By Eric Mack
September 27, 2012

Here's some advice: Bench the scab refs. They are underperforming and likely no longer suiting up.

It appears the NFL and fantasy will a bit less chaotic in Week 4. Thank goodness.

What fantasy players must worry about now are the bye weeks. They kick off with the Steelers and Colts getting breathers this weekend. That means replacements are needed for Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and the Steelers D/ST as well as Colts Andrew Luck, Donald Brown, Reggie Wayne and Adam Vinatieri.

Here, we sort out which players to start and which to sit in Week 4.


Browns -- Trent Richardson: Yes, he faces the Ravens' run defense, but the best thing Richardson has going for him is that he is all the Browns have going for them. Baltimore's aging run defense has also been in the bottom half of fantasy against opposing running backs through three weeks. The short week is another concern for workhorse backs, because of the lack of rest to heal the bumps, but Richardson was limited to just 12 carries Sunday. He's plenty ready to get up to 20 carries in what should be a bruising, physical game.

Ravens -- Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Justin Tucker, Ravens D/ST: This is a start-all game for the Ravens against a Browns defense that has been third-worst against quarterbacks and wide receivers with top corner Joe Haden suspended through Week 5. That makes Boldin a sleeper. Pitta was a sleeper at one time but has emerged as an early season must-start tight end.


Browns -- Brandon Weeden, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Travis Benjamin, Ben Watson, Phil Dawson, Browns D/ST: The Ravens were exposed against the Patriots, but even a short week shouldn't make you think the Browns are going to manage much. Little is having issues with drops, while Weeden is just too inconsistent.

Ravens -- Jacoby Jones, Ed Dickson: These two are going to prove fantasy-worthy at times this season, but having just two teams on byes moves them just off the fantasy radar this week.


Panthers -- Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Greg Olsen: They are well-rested for a tough division game, so consider them much more prepared to bounce back from the thrashing the Giants gave them. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are potential stopgap backs because the Falcons have been a bottom-10 team in fantasy versus running backs. Olsen gets a lot of targets and this game figures to get a little loose as the Falcons roll up points, allowing Newton, Smith and perhaps even Brandon LaFell some garbage-time numbers.

Falcons -- Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Bryant, Falcons D/ST: There was nothing positive to take from the performance of the Panthers' defense a week ago, which makes this a great week to trust your Falcons. Turner gets the third-worst team in fantasy versus running backs, and that might even help you consider his backup, Jacquizz Rodgers, a fringe flex option in deeper leagues. Rodgers finally got involved in the offense with a touchdown reception last week.


Panthers -- Mike Tolbert, Louis Murphy, Justin Medlock, Panthers D/ST: Tolbert is the only one worth owning right now and he figures to be marginalized with Stewart (ankle) likely to take any touches reserved for Williams' backup.

Falcons -- Harry Douglas: You won't want to own him, much less start him, until more players are on byes around the league. Eventually, Douglas will surprise, though.


Patriots -- Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots D/ST: The Bills haven't been great against anything to date, so most of the Pats are confident plays, especially coming off a loss. Ridley and Gronk will be better this week, while Brady, Welker and Lloyd are close to clicking on all cylinders.

Bills -- Stevie Johnson: This figures to be a game that goes up-tempo in the second half, but Johnson is the only clear start this week. Fred Jackson says he will play coming off his LCL injury, but he won't be 100 percent and likely will have to share time with Tashard Choice, who should only start in fantasy if Jackson is out. The Pats have a good run defense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is an option -- Donald Jones might even be -- if you need one, because the Pats' secondary did not look good against the Ravens a week ago.


Patriots -- Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, Aaron Hernandez, Kellen Winslow: Save for Vereen (foot) and Hernandez, who will remain out with his ankle injury, these guys showed flashes against the Ravens. Still, they won't be a big enough part of the offense in most weeks. Ridley is going to take back the feature role and Edelman won't find the end zone or enough targets to be worth using in most leagues.

Bills -- C.J. Spiller, T.J. Graham, Scott Chandler, Rian Lindell, Bills D/ST: Spiller (shoulder) doesn't figure to play, while Graham and Chandler are no guarantee to find the end zone with the limited targets they get. You should still find it easy to start a better kicker or defense, too.


Vikings -- Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph, Blair Walsh: Rudolph and Walsh join the must-start Vikings in fantasy this week. Minnesota had an impressive performance against the 49ers, which should make a matchup against the Lions seem like child's play. If you need a sleeper at receiver, consider Jerome Simpson coming off suspension.

