Seattle @ Houston
We're still dealing in small sample sizes, but Arian Foster is averaging 3.88 yards per carry in what would be a YPC drop for his third consecutive season. Ben Tate is at 6.81 YPC, and 4.77 even if you exclude his 60-yard Week 2 run. The Texans' backfield timeshare is here to stay. On Sunday, Foster and Tate square off with a Seahawks defense that has limited opposing running backs to 155 yards on 54 carries (2.87 YPC). Start Foster as an RB2 and hope you luck into a goal-line plunge. ... Tate will remain involved, but isn't working in scoring position and has yet to clear nine carries in any game. He's a low-end flex. ... I noticed tape gurus Greg Cosell and Ron Jaworski both say last week Matt Schaub wasn't playing nearly as well as his Weeks 1-2 stats suggested. Schaub bottomed out with 194 scoreless yards on 35 pass attempts at Baltimore in Week 3, managing a 17.8 QBR. Seattle ranks No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 against the pass, No. 1 in passer rating allowed, and No. 3 in interceptions. Schaub is a weak two-quarterback-league play. ... Schaub's target distribution on the season: Andre Johnson 35, DeAndre Hopkins 26, Owen Daniels 21, Foster 14, Tate and Garrett Graham 10, Keshawn Martin 5, DeVier Posey 4.
Perimeter receiver Johnson bruised his shin in Week 3. He will play Sunday, but gets an awfully difficult Week 4 draw against extremely physical Seahawks press-man CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Johnson is too good and targeted too heavily to ever be benched in fantasy leagues, but he's more of a WR2 than WR1 this week. ... After his monster Week 2 game when Johnson missed a chunk of snaps, Hopkins returned to Earth in a possession role against the Ravens, securing 6-of-7 targets for 60 scoreless yards. The Week 3 line is probably closer to the norm for Hopkins, who remains in a weekly competition for targets with Daniels and Graham behind target monster Johnson. Hopkins is running a heavy majority of his pass routes at left cornerbacks, so he's likely to see a lot of Sherman in coverage. Consider Hopkins a WR3/4 against Seattle. ... The Seahawks' perimeter-oriented defensive scheme is sometimes vulnerable to tight ends who run patterns underneath and down the seam, but unfailingly makes life difficult on passing games in general. Daniels is a back-end TE1 option. Graham is a bottom-barrel TE2.
The Seahawks' offense had its way with the Jaguars' defense in Week 3, using the opportunity to kickstart its previously sputtering passing attack as Russell Wilson sprinkled four TDs among just 21 throws. Wilson is 32nd in the NFL in pass attempts, which means in order to meet fantasy expectations he'll have to lean on sheer playmaking ability. Wilson has that, but I'm not convinced he's a good bet to improve on last year's No. 9 fantasy quarterback ranking in such a decidedly run-first offense. Houston also poses a tough test for enemy passing attacks. DC Wade Phillips' defense ranks second against the pass, sixth in yards-per-attempt allowed (6.2), and ninth in completion percentage (56.6). View Wilson as a low-end fantasy starter until his rushing numbers improve. ... Wilson's Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Golden Tate 17, Sidney Rice 15, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin 11, Marshawn Lynch and Luke Willson 6, Robert Turbin 4, Jermaine Kearse 3. ... Rice caught two of Wilson's scoring passes against Jacksonville, but they aren't indicators of box scores to come. Rice's stat lines were 2-35 and 1-13 in the first two weeks. On Sunday, look for Rice to square off with Texans LCB Kareem Jackson on the majority of the snaps. Jackson was excellent in Houston's first two games, but got roughed up a bit by Torrey Smith last week.
