Kansas City @ Tennessee
This game has the appearance of a surefire defensive struggle. Its 39-point over-under is easily Week 5's smallest, and both clubs rank top nine in total defense. Kansas City's quarterback is a career game manager, while Tennessee's new signal caller is a pick-prone gunslinger whom OC Dowell Loggains will undoubtedly look to rein in. ... Leave out their Week 3 game in Philly, and the Chiefs have played solid run defense. In its other three contests, Kansas City has held the Giants, Cowboys, and Jags to a combined 206 yards on 60 scoreless carries (3.43 YPC). So despite the Chiefs' No. 24 run-defense ranking, this isn't necessarily a plus matchup for slumping Chris Johnson. Still making little pass-game impact and averaging a career-worst 3.30 yards per carry, Johnson is a boom-or-bust RB2. With the Seahawks and 49ers next on Tennessee's schedule, selling high on Johnson if he plays well Sunday might not be the worst idea. ... Jake Locker is out at least one month with hip and MCL sprains, leaving signal-calling duties to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Although Fitzpatrick was miscast as the centerpiece of Chan Gailey's spread offenses in Buffalo, he's a quarterback capable of moving the chains and is willing to at least attempt tight-window throws. "FitzMagic" is not a recommended two-QB-league start against a Chiefs defense that ranks second versus the pass and first in sacks (18), but I'm not so sure his insertion is a huge downgrade to Tennessee's offense. It may look that way Sunday, however, due to the opponent.
We're dealing in a very small sample here, but these were Fitz's targets after replacing Locker in the third quarter against the Jets: Nate Washington 4, Kendall Wright 3, Damian Williams 1. ... Two of Fitzpatrick's three completions went to Washington for 83 yards and a score. I always hesitate to trust Washington because he's been around nine years and is a letdown more often than not, but he's a top-six fantasy receiver the past three weeks and is a fine real-life player. He's also likely to get the Brandon Flowers treatment Sunday. Washington can be penciled in as a dicey WR3. ... Wright has at least five receptions in three straight games and played a season-high 72.4% of the Titans' Week 4 snaps. As a slot receiver, Wright is a fit for Fitzpatrick's average to sub-average arm talent. The Chiefs' secondary is most vulnerable in the slot, where CB Dunta Robinson is getting burned relentlessly. Purely in terms of pass coverage, Robinson is Pro Football Focus' No. 93 corner among 101 qualifiers. Victor Cruz demolished Robinson for a 10-164-1 line in Week 4. ... Titans TE Delanie Walker is battling turf toe and rib injuries, and is more blocker than receiver. He's off the fantasy radar. ... Two career catches, two career touchdowns for rookie Justin Hunter. Unfortunately, that isn't reliable fantasy production, and Kenny Britt returns this week to cut into Hunter's snaps. Hunter has three targets on the year. He was Tennessee's No. 4 receiver even with Britt (ribs) inactive last week, playing 20.3% of the snaps.
With Cleveland's finally earning some national respect, Tennessee is left with the most underrated defense in football. Sparked by ex-Saints DC Gregg Williams' heavy-handed influence, the blitz-heavy Titans rank No. 9 in total defense and No. 7 in points allowed. They're tied for third in sacks (14). Although Alex Smith has greatly exceeded expectations as the No. 6 fantasy quarterback on a small, four-game sample size, he continues to offer minimal week-to-week upside and is not a recommended Week 5 streamer in this difficult road matchup. ... Jamaal Charles is Kansas City's lone locked-in fantasy starter, and should continue to pile up catches as Smith's hot read against Tennessee's blitz. Charles already leads all running backs in targets -- by seven -- so this plays into the Chiefs' hands. He's tied with Matt Forte and Darren Sproles at No. 1 in receptions. The Titans have also been weaker in run than pass defense, allowing the eighth-highest YPC average (4.26) in the NFL. Charles is the No. 2 overall fantasy running back, behind only Adrian Peterson.
