New England @ Oakland
Patriots-Raiders has Week 4's highest over-under by a nine-point margin (55, next is 46), so start all your studs in this one. ... Wes Welker is obliterating opponents in the slot. He leads the NFL in targets -- by nine -- and is the No. 1-ranked fantasy receiver in both standard and PPR leagues. Oakland's defense has given up 22 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns to slot receivers, and slot corner Michael Huff is coming off a concussion. (Huff moves from safety in the nickel.) Expect Welker's hot streak to continue. ... Box-score fantasy leaguers may worry about Tom Brady's four-pick Week 3, but two interceptions were tipped (the Bills were
lucky opportunistic), a third dropped by Danny Woodhead, and a fourth came on a Chad Ochocinco blown route. In addition to Huff's injury, Raiders RCB Chris Johnson has a recurring hamstring strain. Brady leads all QBs in fantasy points. ... Rob Gronkowski completes the league's newest version of The Triplets as the top-ranked fantasy tight end. With Aaron Hernandez (knee) out in Week 3, Gronk posted season highs in targets (9), receptions (7), and yards (109), and scored two more TDs. He ranks second in the league in touchdown catches, behind Calvin Johnson.
The Pats continue to play weekly matchups in the backfield. Woodhead hasn't hit double-digit touches since the opener, and ranks 45th among fantasy backs. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is 29th, but is coming off a nine-carry, 16-yard clunker at Buffalo, a game in which Law Firm was severely outplayed by Stevan Ridley (52 yards, 8 touches). Even in a projected shootout, I'm not sure you can safely use either of New England's top two backs. Woodhead doesn't get the rock enough, and Green-Ellis is going to lose his job to Ridley soon -- perhaps as soon as this week. If Ridley is on your wire, make sure to pick him up. The differential in burst and versatility between him and Green-Ellis is decidedly in the rookie's favor. ... Despite a big increase in Week 3 snaps (80%), Ochocinco had another awful game. He's making more errors than catches at this point, and it's fair to wonder if his focus is on football. ... Deion Branch is a full-time, every-down receiver in the Patriots' offense, so fantasy owners need to stick with him despite a catch-less Week 3. Branch will be able to get open against Oakland's pass defense, and remains a strong WR3.
Fresh off showering an annually run-tough Jets defense with 178 total yards and two touchdowns, Darren McFadden is the NFL's leading rusher and No. 1 overall fantasy back. McFadden has 72 touches on the year with 26 plays of six or more yards. He has 14 gains of double-digit yardage and only four "negative" plays. McFadden is averaging 6.44 yards per carry. The Bills' offensive line opened massive holes against the Patriots in Week 3, allowing Fred Jackson to total 161 yards and a touchdown while averaging 6.17 YPC. McFadden is a more talented back than Jackson and should shred this unit. ... There is some thought that Michael Bush is the Raiders' favorite for "goal-line carries," but it's not necessarily the case. While it's true that Bush has scored two one-yard touchdowns after play stoppages allowed Oakland to install its base goal-line package, McFadden has scored three times on red-zone plays, and overall has 11 touches inside the opposing 20 compared to Bush's six. There will be a fair chance that the Raiders insert Bush when they reach the one-yard line going forward, but McFadden gets plenty of action in scoring position in the first place, and obviously can punch it in from well beyond the stripe.
Considering the game's projected scoring and the fact that New England has allowed the league's most 20-plus yard completions (23), it'd be a good idea to trot out rookie Denarius Moore as a WR3 this week. Despite Darrius Heyward-Bey's Week 3 return, the Raiders started Moore in a three-receiver set and got him the same number of snaps (49) Moore played during his breakout Week 2. With 224 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, Moore has "earned" a spot in lineups in this game's setup. ... Grab Jacoby Ford if he's on your waiver wire. While Ford isn't worth starting until he proves on the field that he's over a two-week hamstring pull, Ford will push Moore to lead the Raiders in receiving yards the rest of the way, and may even be a better bet for sheer receptions. ... Jason Campbell's TD-to-INT ratio in his last 12 games stands at 14:5 after a scoreless Week 3. While he's certainly a viable QB2 this week because of the matchup, be aware that Campbell is much more caretaker/game manager than potential standard-league fantasy starter. Campbell's job is to avoid turnovers, not attack defenses aggressively. Don't get too cute.
