4:25PM ET Game
Denver @ Dallas
With a whopping 57-point over-under in the passer-friendly confines of JerryWorld, Broncos-Cowboys has major shootout potential. This is a game in which you want to start fantasy players. ... Primarily because they so often force opponents to play from behind -- a scenario which certainly could continue in Week 5 -- Denver ranks 30th in pass defense and has allowed the most 20-plus-yard completions in football (23). It's a great week to fire up Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Dez is too physical for beanpole RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and 35-year-old LCB Champ Bailey (foot) is not expected to play. ... Tenth in fantasy quarterback scoring, Romo has a chance to set a season high in pass attempts after being limited to 61 throws the past two weeks. Playing outstanding football despite surprisingly little buzz, Romo is completing a career-best 72.4% of his passes with eight touchdowns and one pick. Dating back to November of 2012, Romo has an 18:3 TD-to-INT ratio across his last seven home starts. ... Romo's target distribution since Miles Austin's hamstring strain in the third quarter of Week 3 against the Rams: Jason Witten 11, Dez 10, Terrance Williams 8, DeMarco Murray 5, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley 3.
Williams had a drop and lost a critical fourth-quarter fumble in last week's loss to San Diego, but played 87% of Dallas' snaps and secured 7-of-8 targets for 71 yards. Williams has some Week 5 WR3 appeal due to this game's lofty scoring projection. He's clearly out in front of Harris and Beasley. ... Denver has allowed the fifth-most catches and third-most yards to tight ends through four weeks. At least until Austin returns, Witten is a virtual lock for double-digit targets. ... Murray is the lone Dallas skill-position player with a slightly imposing matchup. The Broncos are playing shutdown run defense, allowing a minuscule 3.22 YPC. On the bright side, Murray is seventh in the NFL in carries and fifth among running backs in catches, and it's entirely possible the Cowboys will game plan to establish Murray in an effort to keep Peyton Manning off the field. Seventh in running back scoring, Murray is a locked-in RB2 despite the tough on-paper matchup.
Peyton Manning leads the NFL in completions, completion rate, passing yards, TD passes, yards per attempt, passer rating, and QBR. That's enough. ... Demaryius Thomas has the best Week 5 matchup of Denver's receivers. The Cowboys have demoted whipping-boy RCB Morris Claiborne, but he is still playing right corner in all sub-packages. The Broncos go three-wide on 70% of their snaps, forcing defenses to play nickel and dime. Thomas runs most of his pass patterns at right corners and over the middle, so he will match up with Claiborne early and often. Behind perhaps only Megatron, I'd rank Thomas as a top-two fantasy receiver this week. Claiborne is toast. ... The Broncos have scored 52 more points than any other team and are averaging an easily-league-best 483 total yards per game. An overlooked factor behind Denver's offensive dominance is the crisp pace at which they play. Peyton and OC Adam Gase have the pedal to the medal, ripping off the fourth-most plays from scrimmage in football despite ranking a relatively modest 13th in time of possession. Throw in Manning's machine-like efficiency and it's genuinely possible to support 4-5 strong fantasy box scores from Denver's non-quarterback skill players every week. ... Peyton's to-date target distribution: Demaryius 38, Wes Welker 36, Eric Decker 35, Julius Thomas 24, Knowshon Moreno 9, Ronnie Hillman 6, Virgil Green and Andre Caldwell 4, Montee Ball 2.
Welker is inarguably an every-week starter, but has a tougher draw against feisty Cowboys slot CB Orlando Scandrick. Slot receivers versus Dallas the past three weeks: Dexter McCluster 2-14, Tavon Austin 6-30, Eddie Royal 3-42. ... Now far beyond his Week 1 clunker, Decker is a top-ten fantasy receiver over the past three weeks. Like Welker, however, Decker gets a fairly difficult matchup against LCB Brandon Carr, who per Pro Football Focus hasn't allowed a touchdown in six games going back to last season. Decker does play on both sides enough that he could easily still burn Claiborne on a given snap and deliver WR2 production. Welker and Thomas are WR1s. ... "Orange Julius" has been generously compared to Antonio Gates, and it just so happens Gates lit up this same Dallas defense for a 10-136-1 stat line in Week 4. ... Although the final box-score results may indicate otherwise, there is a clear lead back in Denver when games are competitive, and it is Moreno. Hillman and Ball have seen upticks in usage primarily because the Broncos are blowing out opponents. Moreno will remain locked in as the carries frontrunner due to his pass-protection skills. In last week's 52-20 blowout win, Moreno received eight first-half touches, including three red-zone runs and two inside the Philly five-yard line, converting the second for a four-yard score. Hillman was strictly a change-of-pace back until late in the second quarter, when he handled the full two-minute drill. Demoted to third string, Ball only played in garbage time. Now facing Dallas' No. 3 run defense, only Moreno can be counted on as a reliable Week 5 RB2/flex.