Smith's target distribution: Charles 35, Donnie Avery 26, Dwayne Bowe 24, Dexter McCluster 18, Sean McGrath 13, Anthony Fasano and Anthony Sherman 7, A.J. Jenkins 2, Knile Davis 1. ... After lighting up the sieve-ish Eagles on wide-open crossing routes for a 7-141 line in Week 3, Avery confirmed the performance fluky with two catches for 23 scoreless yards in last week's win over the Giants. Throw out the Philly game and Avery has failed to clear 40 yards in 3-of-3 weeks. ... The Titans' corners are playing really well, particularly contract-year RCB Alterraun Verner. LCB Jason McCourty has always been a steady, if overpaid presence. I don't think Kansas City will have much passing success as a team on Sunday, and don't see reason to believe Avery or Bowe would be a particularly strong fantasy start. View Bowe as a shaky WR3, and Avery as waiver-wire fodder. ... McCluster played poorly in Kansas City's first three games, dropping a pass each week. McCluster finally avoided drops against the G-Men, secured 5-of-5 targets for 48 yards, and returned a punt 89 yards for a score. I suppose you could use him in a return-yardage league.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 20, Titans 17
Jacksonville @ St. Louis
Blaine Gabbert looked like a rookie again in his Week 4 return from a hand laceration against the Colts. He shrunk when pressured and perceived pass rush that wasn't there, repeatedly bailing out of the pocket with negative results. Gabbert threw three picks, and his season TD-to-INT ratio currently stands at 0:5. ... Because Gabbert already plays scared, it's troubling to imagine how frightened he'll play now that the Jaguars have traded LT Eugene Monroe. Jacksonville's new right tackle will be Austin Pasztor, a 2012 undrafted free agent out of Virginia with short arms and limited athleticism. He played guard in college. New LT Luke Joeckel is 57th of 72 in PFF's 2013 tackle ratings. ... The Rams are 1-3 and have looked like a genuinely bad team in back-to-back games. With Robert Quinn bookending Chris Long, the one thing St. Louis does effectively is rush the passer. And they are coming off a long week to get issues corrected. I'd be excited to start the Rams' fantasy defense in Week 5. ... Gabbert's target distribution on the season: Cecil Shorts 22, Ace Sanders 17, Justin Forsett 7, Allen Reisner 6, Jordan Todman and Clay Harbor 4, Maurice Jones-Drew 3. ... Shorts' stat lines in his last six games when both he and Gabbert have played together extensively: 3-40, 3-56, 8-116, 2-43, 1-8, 7-61. Unable to practice due to a groin injury, Shorts is a low-end WR3 play this week.
The return of Justin Blackmon gives inept Gabbert another "weapon," though owners can't expect immediate dividends. Rams LCB Janoris Jenkins has flashed shutdown coverage skills as a sophomore and is likely to match up with Blackmon on most of Sunday's snaps. Throw in the Gabbert factor and Blackmon is a WR4. ... Slot guy Sanders has the best matchup of Jaguars receivers with Rams slot CB Cortland Finnegan (thigh) listed as doubtful, but Sanders' snaps will decline with Blackmon off suspension, and he has 162 scoreless yards through four games. ... Joeckel has been getting blown up as a run blocker, and the Jaguars' interior trio of C Brad Meester, RG Uche Nwaneri, and LG Will Rackley is getting pulverized every week. The Rams are 30th in run defense, so at least the matchup is right for Jones-Drew to have a shot at a productive game. I'm still skeptical. Even on the rare occasions MJD has had lanes this year, he's appeared less powerful than ever with little burst or lateral movement. He hasn't topped 3.00 YPC in any of the first four games. On the off chance MJD does impress in the Week 5 box score, it'll be time for fantasy owners to sell. With Gabbert at the controls, any offense would be a dumpster fire.
