Tennessee @ Houston
Arian Foster leads the NFL in touches, and it's not close. He has 12 more than second-place NFL workhorse Marshawn Lynch. Tennessee's defense is soft up front and missing middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (ankle), although you don't need me to explain why you should start Foster. ... The details on the Titans are relevant for Ben Tate flex-optioners. Tennessee ranks 29th versus the run and is being routinely attacked by offensive coordinators, seeing as only the Saints have more rushing attempts against. I never feel great starting Tate because he does little in the pass game and will really hurt your fantasy week if the opponent keeps the game close, leading to a small dose of rushing stats for Houston's No. 2 back. I do understand the logic behind wanting to start Tate; I just wouldn't do it myself. ... Andre Johnson is 15th in wideout points through three weeks, displaying explosion off the line of scrimmage, physical dominance in traffic, and vertical separation skills. His legs look as fresh as ever. Although Titans RCB Alterraun Verner is flashing shutdown-caliber cover ability, Johnson has been waltzing around the formation enough that he'll deal with LCB Jason McCourty and slot CB Ryan Mouton, as well. Johnson is a top-five WR1.
Matt Schaub lit up Denver for four passing scores and 290 yards in Week 3, although his Weeks 1-2 stats are more indicative of what's to come. Schaub is talented enough individually and has a skilled enough supporting cast to produce big weeks on occasion. He's just not capable of hitting consistent QB1 numbers in the NFL's run-heaviest offense. Schaub is a respectable, if low-upside QB2. You are never going to want to start him, not even in favorable on-paper matchups like this. ... Schaub's target distribution through three games: Owen Daniels 22, Johnson 18, Kevin Walter 12, Foster 11, James Casey 9, Tate and Keshawn Martin 7. ... Daniels has been consistently involved in the passing offense during each of Houston's first three games. He might be the most underrated TE2 in fantasy football right now. Ranked 13th in tight end scoring, Daniels is going to be a strong fallback option during upcoming bye weeks. ... Walter is who he is, and you don't want him on your fantasy team. He's not suddenly morphing into a fantasy-relevant receiver at age 31.
I watched Titans-Lions this past week and came away thinking Chris Johnson tried harder against Detroit. I'm just looking for signs of improved effort at this point, and I saw him break a few tackles. He beat the defense to the corner a couple of times. The performance wasn't as bad as the box score claims. There's still no way in heck I'd start him against the Texans' top-five run defense, but maybe baby steps will lead to something. Doubt it, though. ... Jake Locker played really well in Tennessee's opener, really poorly in Week 2, and then exploded in Week 3, showing the big-time arm talent and athleticism that make him so enticing as a fantasy football prospect. Locker truly has an elite set of skills, but I couldn't bring myself to start him against Houston's defense even if top CB Johnathan Joseph (groin) misses the game. I want to see him show some consistency. Locker has been a Jekyll & Hyde quarterback, and Texans LE J.J. Watt is going to eat Titans RG Leroy Harris for lunch. If Locker plays under control and not in a frenzy with bodies around him, he'll be worth a long look as a streaming QB1 option next week against Minnesota.
Friday Update: Joseph returned to a full practice on Friday and is listed as probable on the injury report. Houston's defense will face Locker & Co. at full strength, armed with its shutdown cornerback.
After missing the first three games with an elbow infection, Javon Ringer returned to full practices this week and is on track to make his 2012 debut at Reliant Stadium. Ringer can pick up the blitz and may steal significant passing-down snaps from CJ401K. Just beware of tabbing Ringer as a "fantasy sleeper." Ringer is a weak running talent averaging 4.0 career YPC. Even if Johnson gets benched and Ringer is promoted, he's not going to help you much behind Tennessee's porous O-Line. He would be more effective than Johnson, however. ... As of Friday, Kenny Britt's twisted ankle had not healed to the point that he looked any better than 50:50 to play against the Texans. The Titans tried desperately to get Britt the football for big plays in Week 3, twice on receiver screens and again on an underthrow in the right front corner of the end zone on what should've been a high fade for a jump ball from Locker. Britt is playing in the slot and at split end, operating all across the formation. If Kenny Britt plays on Sunday, I would start him. If he doesn't, I'd start Nate Washington over Kendall Wright. ... Jared Cook's shoulder injury won't prevent him from playing at Houston, though his inconsistency should probably prevent you from starting him.
