Carolina @ Chicago
We've touted Jonathan Stewart as the best pure runner in Carolina for three years, and it's now showing up in the numbers. DeAngelo Williams' yards-per-carry average in his last ten games is 3.62, while Stewart's is 4.98 on similar sample sizes. The differential is even more pronounced in yards per touch, with J-Stew averaging 5.49 yards to D-Will's 3.92. The Panthers may refuse to admit their $43 million mistake on Williams for awhile, but Stewart's fantasy owners need to hang tight. Much improved in the passing game this year, Stewart will explode if Williams suffers an injury or gets Pipped out of the offense. Unfortunately, neither Panthers runner is more than a flex option until one of them cracks the top-30 fantasy backs. Stewart is currently No. 31; Williams 54. The Bears stuff the run at home. ... While Jeremy Shockey took a backseat, Greg Olsen made a promising leap forward with seven receptions, 57 yards, and a touchdown against a Cover 2-heavy Jaguars defense in Week 3. Chicago also plays Cover 2 and has already surrendered 19 catches for 237 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends through three games. Jermichael Finley accounted for all three scores last Sunday, and Olsen is the closest Carolina can come as an athletic zone-buster who plays all over the field. Consider Olsen a reasonable TE1 play this week.
The Jags brought Cam Newton back to earth in Week 3 with a 52.9 completion rate (18-of-34) for 158 yards (4.65 YPA), one touchdown, and 27 yards on seven scrambles. The Panthers' vertical offense relies on deep shots to capitalize on Newton's cannon arm, but the scheme and its rookie quarterback's skill set match up awkwardly with a Bears defense built to limit big plays. Chicago has allowed just eight 20-plus yard completions through three games. (The league low is six.) Coming off a rough game, facing a tough matchup, and on the road, Newton is more of a high-end QB2 this week. ... Like Newton, Steve Smith is coming off a poor fantasy game (15 yards). More so than Newton, Smith's performance was severely affected by a puddle-ridden field at Bank of America Stadium. There is no evidence to suggest the Panthers will have rushing success at Chicago, and Smitty is a ball hog in the Carolina pass game with 31 targets, 11 ahead of Olsen's second-place 20. The Panthers will have to throw to move the ball. In Smith's last two meetings with Lovie Smith's Cover 2, he totaled an eye-opening 26 catches for 387 yards, and two TDs. And the Bears had a better defense then (2005).
The Chicago Sun Times had a telling stat in its Thursday editions: The Bears lead the NFL in three-and-outs, punting the ball after three plays 41% of the time. Chicago refuses to run the ball, gets stuck in third-and-longs, and its inability to pass protect kills drives. The only teams with worse time-of-possession rates are the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Colts. ... Jay Cutler is 40-of-82 (48.4%) with three TDs and three turnovers in his last two games. He's a QB2 option in Week 4 only because Carolina allows league highs in yards per pass play (9.23) and passer rating (110.8), while registering a measly five sacks in three games. ... Avoid Bears pass catchers altogether. Johnny Knox leads the corps with 189 receiving yards, but the coaches' insistence on playing Roy Williams over him makes Knox a weak option. ... Dane Sanzenbacher isn't a viable fantasy starter yet, but could be if he formally overtakes Earl Bennett (chest). Sanzenbacher plays the slot -- an oft-valuable position in Mike Martz's offenses -- and finished Week 3 with seven targets, five catches, and a touchdown, playing 70.7% of the snaps. ... Matt Forte is the lone must-start Bear. He's averaging over 135 all-purpose yards per game, and the Panthers rank 25th against the run.
