The Lions are a staple of Thanksgiving Day in America, as much a part of the holiday as turkey or cranberry sauce. They lost on Thanksgiving last year for the first time since 2012, snapping a four-year winning streak. The win that started that streak was a 40-10 thrashing of the Packers in 2013. Matthew Stafford threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 101 yards and a score, and Reggie Bush ran 20 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. That game gave way to another streak, though this one would not be salutary.
The day after the Lions trounced the Packers before the entire country, Kerryon Johnson had himself a big game, too. Johnson, then a sophomore at Madison Academy in Madison, Ala., picked off a pass and recovered a fumble in a 31-21 win, helping send his team to the Class 3A state championship. Johnson wasn’t even the starting running back on his high school team at the time, and was still two years away from heading off to Auburn, where he would distinguish himself and become the 43rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, landing in Detroit. At the time of his 2013 day-after-Thanksgiving heroics, though, he couldn’t possibly know he’d eventually put an end to one of the league’s most ignominious streaks.
Last week, Johnson ran for 101 yards on 16 carries in a Lions’ upset victory over the Patriots, making him the first Lion with 100 yards on the ground in a game since Bush’s Thanksgiving Day exploits 71 Detroit regular season games and 1,760 days prior. Not only is that worth celebrating, it likely opened some eyes in the Motor City. Johnson should be here to stay, and that has him on the right side of the fantasy football start/sit divide in Week 4.
Johnson was the unquestioned leader of the Lions’ backfield last week, leading the team in snaps, carries and yards. While LeGarrette Blount slogged his way to 48 yards on the same number of totes, Johnson injected serious life into the team’s rushing attack, adding a necessary element to an always-effective passing game that is too often left to do all the heavy lifting. With Johnson taking on a larger role in the offense, that may no longer be the case.
The Lions travel to Dallas this week for what has all the makings of a classic let-down game. The Lions are coming off a huge win over the Patriots, and now head out on the road against a downtrodden, listless 1-2 team that nevertheless has a defense that could be a problem. The Cowboys rank 13th in running back aFPA, 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric. Still, Johnson deserves a long look from the fantasy community after last week, and the Cowboys haven’t exactly been a shut-down unit. Christian McCaffrey totaled 95 yards on 19 touches against them, Saquon Barkley racked up 14 receptions for 80 yards, and Chris Carson volumed his way to 102 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys last week. Even if the game script doesn’t allow for 32 combined carries between Johnson and Blount, the rookie should get enough run to put up top-20 numbers this week.
Johnson has come a long way from Madison Academy, and he’s bringing the Detroit run game with him. Finally. With that, let’s get to the rest of Week 4 Start ’Em or Sit ’Em.
Andy Dalton, Bengals (at Falcons)
Dalton has delivered in every game this season, scoring at least 17.5 points in standard-scoring leagues all three weeks, and ranking as the No. 9 quarterback thus far. A.J. Green’s groin injury is a bit of an issue, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep Dalton on the fantasy sidelines this week. The over/under on Bengals-Falcons is 51.5, and the Falcons rank 28th in quarterback aFPA. Plus, Green is trending in the right direction in practice this week, and with Tyler Boyd stepping up and Tyler Eifert healthy, Dalton has enviable weapons all over the offense. The Falcons have struggled mightily against pass-catching backs, as well, making Giovani Bernard particularly dangerous this week.
Matthew Stafford, Lions (at Cowboys)
Stafford has bounced back from his dreadful, anomalous Week 1 performance against the Jets, throwing for 609 yards and five touchdowns against one interception in his last two games. As we discussed in the intro with respect to Kerryon Johnson, this is a classic letdown game with the Lions going to Dallas after beating the Patriots. But this passing attack brings a high floor into every contest, especially with the emergence of Kenny Golladay. The ceiling may not be huge for Stafford in his hometown, and the pace of Lions-Cowboys could be one of the slowest of the week, but he always has the look of a QB1, even if he’s at the lower end of the spectrum.
