The fantasy game changes next week. The first byes of the season are in Week 5, not including the hurricane-forced ones in Week 1, with the Falcons, Broncos, Saints and Redskins all taking a seat. That’s a cruel way to start the bye-week portion of the season, given how much fantasy power is on those four teams. Even by the most conservative count, fantasy owners will lose three regular starting quarterbacks, two starting running backs, anywhere between five and seven receivers, and a tight end. That’s a great way to introduce this season’s bye weeks.
As such, fantasy owners are going to have their depth tested, starting next week, all the way through the final byes of the season, which don’t occur until Week 11. That makes this a crucial week for looking around the league and uncovering hidden value wherever you can. You’re going to need as much of it as you can scrounge and hoard over the next seven weeks.
With that in mind, SI.com’s fantasy experts tackled the following question for Week 4.
This is the last week we'll have all 32 teams in action until Week 12. What fantasy storyline is top of mind for you before byes begin next week?
Michael Beller: I’m going to spend a lot of time on Sunday, and in the early part of next week, trying to identify realistic buy-low players. This is on my mind for two reasons. First, desperation kicks in at this time of the season, and desperation creates buying opportunities. Second, with depth more important than ever now that byes are on the horizon, 2-for-1s and 3-for-2s become easier to execute, and those are the types of trades that can really move the needle if you can acquire the best player in the deal.
Everyone understands the principle of buying low and selling high, but it’s a lot easier said than done. I don’t care how short Le’Veon Bell has been of expectations through the first three weeks of the season, no one is selling him at a discount. The same goes for guys like Amari Cooper and LeSean McCoy. You’re not smooth-talking your way into a sweetheart deal for players of their caliber.
On the other side of this coin, no one cares if you’re willing to trade Isaiah Crowell or Lamar Miller for 80 cents on the dollar. There was good reason to be concerned about them, and other players like them, heading into the season, and the worst-case scenario is playing out before our eyes. Their owners are likely just going to have to grit their teeth and decide if they can continue running them out in their lineups.
So, yes, buy low, sell high. You don’t get to wish those trades into existence. You need to identify players that owners are willing to sell, and you need to include assets in your side of the deal that people want to acquire. Some guys on my buy-low radar who I’d like to see put up another bad game this week to lower the price even further include Mark Ingram, Terrelle Pryor and Martavis Bryant.
T.J. Hernandez: In the coming weeks, I'm curious to watch the evolution of the Bengals offense under Bill Lazor. In Lazor's first week calling plays, we saw a much more concentrated scheme than the Bengals showed the first two weeks of the season. A.J. Green saw 50% of the team targets, and Joe Mixon played a season-high 56% of snaps, accounting for almost two-thirds of Cincinnati's backfield touches. While the Bengals faced very tough defenses in Weeks 1 and 2, it's worth noting that Andy Dalton's 9.33 adjusted yards per attempt was his best of the short season and his highest since Week 12 of last season. After Cincinnati's Week 6 bye, four of the six teams they face rank in the bottom half of the league in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to opposing offenses. If Lazor continues to feed his best players, there could be plenty of fantasy goodness leading up to the playoffs.
John Paulsen: In my draft rankings, I had Marcus Mariota ranked inside my top five at his position, which at the time seemed aggressive but reasonable given his rookie- and sophomore-year production. In the first three games, he has quietly been the No. 10 fantasy quarterback, and I’m interested to see how he performs on the road against the Texans in Week 4. I wouldn’t say it’s a make-or-break game for him, but a good showing would certainly boost my confidence in Mariota as a solid QB1 heading into the next three weeks, when he faces the Dolphins, Colts and Browns.
Jennifer Eakins: Heading into Week 4, the Broncos’ backfield is intriguing from both a real-life and fantasy perspective. C.J. Anderson has been the lead back, putting up 46.5 PPR points through the first three weeks, followed by Jamaal Charles at 20.9 points. Anderson started out the season in a workhorse role, with 21 and 28 carries, respectively, in the first two games of the season. Last week in Buffalo, Anderson was limited to just 10 touches, the same amount as Charles, who is coming off a major knee injury this season. Charles has had exactly 10 carries in each regular season game.
I am interested to see if they are capping Charles at this set number of touches to keep him fresh and healthy through the season, or if they’ll let him run a bit more this Sunday heading into Denver’s bye in Week 5. There is also the impending return of Devontae Booker, who has been practicing following a wrist injury he suffered pre-season. The Denver backfield could get a bit crowded, and it’s unclear if there are enough fantasy points to go around.
Chris Raybon: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are still performing at the high level we have come to expect from them, but has age finally caught up to many of the second-tier fantasy quarterbacks? Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning are all 36 or older, and all three sit outside the top-15 in fantasy scoring at the position. Big Ben seems allergic to having good games on the road, Rivers appears obsessed with throwing the ball to the other team, and Manning doesn't sniff good numbers unless his receivers bail him out with spectacular plays. Cam Newton is only 28, but his body has looked 10 years older, perhaps explaining why he has cracked the top-20 in just one of his past five games. All four of those formerly productive passers will face defenses in Week 4 that gave up big passing numbers last week. Delivering for fantasy owners this week would go a long way toward showing they can still be counted on, whether as a season-long options or viable streamers.
And lastly, here are 4for4's DFS Optimizer and stat projections.