Lions -- Matthew Stafford, Mikel Leshoure, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Jason Hansen: Stafford is a must-start, assuming the hamstring issue that forced him out last Sunday won't keep him out this week. And Leshoure should start for you even if he faces a tough Vikings run defense (No. 1 in fantasy versus running backs to date, despite facing some of fantasy's elite backs). If you need sleepers at receiver, Titus Young and Nate Burleson qualify -- but only if Stafford plays.


Vikings -- Christian Ponder, Toby Gerhart, Michael Jenkins, Vikings D/ST: Ponder isn't quite yet in the mix to start every week for fantasy owners. He just doesn't have consistent enough weapons on the outside, and the Lions are a good run defense that might be able to take away Peterson and Gerhart. The Vikings' defense will be a potential sleeper in some weeks, but not on the road against that potentially potent Lions offense.

Lions -- Kevin Smith, Joique Bell, Tony Scheffler, Lions D/ST: We learned two things about the Lions at Tennessee last Sunday: 1) They don't care for Smith much; 2) Their defense is overrated. Don't own these options, much less start them right now.


Titans -- None: The Texans' defense was ripped up at Denver in the second half last week, but the Titans are in for a long day in Houston. Avoid all of your Titans, unless you want to bank on some garbage-time/blowout yardage from Kenny Britt, Nate Washington or Jared Cook (shoulder) if he plays.

Texans -- Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Shayne Graham, Texans D/ST: This is a start-all game for the Texans, including Schaub and Daniels now, too. They were good against a solid Broncos defense on the road, so they should be solid against a bad Titans defense at home. Daniels, in particular, is intriguing against a defense that is the worst in fantasy versus tight ends through three weeks. Secondary options Ben Tate and Kevin Walter are even flex plays if you need them.


Titans -- Jake Locker, Chris Johnson, Rob Bironas, Titans D/ST: Johnson has been the bust of the year, so expecting him to get going against the Texans' run defense is a long shot. Don't start this fantasy bum right now. As for Locker, Bironas and the defense, there are far better options to own and start.

Texans -- None: There is no reason to be wary of any of your Texans against a defense that is second-worst against quarterbacks, fourth-worst against running backs and the worst against tight ends.


Chargers -- Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Nate Kaeding: They laid a huge egg against the Falcons, but there is no reason to be wary of the primary Chargers against a Chiefs defense that has been third-worst against quarterbacks and in the bottom 10 against running backs. Mathews and Gates should prove healthier here and will have more chances. Floyd has been Rivers' go-to receiver and both should be productive against the Chiefs.

Chiefs -- Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe: Well, Charles certainly looks healthy enough to carry the load. The question is whether the Chiefs will allow him to. They did in Week 3 to incredible results, so he is a must-start in all leagues. Bowe is likely that, too. Kicker Ryan Succop is coming off a huge week, so start him if you own him, but dropping the kicker you drafted for him is not necessary.


Chargers -- Jackie Battle, Curtis Brinkley, Ronnie Brown, Robert Meachem, Dante Rosario, Chargers D/ST: There's no reason to trust these players. Only Meachem even qualifies as a low-end flex option.

Chiefs -- Matt Cassel, Peyton Hillis, Shaun Draughn, Dexter McCluster, Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin, Tony Moeaki, Chiefs D/ST: The Chargers have a middling defense, but these guys are far too inconsistent to trust before the bye weeks get heavy.


49ers -- Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, David Akers, 49ers D/ST: The Jets' defense took a big hit because of the loss of Darrelle Revis. That should generate confidence in the 49ers bouncing back from a stinker. West Coast teams tend to disappoint playing in the 1 p.m. ET time slot, though. Stick with your premium 49ers here.

Jets -- Santonio Holmes, Jets D/ST: There is not much love for this pair right now, but they are still likely better than many alternatives, even against the 49ers.


49ers -- Alex Smith, Kendall Hunter, Mario Manningham, Randy Moss: These fringe players aren't good options in favorable matchups, and the Jets' defense is still an unfavorable matchup, particularly playing in what amounts to 10 a.m. PT.

Jets -- Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Shonn Greene, Bilal Powell, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, Dustin Keller, Nick Folk: Greene is a bad play amid his slow start and facing the 49ers' rugged run defense. Powell (and perhaps Joe McKnight) will need to absorb some of the punishment in this one, but no Jets running back is worth considering. Nor a quarterback, for that matter. Keller will eventually get healthy and prove productive among the top 12 tight ends, but avoid him until he shows us something.


Seahawks -- Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Seahawks D/ST: Seattle's defense is clearly a must-start fantasy unit now, especially against the shaky Rams. Lynch finally gets to run all over a defense that is not elite against the run, while Tate gets to prove again that he is the go-to guy over Sidney Rice, who isn't a bad play here either. If you need a kicker, Hauschka is an option.

