NFL Week 4 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
Cam Newton may struggle vs. Bears that limited Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan
Frank Gore poised for big week against Eagles defense struggling vs. the run
Rams have allowed most rushing yards in the league through first three games
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:
Note: It should be reminded, the obvious choices are omitted here. We focus our energy on the players you might actually be making a decision on.
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.
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