Score Prediction: Texans 24, Titans 17
4:05PM ET Games
Cincinnati @ Jacksonville
We'll learn a lot more about Andy Dalton in Week 4 at Jacksonville than the past two games have showed. Dalton faced the league's worst two pass defenses east of Oakland in the Haden-less Browns and Orakpo-less Redskins. The Jags are a far more formidable group with top CB Derek Cox back to full strength and a Cover-2 design that eliminates the long ball. Mel Tucker's defense has allowed just two passing TDs through three games, and played the first two without underrated Cox. Dalton remains a two-quarterback league option only. ... Tied for fourth in the NFL in targets and coming off a foreseeable blowup game against Washington's pathetic pass defense, A.J. Green should avoid RCB Cox's coverage for the majority of Sunday's snaps, instead squaring off with LCB Rashean Mathis. Mathis turned 32 in August and tore his ACL last November. He's primed for Green to pick apart. ... Jermaine Gresham caught a red-zone touchdown from Dalton in Week 3 and may do so a few more times over the course of the season. Gresham just offers nothing as a vertical tight end threat and often stays on the line to block. He's a back-end TE2.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a volume-dependent runner averaging 3.64 yards per carry. Including playoff games with the Patriots, Green-Ellis has amazingly gone 328 rushing attempts without a run of 20 yards. But volume-dependent runners can be fantasy assets if they're getting volume, and so far that has been the case for Green-Ellis. The Bengals are giving him the rock 20 times a week and he's executed twice at the goal line. Green-Ellis is the No. 14 fantasy running back through three games. While Law Firm stands no chance of giving you a weekly fantasy advantage, he's worth plugging and playing as an RB2/flex against Jacksonville's 30th-ranked run defense. Cincinnati should control time of possession in this game, allowing Green-Ellis to keep racking up attempts. ... Bengals OC Jay Gruden must find creative ways to increase situational receiver Andrew Hawkins' playing time, because he is a lightning-quick tackle breaker in the slot. His 48.8-percent snap rate is going to catch up to his fantasy production sooner rather than later. I'd still have a hard time starting Hawkins. ... Dalton's target distribution through three games: Green 33, Gresham 20, Hawkins 16, Armon Binns 13, Green-Ellis 6, Brandon Tate 5. ... The Binns-Tate split end committee will rotate into Cox's coverage in Week 4. Be sure to avoid.
Jacksonville's passing game has been so putrid the past two weeks that turning the offense over to Maurice Jones-Drew is first-year coach Mike Mularkey's only realistic option. Blaine Gabbert has 208 passing yards on 40 attempts (5.20 YPA) since the opener, stats that fall to 128 yards on 39 throws (3.28 YPA) if you exclude Cecil Shorts' 80-yard touchdown on a slant down the seam last week. Mularkey was aware of this entering the Week 3 Colts game, giving Jones-Drew 30 touches, which MJD took for 193 total yards and a score. He needs to be ready for massive workloads going forward, and a Week 4 date with Cincinnati is a plus matchup for Jacksonville's every-down back. With MLB Rey Maualuga consistently overrunning plays and WLB Thomas Howard out for the season, the Bengals rank 31st against the run while serving up a league-high 5.81 yards per carry. Jones-Drew ranks fifth among running backs in fantasy points. He should pad his stats on Sunday. Pat yourself on the back if you overlooked Jones-Drew's training-camp holdout and drafted him anyway. He's going to pay major dividends as long as he stays healthy.
Although the Jags pulled out the win, Mularkey showed no confidence in his quarterback at Indy. Pro Football Focus charted Gabbert with one attempt beyond 20 yards among 21 throws. The training wheels are back on, and that's bad news for Jacksonville pass catchers. So too is Gabbert's 42.5 completion rate over his last two games. ... First-round pick Justin Blackmon has four catches for 31 yards on 15 targets. He's not getting open, and the Jags aren't doing an effective enough job of getting him the ball in easy-catch situations. Blackmon is barely a WR5. ... Laurent Robinson missed most of Week 3 with a concussion. He'll apparently be back this week, but is the deep threat in a pass game that doesn't challenge deep. No thanks. ... Shorts has been really inconsistent and will continue to be because he doesn't play in the two-wide offense and has yet to exceed 20 snaps in a single game. It's imperative for fantasy owners to avoid "chasing points" from previous weeks and instead have eyes focused on the future. Shorts' box-score future is sure to be rocky. ... Marcedes Lewis has been a dominant run blocker this season, which is great. He has one catch for eight yards in the last two games. He's droppable.
