasy against TEs to date. They haven't faced a talent like Davis, and Chris Cooley might be improving, but he still isn't 100 percent healthy.
• QB Sam Bradford, RB Steven Jackson, RB Cadillac Williams
The Redskins defense hasn't played poorly and they have held up pretty well against QBs (No. 7 against them in fantasy). Bradford had a rough outing against the Ravens, so trusting him against the Redskins shouldn't be necessary. Bradford is more of a bye-week replacement QB in fantasy until someone develops in his receiving corps. As for the Rams' backs, Jackson is healthy enough to play but not to star. The Redskins have an underrated run defense, so Williams won't be a particularly productive flex option either.
• QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Roddy White, WR Julio Jones, TE Tony Gonzalez, D/ST Falcons, K Matt Bryant
Seattle is going to need a lot more than the 12th man to slow a Falcons team coming off a tough road loss (their second of the season) and heading into a game against the Packers. Every one of your Falcons are worth playing here. This one should be over early, and Turner, who was slowed last week, should be allowed to mop up late.
• WR Sidney Rice
Rice was able to overcome injury and the uninspiring play of his quarterback to have a breakthrough Week 3. It makes him a candidate to start in all leagues, even if his supporting cast stinks. The Seahawks likely will play from behind here and maybe even turn to Charlie Whitehurst to open things up. It will be very interesting to see if Tarvaris Jackson lasts another week as the unquestioned starter.
• RB Marshawn Lynch
Lynch wasn't able to impress much last week and this Sunday he gets another elite run defense to deal with. The Falcons know stopping the Seahawks' running game cripples that offense, so Lynch should be followed closely all over the field in this one. Lynch owners just haven't had any luck with his matchups out of the gate. He has faced some of the league's best.
• RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Mario Manningham, K Lawrence Tynes, D/ST Giants
Eli Manning has looked like a world-beater again in the past six quarters. Maybe he was just kicked the offseason rust off. He gets Manningham back here and Nicks should prove healthier and more productive. Bradshaw will be busy on the ground or through the air. In fact, all of the Giants, including Brandon Jacobs and the revived defense figure to be viable plays.
• QB Kevin Kolb, TE Todd Heap
The Giants still are banged up in the secondary. If they didn't beat up the Eagles with the pass rush last week, they would have wound up giving up a lot of yards again. Kolb should be gashing the Giants with Larry Fitzgerald and his tight end here. This is about the best time to be starting Kolb, who should know the Giants well from his Eagles days. If you need a sleeper option for a defense, the Cardinals are not a bad play. Manning's error-prone ways, and sack-prone line, could get them some points.
• RB Beanie Wells
He is dealing with injury and, if he plays, he is going to be facing a very good Giants defensive line. The linebackers are nothing to write home about, but the Giants are more susceptible to the pass, and therefore backs don't rack up a lot of rushing yards against them. This is not a week to trust a Cards running back, especially if Wells is held out again.
• WR Victor Cruz
Cruz was a monster in his first start of his career, but a potential return of Manningham from a concussion and a move back to the slot should force Cruz back to the fantasy pine. He is a decent stashee as a bye-week replacement but counting on him week to week is not advisable ... yet.
• RB James Starks, RB Ryan Grant, WR Jordy Nelson, D/ST Packers, K Mason Crosby
There is no good reason to sit any Packers. They finally had running out the clock on the ground in their playbook last week and the Broncos don't figure to pose much of a challenge here. Starks is the better play over Grant, even if Grant is going to be doing the starting and finishing. Starks is a more explosive talent for fantasy owners and should get more touches this week than he did against the stout Bears run defense.
• WR Brandon Lloyd
This looks like a start all Packers, sit all Broncos game. Lloyd proved healthy and productive enough to consider using again, so get him back active. The Broncos figure to fall behind and there should be garbage-time yardage for Lloyd and Eric Decker.
• RB Knowshon Moreno, RB Willis McGahee, WR Donald Driver, WR James Jones
The Broncos might want to run the ball, but the Packers just might have taken over as the best run defense in the NFL. They have allowed a league-low 98 yards on the ground and no touchdowns to backs. They have given up 30 catches and 315 yards to backs out of the backfield, both league highs, but neither of these Broncos backs are real receiving threats. As for the Packers receivers, Driver and Jones look like low-end bye-week replacements as Jermichael Finley, Greg Jennings and Nelson just get too many of the good looks.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, D/ST Patriots
The Patriots coming off a loss is a scary proposition for anyone. The Raiders are going to struggle to contend with Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch if they couldn't handle the Bills and the Jets. The Raiders don't have a bad run defense, but they have given up the third-most points to backs in fantasy. It should make Green-Ellis more productive than he has been and perhaps even the likes of Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley sleepers if you are desperate for a flex option. The Pats defense was abused by the Bills, but expect them to rally against a Raiders offense that doesn't have a real receiving threat.