Carson Wentz, Eagles (at Titans)
Wentz got off to a quick start in his 2018 debut before slowing down a bit in the second half. He still came through with a decent game, despite playing without Jay Ajayi, Alshon Jeffery and Darren Sproles, throwing for 255 yards, 6.89 yards per attempt and one touchdown. Most importantly, his knee looked healthy and he was generally moving well, which bodes well for his recovery prospects. Alshon Jeffery practiced in full on Wednesday, which almost guarantees that he’ll be back on the field on Sunday. The Eagles are four-point favorites in Tennessee this week, and while neither team is expected to light up the scoreboard, a Philadelphia win would likely come with a QB1 performance from Wentz.
Baker Mayfield, Browns (at Raiders)
Mayfield opened up Cleveland’s entire offense when he took over last week, and it isn’t hard to get excited about what he can do with a full week of starter’s reps under his belt. Remember, one thing that made the Browns so intriguing this offseason were all the additions, with Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde joining David Njoku in the offense. Mayfield proved himself capable of using them to their best ability last week, and he gets a matchup with an Oakland defense ranked 23rd in quarterback aFPA this season. He’s a top-20 option at the position.
Andrew Luck, Colts (vs. Texans)
I detailed Luck’s trouble throwing with the deep ball in this week’s Target and Snap Report. The surface numbers aren’t pretty, either, with the quarterback completing 68.5% of his passes for 662 yards, 5.34 YPA, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Houston’s defense has been a disappointment thus far, but Luck has not looked the part of a passer who is completely over his shoulder injury. Until he shows something a bit more bankable, I’m not playing him against a team that should have a strong pass rush.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers (at Bears)
Fitzpatrick is not a must-sit by any means. How could he be after the three games he has put together? Think of this more as a warning to temper your expectations. The Bears shut down Aaron Rodgers for a half, Russell Wilson for three quarters, and the Arizona offense for an entire game. This is a good defense with an active pass rush and a smart defensive coordinator who knows how to use all of his pieces. I’ve got Fitzpatrick as my No. 16 quarterback this week, so I would play him in certain spots. I’d just try to exhaust all options before turning to him as a starter in traditional one-quarterback formats.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins (at Patriots)
Tannehill has been efficient this season, completing 73% of his passes for 687 yards, 9.28 YPA and seven touchdowns against two interceptions. Based on the way the Patriots defense is playing, no quarterback should fear going into New England for anything other than reputation. And yet, Tannehill is hard to take seriously as more than a low-end QB2 this week. The Dolphins’ pass-catching corps gets by on the whole being more than the sum of its parts, and that’s an approach that can’t possibly succeed every week. Contextually, this week sets up as a rude awakening, with the Patriots favored by a touchdown at home. Tannehill is a fine QB2 in superflex leagues, but otherwise he should be on your bench.
Aaron Jones, Packers (vs. Bills)
Jones made his season debut last week, running for 42 yards on six carries and catching one pass for five yards. He didn’t get much opportunity, but he was clearly more effective than Jamaal Williams, who picked up 29 yards on five carries. Jones is still a couple of strong performances away from taking over as the unquestioned leader in Green Bay’s backfield, but I believe it’s just a matter of time before that happens. Jones has been the team’s best back going back to last year, and the offense is in need of a jolt, particularly while Aaron Rodgers is still hobbled. The Packers are double-digit favorites against a Bills defense ranked 22nd in running back aFPA in standard leagues, and 24th in PPR formats.
LeSean McCoy, Bills (at Packers)
McCoy returned to practice this week and is almost certain to play against the Packers on Sunday after missing last week’s game with a rib injury. A lot about Buffalo’s win over Minnesota last week felt like it was contained to that game, but Josh Allen clearly brings a level of elevated competence to the offense it did not have with Nathan Peterman. What’s most interesting, as far as McCoy is concerned, is Allen’s ability to keep plays alive. Chris Ivory caught three passes for 70 yards last week, with 55 of them coming on a play after a scramble by Allen broke down the Buffalo defense. If that’s a feature of his game, McCoy will benefit.