Score Prediction: Broncos 31, Cowboys 24
Sunday Night Football
Houston @ San Francisco
Matt Schaub has thrown a pick-six in three consecutive games and can set an NFL record with a fourth Sunday night at Candlestick. Despite limited secondary talent and the "leave of absence" by top outside rusher Aldon Smith, the 49ers rank third in pass defense and have permitted only five passing scores through four games. San Francisco's completion percentage against is 52.8, the second lowest clip in football. Playing with diminished confidence, Schaub should be viewed as a risky two-quarterback-league play despite his to-date box-score statistics. Since two fluky shootouts to open season, Schaub's stats over the past two games are 56-of-84 for 549 yards, two touchdowns, three picks, seven sacks absorbed, and nineteen QB hits. ... Arian Foster re-ascended to RB1 status in Week 4 against Seattle, improving his fantasy running back rank from 16th to 8th overall in a heavy-volume all-purpose performance. Foster out-touched Ben Tate 33:8 versus Seattle, and played 65 snaps to Tate's season-low 11. Despite Tate's better YPC average, Foster could continue to widen the playing-time gap due to his superior versatility and Tate's Week 4 lost fumble. The 49ers are allowing only 3.50 yards per carry on the season, but have dished out six rushing TDs through four games and rank 19th in run defense. View Foster as a matchup-proof every-week starter until something changes. Tate is a low-end flex play.
Schaub's target distribution: Andre Johnson 47, Owen Daniels 32, DeAndre Hopkins 29, Foster 22, Garrett Graham 16, Tate and Keshawn Martin 11, DeVier Posey 4. ... Johnson leads the NFL in receptions (34) and is coming off a nine-catch, 110-yard game against a Seattle secondary that is better than San Francisco's. He's a WR1. ... Hopkins has been up and down week to week, but has a plus Week 5 matchup versus 49ers LCBs Carlos Rogers and Tramaine Brock. (Rogers plays left corner in base packages and moves to the slot in the nickel, with Brock entering at LCB.) Rogers is struggling mightly at age 32. Brock is filling in for injured Nnamdi Asomugha (knee). This might be a good week to take the plunge on "Nuk." ... Daniels has exceeded fantasy expectations this season, but has the most difficult Week 5 matchup of Texans pass catchers. San Francisco has allowed the sixth-fewest catches (14) and yards (142) in the league to tight ends. And they'll be even better with ILB Patrick Willis back from his groin injury. Willis is the best pass-coverage linebacker in the NFL and often shadows opposing tight ends. ... Graham is currently the No. 12 overall fantasy tight end, though he's scoring touchdowns at an unsustainable rate. He has three red-zone TDs among 12 catches. 23 NFL tight ends have more targets than Graham, and 21 have more yards. Graham will hurt your fantasy team if he doesn't find pay dirt in any given week.
Amid all the handwringing over Colin Kaepernick's "lack of weapons" and the laughable notion defenses have "figured out" arguably the most talented all-purpose signal caller in the game, it's seemingly been forgotten Kaepernick has the NFL's premier quarterback guru working behind the scenes. And coach Jim Harbaugh had a ten-day time period between San Francisco's Thursday win over St. Louis and Sunday night's tilt with the Texans to make adjustments, grind tape, and "figure out" what's ailing his own passing attack. Assuredly helping matters is the healthy return of Vernon Davis, who is the lone 49ers pass catcher capable of creating cavities of separation in the intermediate and deep passing game. Although Houston ranks No. 1 versus the pass, the Texans have permitted the ninth most points in football with a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio against. The difficult on-paper matchup renders Kaepernick more low-end QB1 than elite fantasy starter, but he'll get back into the latter range soon. ... Davis has missed one game, had another cut short by a hamstring injury, and wasn't 100% at St. Louis, yet he's still on pace for 15 touchdown grabs. Among tight ends, I'd only start Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten over Davis in Week 5.