Score Prediction: Bears 24, Panthers 20
4:05PM ET Games
Atlanta @ Seattle
A sloppy field after heavy pre-game rain affected the Falcons' Week 3 scoring at Tampa Bay, but Atlanta got its passing game on track. The Bucs tried slowing down Julio Jones with top CB Aqib Talib's shadow coverage and safety help over the top of Roddy White. Instead, Jones and White combined for 15 grabs and 255 yards on a whopping 24 targets. Tony Gonzalez took a backseat, managing just 18 yards on two catches (he did score a red-zone touchdown). Regardless, this is how Atlanta wants to continue attacking opponents, with perimeter shots in the intermediate and deep passing games. ... Seahawks RCB Brandon Browner continues to get dismantled, according to Pro Football Focus allowing 16 of his 19 targeted passes to be complete for 263 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Opposing passers have posted a near-perfect 153.8 QB rating on throws to Browner's side. Jones and Roddy White move around plenty, but it is usually Julio facing right cornerbacks. After a breakthrough game, Jones is an excellent WR3 in this matchup.
White ranks second in the NFL in targets and can never be benched. The touchdowns will come. ... Seattle shut down yet another running game in Week 3 and is holding opponents to a 3.15 YPC average through three weeks. The Falcons should control time of possession against a Seahawks offense that won't move the ball, leading to plenty of carries for Michael Turner. But expectations should be kept within reason. The Seahawks' run defense is about as legit as it gets. ... Matt Ryan disappointingly ranks 18th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, but he does have two 300-plus yard games and five touchdown passes in his last two. He's been an assassin in the no-huddle offense and will find a groove soon. Ryan should pick apart Browner on Sunday. ... The Seahawks haven't allowed a tight end to find the end zone thus far, holding the position to a 4.3-reception, 44.3-yard weekly average. Consider Gonzalez more of a low-end TE1 despite his fast start.
Box-score fantasy leaguers may consider Sidney Rice a tried-and-true WR2 after his 109-yard return in Week 3. Just keep in mind the opponent. Cardinals CBs Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson are getting annihilated in coverage on a weekly basis, and Rice won't have nearly as much room to operate against Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. Separation has never been Rice's strength. ... Neither Zach Miller nor Big Mike Williams has exceeded 34 yards in a game yet, nor has either found the end zone. Combined, they're averaging 8.4 yards per catch. Move along. ... Marshawn Lynch couldn't break four yards a carry against Arizona. It will be uninteresting to see how poorly he fares against a considerably better Falcons run defense.
Score Prediction: Falcons 27, Seahawks 13
NY Giants @ Arizona
It's been discussed here before and is especially relevant coming off back-to-back Giants wins: New York's offense operates far more effectively when it uses the run to set up deep aerial shots. Eagles-Giants watchers saw this at its finest. Finishing with more runs than passes for a second straight week, the G-Men got a robust 4.77 combined YPC average from Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, while Eli Manning connected with Victor Cruz for two long touchdowns (74, 28 yards) and Jacobs (40 yards) for a third. The screen game also clicked, with Bradshaw at the forefront. The Cardinals rank 27th against the run and just allowed one of Marshawn Lynch's best games as a Seahawk. This is a perfect opportunity to execute another run-to-bomb game plan, because Arizona is susceptible to downfield passes. There isn't a more stiff-hipped secondary in the NFL. ... Look for Hakeem Nicks to bust out of his funk in a matchup ripe for the picking. Per Pro Football Focus, Cards CBs Patrick Peterson and A.J. Jefferson have been targeted 39 times through three games. They've given up 29 catches (74.4% completions) for 344 yards (8.82 YPA).
Mario Manningham has been cleared from his concussion. Fantasy owners need to shrug off his slow start and use him on Sunday. Arizona has served up the third most 20-plus yard completions in football, and Manningham's deep speed will give LCB Jefferson lots of problems. ... Eli Manning appears to have his season on track with six touchdown passes and a 66.0 completion rate over his last two games. Eli is a recommended QB1 because he's playing well and has a favorable matchup. ... Bradshaw now has 54 touches on the year, good for an 18-per-game average. He's the No. 13 overall fantasy back. Jacobs is averaging 11 touches a game and ranks a respectable 25th. The playing time shift appears to be favoring Bradshaw similar to how it did last season. Bradshaw is a top-end RB2. Jacobs is worth every-week flex consideration in non-PPR leagues.