Score Prediction: Bengals 17, Jaguars 13
Oakland @ Denver
Under first-year defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the Broncos so far have refused to match up Champ Bailey with opposing top receivers. Bailey has instead stuck to left cornerback on the vast majority of downs, with knee-hobbled Tracy Porter locked in on the right side. Porter was toasted for a 60-yard touchdown bomb by Texans split end Andre Johnson on the second possession of last week's loss, and projects to play most of this Sunday's snaps against Raiders split end Denarius Moore. With Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) sidelined indefinitely, Moore will be Oakland's go-to receiver in the passing game for the foreseeable future. Having recorded eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 18 targets in his last two games, Moore is just now starting to find his groove. He's worth a long look as a WR3 at Denver. ... Unless Del Rio changes his early-season approach, Bailey will go to waste covering the winner of this week's in-practice competition for flanker snaps between Derek Hagan and Rod Streater. Neither is a fantasy option.
Friday Update: Streater "tweaked" his neck in Friday's practice and is listed as questionable on the injury report. Hagan is expected to start against Bailey and the Broncos, although Moore is the lone Raiders wideout worth Week 4 fantasy consideration.
The Broncos defended the run well in Weeks 1-2 against Pittsburgh's committee of mediocrity, followed by washed-up Michael Turner. Denver showed its truer colors in last week's loss to the Texans, serving up 152 yards on 34 carries (4.47 YPC). And the Broncos took a run-defense hit this week, losing early-down thumper MLB Joe Mays to one-game suspension following last week's illegal hit on Matt Schaub. Mays will be replaced by Keith Brooking, 37, whom Pro Football Focus graded 41st among 51 qualifying inside linebackers in run defense last season. Darren McFadden is coming off his best game of the year, and I'd look for him to one-up his Week 3 stat line in Week 4. ... Carson Palmer can't buy a break in his receiver corps. Either Heyward-Bey or Moore always seems to be hobbled or inactive. This week, he'll be without DHB. Palmer still throws the ball well enough to support viable fantasy production from a wideout, but he's unlikely to maintain any kind of individual consistency. Expect SLB/LE Von Miller to have a big day teeing off on Palmer. Miller will be squaring off with second-year UDFA right tackle Willie Smith, who struggles mightily in pass protection. ... Raiders TE Brandon Myers has been the NFL's most efficient early-season pass catcher, securing each of his 15 targets. I wouldn't take him seriously as a fantasy option.
Chris Wesseling promoted Peyton Manning as an elite QB1 play in Week 4, and the matchup is definitely working in his favor. Though Manning is off to an up-and-down start, the Raiders' pass defense is an embarrassment to the term pass defense. Still missing both starting corners, Oakland silver plattered 384 yards and four touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger last time out, a week after allowing Ryan Tannehill and the worst wide receiver group in the game to generate ball movement all day long. I said I'd play Christian Ponder over Peyton Manning in Week 4 and I will stand by that, but it would certainly be understandable if you leaned toward the proven veteran on a start-sit call. ... Demaryius Thomas is a top-12 fantasy wideout through three weeks, and I'd bet he'll leap into the top ten after this game. Dominant after the catch and capable of removing the top from a defense, Thomas can graduate to elite NFL receiver status this season if he cuts down on the drops. He's got four through three games. Still, lock him into your fantasy lineup. ... Eric Decker has three drops of his own, according to Pro Football Focus, but is coming off a breakthrough Week 3 game that saw him record eight catches for 136 yards. Decker and Thomas are going to be open all day against the Raiders. Thomas is a borderline WR1, and Decker is a recommended WR2.