Still running hungry at age 30, Frank Gore has 235 yards and a TD on his last 31 carries (7.58 YPC). He's got a ton of juice left. The Texans are only conceding 3.97 yards per carry, but have allowed the tenth-most rushing yards in football. Gore is an every-week RB2. A league-best 9.8% of Gore's carries have gone for 15-plus yards. ... Kap's 2013 target distribution: Anquan Boldin 36, Kyle Williams 19, Davis 18, Gore and Bruce Miller 11, Vance McDonald 9, Jon Baldwin and Kendall Hunter 2. ... The Texans' corners have been up and down this season. LCB Kareem Jackson has always been beatable, and RCB Johnathan Joseph's best days are likely behind him. 5-foot-9, 180-pound slot corner Brice McCain can be overpowered. This is a plus matchup for Boldin, who despite early inconsistency is the No. 10 overall fantasy receiver and has actually performed better this season with a healthy Davis on the field. ... No other 49ers pass catcher is worth fantasy-start consideration, though Baldwin should be monitored in 12- and 14-team leagues. Coming off the extended layoff, there are indications Baldwin might draw the start at X receiver, replacing Williams opposite Boldin. Quinton Patton is out indefinitely with a broken foot.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Texans 21
11:35PM ET Game
San Diego @ Oakland
Due to baseball's postseason, this game will be played under the Black Hole lights. It'll be an all-nighter for Eastern and Central time-zone watchers on NFL Network. ... Philip Rivers entered 2013 with major supporting cast concerns, and his velocity had clearly diminished over the past two seasons. We're now four games in, and rookie coach Mike McCoy's offense is saving Rivers' career. Rather than ask Rivers to make seven-step drops and chuck downfield behind a leaky line -- cough, Norval -- McCoy has emphasized a high-volume, quick-trigger attack that plays to the strength of all involved parties while simultaneously masking their weaknesses. It's simply been an outstanding coaching job. While I remain skeptical the production is sustainable due to San Diego's talent limitations, I'd certainly advise riding Rivers while he's hot in plus matchups. This is one of those, as Oakland has permitted a 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing quarterbacks and ranks 28th in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metrics. Rivers should pick apart the Raiders from a squeaky-clean pocket. ... Also rejuvenated in McCoy's tight end-friendly scheme, Antonio Gates is the No. 3 fantasy tight end behind only Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron. Start Gates every week. He's tied with Graham for most catches by tight ends, and has more yards than Cameron.
Rivers' target distribution: Gates 31, Danny Woodhead 27, Vincent Brown 23, Eddie Royal 19, Keenan Allen 10, Ryan Mathews 7, Ronnie Brown 3. ... The jig is up on Royal, who has five catches for 76 scoreless yards on five combined targets the past two weeks. He's a WR4/5. ... A recommended sleeper in the Week 4 Matchups column, Allen delivered season highs in receptions (5) and yards (80). Unfortunately, Allen doesn't get to face Morris Claiborne every week. Allen's Week 5 matchup is favorable again versus struggling rookie RCB D.J. Hayden; it's just hard to trust a guy with ten targets through four games. He's a dicey WR3. ... Although Brown has struggled to get open downfield this year, he's coming off year bests in targets (9) and catches (7) and will do battle with LCB Mike Jenkins on the majority of Sunday's snaps. Jenkins is 73rd-of-101 in PFF's cornerback coverage ratings. I could name many worse bye-week WR3s than Brown. ... I underestimated Woodhead coming into the season. He is Rivers' new version of Darren Sproles, and an outstanding fit for McCoy's get-the-ball-out-quick offense, ranking fourth among all running backs in receptions and fifth in receiving yards. He's an every-week flex starter in PPR leagues. Since Week 1, Woodhead has averaged 13 touches and 34 snaps per game. ... Over that same three-week stretch, Mathews has averaged 27 snaps per game. Mathews remains in the RB2/flex mix in this particular game because Oakland ranks 21st versus the run.
