Arizona @ Tampa Bay
Arizona's backfield has devolved into a value-killing committee with Rashard Mendenhall as the starter and nominal lead back, but Andre Ellington seeing increased work and special teamer Alfonso Smith siphoning snaps and goal-line carries. Against the Saints, Smith kicked off last week's scoring with a three-yard TD run as all three runners were involved on the opening drive. Now facing a stout Tampa defense that ranked No. 1 versus the run in 2012 and is allowing under four yards per carry without a touchdown on the season, Cards backs should be avoided in Week 4 start-sit decisions. Pro Football Focus grades Arizona's O-Line 27th in run blocking through three games. ... The Cards will have to throw to move the ball in this one, although Carson Palmer's pass protection has predictably become an increasing concern. Arizona could not block New Orleans' pass rush, allowing Palmer to absorb four sacks for the second time in three games. Palmer's box-score production has dipped in three consecutive weeks. Able to blitz more because they have Darrelle Revis, the Bucs rank third in the NFL in sacks (12) and have been largely stingy against the pass despite early-season meetings with Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Palmer can't be considered more than a dicey QB2 until Bruce Arians sorts out his protection.
Palmer's target distribution: Larry Fitzgerald 25, Andre Roberts 21, Michael Floyd 19, Ellington 11, Jim Dray 9, Mendenhall 4, Rob Housler 3. ... At least since Week 1 against Santonio Holmes, the Bucs have not used Revis as a shadow corner. Tampa is playing zone coverage, confining Revis to the outside or at safety on 186-of-189 snaps (98.4%). Per PFF's Mike Clay, Revis has only played three snaps in the slot. Under Arians, Fitzgerald is playing 50% of his downs in the slot or in a tight end-like position and the rest outside at Z or X. Healthy after his Week 2 hamstring scare, Fitz is a full-time player again and has a chance to match up with Bucs slot CB Leonard Johnson on a big chunk of Sunday's plays. I'd start him with confidence. ... Floyd and Roberts have been role-type players at Nos. 2 and 3 receiver, with no real separation between the two. I think Roberts will have a bigger Week 4 game because Floyd projects to match up more with Revis on the perimeter. Still, neither is more than a low-end WR3. ... Housler returned from his high ankle sprain against the Saints to secure 1-of-3 targets for 13 yards, playing 39-of-58 snaps (67.2%). I thought the playing time was promising, but Arians has never made a serious effort to feature tight ends in his passing game. Housler's return could ultimately have a negative effect on Roberts and Floyd's numbers. Beyond Fitz, this passing game is shaping up as difficult to predict.
The Bucs couldn't have dreamed up a better first NFL start for Mike Glennon than a home date with pass rush-bereft Arizona. Even before losing OLBs Sam Acho (fibula), Alex Okafor (biceps), and Lorenzo Alexander (Lisfranc) to year-ending injuries in Week 3, the Cards ranked 29th in sacks, 27th in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics, and 28th in coverage. They're far removed from the Ray Horton era under new DC Todd Bowles. Free-agent pickup John Abraham has been a colossal bust. ... A potential concern for Glennon, however, was Mike Williams (hamstring) and Vincent Jackson's (ribs) inability to practice this week. Glennon spent Wednesday and Thursday throwing to Kevin Ogletree and Russell Shepard. It may be an ominous development ahead of Glennon's debut. ... Whether Glennon can get him the ball remains to be seen, but Williams has an intriguing matchup with undersized Cards LCB Jerraud Powers (5'9/192). Williams (6'2/212) should avoid Patrick Peterson's shadow on a majority of snaps. Williams is a boom-or-bust WR3. Big-armed Glennon was a risk-taking shot-play passer at NC State. ... Is Peterson a shutdown corner? My eyeball test has said no, aside from when opposing offenses simply decide against throwing at him, which sometimes happens. PFF has graded Peterson 72nd in pass coverage among 103 qualifying corners, and Calvin Johnson lit him up for an 8-116-2 stat line in Week 2. Jackson isn't Megatron, but will pay fantasy dividends if he can match 75% of that production.
