Week 4 has arrived, ushering in the beginning of bye weeks from now until Week 13. For the next nine weeks, fantasy owners must contend with depleted rosters, challenging their depth and management on a regular basis.
Some weeks, like Week 5 (only the Raiders and Dolphins are off after their Week 4 game in London) aren’t so bad. Others are much worse, and this week is one of the worst of the season. Denver, Cincinnati, Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis and Cleveland all sit this week. By my count, those six teams give the fantasy community two every-week starting quarterbacks, five running backs, six wide receivers and two tight ends. Throw in flex possibilities and fringe starting or matchup options like Andy Dalton, Wes Welker, Jeremy Hill, Carson Palmer, Brian Quick, Ben Tate and Terrance West, and you’re looking at 22 players who are candidates to start every single week in typical leagues. This is a week that will truly test your mettle as a fantasy owner.
On bye this week: Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Andrew Quarless
This offense fell totally flat last week in a game most everyone expected to be a shootout. The Bears defense has been better than expected this season, but don’t expect it to shut down the Packers the way Detroit did a week ago. Chicago has allowed the eighth-most points to quarterbacks this season, and Rodgers should be able to exploit this defense with Nelson and Cobb. Quarless is also worth plugging in this week because of all the byes. He caught his first touchdown of the season a week ago.
Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
This will be the NFC North shootout we thought we were getting last week when the Packers and Lions faced off. Cutler put together impressive performances against the 49ers and Jets, and Jeffery looked totally recovered from his hamstring injury last week. While Marshall tweaked his existing ankle injury, it would take an unexpected setback for him to miss Sunday’s game. The Bears are also very likely to get Forte more involved on the ground this week.
Packers: Davante Adams, Jarrett Boykin, Packers DST
Adams and Boykin have essentially zero value until one can separate from the other. Cutler has cut down on the mistakes since a bad interception against Buffalo in Week 1, and the line does a good job of keeping him upright. That makes the Packers’ defense a bad play.
Bears: Santonio Holmes, Bears DST
Though the Bears have been much better on defense and Kyle Fuller is starting to emerge as a potential star in the secondary, you can’t trust this unit against Rodgers and the Packers.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
Bills: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Sammy Watkins, Bills DST
Just one week ago in this space, we talked about how hard it is for both Spiller and Jackson to put up starter’s numbers in the same game. That proved true last week, with Jackson ranking eighth among running backs for Week 3, while Spiller checked in at 41st. With six teams -- including five every-week running back starters -- on bye, though, both Spiller and Jackson work their way into the mix this week. The Bills’ defense can take advantage of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Texans: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
Foster is a gametime decision this week after missing Houston’s Week 3 game with a hamstring injury. The Bills have allowed the seventh-most points to wide receivers this year, making both Johnson and Hopkins strong plays. Even with Fitzpatrick at quarterback, they both should be in starting lineups this week.
Bills: EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Mike Williams, Scott Chandler
There couldn’t be much less fantasy value in the four names above than there already is. In a 12-team two-quarterback or QB-flex league, I still wouldn’t start Manuel. The only starting quarterback I have ranked lower than him this week is Derek Carr. This is a brutal matchup for him, and he just hasn’t done a whole lot this year to inspire any confidence.
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Garrett Graham
Fitzpatrick added a rushing touchdown late in last week’s loss to the Giants to finish with the fifth-most points among quarterbacks, but don’t let that bluff you into thinking he should start in fantasy leagues on Sunday. He also threw three picks and looked generally terrible until that game was out of hand.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Titans: Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker
Let’s start right up front with Sankey. He got 61 yards on 10 carries last week. He did most of his work in garbage time and Shonn Greene got a goal-line touchdown, but Sankey is starting to get more involved in this offense. Ken Whisenhunt is still talking about Sankey improving his footwork, but the coach can’t continue to ignore his best back for long. The bet here is that Sankey has a good game against the soft Indianapolis defense and takes over as the starter.