Rams -- Danny Amendola: He might be the only Ram who is immune to a bad matchup -- and even that really only applies in three-receiver and/or PPR formats.


Seahawks -- Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Braylon Edwards, Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller: Wilson has shown flashes, but he is merely an option for two-quarterback leagues. He just doesn't do a consistent enough job of getting the ball down field. Turbin has been a non-factor as Lynch has carried the load, but if the Seahawks blow this game out, Turbin could clean up late.

Rams -- Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Daryl Richardson, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith, Lance Kendricks, Greg Zuerlein, Rams D/ST: The Rams look like a defense to avoid if at all possible. You won't miss any of these guys this week.


Dolphins -- None: If the Patriots and Eagles cannot muster much against this burgeoning monster of a defense, forget about the Dolphins doing it.

Cardinals -- Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals D/ST: After last week, these two are in the must-start category, regardless of the matchup. The Dolphins' defense is a lot better than anyone has said, though, so only consider these two.


Dolphins -- Ryan Tannehill, Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Anthony Fasano, Dan Carpenter, Dolphins D/ST: These might be potential sleepers at home, but don't dare trust them at Arizona. Bush (bruised knee) is a fringe flex option if he plays, but he will likely be a game-time decision to avoid with a 4 p.m. start.

Cardinals: Kevin Kolb, Ryan Williams, Beanie Wells, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Early Doucet, Todd Heap, Jay Feely: Consider these guys in future weeks, but they just don't produce enough at their respective positions to consider them go-to options right now.


Raiders -- Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, Sebastian Janikowski: The Broncos have a solid run defense, but McFadden reminded all why he is immune to an unfavorable matchup by playing well against the Steelers last week. Moore is a nice option in what should be a game that gets loose in the second half, particularly because the Raiders' other top targets are dealing with concussions. If you need a sleeper, Derek Hagan might be one for PPR formats. He was getting targets late last week when injury forced him onto the field.

Broncos -- Peyton Manning, Willis McGahee, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, Matt Prater, Broncos D/ST: After facing a brutal schedule the first three weeks, Manning and company should light it up against the Raiders. Throw Prater and the defense into the starting mix as well. The Raiders are the third-toughest in fantasy against opposing defenses, but the Broncos figure to force some turnovers from Palmer at home in this one.


Raiders -- Carson Palmer, Mike Goodson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon Myers, Raiders D/ST: Palmer might have been a viable starter if not for DHB and Myers dealing with concussion issues. If you're looking for people to benefit from garbage time in a blowout, look to Palmer and perhaps Rod Streater.

Broncos -- Lance Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, Brandon Stokley, Joel Dreessen: These are guys to watch right now, particularly Ball and Hillman if McGahee (ribs) doesn't play or is declared limited. We wouldn't trust these guys for consistent touches yet, though.


Bengals -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, A.J. Green, Mike Nugent, Bengals D/ST: This amounts to a start-all game for the Bengals, so consider adding Andy Dalton, Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns and Jermaine Gresham to this group, as needed. BGE is a must-start in all leagues, because the Jags are second-worst in fantasy versus running backs to date.

Jaguars -- Maurice Jones-Drew: Save for the late-game surprise that is Cecil Shorts, MJD is all the Jags have going for them right now. The Bengals' defense has been abused to date, but this Jaguars offense poses far less of a challenge. Don't start Shorts, despite the big plays.


Bengals -- Bernard Scott: He finally saw action in Week 3, but it is clear he isn't close to being in the time-share he was purported to be in this season. He is the only Bengal you shouldn't be considering.

Jaguars -- Blaine Gabbert, Rashad Jennings, Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Marcedes Lewis, Josh Scobee, Jaguars D/ST: Gabbert's inconsistent play ruins most of the Jags' offensive weapons for fantasy purposes. These guys need a few good weeks before any are a consideration. They are closer to the waiver wire than fantasy starting lineups.


Saints -- Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, Garrett Hartley: As disappointing as the 0-3 Saints are, these guys have produced as expected in fantasy. The Packers' defense isn't a slouch by any means, but trust the Saints to push the tempo and rack up yards. If you need a receiver, Lance Moore and Marques Colston are viable, but their inconsistency is frustrating.

Packers -- Aaron Rodgers, Cedric Benson, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, Mason Crosby: Every Packers option is viable against a Saints defense that has been the worst in fantasy against running backs and in the bottom 10 against quarterbacks and receivers. The Packers will wake up here, where they don't have to face an elite defense like the 49ers, Bears or Seahawks. That possibility is the reason a struggling Finley remains a start against a Saints defense that has been No. 1 in fantasy against tight ends. The Saints still haven't played one as good as Finley yet.