Score Prediction: Patriots 38, Raiders 24
Miami @ San Diego
Concerning the apparent role change in his backfield, these were coach Norv Turner's post-game comments last Sunday: "The biggest factor, probably, was that (Mike) Tolbert didn't practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He was able to practice Friday, but was beat up pretty good coming out of the New England game. It was time to let Ryan (Mathews) take more of the load." Mathews, of course, scored twice on carries inside the Chiefs' five -- usually Tolbert's role -- and played 52 snaps to Tolbert's 20. While it's possible, even probable, that Mathews earned a larger future workload with his 149-yard, two-score effort, Turner’s comments suggest Mathews’ missed practice time this week due to foot pain is an immediate concern. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday that Mathews is "expected" to play, so he needs to be in fantasy lineups against a mediocre, 16th-ranked Dolphins run defense. He's the No. 5 overall pick in fantasy football. Just don't be surprised if Tolbert's usage increases in Week 4, at Mathews' expense. ... As Adam Levitan noted on Wednesday, Randy McMichael has averaged 2.7 catches for 27 yards with two scores in Antonio Gates' seven missed games over the past two seasons. McMichael is really a desperation option only. Gates will not play.
Through three games, the Fins have allowed a league-most eight passing scores and rank 29th in sacks. With top CB Vontae Davis (hamstring) either out again or not at 100 percent, this is a nice opportunity for Philip Rivers' season to get back on track. Rivers has thrown a league-high six interceptions and, according to Pro Football Focus, completed just 3-of-11 deep ball tries. Rivers is one of the game's best vertical passers, so I'd be inclined to chalk up his slow start as a fluke and start Rivers as a shoo-in QB1 against a scuffling Miami pass defense. ... Vincent Jackson owners concerned that double teams might take their fantasy stud out of games need not worry. Unlike Reggie Wayne with the Colts and Dwayne Bowe with the Chiefs, San Diego has alternative offensive threats for whom defenses must account. Deep threat Malcom Floyd (groin) should be healthier this week, and the ground game will be more dangerous with Mathews in the lead role. V-Jax is currently the No. 9 fantasy receiver and leads the Bolts in targets. Start him every week.
Usurping Reggie Bush for Miami's feature back job, Daniel Thomas has 45 touches for 239 yards and a TD in his last two games, averaging a robust 4.93 YPC. His Thursday hamstring flare-up is something of a concern, but there are no indications that it will keep Thomas out of Week 4. San Diego's D-Line is more banged up than any team's in football, so pencil Thomas into your lineup while monitoring health reports through Sunday. ... Chargers LCB Quentin Jammer (hamstring) is unlikely to play, ushering rookie Marcus Gilchrist onto the first team. While Gilchrist held up well against Kansas City's feeble passing game last week, his hands will be far fuller against Brandon Marshall. Long a thorn in the Chargers' side, Marshall is averaging 7.5 catches for 74 yards in his last six meetings with San Diego. ... Bush is no longer a fantasy option barring a surprise, last-minute Thomas scratch. There are whispers that the Fins' Wednesday waiver claim of Steve Slaton was an indictment of Bush, whose snap percentage plummeted to 44.9% in Weeks 2-3 after he was a 97.4-percent player in the opener. ... Chad Henne isn't playing well enough to be used outside of two-QB leagues against a Chargers defense that ranks No. 9 against the pass.
Update: Thomas missed Friday's practice, a strong indication that his availability is indeed in doubt. Because Fins-Bolts has a late start, owners are better off using safer, early-game options. Bush would likely lead Miami's backfield in touches if Thomas missed the game.