Colts: Andrew Luck, Ahmad Bradshaw, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen
Luck is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback through three weeks, but he could be overtaken this week. The Titans have allowed the least fantasy points to quarterbacks this year, and they have faced Tony Romo and Andy Dalton. The Titans have struggled a bit against the run, and that bodes well for the best running back in Indianapolis, Bradshaw. Wayne and Hilton both project as low-end WR2s or high end WR3s this week, while Allen is a back-end starter at tight end.
Titans: Jake Locker/Charlie Whitehurst, Shonn Greene, Nate Washington, Titans DST
An MRI performed on Locker’s injured wrist showed no structural damage, but he’s still considered questionable for Sunday. Even if he goes, it’s hard to have any confidence in him after his last two games. Indianapolis features a far less imposing defense than Kansas City or Cincinnati, but Locker should still be on your bench this week.
Colts: Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
Fleener has the same number of targets as Allen, but Allen is still the better start this week. For fantasy purposes, it would be better if one of these guys would just get out of the other’s way. If Whitehurst has to start in place of Locker, the Colts’ defense would move into the start category at expense of the Falcons.
Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens
Panthers: DeAngelo Williams, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
Williams is nothing if not underwhelming, but with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert out, he could volume his way to a productive fantasy game. He missed the last two games because of a thigh injury, but is expected back on the field this week. With all the targets racked up by Benjamin and Olsen, you want them in your lineup every week. The Ravens have allowed the eighth-most points to wide receivers, good news for Benjamin.
Ravens: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, Ravens DST
This is admittedly a lukewarm recommendation for Taliaferro. He emerged with 91 yards on 18 carries last week, but Bernard Pierce is expected to return from a thigh injury of his own this week. The Ravens appear loyal to Pierce, and Taliaferro isn’t the kind of guy who’s going to show up for fantasy owners if he only gets 10-to-12 touches. Torrey Smith has been among the most frustrating players in the league this year, but at some point the Ravens have to give him an opportunity to make plays down the field. Daniels, meanwhile, immediately becomes a regular starter with Dennis Pitta out for the year because of a dislocated hip. The veteran out of Wisconsin already has four red-zone targets.
Panthers: Cam Newton, Darrin Reaves, Fozzy Whitaker, Philly Brown, Jason Avant
Newton tweaked his ankle at the end of last week’s loss to the Steelers, and had just two runs for seven yards. He’s a shell of his fantasy self when the rushing element is taken out of his game. The Ravens have also allowed the sixth-fewest points to quarterbacks. Reaves and Whitaker get a token mention here with Stewart and Tolbert out, but they’re far from the starting discussion.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett
Forsett is close and Pierce could jump into the start category if we find out he’ll shoulder the load for the Ravens, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. The Steelers did beat up on the Panthers with the run last week, but neither of these guys conjure up images of Le’Veon Bell. In actuality, this is a bad matchup for the Ravens’ run game, and neither Pierce nor Forsett is equipped to beat that.
Detroit Lions at New York Jets
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lions DST
The Jets have been very tough against the run, but they’ve allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks. Expect to see somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 dropbacks from Stafford. Bush is a better play than Joique Bell simply because he’s a better receiver and should have more opportunities than Bell on Sunday. The Jets have also allowed the fourth-most points to receivers -- we all saw what Jordy Nelson did to them two weeks ago. Megatron could put up a monster stat line. The Lions defense completely shut down the Packers last week, and could feast on Geno Smith.
Jets: Chris Ivory, Jets DST
Rex Ryan said earlier this week that Ivory will be getting more touches going forward, and it’s about time. Ivory has 189 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries this year, and is clearly a superior option to Chris Johnson. He also showed against the Bears last week he can be a weapon in the pass game, catching four balls for 52 yards. Even though the Lions figure to put up some points, this Jets defense can force Stafford into some poor decisions. Muhammad Wilkerson may be out with a knee injury.