A factor restricting Freeman was Tampa's utter lack of chain-moving possession targets in the pass game. Ogletree is one of the worst third receivers in football, and the Bucs have nothing at tight end. So Freeman was left attempting to throw to V-Jax and Williams on "iso" routes down the sidelines, which are inherently low-percentage passes. I did notice Ogletree set a season high with six targets in Week 3, and Martin match his previous high with six as well. So perhaps the Bucs' coaching staff is noticing this on tape. Martin has delivered at least 100 total yards and/or a touchdown in three consecutive games to open the season, ranking tenth among running backs in fantasy points. Due to Glennon's likely lack of timing with Williams and V-Jax, Martin could be a frequent checkdown valve on Sunday. While the Cardinals rank top three in run defense early in the year, they haven't exactly faced elite rushing attacks (STL, DET when Reggie Bush got hurt, NO). They'll also be without gap-controlling NT Dan Williams (personal). Start Martin as an RB1, and hope his passing-game involvement continues to grow. Freeman was playing so poorly that I'm not sure the quarterback change has any truly negative impact on Tampa Bay's feature back.
Score Prediction: Bucs 21, Cardinals 20
4:05PM ET Game
NY Jets @ Tennessee
Jets-Titans unsurprisingly has the lowest Week 4 over-under at 39.5 points. Both teams are playing top-seven defense, and the Titans rank 29th in total offense. Look elsewhere for sleeper plays this week. ... Geno Smith has an unattractive matchup on the road. The blitz-heavy Titans will make Smith's pre- and post-snap reads extremely complex, and Tennessee is playing top-ten pass defense while grading out sixth in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metrics, and fifth in pass coverage. Time will tell whether the Titans' defense is legit, but to this point it certainly looks the part and could eat a rookie quarterback alive. ... With Chris Ivory (hamstring) out indefinitely, Bilal Powell is a strong RB2/flex at Tennessee, and could be an excellent sell-high candidate following Week 4, especially with more talented Mike Goodson returning from suspension in Week 5. The Titans have been more vulnerable to the run than pass, serving up the tenth highest YPC average (4.36) in football despite facing the pedestrian rushing attacks of Pittsburgh and San Diego in two of their three games. Titans NT Sammie Lee Hill has a high ankle sprain, and MLB Moise Fokou has been a major liability. Start Powell against the Titans, then trade him to the highest bidder.
Smith's target distribution: Stephen Hill 22, Santonio Holmes 19, Powell and Kellen Winslow 14, Clyde Gates 13, Jeremy Kerley 9, Ivory 2. ... Holmes flashed dynamic vertical skills in last week's win over the Bills, even if he preyed on fill-in CB Justin Rogers in coverage. This is a much more difficult matchup, although Holmes' improvement and role (76.1 percent snap rate) can't be ignored. He's back on the WR3 radar. ... Hill has been the Jets' best receiver this season, seemingly improving every game. He only has one drop among 22 targets and sits 26th in fantasy wideout scoring. Playing 93.2% of the snaps, Hill has emerged as a better dice-roll WR3 than Santonio. Hill will run most of his routes at LCB Jason McCourty, who is susceptible deep. ... Although Winslow's target numbers look respectable in total, he only has 16 yards since the season opener and went catch-less in Week 3. Part-time TE Jeff Cumberland (3-26) was a bigger factor last week. ... Playing the Jason Avant slot role in former Eagles OC Marty Mornhinweg's offense, Kerley has to this point been on the outside looking in. He's a WR5 in PPR and not worth a standard-league roster spot.