• RB Darren McFadden, WR Denarius Moore, K Sebastian Janikowski
The Raiders sure didn't look bad against the Jets, but that was mostly McFadden's doing. He is a big banged up, but he should play, and if he plays, he is too good to sit. Moore has broken through and should be a candidate for yardage and perhaps scores as the Raiders are forced to try to keep up with the up-tempo Pats.
• WR Chad Ochocinco
You don't really need us to tell you this, but Ochocinco is a fantasy zero. Somehow, Brady is on pace for a record season and Ochocinco has done nothing to contribute for the Pats or fantasy owners. We still say there will eventually be a spark here, but you aren't justified starting him in fantasy until that comes, or the bye weeks necessitate you using him again.
• RB Ryan Mathews, RB Mike Tolbert
It has been difficult to know which Chargers back is going to have a good week, but we should be fairly confident both are going to be productive here. The loss of Antonio Gates makes the Chargers more reliant on the run and the short passing game. Both Mathews and Tolbert will be busy. You obviously shouldn't be sitting Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson in any leagues, even if they let you down last week against the Chiefs.
• WR Brandon Marshall
Marshall is coming off a disappointing week in Cleveland and he faces one of the league's best secondaries. He should remain active, though, especially since the Dolphins figure to have to throw from behind to keep up.
• RB Daniel Thomas, RB Reggie Bush
Thomas is all the Dolphins seem to have going right, but you still have to sit him against a Chargers front that has given up the fourth-fewest points to backs in fantasy. The Chargers also figure to run away in this one early, so sticking to the run will be made more difficult. You might consider Bush to be a factor in a rally through the passing game, but he just isn't worth trusting at this point. His fumble a week ago was costly and could have him in the doghouse.
• D/ST Jets, D/ST Ravens, K Nick Folk
The Jets defense was beaten up on the ground last week against the Raiders, but you shouldn't be looking to replace them in your fantasy lineup. This should be a game played close to the vest and defenses should dominate the action, regardless of some of the games these teams have played to date. Expect sacks, some turnovers and mostly field goals. Ray Rice is about the only must start on both rosters, although you can make a case for Dustin Keller. The rest will be "use them at your own risk."
• RB Shonn Greene, RB LaDainian Tomlinson
It is easy to suggest sitting a slew of Jets and Ravens in this one, but it didn't really play out that way when the Ravens played the Steelers in Week 1. The important ones to avoid here are those above. Greene hasn't gotten enough touches to be a useful fantasy starter, and L.T. is getting his points as a pass receiver, something you cannot count on week to week. Neither are advisable plays against the Ravens' run defense.
• WR Torrey Smith
Like the Giants' Cruz, Smith is this week's case of "congrats on winning him off waivers, now sit him." Smith is an intriguing talent and he is finally healthy and getting looks after this surprise three-TD effort last week, but the Jets corners are tough and Smith is no guarantee to be as involved every week. Stash him, sure, but don't start him in a tough matchup like this one.
• RB Joseph Addai, WR Reggie Wayne, K Adam Vinatieri
The Colts finally figured out the way they could compete post-Peyton Manning: run the ball and control the clock. They managed to do it against the best run defense in the NFL, so doing it against the Bucs should be a lot more likely. A revived running game, in addition to a potential change to Curtis Painter at quarterback, could ignite Wayne this week. Don't give up on Vinatieri here either. The Colts are going to finally move the ball, even if the bad QB play will get them stalled in the red zone.
• RB LeGarrette Blount, QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams, TE Kellen Winslow, K Connor Barth, D/ST Buccaneers
This should easily be the most productive week yet for everyone on the Bucs. They have held up fairly well against a rigorous early schedule. The Colts shouldn't be much of an obstacle for your primary Bucs weapons. We have waited for a matchup this juicy to watch the likes of Blount, Freeman, Williams and Winslow to take off. You should also consider using Barth and the Bucs D/ST in any format.
• WR Pierre Garcon, TE Dallas Clark, WR Austin Collie
Garcon is clearly a third option behind Wayne and Clark and Collie remains nonexistent. It will be interesting to see if the running game can open things up some for the Colts, but expecting it to come on the road here without any certainty at the quarterback position is not advisable. Pick these guys up if they were dropped but consider them bye-week options.