Lions: Joique Bell, Joseph Fauria, Eric Ebron
Just as the case is with the Bills’ duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, it’s a challenge for the Detroit pairing of Bush and Bell to both put up starter’s numbers in the same game. Given Bush’s skills as a receiver, he figures to have a greater role against the Jets on Sunday.
Jets: Geno Smith, Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland, Jace Amaro
Decker was barely able to go last Monday because of his hamstring injury, leaving the game in the second quarter. It’s hard to believe that he’ll be able to give it a go this week. Kerley got 11 targets in his stead, but this remains a low-value passing game with a very tough matchup. Johnson looked terrible against the Bears, and is likely to start ceding more touches to Ivory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Buccaneers: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans
Martin is practicing fully this week, and should return to action after missing two games with a knee injury. Bobby Rainey fumbled twice a week ago and did all his damage in garbage time. Martin remains the man in Tampa Bay. This team’s passing offense has been dreadful this year, but Jackson and Evans could both benefit from the switch to Mike Glennon. Jackson and Glennon worked decently together a year ago, and Jackson caught his first touchdown pass of the year after Glennon relieved an injured Josh McCown last week.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, Steelers DST
The complete humiliation of the Buccaneers defense was isolated on Thursday night for the entire football-watching world to see. The Steelers are now ready to take advantage of that same defense. You’ll want nearly all of your guys in black and gold active on Sunday. The Buccaneers have allowed the second-most points to receivers this year, and Brown may be the most consistent receiver in the league. It’ll take some guts to start Blount, but he ran all over a worn down Carolina defense in the fourth quarter last week. He could be looking at the exact same situation on Sunday. With six teams sitting down this week, Miller sneaks into the starting picture at tight end.
Buccaneers: Mike Glennon, Bobby Rainey, Brandon Myers, Buccaneers DST
The only guy here you could even consider starting is Rainey, but his short reign atop the depth chart in Tampa Bay is likely over. He let a golden opportunity slip through his hands, figuratively and literally, last week. Martin should dominate the touches out of the backfield.
Steelers: No one of significance
The Steelers may not throw up 56 points like the Falcons did against Atlanta last week, but all their fantasy-relevant players are worth starting in Week 4.
Miami Dolphins at Oakland Raiders
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Dolphins DST
Miller looked great in his first game all alone in the backfield, picking up 108 yards on 15 carries He added four catches for 24 yards, and was easily the Dolphins’ most dangerous weapon on offense. Expect him to get even more touches last week after questions were raised about the play calling in Miami. Any defense that draws the Raiders is going to be a good play in fantasy leagues. You’ll want Cameron Wake and the rest of the Miami defense in your lineup this week.
Raiders: Darren McFadden, James Jones
Hey, the Raiders are back in the start column, with McFadden and Jones both looking like decent plays in Week 4. Of course, it took six teams being on bye to get them there, but let’s not rain on their parade. McFadden’s ceiling is limited by the likely return of Maurice Jones-Drew, but he’ll likely get a majority of the carries this week. Both McFadden and Jones are fringe starters.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Damien Williams, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay
There were some rumblings about Tannehill potentially losing his job to Matt Moore, but it’s hard to imagine the Dolphins would really make that move. This may be a decent matchup for him, but the Raiders have actually done pretty well against opposing quarterbacks this year. Granted, they have faced Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and an as-yet disappointing Tom Brady, but you can’t totally ignore their performance against the pass.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Maurice Jones-Drew, Latavius Murray, Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
The Raiders have the fewest yards and points this season. They’re averaging just 254.3 yards and 12.3 points per game. By contrast, the Falcons, Eagles, Redskins and Colts are all averaging more than 300 passing yards per game.