Tate is Seattle's target leader, but Wilson continues to spread the ball around and throw to the open man in a low-volume pass game. Tate will be a shot-in-the-dark WR3 in Sunday's battle with RCB Johnathan Joseph. ... As is the case with Rice, Miller's two goal-line touchdowns against Jacksonville are unreliable as we try to project what will happen this week and going forward. Miller scored all of three TDs over his previous 32 regular season games. He's far from a fantasy starter. ... Baldwin is a good real-life slot receiver and currently leads the Seahawks in receiving yards, but he's only playing 61% of the snaps and the offense will lead to inevitable inconsistency. On a week-by-week basis, Baldwin is a poorer fantasy bet than both Tate and Rice. ... Houston ranks ninth in the NFL in run defense and permits the fifth lowest YPC average (3.26) to opposing rushers. I'd still start Lynch with every ounce of confidence as an RB1. His disappointing stat line against the Jags resulted from Wilson's fluky four-passing-score game and Seattle's removal of its first-team offense with over a quarter to play. ... It was during garbage time that we received confirmation on which Seahawks backup would get the most carries should Lynch ever fall victim to injury. Christine Michael was the primary back with the twos, ripping off 37 yards on nine runs. Turbin only handled three carries, gaining five yards, and remains strictly a passing-down specialist.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 21, Texans 20
Cincinnati @ Cleveland
Fantasy owners can't expect Brian Hoyer to throw for three touchdowns and 320-plus yards every week, but there were many promising takeaways from his first start. Hoyer moved the offense. Despite limited arm talent, he was willing to test downfield. OC Norv Turner let Hoyer make fifty-seven dropbacks, an incredibly high number for a debuting quarterback. Per Pro Football Focus, Hoyer's average time to throw was 2.4 seconds. Brandon Weeden averaged 3.1 seconds in Cleveland's first two games. So Hoyer is playing aggressively, getting the football out quickly, and his coaching staff is willing to let him spray it around the yard. Great news for Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. ... Hoyer's quick decision making and release give him a chance to continue generating ball movement even against Cincy's fierce pass rush. Hoyer is surrounded by reasonably effective pass-game personnel, and the Bengals' DBs are their defensive weakness. Hoyer is worth a look in two-QB leagues. ... Hoyer's target distribution: Gordon 19, Cameron 11, Davone Bess 10, Greg Little 8, Chris Ogbonnaya 5, Bobby Rainey 1. ... Top Bengals CB Leon Hall and FS Reggie Nelson missed practice time with hamstring injuries this week, improving Gordon's matchup. 19 targets in last week's win suggest the Browns may be showcasing him for a trade. On game tape, Gordon reminds me of Andre Johnson in size, movement, and ball-plucking skills. Consider him an every-week WR2 until further notice.
Friday Update: The Bengals' top corner (Hall) and top safety (Nelson) are both listed as doubtful on the injury report. As is CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), who likely would've started for Hall if healthy. Gordon and Cameron both have strong fantasy matchups. It's now on their inexperienced quarterback to capitalize.
Another promising element of Hoyer's Browns debut was his noticeable affinity for the Browns' premier pass catchers. This may sound obvious, but some first-time quarterbacks target backups with whom they are most familiar from practicing on the second and third teams. Hoyer didn't, peppering Gordon and Cameron with footballs, and finding Bess seven times for 67 yards in the slot. Cameron is safe to lean on as a high-end TE1. Only Jimmy Graham is outscoring him. ... Bess got a lot of action against the Vikings and is now starting over Little, but remains a low-ceiling WR3 option in PPR leagues. Bess has never been a touchdown scorer or big-play threat. Aim higher. ... Hoyer's pass attempts should remain relatively high versus Cincinnati because Cleveland has little or no chance to run the ball effectively. Through three weeks, the Bengals have held enemy tailbacks to a pedestrian 266 yards on 66 runs (4.03 YPC), and the Browns' backfield is still searching for clarity. Ogbonnaya led the group in snaps (47) against the Vikings, but only handled six touches. In-season street free-agent pickup Willis McGahee is still learning Norv's pass protections, and managed nine yards on eight carries, playing 14 downs. Rainey played 22 snaps and gained 21 yards on five touches. It's an obvious fantasy situation to avoid.