Sony Michel, Patriots (vs. Dolphins)
The Patriots placed Rex Burkhead on IR this week because of a neck injury, leaving Michel and James White as the only healthy backs on the active roster. Michel is now in position to take over as the team’s unquestioned primary runner, with White doing his thing as one of the league’s most dangerous pass-catching backs. Michel has to run better than he has in his first two games, but he should get plenty of help from a line ranked eighth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. The volume will be there on the ground, and the Patriots are touchdown favorites against a Dolphins’ team ranked 24th in running back aFPA in standard-scoring leagues.
Phillip Lindsay, Broncos (vs. Chiefs)
Lindsay’s ejection in the first quarter last week was a big disappointment for fantasy owners who backed him. Like me. With that said, he was clearly running better than Royce Freeman before getting the boot, picking up 20 yards on four carries, and Freeman did nothing to distinguish himself, running for 53 yards on 13 totes. Lindsay should be right back in there as the primary back this week, and the Chiefs have been one of the league’s friendliest defenses, ranking 28th in standard-league aFPA against running backs, and 31st in PPR formats. Lindsay is an easy RB2 this week with top-15 upside at the position.
Matt Breida, 49ers (at Chargers)
Make no mistake, Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury is bad for everyone on San Francisco’s offense. It’s not a death sentence, though. Breida has been one of the team’s brightest spots this season, running for 274 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, and catching seven passes for 53 yards. Breida has thrived on the efficiency Garoppolo has brought to the offense, putting up 10.2 yards per touch the last two games. It’s hard to believe that efficiency is going to be a hallmark of the offense now that C.J. Beathard is back under center. The Chargers are favored by 10 points in this game, and the 49ers have an implied team total of just 18.25 points. Breida is in some trouble.
Peyton Barber, Buccaneers (at Bears)
Volume matters, until it doesn’t. Barber has received all the volume the Buccaneers could give him through three games, with his 43 carries ranking 14th in the league. All he has to show for all that work is 124 yards and zero touchdowns. The fantasy community can’t trust him against any defense, let alone a Chicago unit that has shut down opposing backs, ranking fifth in running back aFPA in standard leagues, and fourth in PPR formats. Not only does Barber belong on your bench, but it’s time to make an investment in Ronald Jones with an eye on the long term in deeper leagues.
Royce Freeman, Broncos (vs. Chiefs)
Don’t be bluffed by Freeman’s touchdown and seemingly decent stat line last week. The only reason he got 14 touches was because of Phillip Lindsay’s aforementioned ejection. Lindsay was the superior runner while both were in the game, and Freeman failed to take full advantage of his opportunity, running for just 53 yards on 13 carries. With Lindsay back in the fold this week, Freeman will once again be relegated to backup duty.
Jamaal Williams, Packers (vs. Bills)
Aaron Jones out-performed Williams last week, as we’ve already discussed. Williams is likely to retain a role in Green Bay’s offense, and with the team double-digit favorites against the Bills on Sunday, fantasy owners could be tempted to roll out Williams, hoping he’ll get plenty of volume with the team nursing a lead in the second half. That would be a mistake. Jones has been the best back in Green Bay for more than a year now, and it was painfully obvious to see a week ago. As Jones’s role grows, it will come at the expense of Williams. There’s a better chance that his owners will have dropped him than be starting him, say, four weeks from now.
Isaiah Crowell, Jets (at Jaguars)
Crowell is doing that thing he does periodically where he goes on a touchdown binge and gets everyone to forget about the fact that he’s a totally touchdown-dependent player sharing the backfield with a dangerous pass-catching back who completely zeroes out any possible receiving value. You’re too smart to fall for that trip generally, and even moreso in a week where Crowell is going up against the Jaguars, right? Don’t be fooled by the 62-yard touchdown run he had in Week 1 long after the Lions had given up, either. He has had 12 carries for 35 yards and 16 for 34 in his last two games, far more in line with his career norms.