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers
Jaguars: Toby Gerhart, Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts
We’re going back to the well one more time by inserting Gerhart as a starter. The entire Jacksonville offense gets a shot in the arm with Blake Bortles stepping in for an ineffective Chad Henne, and this should be a good matchup for Gerhart. The Chargers have allowed the ninth-most points to running backs this year. I understand your frustrations with him, but he’s a solid flex play this week. Robinson and Shorts are the top two receivers in Jacksonville, and both got 10 targets last week. They are both WR3 options on Sunday.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Donald Brown, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Chargers DST
The Jaguars have allowed the most points to quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends this year, and the 11th-most to wide receivers. This should be a fun day to own someone on the Chargers. Rivers, Brown, Allen and Gates are all liable to go off, with Allen desperately needing a big game after being largely shut down the first three weeks of the season. His groin injury appears to be fully behind him, so owners should have him in their lineups with extreme confidence this week.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Jordan Todman, Allen Hurns, Jaguars DST
It’ll be interesting to see how Bortles plays in his first career start. He’s definitely an upgrade over Henne, but that may not make him a fantasy option. He does have some nice weapons at his disposal, so if that awful line can just keep him upright, he may be a sneaky play a few times over the next couple months with bye weeks always an issue. Hurns is clearly behind Robinson and Shorts on the depth chart.
Chargers: Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd, Ladarius Green
Green is almost worth starting given the Jaguars’ trouble defending tight ends, but the better bet is on Gates having a huge day rather than both having good days. If your regular tight end is Julius Thomas or Jordan Cameron, however, Green could be a nice plug-and-play for Week 4.
Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Falcons DST
If you own Ryan, you’re starting him without a doubt. However, the Vikings have been pretty good against the pass. In fact, they’ve give up the fourth-least points to quarterbacks, and they’ve faced Tom Brady and Drew Brees. All things considered, surrendering 293 yards and two scores to Brees in the Superdome is a pretty good effort. We’re calling White a starter for now, but that could obviously change with his hamstring injury. Jackson has been good on a per-carry basis this year, but he hasn’t had more than 14 totes in a game. If Charlie Whitehurst starts in place of the injured Jake Locker, the Falcons’ defense would fall behind the Colts’, and thus be a sit recommendation.
Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings
Might Jennings be the true No.1 receiver in Minnesota? He has 19 targets and 12 receptions to Patterson’s 15 and 11, and while he doesn’t have anywhere near the explosion the youngster does, he’s clearly trusted by new starter Teddy Bridgewater. That might be a topic for a future Target Report. As for this week, both are worth starting against an Atlanta defense that is in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to receivers.
Falcons: Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo
A lot could change here based on injuries. If White misses his second straight game because of a hamstring injury, Douglas would move up to a start. However, he’s dealing with a foot injury of his own that could cause him to sit this week. If both are out, Hester would be worth starting.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Rhett Ellison, Vikings DST
The Vikings might have had Bridgewater penciled into their starting lineup by Week 4, but they probably didn’t think he’d be accompanied by Asiata and Ellison. Bridgewater could very well elevate the entire Minnesota offense, but let’s see what he can do before plugging him into fantasy lineups. As has been my mantra with Asiata ever since he took over as the starter, volume isn’t everything. Beyond that, there simply isn’t a whole lot to like about him.
Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco 49ers
Eagles: Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz
The Eagles lost center Jason Kelce for two months to a sports hernia suffered last week, and that’s going to hurt everyone in the offense. Still, you want the, all in there against the 49ers. The Niners have been good against the run, but they’ve allowed the most fantasy points per game to receivers, making rookie Matthews a good play alongside Maclin. He clearly brings more to the table than Riley Cooper, and should start playing more in two-wide sets starting this week. One final thing to keep in mind while watching this game. McCoy could very well struggle against San Francisco’s strong run defense. He may never become a buy-low candidate, but if he does fall short of expectations again this week, it could be worth checking in on his price.
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis
The Eagles may be 3-0, but they have been terrible on defense this year. They’ve allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks, 11th-most to running backs and third-most to receivers. After getting Gore just six carries last week, expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to put the ball in his hands more frequently on Sunday. Davis’ status is up in the air because of an ankle injury, but you’ll definitely roll with him if he can go. Of course, this is a late start, so you may not be able to chance it without some concrete information.