Struggling Daryl Richardson wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he will not start against the Jags, likely due to ineffectiveness. While St. Louis' line play has been abysmal -- Pro Football Focus grades them 28th in run blocking -- Richardson deserves a large chunk of blame for failing to create on his own and missing too many cutback opportunities. He was leaving yards on the field. Look for a Week 5 RBBC, with Zac Stacy likely at the forefront and either Richardson or Isaiah Pead in the scatback change-of-pace role. To this point, at least, UDFA Benny Cunningham has been utilized sparingly as a ball carrier and more on special teams. Stacy is worth rostering in all fantasy leagues. Whichever Rams back gets the carries Sunday should be positioned for some success. Eviscerated on the ground, Jacksonville is surrendering the fourth-highest YPC average (5.21) in football and has served up a league-high nine 20-plus-yard runs. ... Sam Bradford has performed poorly in back-to-back tilts with Dallas and San Francisco, but there's nothing like a meeting with the Jaguars when you need to bust a slump. Simply lacking talent, the Jags have surrendered a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing passers and rank 26th in sacks (8). As a team, PFF grades Jacksonville 24th in both pass rush and pass coverage. Fire up Bradford in two-quarterback-leagues and give him a look as a desperation QB1 streamer. His matchup is cake.
Bradford's target distribution: Tavon Austin 34, Jared Cook 32, Austin Pettis 31, Chris Givens 27, Richardson 14, Lance Kendricks 13, Pead 11, Brian Quick 10, Cunningham 5. ... Austin has resembled Dexter McCluster more than Percy Harvin through four games. His stop-start jukes aren't fooling anyone, and he is not a physical tackle breaker in the Harvin vein. Austin apologists blame OC Brian Schottenheimer. I do think this is a good week to roll the Tavon dice as a WR3. Coming off a Thursday nighter, Schottenheimer had a 10-day window to adjust, and Bradford is a virtual lock for a clean pocket against the Jags. ... Rams pass catchers are virtually impossible to project week to week because there are four guys bunched tightly atop the target totem pole, and none has flashed signs of consistency. Givens has a plus draw versus journeyman RCB Alan Ball, but he's been boom or bust and mostly bust to this point. ... Pettis has the least favorable matchup against LCB Will Blackmon, who has stood out positively in the back end of Jacksonville's defense. Pettis has cleared 60 yards in 1-of-4 games. ... Since leading all tight ends in Week 1 points, Cook has bottomed out as the No. 29 tight end scorer the past three weeks. Cook is a big play-dependent tight end who hurts you when he doesn't hit one. He's another boom-or-bust start, albeit one with a good matchup against a Jaguars team surrendering the tenth most fantasy points to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Rams 24, Jaguars 13
4:05PM ET Game
Carolina @ Arizona
Arizona's tailback picture has devolved into a two-headed timeshare with Rashard Mendenhall getting outplayed by rookie Andre Ellington, but still leading the committee in weekly carries. As the Cardinals' line does not open running lanes, Mendenhall is completely ineffective and will likely continue to be against Carolina's top-seven run defense. With just 51 yards on his last 22 carries (2.32 YPC), Mendenhall is approaching drop status in 10-team leagues. He's a low-ceiling RB3/4 in standard formats. ... Ellington adds juice and playmaking ability, and is a better fit behind the Cards' penetration-allowing front five because he can create his own running room on occasion with lateral moves. Unfortunately in fantasy terms, Ellington is only being utilized as a change-of-pace back and has yet to exceed seven touches in any game this year. He's not a flex option, at least not yet. ... Departed LT Levi Brown has long been a liability in pass protection, but his exit won't help Arizona's run game. Through four weeks, Brown was Pro Football Focus' No. 9 overall run-blocking tackle and easily the Cardinals' highest-graded run-blocking lineman. ... Carson Palmer's target distribution since Rob Housler returned from a high ankle sprain two games ago: Michael Floyd 16, Larry Fitzgerald 15, Ellington 13, Andre Roberts 6, Housler and Mendenhall 5.