The Titans have a brutal run of defenses forthcoming. They face the Jets and Chiefs the next two games, then head to Seattle in Week 6 and host San Francisco in Week 7 before a Week 8 bye. It's a stretch during which the bottom could fall out for an average to sub-average team. ... Utilized as a game manager by OC Dowell Loggains, Jake Locker ranks 16th in quarterback points while playing the most efficient football of his career. He's in for an incredibly difficult test against Rex Ryan's No. 3 overall defense, which ranks third in the league in sacks, seventh versus the pass, and No. 1 in completion rate allowed (47.3). Locker isn't on the standard-league radar and is a low-end two-quarterback-league play. He's cleared 150 passing yards in 1-of-3 games this year. ... Locker's updated target distribution: Nate Washington 22, Kendall Wright 21, Kenny Britt 16, Delanie Walker 14, Damian Williams 4, Chris Johnson 3, Justin Hunter 2. ... Britt has as many penalties as receptions (five) this season and will attempt to play through a cracked rib against Antonio Cromartie's Jets. Britt is also in danger of losing snaps to rookie Hunter. No thanks.
Friday Update: Britt has injuries to his ribs and neck and barely practiced this week. Coach Mike Munchak indicated he was disappointed in Britt's level of participation in Friday's workout. Britt is off the fantasy radar and is listed as questionable. If he's inactive against the Jets, Wright (slot), Washington (Z), and Hunter (X) would likely form Tennessee's primary three-receiver set with Williams the top backup at all three positions.
Washington and Wright appear to have risen atop Locker's target pecking order, though neither can be trusted on a regular basis in a spread-the-wealth passing "attack" that ranks 30th in pass attempts. They're WR3 rolls of the dice. I do like Wright's matchup this week versus slot corner Kyle Wilson, who is the weakest link on Ryan's defense. Wright runs the highest-percentage routes of any Titan and is Loggains' go-to slot man. He's picked it up big time since a slow start. ... Battling turf toe this week, Walker is just a guy as a pass catcher and has no place on the rosters of fantasy owners in search of difference makers. ... In three straight weeks, Rex's defense has shut down an elite NFL running back (Doug Martin 24-65-1, Stevan Ridley 16-40, C.J. Spiller 10-9). Martin was at least able to save himself with a goal-line plunge; Chris Johnson gets vultured at the goal line and is used sparingly in the passing game. 47 tailbacks and eight fullbacks around the league have more pass targets than Johnson through three games. Johnson is 53rd among 57 qualifying tailbacks in PFF's yards after contact-per-attempt metric. He's a painful RB2/flex in Week 4.
Score Prediction: Jets 17, Titans 13
4:25PM ET Games
Washington @ Oakland
Playing on a short week, the Raiders return home from their Monday night 37-21 dismantling in Denver as the NFL's No. 31 defense in QB rating allowed (120.0) and No. 32 in completion rate permitted (76.5) with a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio against. If Robert Griffin III is ever going to bust his slump, the time is now. Oakland sits 30th in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics and 24th in coverage. They'll continue to play without top DB Tyvon Branch (ankle/fibula). View RG3 as a high-ceiling QB1. ... Griffin's distribution of targets: Pierre Garcon 37; Santana Moss 23; Leonard Hankerson 17; Jordan Reed 15; Josh Morgan 13; Logan Paulsen 9; Roy Helu, Fred Davis, and Aldrick Robinson 6; Alfred Morris 4. ... Hankerson has let us down many times before, but his outlook appears to be on the rise again. He's started each of Washington's last two games over Morgan, and in Week 3 played a season-high 71.3% of the snaps. There are worse WR3 fliers. ... Garcon is a locked-and-loaded WR1 on the verge of a blowup game and perhaps a string of them. Among wide receivers, only Cecil Shorts has more targets, and only Julio Jones, Julian Edelman, and Andre Johnson have more catches. Start Garcon with excitement in Week 4.