Saints -- Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Devery Henderson, Saints D/ST: The Packers have given up just one rushing score to a running back in three games, so don't dare trust the time-share backs Ingram or Thomas. Henderson made an impact last week, but don't count on him. The Saints' defense? Cut that worthless garbage.

Packers -- Randall Cobb, Packers D/ST: After a surprising inclusion into the game plan in Week 1, Cobb has been quiet. He just isn't getting enough touches to warrant using, even in this tantalizing matchup. The Packers' defense is a bad play against a Saints offense that figures to limit turnovers and sacks, while piling up yardage and points in what might wind up being the highest-scoring game of the season. Both teams are going to let it all hang out amid their disappointing starts.


Redskins -- Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Leonard Hankerson, Fred Davis: The Bucs, save for an awful second half in Week 2 versus the Giants, have been one of the worst defenses to face in fantasy. They are fourth-best in fantasy versus running backs, but don't sit Morris unless you have some studs ahead of him. Hankerson will start, regardless of whether Pierre Garcon (foot) plays, so consider Hankerson a sleeper. Garcon should start in fantasy if he plays, while Davis showed a week ago that he can work something with RGIII.

Buccaneers -- Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams: Martin will be much better against this defense than he was against the Cowboys. The Bucs' top receivers are facing a defense that has been the worst in fantasy against quarterbacks and receivers. Start Josh Freeman as needed, but your primary starter is likely still a better option.


Redskins -- Evan Royster, Ryan Grant, Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson, Billy Cundiff, Redskins D/ST: Royster gains a little fantasy value with Roy Helu being placed on season-ending IR, but a matchup against the Bucs' defense is not the time to take a chance on him. The rest of these options aren't worth owning right now.

Buccaneers -- LeGarrette Blount, Arrelious Benn, Luke Stocker, Dallas Clark, Connor Barth, Buccaneers D/ST: This group hasn't done much, save for a short touchdown for Stocker and a few receptions for Clark. Ignore them in fantasy right now.


Giants -- Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Martellus Bennett, Giants D/ST: The Eagles' defense has been top 10 against quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends this season, but you can't sit any of your premium Giants. Even Bradshaw is a viable play, coming off what will be two weeks of rest for his neck injury.

Eagles -- Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Alex Henery, Eagles D/ST: This is a start-all game for the Eagles, who are coming off a bitter loss and will be at home against the rival Giants. These games always tend to open up between the teams. Feel confident in all of your Eagles.


Giants -- Andre Brown, David Wilson, Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon, Rueben Randle, Lawrence Tynes: Sorry, Brown and Barden owners, the starters are returning for the Giants, meaning these guys will go back to being seldom-used reserves. Brown has a better chance to get touches, but against that Eagles defensive front, he is a bad play. Tynes was a monster in a Week 3 blowout, but this game is not going to be loose that way. If it is, it will be touchdowns late, not field goals throughout.

Eagles -- None: There is no reason to fear the Giants' defense, especially the secondary, which is banged up and generally suspect.


Bears -- Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall, Robbie Gould, Bears D/ST: Matt Forte (ankle) will likely be out one more week, so Bush is a solid start as a No. 2 fantasy running back. Marshall, Gould and the defense have better matchups, but they are still among the starter-quality options at their positions even in an unfavorable matchup.

Cowboys -- DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Cowboys D/ST: The Bears are No. 3 in fantasy versus quarterbacks and running backs to date, but Murray remains too promising to sit, along with the receivers and defense. Otherwise, avoid your Cowboys in a game that might produce another defensive struggle.


Bears -- Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Kellen Davis: Cutler hasn't gotten it together yet and he faces a Cowboys defense whose elite corners have the unit performing the best in fantasy against quarterbacks and receivers.

Cowboys -- Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Jason Witten, Dan Bailey: Romo came out of Week 1 looking like a fantasy superstar. The past two weeks have made him look like a mere backup. Sit him against a very good Bears defense for a marginal backup quarterback in a better matchup. Witten hasn't gotten going yet either, so if you have a backup tight end, sit the struggling Witten until he shows something.

Here's how I would line them up in your salary-cap challenge games this week:

QB -- Peyton ManningRB -- Stevan RidleyRB -- BenJarvus Green-EllisWR -- Andre JohnsonWR -- Wes WelkerFLEX -- Willis McGaheeTE -- Rob GronkowskiK -- Matt PraterD/ST -- Cowboys D/ST (or Broncos D/ST or Patriots D/ST)

You have a better lineup? Hit me with it on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

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