Posted: Thursday September 27, 2012 12:13PM ; Updated: Thursday September 27, 2012 3:44PM
Eric Mack

NFL Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Week 4

Story Highlights

Mikel Leshoure faces a Vikings defense ranked No. 1 vs. opposing running backs

Packers-Saints duel in Week 4 could be the season's highest-scoring game

Return of Ahmad Bradshaw will limit fantasy production of Andre Brown vs. Eagles

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Michael Turner
Michael Turner faces a Carolina defense in Week 4 that is third-worst in the NFL at stopping opposing running backs.

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.

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (Thursday night)


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.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons


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.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills


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.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions


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.

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans


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.

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs


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.

San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets


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.
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