Mike Williams, Chargers (vs. 49ers)
Williams came through for the third straight week, and this time with his best game of the season, catching four passes for 81 yards and two scores. He has benefitted from Travis Benjamin missing the last two games, but he has taken full advantage, and is establishing himself as a top-three option in the offense, alongside Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon. The 49ers’ defense has done an admirable job against receivers this season, especially considering they’ve played the Lions and Chiefs, but this is still a great spot for Williams, who’s showing why he was the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft.
Calvin Ridley, Falcons (vs. Bengals)
Ridley was one of the focuses of this week’s Target and Snap Report, with a series of GIFs showing why he is going to continue being a playmaker in Atlanta’s offense. Bengals-Falcons should be one of the highest-scoring games of the week, with an over/under of 51.5 and two of the seven teams that have scored at least 30 points in two games this season. The Bengals are in the middle of the pack in wide receiver aFPA, making this a fine matchup for Ridley.
Chris Godwin, Buccaneers (at Bears)
Godwin scored for the third straight game last week, totaling five catches for 74 yards and the touchdown. He got a season-high 10 targets, and was painfully close to a few more scores in the loss to the Steelers. Godwin is emerging in his second season in the league, and doing so in a crowded Tampa Bay offense. Godwin has earned our trust and should be started, even in what looks like a tough matchup on paper. The Bears, however, are 27th in wide receiver aFPA. As we’ll discuss shortly, Godwin deserves a fantasy start ahead of one of his teammates.
Tyler Boyd, Bengals (at Falcons)
Williams and Ridley are just two of the young receivers who are breaking through this season, but Boyd is the one with the most staying power this year. He lit up the Panthers last week, catching six of seven targets for 132 yards and a touchdown. He had six grabs for 91 yards and a score the previous week, and has fully established himself as the No. 2 pass-catcher in Cincinnati’s high-powered offense. Boyd is going to be worth starting most weeks, and he should definitely be in your lineup in a game with an over/under of 51.5. The Falcons rank 28th in wide receiver aFPA in standard leagues, and 25th in PPR formats.
Christian Kirk, Cardinals (vs. Seahawks)
Kirk is a starter for owners in deeper leagues, but he should be on the radar no matter the size of your league. He had the best game to date of his rookie year last week, catching seven of eight targets for 90 yards. He’s easily one of the three best weapons in Arizona’s offense, along with David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, and with the veteran receiver dealing with a hamstring injury, Kirk could lead the team in targets. The move to Josh Rosen can only be a good thing, as well
Chris Hogan, Patriots (vs. Dolphins)
Few players had as discouraging a first three weeks as Hogan. Thought of as a surefire WR2 with Julian Edelman suspended, Hogan caught seven passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ first three games. The touchdowns salvaged what was truly a dispiriting performance, and it’s hard to have much confidence in Hogan the rest of the season. Josh Gordon is likely to be active for his first game with the Patriots this week, and Edelman returns from his suspension next week.
DeSean Jackson, Buccaneers (at Bears)
The Bears may rank 27th in wide receiver aFPA, but, thanks to a fearsome pass rush led by Khalil Mack, they don’t allow too many long-developing routes to burn them. Jackson, of course, is a king of the long-developing route, with just five of his 12 catches accounting for 232 of his 312 yards and all three of his touchdowns. The strength of the Bears’ pass rush could force the ball out of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands early, and that makes this a tough matchup for Jackson.
Quincy Enunwa, Jets (at Jaguars)
Jacksonville’s pass defense is off to a rocky start, relative to expectations, ranking 20th in wide receiver aFPA in standard leagues, and 22nd in PPR formats. Despite that, this is a brutal matchup for Enunwa, who did all his damage against the Browns last week on screen plays. The Jets have a hilariously low implied total of 15.5 points this week, meaning you should only be starting someone on their offense if you absolutely must. That shouldn’t be the case with Enunwa, given the depth of the wide receiver position.