Update II: Thomas did not make the team flight to San Diego and has been ruled out for Week 4.
Score Prediction: Chargers 27, Dolphins 17
Sunday Night Football
NY Jets @ Baltimore
I've banged on Shonn Greene in this space before. Let's do it some more. Greene has 41 carries on the year, and 31 (75.6%) have gained four yards or fewer. Since All-Pro C Nick Mangold's high ankle sprain late in the first quarter of Week 2, Greene has 76 yards on 25 carries (3.04 YPC) with 19 touches netting two or fewer yards. His yards-per-carry average for the season is 3.27. Greene just isn't very good, and he's going to look worse against a Baltimore defense holding backs under 3.5 yards per carry with one rushing touchdown allowed in three games. ... Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News is as clued in as any beat writer in the country, so it was telling that this week he suggested LaDainian Tomlinson and Joe McKnight may begin cutting into Greene's load. "When the holes are there," said Mehta, "Shonn Greene doesn't have that explosion getting to the second level. They're not just gonna keep ... handing the ball off to Shonn Greene come Weeks 6, 7, 8, 9 if he's averaging what he's averaging." The Jets' backfield is hands-off this week.
I wouldn't characterize the Ravens' defense as "susceptible to the pass," but it surely presents a better target for offensive coordinators to attack via the air than the ground. Mark Sanchez has at least two TDs in every game so far, and a pair of 330-plus yard efforts. Because New York can no longer lean on its running game, the offense has taken on a pass-first approach. Even if it's only because of situation, Sanchez has emerged as an every-week two-QB league starter and elite QB2. He's currently a top-eight fantasy quarterback. ... Santonio Holmes was openly frustrated with his usage during a one-catch, 19-yard Week 3 game against Oakland. Look for the Jets to make it a point to get their $45 million receiver the rock this week. Somewhat incredibly, Holmes has scored a touchdown in each of his last seven games against Baltimore. ... Dustin Keller leads the Jets in targets, catches, yards, and touchdown receptions. He's a bona-fide TE1 this year. ... The Jets made an obvious effort to get Plaxico Burress the ball more in Week 3 after a catch-less Week 2, and were still only able to do it three times. Plax remains a boom-or-bust WR3, relying heavily on touchdowns to carry his week-to-week fantasy value. He's a very weak PPR play.
The Ravens' offensive staff confirmed its growing confidence in Joe Flacco with a decidedly pass-first Week 3 plan of attack, despite matching up with the Rams' last-ranked run defense. Flacco finished with a whopping 48 attempts compared to 17 rushes from tailbacks. Flacco is only a QB2 against a Darrelle Revis-led Jets defense that's allowed a league-low two TD passes, but it was a promising development for Flacco's future fantasy value. ... Coach Rex Ryan is never shy about media transparency, and on Wednesday all but confirmed that Revis will shadow Anquan Boldin, referring to the three-time Pro Bowler as a more "proven" receiver who causes more "concern" than rookie Torrey Smith. It's hard to imagine using Boldin this week. Per Pro Football Focus, offenses have dared to target Revis three times in the last two games. He hasn't allowed a catch. ... In Waiver Wired, Chris Wesseling did a terrific job of spelling out why Smith isn't an advised Week 4 fantasy play. Ryan went out of his way to promise the Jets will stop Smith, vowing on Thursday that he’d "stay in Baltimore" if the rookie approaches last week's production. Antonio Cromartie will play.