Eagles: Riley Cooper, Eagles DST
Cooper’s rise to semi-usefulness last year was nothing more than a flash in the pan. Matthews is easily a better receiver, and should start cannibalizing Cooper’s targets and snaps. The Eagles’ defense cannot be trusted in nearly any matchup.
49ers: Carlos Hyde, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Derek Carrier, 49ers DST
It’s tempting to think of Hyde as a starter this week because of the matchup, but after back-to-back no-shows, he should be on your bench. The matchup is good for Boldin and Johnson, too, but I expect a healthy dose of Gore and Crabtree for the Niners on Sunday. This 49ers defense is no longer matchup-proof, and it would be a bad play against an offense as potent as Philadelphia’s. Carrier gets a mention here merely to note that even if he does start for the 49ers, he is not on the fantasy radar.
New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys
Saints: Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Jimmy Graham
The Cowboys have allowed the second-most points to tight ends this year, surrendering a combined 21 catches, 271 yards and three touchdowns to Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Jared Cook. Graham should put up a huge day. Regardless of position, he’s my No. 4 overall flex player this week. Colston had just five targets last week, which is disconcerting, but he has to be a starter with all the byes this week. Thomas and Robinson split the workload pretty evenly, and both are good plays against a Dallas defense that hasn’t really seen a strong offense this year.
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams
Murray is my No. 1 running back this week after recording three straight 100-yard games. He has also lost a fumble in each of Dallas’ games this year, and he has to tighten that up for the rest of the season. The Saints allowed a monster game to Matt Ryan, and haven’t seen a great passing offense since then. I expect Romo to have his best game of the year. You’re obviously starting Bryant, but that makes Williams worth starting, as well.
Saints: Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem, Saints DST
There really isn’t a whole lot interesting here. Stills and Meachem are clearly behind Colston and Cooks on the depth chart, and the New Orleans defense is only a recommended play in the best of matchups.
Cowboys: Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Cowboys DST
Witten caught four passes for 49 yards last week, and that was good enough to be his best game of the year. Even with six teams on bye, there are too many strong options at the tight end position to have much confidence in Witten. His days as a regular fantasy starter are behind him. Witten is really no more than a matchup play at this point of his career.
New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
The Patriots’ offense is right there with the Packers as the most disappointing in the league through three games. The Chiefs’ defense isn’t at all what it was a year ago, and it has been decimated by injury in the early going. Brady should be able to exploit this team’s weaknesses and finally put up a game in line with what fantasy owners expected of them. Vereen would be a major part of that, and the Patriots simply have to get him more involved in the offense, especially catching the ball. Edelman and Gronk have both established a measure of consistency despite the Patriots’ struggles. Their output would likely only increase if the offensive line could hold up for Brady.
Chiefs: Knile Davis, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
With the uncertainty surrounding Jamaal Charles’ status, this is going to be a real headache for fantasy owners. Davis would be a solid play if Charles is out, but owners will almost certainly have to make a call before there’s total clarity on this situation since the Chiefs play on Monday night. If you own both Davis and Charles, you should definitely ride it out to see which one starts. If you only own one, you’re likely better off going in another direction. Given how terrible New England’s offense has looked this year, the Chiefs’ defense is worth a spot start.
Patriots: Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Tim Wright
Not one of these five players should be anywhere near a fantasy starting lineup. Among the five of them, there’s barely a stitch of fantasy value.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles, Joe McKnight, Cyrus Gray, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery
Smith had a nice day against the Dolphins, throwing for 186 yards, 7.44 yards per attempt and three touchdowns, but the Patriots have allowed the second-fewest points to quarterbacks this year. The case against Charles is laid out above. Of course, if you own him and Davis and the Chiefs pronounce him good to go, you’ll want him in your lineup. Bowe has been predictably underwhelming since returning form his one-game suspension, and is no more than a WR4/5. Keep him on your bench this week.