Michael Crabtree, Ravens (at Steelers)
The Steelers’ defense hasn’t played up to its capabilities this season, and yet it’s still in the top half of the league in wide receiver aFPA. Crabtree is getting plenty of volume this season, totaling 26 targets through three games, with 10 apiece in his last two. The problem, however, is that just one of them have come inside the red zone, and none have been from inside the 10-yard line. Crabtree made his money in Oakland as a red-zone machine, and he isn’t getting that same opportunity in Baltimore. John Brown, meanwhile, has delivered in every game, and looks like the true No. 1 receiver for the Ravens. That makes it hard to trust Crabtree, even in a game with an over/under of 51—especially if you believe, as I do, that the Steelers’ defense will eventually find its fastball.
David Njoku, Browns (at Raiders)
In this week’s Target and Snap Report, I laid out why I believe Njoku will be the biggest winner of Cleveland’s quarterback change, other than Baker Mayfield himself. In Mayfield, Njoku has a quarterback willing to take the chances necessary to fully utilize the tight end’s skill set. With Josh Gordon gone, Njoku should become the No. 2 option in the passing game, behind Jarvis Landry. That all starts this week.
George Kittle, 49ers (at Chargers)
There’s no possible way to spin Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury as anything but bad news for Kittle. The tight end was on the brink of a breakout season, with 12 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown through three games, and a second touchdown taken away on a phantom offensive pass interference call. The ceiling and the floor are nowhere near as high with C.J. Beathard under center. Still, Kittle isn’t just a creation of a Garoppolo-led offense. He has grown into a threat in his own right, and the bar to clear to put up starter-worthy numbers at tight end is as low as ever. Kittle went from a high-end TE1 to the low end when Garoppolo tore his ACL, but he remains a TE1.
Tyler Eifert, Bengals (at Falcons)
After a quiet start to the season, Eifert caught six of eight targets for 74 yards last week. The only real question with him is health, and he remains upright going into the team’s Week 4 game with Atlanta. Like Kittle, Eifert is essentially too good to sit in a tight end climate like this. It helps that Bengals-Falcons features the second-highest over/under of the week, trailing only Chiefs-Broncos.
Eric Ebron, Colts (vs. Texans)
Last week is what happens when everyone decides it’s wise to trust Ebron. He had the tight end position all to himself with Jack Doyle out, and caught five passes for 33 yards. He did get 11 targets, and that would be more of a silver lining if Doyle were going to miss the rest of the season, but it doesn’t mean nearly as much if he’s going to be sharing those targets. If Doyle is out again because of his hip injury, Ebron could qualify as a streamer with low-end TE1 upside. Even so, that upside would be low.
Jared Cook, Raiders (vs. Browns)
Cook is my No. 12 tight end this week, so this isn’t exactly a sit recommendation. What it is, then, is a wakeup call to owners who think Cook is a slam-dunk start every week. Since catching nine balls for 180 yards in Week 1, he has nine catches for 80 yards the last two weeks. Oakland’s passing game has been generally toothless, and the line, while more than holding its own in pass protection this year (ranked 11th by Football Outsiders) could have its hands full with Myles Garrett and company. Cook is barely a low-end TE1 this week.
Vance McDonald, Steelers (vs. Ravens)
McDonald had a big game and an even bigger highlight last week, but nearly all his production came on that play. If he were, say, O.J. Howard or even Cook, someone with a history of putting up big plays, that would be one thing. This, however, is Vance McDonald, who has career highs of 30 receptions, 391 yards and four touchdowns. Yes, the stiff arm was a thing of beauty. It was also a feint in the direction of fantasy relevance. The Ravens are ranked eighth in tight end aFPA. McDonald should not be on your radar.