Andy Dalton sits a lowly 20th in fantasy quarterback scoring and is in for a tough test Sunday versus a Browns defense that ranks 12th versus the pass, third in sacks (12), and 31st in passing TDs allowed (2). The Cleveland front seven is as legit as it gets, and the back end isn't bad, either. Dalton is just a two-QB-league option. ... Dalton's 2013 target distribution: A.J. Green 35, Jermaine Gresham 19, Mohamed Sanu 18, Tyler Eifert 12, Marvin Jones 10, Giovani Bernard 8, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2. ... Although neither is a qualified TE1, we're seeing slight separation between Gresham and Eifert. Gresham is shaping up as the minimally superior TE2, just based on targets. The Browns have allowed the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Possession receiver Sanu only muddies the outlook of passing-game options behind Green. Sanu is a WR5, and won't pay off as a standalone fantasy play unless he scores a red-zone TD in a given week. He's yet to do so on the year. Sanu does get a favorable draw this week versus Browns liability CBs Chris Owens and Buster Skrine. Still, only consider Sanu if you're amazingly desperate.
Shadow CB Joe Haden is off to a hot start under new Browns DC Ray Horton, but may get a rude Week 4 awakening. Green has had Haden's number in each of their last two meetings, torching Cleveland's top corner for stat lines of 7-135-2 and 3-110. In between, Green worked the Browns for 7-58-1 in September of 2012, although Haden was on suspension at the time. Regardless, Green owners shouldn't sweat Haden's coverage because A.J. has had so much past success against him. ... Bernard led the Bengals' backfield in Week 3 snaps (30) and touches (14), and coach Marvin Lewis announced in his post-game presser the run-game roles would not change going forward. Green-Ellis played 23 downs, handling ten carries but gaining 29 yards. Bernard has now scored three touchdowns the past two weeks, two of them coming inside the opposing ten-yard line. So while Law Firm remains in the mix for close-in scoring chances, Bernard is getting plenty, based on formation and personnel packages. Bernard is a solid flex play despite this matchup with Cleveland's No. 7 run defense. Green-Ellis is out of the fantasy-lineup mix.
Score Prediction: Bengals 20, Browns 17
NY Giants @ Kansas City
If the Giants pass protect anything like they did in Week 3 at Carolina, they'll have no prayer at Arrowhead. Kevin Gilbride's offense was torpedoed by a combination of the Panthers' dominant defensive front and New York's inability to win one-on-one trench battles. OTs Will Beatty and Justin Pugh combined to allow five of the seven sacks absorbed by Eli Manning as Eli completed 12 passes for 119 yards, his lowest single-game yardage total since 2007. Beatty and Pugh will now take on OLBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who've combined for 8.5 sacks through three games. Houston is the NFL's sack leader. It's likely to be another long day for Eli barring miracle working from Gilbride. The Giants already look like a team that could really use a bye, but their open date isn't until Week 9. ... Seemingly the only player on the Giants' offense who showed up against the Panthers was David Wilson, who didn't blow any pass-blocking assignments, played a season-high 49.1% of the snaps, and earned 41 yards after contact per Pro Football Focus' charts, despite taking repeated hits in the backfield. Wilson was New York's best player at Carolina. I suspect Gilbride saw that when he reviewed the tape and may reward Wilson on Sunday. The Chiefs are playing top-five pass defense, but rank dead last in the NFL in yards per carry (5.64). That number is admittedly skewed, however, by Michael Vick's 99 rushing yards in Week 3. Still, this Giants team will inarguably continue a downward spiral until it gets its running game fixed.
A Rex Ryan disciple, Chiefs DC Bob Sutton may have frothed at the mouth when he reviewed the Giants' Week 3 film. Expect heavy blitzing. Slot man Victor Cruz and TE Brandon Myers will likely most often serve as Eli's blitz-beating "hots," although I wouldn't bother playing Myers in fantasy for fear of further pass-game dysfunction. The Giants need Myers to block, which isn't his strong suit. ... Eli's targets through three games: Cruz 27, Myers 25, Rueben Randle 19, Hakeem Nicks 16, Da'Rel Scott 15, Bear Pascoe 4, Wilson 2. ... Nicks was targeted once at Carolina and will now do battle with Chiefs shadow CB Brandon Flowers, who helped hold Cecil Shorts to 3-40 in Week 1 and screaming-hot DeSean Jackson to 3-62 two Thursdays ago. Flowers was abused by Dez Bryant in between. Downgrade Nicks from locked-in WR2 to a WR3 in K.C. ... Maybe the most underrated offseason signing so far has been the Chiefs' addition of CB Sean Smith, who will handle Randle whenever Flowers follows Nicks. Inevitably inconsistent due to his formation-based role, Randle is no more than a desperation WR3. ... Essentially just a blitz-pickup specialist at this point, Scott hasn't hit double-digit touches since the season opener and is fantasy waiver-wire fodder. ... Brandon Jacobs may be the favorite for Giants goal-line carries, but has lost all semblance of burst. It is truly painful to watch him run. It's as if there's a grand piano on his back.