Fitzgerald is an every-week fantasy starter. He beat Darrelle Revis for the game-winning touchdown last week in Tampa. It goes without saying Fitz should be in your lineup against a defensive backfield as talent-deficient as Carolina's. ... Housler's return has cut heavily into Roberts' targets and playing time. Whereas Roberts played 74% of the snaps in Weeks 1-2, he's down to 56% the past two games. Roberts needs to be viewed as a borderline-roster-worthy WR5 going forward. ... Separation has been established behind Fitz in the pecking order for Palmer's targets. Floyd is playing 92.2% of the snaps and coming off his best game of the season (5-87 on ten targets). I'm still skeptical Floyd will meet "breakout" expectations, but he's on the WR3 radar against the Panthers' suspect secondary. ... Housler has been more of a drain on Roberts’ value than standalone producer. I don't expect Housler to make a sustained fantasy impact at any point this season, regardless of matchups. ... Palmer is going to have his hands full against the Panthers, who bring enough pass rush that they are genuinely capable of torpedoing an offense. Just ask Eli Manning, whom Carolina sacked seven times before its Week 4 bye. To replace Levi Brown, the Cardinals are installing ex-Bucs practice squadder Bradley Sowell on Palmer's blind side. In his first NFL start, Sowell will square off with RE Greg Hardy, who’s on pace for 16 sacks in a contract season. Look for Hardy to eat, and Palmer to fail to pay dividends as any more than a mid-range to low-end two-quarterback-league start.
I was worried about Cam Newton after the Panthers' first two games. OC Mike Shula completely scrapped quarterback runs, and Newton's only rushing attempts were coming on scrambles. I was excited about Newton again when Shula made obvious adjustments in Week 3, re-implementing designed runs and giving Cam goal-line carries en route to a 38-0 dismantling of the Giants. Consider Newton a top-five QB1 moving forward. This is an excellent matchup, as Arizona ranks 20th in pass defense with the fourth-fewest sacks in football (7) through one month. ... Newton's 2013 target distribution: Steve Smith and Greg Olsen 26, Ted Ginn 13, Brandon LaFell 11, DeAngelo Williams 5, Mike Tolbert 4, Armanti Edwards 2, Domenik Hixon 1. ... Smith is going to get the Patrick Peterson treatment, one week after Peterson held Vincent Jackson to 27 yards on two receptions among 11 targets. Still, Peterson's coverage has been up and down this season, and largely throughout his career. He's certainly not a shutdown corner. As an explosive, 5-foot-9 jitterbug with springs for legs, Smitty also poses different problems for a 6-foot-2, 220-pound defensive back than 6-foot-5, 230-pound buildup speed receiver V-Jax. I see Smith as a fine WR3 option. ... LaFell scored two red-zone touchdowns against the G-Men, but isn't commanding enough targets for serious fantasy-start consideration. LaFell is on pace for 352 yards this year.
Enemy tight end numbers versus the Cardinals so far: Jared Cook 7-141-2, Brandon Pettigrew 3-32, Jimmy Graham 9-134-2, Tim Wright 5-41. Arizona has permitted the second most fantasy points to tight ends this season. Olsen is a strong, if back-end TE1 play. ... DeAngelo Williams owners should look to move him soon, because Jonathan Stewart (ankles/PUP) is on track for a Week 7 return and could immediately render Carolina's backfield an even timeshare. If Stewart's ankles are fixed following twin offseason surgeries, he is the Panthers' most dynamic and versatile back. On Sunday, Williams will take on an Arizona defense that ranks No. 2 against the run and is surrendering an NFC-low 3.03 yards per carry. The Cardinals shut down Doug Martin (27-45-0) last week, and get back run-clogging NT Dan Williams on Sunday following a two-game absence. D-Will remains likely to receive 20-plus rushing attempts in Week 5, but he's a dicey RB2/flex with limited fantasy upside because Newton and Tolbert are vulturing goal-line carries.
Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Cardinals 20