Avoid Redskins tight ends in the Black Hole. Reed (quad) and Davis (ankle) are beat up and barely practiced this week. Reed is not expected to play. Davis likely will, but figures to rotate with Paulsen. ... Although Moss is seeing a somewhat steady dose of targets, he's cleared 60 yards in one of his last ten games. Hankerson is a better bet. ... Oakland ranks 18th against the run and served up 166 yards with a touchdown on 32 carries (5.19 YPC) to Broncos tailbacks in Week 3. Just one of Morris' 40 carries so far this year has come with the Redskins ahead, and Washington should have a lead more often against the Raiders. One of the few first-round fantasy running back picks who hasn't been an early-season disappointment, Morris ranks 13th in scoring at his position and is averaging a robust 5.63 yards per rushing attempt.
Terrelle Pryor's (concussion) expected Week 4 inactivity is a major blow to Raiders skill-position players. Matt Flynn could take a torpedo to this already shaky Oakland offense. The primary reason Flynn was benched this preseason was that a limited-arm pure pocket passer can't function behind the Raiders' swinging-gate offensive line. Pryor has been masking an awful lot of flaws. Although Washington's defense has struggled mightily early in the season, they still have enough pass-rush juice in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo to repeatedly exploit Oakland's front five. The Skins' fantasy defense is worth considering as a desperation streamer. ... The Raiders know Flynn's limitations and will likely attempt to control this game on the ground. While Pryor starting certainly would've been preferable, Darren McFadden remains an attractive RB2 against a Washington defense that ranks 30th versus the run and is shelling out 4.84 yards per carry. Quietly off to a red-hot start, DMC is No. 8 in fantasy running back scoring, seeing 18.3 touches a game. Owners should fire up McFadden on Sunday and against the Chargers in Week 5, then sell high before it's too late. DMC's schedule toughens thereafter, and he's always been injury prone.
Denarius Moore has surrounded a Week 2 goose egg with stat lines of 5-43-1 against the Colts on Opening Day and 6-124-1 at Denver last Monday night. His big-play ability is as undeniable as his inconsistency. Now dealing with a quarterback downgrade, start Moore at your own risk. ... Because Flynn has a possession-type arm and Rod Streater is a possession-type receiver, my guess would be Flynn targets Streater more than any other Oakland pass catcher. There are no guarantees, of course. Moore and Streater have plus matchups versus Washington's No. 31 pass defense, but the quarterback situation is a potentially major obstacle. ... The only other Raider with any semblance of fantasy value is FB Marcel Reece, to whom the Raiders made a public commitment for increased offensive usage after signing him to an extension last week. Pryor and the coaching staff followed through, targeting Reece a season-high five times in the pass game. Reece converted four for 45 yards and a TD thrown by McFadden. Reece is a huge long-shot flex.
Friday Update: Pryor practiced on a limited basis Friday and is listed as questionable. Coach Dennis Allen said Pryor will play -- not necessarily start -- if he passes one more concussion test on Saturday. We're left in the dark because Allen won't announce his Week 4 starter publicly for "competitive reasons." Because this is a late game, fantasy owners of Raiders skill-position players should probably take the glass-half-empty mindset that Pryor isn't starting. Hopefully we'll get clarification on Saturday.
Score Prediction: Redskins 27, Raiders 16
Philadelphia @ Denver
At 58 points, Philly-Denver predictably has the highest over-under of Week 4 and any game to date this year. The Broncos and Eagles rank Nos. 1 and 2 in offense, respectively, and Philly's sieve-ish defense doesn't hurt the scoring projections on either side. ... Peyton Manning is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback on the season, and Philadelphia ranks 29th against the pass. Um, start 'em. ... The Eagles have shown an utter inability to defend crossing routes in consecutive games, getting torched by Eddie Royal in Week 2 and Donnie Avery two Thursdays ago. You can be sure Peyton noticed this on tape. The Philly defense is swiss cheese. They are slow and tackle poorly. Fire up Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker. ... Manning's target distribution so far this year: Decker and Demaryius 28, Welker 27, Thomas 20, Knowshon Moreno 8, Virgil Green and Ronnie Hillman 3, Montee Ball 2. ... The Denver wideouts most likely to run crossers are Welker and Decker. Welker is the No. 11 overall fantasy receiver, and Decker is 19. They are both every-week WR2s. ... Demaryius is running most of his pass patterns at right cornerbacks and over the middle. Philly's RCB is Bradley Fletcher, who is 52nd in Pro Football Focus' pass coverage grades. Demaryius is my pick to lead Denver in Week 4 receiving yards.