One season after ranking second-to-last in total defense, the Giants are playing bad defense again. They've allowed the most points in football -- by 17 -- and only eight teams have surrendered more yards. The Giants rank 27th against the run because they're falling behind and teams are gashing them in keep-the-lead mode. Jamaal Charles is the No. 2 fantasy back and has a great matchup. ... New York is also vulnerable in pass defense, although so was Week 3 Chiefs opponent the Eagles, and Alex Smith couldn't exploit them beyond Charles checkdowns and wide-open crossers to Donnie Avery. Smith finished without a touchdown. Smith can "manage" teams to victory, but is one of the least talented quarterbacks in football. He's just a two-QB-league option. ... Smith's target distribution: Charles 24, Dwayne Bowe 17, Avery 16, Dexter McCluster 13, Sean McGrath 8, Anthony Fasano 7, Anthony Sherman 6. ... The Chiefs are the only team in the league whose running back leads them in targets. ... Don't be fooled by Avery's Week 3 stats. The Eagles' defense couldn't defend a crossing route to save its skin. The G-Men similarly struggle at safety and linebacker, but can't possibly be inept enough to leave Avery uncovered over the middle like Philly did. Or maybe I'm giving Perry Fewell too much credit.
Smith is an inside-the-numbers, checkdown-oriented passer, which is why perimeter threat Bowe ranks an abominable 64th in fantasy receiver scoring through three weeks. He's getting the old Michael Crabtree treatment. Bowe is capable of big games -- and he has a fine Week 4 matchup -- but he's just a dice-roll WR3 at this point. He's had great matchups against the Jaguars and Eagles this year, too, and finished with stat lines of 4-30 and 1-4. Best of luck playing Bowe. You'll need it. ... First-year Chiefs coach Andy Reid allegedly loved McCluster coming out of Ole Miss. He's tried to involve McCluster on offense, but it isn't working. McCluster has gained 55 scoreless yards on seven touches and dropped a pass in each of Kansas City's first three games. Leave him on waivers. ... Rookie Knile Davis is Charles' backup. Davis is worth stashing as a handcuff.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 23, Giants 17
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville
Rookie OC Pep Hamilton's influence on Indy's offense is taking hold, particularly after the Trent Richardson deal. Pep the Playcaller wants to be an impose-our-will, run-ball team, and through three weeks has twice held Andrew Luck under 30 pass attempts. Hamilton's strategy lacks in logic from the standpoint that he more often than not takes the ball out of his best player's hands. It does make sense in that the Colts have shoddy pass protection and a leaky defense. Playing Ground 'N Pound allows the O-Line to focus on run blocking, and limits defensive field time. Long term, I worry Luck's limited pass attempts will cap his fantasy ceiling. If Luck has a huge game against the Jags, consider selling him for a quarterback whose season-long trajectory is pointing up, like Colin Kaepernick or Tom Brady. ... Luck's targets distribution through three weeks: Reggie Wayne 23, T.Y. Hilton 21, Darrius Heyward-Bey 14, Coby Fleener 11, Ahmad Bradshaw 8, Donald Brown 1. ... Fleener wound up blocking on 25-of-49 snaps (51%) in last week's win at Candlestick. Fleener is big and can run, but he's shaping up as too unreliable for confident start-ability as the fourth option in the passing game on a run-first team. ... Due to the Colts' new mentality, expectations need to be reset for Wayne. Wayne will remain Luck's go-to receiver, but still won't see enough volume to deliver more than back-end WR2 season stats.