The Jets' run defense has officially sprung a leak. After allowing Maurice Jones-Drew to pop off for 4.89 yards per carry in Week 2, the Raiders annihilated New York for a combined 234 yards and four touchdowns on the ground last Sunday. Oakland averaged 7.31 YPC. This bodes well for Ray Rice, who ranks fourth in fantasy back scoring. Rice is averaging 136.3 yards per game, 5.63 yards per carry, and he's scored three touchdowns. A run-first approach from the Ravens seems likely this week, after last Sunday's uncharacteristic aerial assault. ... Lee Evans (ankle) will not play Sunday, but is likely to get his starting job back from Smith upon return. Hang onto him if possible. ... Ed Dickson isn't putting up big stats, but remains a respectable desperation tight end option. He's an every-down player in the Ravens' offense, and is averaging seven targets a game.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Jets 17
Monday Night Football
Indianapolis @ Tampa Bay
The Colts' Week 3 "promotion" of Peyton Manning to offensive playcaller didn't help, at least in terms of personnel usage. While Indy did enjoy more rushing success, Dallas Clark again got stuck on the line trying to block an elite pass rusher. (In Week 1, it was Mario Williams. In Week 3, James Harrison.) Clark predictably got smoked on the line and all but zeroed out of the box score, catching two passes for 12 yards. He again blocked on more plays than he ran routes. Clark has 83 yards on the year and is droppable. ... The Colts' signing of Dan Orlovsky was a strong indication that they plan to start Curtis Painter on Monday, and Kerry Collins' (concussion) inability to practice confirms it. You probably already know, but QB change won't save the passing offense. The Colts showed no confidence in Painter whatsoever by signing Collins in the first place, and in four career appearances the Purdue alum is a pathetic 13-of-39 (33.3%) for 143 yards (3.67 YPA), no touchdowns, two interceptions, four sacks taken, and three fumbles.
With 90 scoreless yards in his last two games, Reggie Wayne has been exposed as a late-career receiver in need of pinpoint, tight-window passing to produce against loaded coverage. Bail quickly on Wayne after his next decent game. He'll be shadowed by Aqib Talib in this one. ... Pierre Garcon posted 82 yards in Week 3, but had another ugly drop and has yet to find the end zone. The Colts would be better off starting Austin Collie, who's been a total non-factor with 53 yards in three games and a brutal 6.6 yards-per-catch average. ... As mentioned above, the Colts just don't believe in Curtis Painter. A run-first approach seems quite likely. Rookie Delone Carter can't play in the passing game and is averaging a pedestrian 3.73 YPC, so the coaching staff flipped the every-down back reins to Joseph Addai in Week 3. Addai, averaging over a full yard per rush attempt better than Carter, scored a goal-line touchdown and racked up 88 yards against an annually tough Steelers run defense. Addai is the best fantasy bet on Indy's side in this game.
Playing at home against an Indianapolis team without an offense, the Bucs should control time of possession on Monday night. While the Colts improved their run defense ranking against the beat-up offensive lines of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the undersized Indy front seven is likely to have much less success versus 247-pound Bucs power back LeGarrette Blount. Blount has 165 yards and a pair of scores since his clunker Week 1 game. Expect to see more of Blount and less of Earnest Graham as the Bucs play with a lead. ... Kellen Winslow caught two passes for 20 yards in Week 3, with one of the catches flukily shooting through Dezmon Briscoe's hands and into the tight end's waiting arms. Scoreless with his yardage in decline every week so far, Winslow ranks 22nd among tight ends in fantasy scoring. ... Fill-in slot receiver Preston Parker confirmed that his six-catch, 98-yard Week 2 game was a mirage with 11 yards on one reception last week.
Getting wins but struggling for big statistical games in an offense that simply doesn't cater to high-end numbers, Josh Freeman is the No. 24 fantasy quarterback. He's still a good buy-low target in two-QB leagues, particularly if Indianapolis becomes the next team to hold Freeman in check. He's just not a QB1. ... Mike Williams is the Bucs' next-best fantasy option behind Blount in this game, but be aware that zone defenses like the Colts' have been taking him out of games. Before the season, we projected Williams to take a step back in his sophomore year. But we didn't imagine he'd be under 90 yards through three weeks. Defenses are keying up to stop him. ... Arrelious Benn has done nothing to distract defensive attention from Williams, averaging under three catches for 24 yards per week while rotating with Briscoe. Leave them on the waiver wire.
Score Prediction: Bucs 20, Colts 10