The Eagles have the NFL's worst safeties outside of Washington and will be minus FS Pat Chung (shoulder). "Orange Julius" is a top-five tight end start. ... The Broncos' backfield devolved back into a Week 3 timeshare against the Raiders last Monday, but it's tough to draw conclusions from a game that so quickly got out of hand. Moreno was the clear-cut lead back until Denver got up 28-0 at halftime. I charted the game, and the touch distribution to that point was Moreno 10, Hillman 4, Ball 1, with another Moreno carry nullified by penalty. Moreno had three more carries on Denver's opening second-half possession, and never touched the ball again. Hillman didn't play until the score was 14-0. He did play well, which could perhaps translate to more work going forward. Ball ran hard in garbage time, but lost a fumble. I still think Moreno is the favorite for touches and snaps whenever games are competitive. I'd start him as a flex against Philly's No. 22 run defense. ... Hillman would be a much dicier flex, but provides juice and shiftiness Moreno and Ball can't. Hillman is worth a 12-team-league roster spot, but probably will never be Denver's lead back. The organization views him as a change-up runner. ... Ball has lost fumbles in back-to-back games, but the fact the Broncos continued to give him carries versus Oakland confirms they aren't throwing in the towel. Ball only fumbled five times in 1,001 career touches at Wisconsin.
It's not enough to sit any member of Philly's Big Three (Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson) in fantasy, but the one risk the lopsidedly-built Eagles run in a game like this is falling behind by a lot of points because they can't stop Peyton. Chip Kelly's offense is designed to run the football at a voluminous and crisp pace. Not to rally back from deficits. ... The Eagles rank fifth in the league in rushing attempts, first in rushing yards -- by a whopping 174 -- and first in yards per carry (6.60). Vick alone is on pace to rush 101 times for 976 yards with ten scores. Only Peyton has scored more fantasy points among quarterbacks. Consider Vick a matchup-proof, every-week top-five QB1 until something changes. ... Denver's No. 1 run defense has eliminated rushing attacks early in the year, though their mettle will be tested by No. 1 overall fantasy back McCoy. The element of Philly's run-game success that doesn't get enough credit is the offensive line. Very arguably the most talented front five in football, the Eagles' O-Line ranks a head-and-shoulders first in Pro Football Focus' run-block grades, with rookie RT Lane Johnson fifth among tackles, LG Evan Mathis first among guards, and Jason Kelce as PFF's top run-blocking center.
Vick's target portioning through three games: Jackson 31, Jason Avant 18, Riley Cooper 16, Brent Celek 9, McCoy 8, Zach Ertz 6. ... Philly's low-volume pass game will produce random big weeks from the role players behind D-Jax. Predicting when one will come and for whom will be virtually impossible. Avant (5-87-1) was the guy in Week 3 against Kansas City. Celek (2-56-1) had dibs in the opener. McCoy stepped up in between (5-114). Otherwise, Avant, Celek, Cooper, and Ertz have been fantasy non-factors. I wouldn't bother with any of them in 12-team leagues. ... Jackson is coming off his slowest game of the season, but should still be viewed as an every-week starter. The Broncos' secondary has displayed susceptibility to big plays, which are D-Jax's bread and butter. Denver has surrendered the third most 20-plus-yard receptions (16) in football. If the Eagles do fall behind early, it would be logical to expect Jackson to benefit in the box score.
Score Prediction: Broncos 33, Eagles 27