Friday Update: Giving Luck and Wayne's Week 4 matchup an assist will be the absence of Jaguars FS Dwight Lowery, who hasn't been cleared after last week's concussion. Lowery is Jacksonville's best and most veteran defensive back.
With Heyward-Bey back from his shoulder injury against the 49ers, Hilton resumed third receiver duties. He played 54% of the offensive snaps and was targeted four times, securing two for 13 scoreless yards. Hilton will still have some big weeks because he can make big plays, but he's settling in as a boom-or-bust WR3. ... DHB is blocking well in the run game and working as a possession receiver on wideout screens and underneath. Heyward-Bey still can't be treated as more than a WR4 while essentially sharing production with Hilton and to a lesser extent Fleener behind Wayne. ... The Jags rank 32nd in run defense and third to last in yards-per-carry allowed (5.19). They're an optimal opponent for run-minded Hamilton to hammer on the ground. Look for 18-plus touches from Richardson and RB1 dividends. Pep the Playcaller vows to keep Bradshaw involved after he outplayed Richardson last week. Bradshaw could pay off as a flex starter, though his value and role are likely to dwindle by the week. Bradshaw would be a nice trade chip for owners seeking more upside from a slow-starting running back like Stevan Ridley or David Wilson. It's worth noting Bradshaw (neck) missed most of the practice week, allowing Richardson to gobble up first-team reps and more fully digest the offense. This could be his blowup game.
Friday Update I: Hilton missed Friday's practice after not being listed on Wednesday or Thursday's injury reports. He was suddenly in a walking boot Friday, but is listed as probable for Week 4 and will play. Though wildly talented, Hilton remains a dicey WR3 destined for inevitable inconsistency due to his limited role on a run-first team.
Friday Update II: Bradshaw missed every practice this week due to the neck injury, the extent of which is unknown. He's been ruled out against the Jaguars. Look for a heavy workload out of Richardson in a rushing-friendly matchup.
Sunday's home date could provide Maurice Jones-Drew owners with a terrific pre-Week 5 sell-high window. MJD has struggled mightily in terms of yards per carry (2.61) while battling foot woes and showing obvious indicators of decline. Not only will Indy be without run-stuffing DE Ricky Jean-Francois (groin) and box safety LaRon Landry (ankle), the Colts rank 26th in both run defense and YPC allowed (4.66). Perhaps Indianapolis will experience a bit of a letdown one week after upsetting the 49ers at Candlestick, allowing MJD to pile up attempts in a competitive game. I'd bail quickly if Jones-Drew delivers. Start him as an RB2. ... Blaine Gabbert is back from his hand laceration, all but torpedoing the fantasy outlooks of Jaguars pass catchers. Cecil Shorts has a great matchup and led the NFL in targets (29) during Chad Henne's two starts, and I still wouldn't feel good playing him. Shorts' stat lines in his last five games when both he and Gabbert have played together extensively: 3-40, 3-56, 8-116, 2-43, 1-8. Compare those to these numbers in the Jaguars' last nine games where Henne has played extensively: 8-93, 8-143, 4-79-1, 6-105-1, 3-81-1, 4-105-1, 7-77-1, 6-101, 6-54. Gabbert's re-installation drops Shorts from borderline fantasy WR2 into ultra-shaky WR3 territory.
The rest of Jacksonville's skill-position players are fantasy non-factors, though it's worth noting Jordan Todman looks to be MJD's main handcuff. Whereas Todman has handled 11 touches and played 52 snaps through three games, Justin Forsett has played 36 downs with one carry and five receptions. In the event of a Jones-Drew injury, it appears Todman would be the early-down-carry favorite with Forsett operating on passing downs. Denard Robinson (12 snaps, four carries, -1 yard) clearly isn't ready for primetime. ... Rookie slot receiver Ace Sanders was a training camp all star, but it hasn't translated to real games at all. Sanders has dropped 2-of-19 targets, generating 103 yards. He played behind Stephen Burton last week. ... Justin Blackmon will return from suspension in Week 5 and is worth grabbing in 12-team leagues as a bye-week WR3 candidate.
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Jaguars 17