Defenses are doing their best to contain Larry Fitzgerald, but he's killing them deep. It's early of course, but Fitz's 17.3 yards-per-catch average is a career high, and he's averaging over 86 yards per game. He'll see a quite a bit of Giants RCB Aaron Ross in this one. ... Neither Early Doucet nor Andre Roberts has topped 50 yards or scored a touchdown aside from Doucet's fluky Week 1. Avoid. ... Beanie Wells (hamstring) is expected back this week, but his return does more to help Fitzgerald than make Wells a good fantasy play. The Giants must now fear Arizona's run threat. Most likely, however, Beanie won't have much success. New York is permitting just 3.65 YPC and will be fresher up front with RE Osi Umenyiora (knee) returning. They can again boast the best three-way end rotation in the game. Osi is also an underrated run defender. ... Kevin Kolb looked lost without Fitzgerald catching a pass in the second half last week. Kolb is a mediocre 16th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks and will be under heavy duress Sunday. He's just a QB2.
Score Prediction: Giants 23, Cardinals 14
4:15PM ET Games
Denver @ Green Bay
The anticipated returns of CB Champ Bailey (hamstring), RE Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), and WLB D.J. Williams (elbow) should make Denver a bit more competitive, but not enough to slow Aaron Rodgers' roll. Rodgers holds a 14:1 TD-to-INT ratio in his last five home games and is fresh off dismantling a better Chicago defense for 292 yards and three scores. ... While Greg Jennings figures to see the most of Bailey, Jermichael Finley and Jordy Nelson should be in store for productive games. Finley's three-touchdown destruction of the Bears catapulted him to second among fantasy tight ends, behind only Rob Gronkowski. ... The No. 17 fantasy receiver, Nelson should draw 33-year-old Andre' Goodman in man coverage. Nelson played a season-high 46 snaps in Week 3. ... Speaking of playing time, Donald Driver's continues to dwindle in favor of Randall Cobb. There were stretches during last week's win where Cobb played exclusively as the Packers' slot receiver. Driver didn't even catch a pass. Cobb caught his lone target for 14 yards.
The Rotoworld news page will have Ryan Grant updates into Sunday morning, but as this is being written he's unlikely to play. On Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy conceded Grant must pass NFL protocol testing to be cleared from his bruised kidney. The fact that Grant hasn't practiced suggests he's yet to pass those tests and receive that clearance. James Starks is going to start against the Broncos. While last week's 11-carry, 5-yard with a fumble performance would seem indicative of a big step back -- particularly for a rotation player "competing" for weekly carries -- OC Joe Philbin chalked it up more to bad luck: "Some of the plays James was in there, we didn’t block quite as well. He didn’t have as many clean looks as Ryan had." Added RBs coach Jerry Fontenot, "Other than (the fumble), it was just luck of the draw. It seemed that the plays (Starks) got to carry the ball, we didn’t have our best overall (blocking) performance.” In a game where Green Bay should jump out in front and dominate time of possession, Starks will be a virtual must-start as long as Grant's chances of playing continue to appear remote. Starks will rack up carries.
Update: The Packers have ruled out Grant. Starks will start against Denver.
Willis McGahee has no juice left, and it shows up in his 2.89 yards per carry average. He has 63 touches on the year, and 40 (63.5%) have gained three yards or less. McGahee has five double-digit gains with a long of 12. He has 11 plays of negative or no gain. With Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) returning and slated to see snaps, the Broncos' backfield should be hands-off in fantasy. Particularly in a game that they project to fall behind early. Green Bay ranks first in the NFL versus the run. ... Brandon Lloyd is the lone must-start Denver player this week. The Packers have flashed vulnerability deep downfield, surrendering an NFC-most 19 completions of 20-plus yards. Lloyd is the Broncos' vertical wideout. ... Eric Decker is the complement to Lloyd as a possession receiver, and led the team with 12 targets in Week 3. (Lloyd only had seven.) Decker is a viable WR3 in PPR. The Broncos will be forced into passing mode if the Packers capture an early lead, which they should. ... Kyle Orton hasn't hit 200 passing yards since the opener, when he threw the ball a season-high 46 times. He's only 21st in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks.
Score Prediction: Packers 34, Broncos 17