Manning's target distribution so far: Thomas 29, Decker 26, Jacob Tamme 19, Brandon Stokley 15, Joel Dreessen 9, Willis McGahee and Lance Ball 5. ... A colossal fantasy disappointment, Tamme has been just a 61-percent player and ranks 19th in tight end scoring. He has 44 yards without a touchdown in his last two games. Tamme is a low-end TE2. ... Dreessen is not on the fantasy radar. ... Stokley will probably be open in his matchup with Raiders safety-turned-slot-corner Michael Huff, but is a rotational slot receiver and not a fantasy option. ... Though not to the extent of the pass defense, the Raiders' run defense presents a favorable matchup for McGahee. Oakland ranks 20th against the run despite two of its three games having come against pre-Ryan Mathews San Diego and Pittsburgh's running back corps. McGahee resumed practicing fully on Thursday after last week's rib scare and is on track to start Sunday's game. ... Rookie Ronnie Hillman was finally active in Week 3 and gained eight yards on three touches. He’s an RB5 at best.
Score Prediction: Broncos 28, Raiders 17
Miami @ Arizona
Fins-Cards projects as a low-scoring defensive battle. The over-under is 39 points, and it's a game to avoid where possible from a fantasy perspective. The biggest storyline on either side is the ascension of Ryan Williams from sputtering committee back to likely workhorse following the placement on injured reserve "designated for return" of backfield partner Beanie Wells. Williams enjoyed a career-best game in Week 3 against Philadelphia, receiving 14 touches and gaining at least four yards on eight, including fourth-quarter runs of 25, 7, 11, and 20. On Williams' 25-yard carry in particular, he exhibited impressive acceleration and made a quick upfield cut to bust by a flailing Eagles safety. While the Week 4 matchup is decidedly unfavorable -- Miami's No. 3 run defense is allowing the second-lowest YPC average in football (2.46) -- Williams' workload could be as voluminous as any back in the league. The Cardinals are capable of controlling the clock with elite defense against the Dolphins' putrid offense, and the Arizona coaching staff has shown an incredible amount of trust in Williams after an alarmingly slow start to his season. He's just a flex option, but I'd lean toward starting Williams because he projects to get the football so much.
Miami's defensive weakness is in the secondary. The Dolphins' pass rush has been inconsistent at best through three games, and Santonio Holmes ran circles around RCB Richard Marshall last week to snap a 27-game slump of sub-100 yards. Holmes finished with 147 on nine grabs. Larry Fitzgerald will take Holmes' place for the opposition in Week 4. ... While Kevin Kolb has done well to keep Arizona on a winning track, he's been a game manager and has yet to exceed 27 pass attempts on the year. Kolb remains a low-end QB2, even in the finest of matchups. ... Cardinals slot receiver Early Doucet's playing time is in decline and he has only eight targets through three weeks. Drop him. ... Conversely, first-round pick Michael Floyd played a season-high 36 snaps in Week 3 and caught an eight-yard touchdown pass. It's Floyd's only catch on the year, but he's trending in the right direction and should be owned in 14- and 16-team leagues. ... The Cardinals' three-wideout set of the future should pan out as Floyd at flanker, Fitz at split end, and Andre Roberts in the slot. ... Although La'Rod Stephens-Howling has more early-season touches, look for preseason star William Powell to be second in line for carries in Arizona's backfield behind Williams. Stephens-Howling, or "Hyphen," is just a change-of-pace back and return specialist, and won't play in Week 4 due to a hip injury.
Miami's offense is a fantasy wasteland aside from Reggie Bush. The coaches can't find ways to get explosive rookie Lamar Miller on the field consistently due to playbook-knowledge and blitz-pickup shortcomings, and Daniel Thomas might be the worst running back in the league who plays extensively in his offense. Fumbling Dan has already lost two fumbles among his first 22 carries. Bush looks like he'll play through last week's knee injury and has earned a start in difficult matchups by ranking fourth among fantasy backs on the young year, but he's the only Dolphins skill-position player worth a Week 4 look in standard leagues. ... Davone Bess is the best bet to lead Miami in receptions against Arizona's swarming defense. Brian Hartline will have to deal with borderline shutdown CB Patrick Peterson on the outside, while Bess matches up with burnable slot corner William Gay inside the numbers. Bess is a WR3 consideration only in PPR leagues.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 20, Dolphins 10