Matt Flynn's abominable Week 4 start displayed just how many Raiders deficiencies Terrelle Pryor has been masking. Flynn absorbed seven sacks, committed three turnovers, and did not move the offense. Pryor's return gives the Raiders a huge shot in the arm. ... A shot in the arm for Pryor's Week 5 matchup is OLB Dwight Freeney's year-ending quadriceps tear. Look beyond the box score, and Freeney was tormenting offensive lines as an outside pass rusher. Unfortunately for San Diego, Freeney was the Bolts' only threatening edge presence on a team that ranks 29th against the pass and 25th versus the run. This is a cake matchup for Pryor, who has played well enough to earn serious QB1 consideration. ... San Diego is allowing 5.24 YPC, the third-highest average in football. Although FB Marcel Reece is tentatively due back from last week's knee injury, Rashad Jennings will start for Darren McFadden (hamstring) and projects as a 16-22 touch back versus a poor defense. Jennings is just a flex option, but an intriguing one. Though only a gets-what's-blocked ball-carrying talent, Jennings has plus versatility and every-down back tools. Jennings led Oakland in receiving with 71 yards on eight catches in Week 4.
Pryor's target distribution this season: Denarius Moore 19, Rod Streater 16, McFadden 10, Mychal Rivera 9, Reece 6, Brice Butler 8, Jeron Mastrud 2, Jacoby Ford 5, Jennings 3. ... Although it's clear Moore has ascended atop the target pecking order, I remain wary of Raiders pass catchers because there's so little volume to be passed around. This leads to major inconsistency. Oakland ranks 31st in pass attempts per game. Still, Moore is a high-ceiling WR3 play against a Chargers pass defense that he's historically torched, and is even worse this year. Moore's three career stat lines against San Diego: 5-123-2, 3-101, 1-5-1. ... On pace for 52 receptions and 688 scoreless yards, Streater can't be trusted in fantasy leagues regardless of matchups until he picks up his production. And this low-volume passing game is unlikely to support more than one viable fantasy starter. ... Reece's Week 5 role is entirely up in the air. He's a fullback/halfback hybrid and should see more work with McFadden sidelined, but is coming off an injury of his own and has been a non-factor to this point in terms of touches. Reece has two carries and six catches on the year.
Score Prediction: Chargers 27, Raiders 23
Monday Night Football
NY Jets @ Atlanta
The Jets enter Monday night severely banged up in their wideout corps with a struggling rookie quarterback facing Mike Nolan's highly multiple and complex defense. Nolan is one of the few defensive coordinators who have had success against Peyton Manning over the past two years. With Santonio Holmes nursing a multi-week hamstring injury and Stephen Hill's status up in the air due to a concussion, Geno Smith is a strong bet for a bad game at the Georgia Dome. Smith is on pace for a 16:32 TD-to-INT ratio with 12 lost fumbles. No quarterback in football has been sacked for more negative yards. Fire up Atlanta's fantasy defense. ... Jeremy Kerley will start for Holmes, and if Hill can't play stone-handed Clyde Gates will get the nod on the opposite side. Gates runs 4.3, but has three drops among 16 targets this season, and has cleared 50 yards only twice in his 30-game career. ... We should know more soon on the status of Hill, who must pass through the NFL's protocol concussion testing. If Hill does not play, Kerley would be a virtual shoo-in to lead the Jets in receptions. Although a poor performance from Geno seems inevitable, there are likely to be openings in Atlanta's back end. The Falcons rank 26th in pass defense with a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio against. Nolan's unit is tied for 27th in sacks (7). Kerley often plays inside, where Falcons slot CB Robert McClain has been eaten up. Tavon Austin scored his only two touchdowns of the season against McClain in Week 2, and he served up six catches to Brandon Gibson in Week 3. Patriots slot WR Julian Edelman tagged the Falcons for a 7-118 line last week.
Kellen Winslow was a non-factor in Weeks 2-3. He reappeared in last week's loss to the Titans, securing 6-of-9 targets for 73 yards. Winslow's knees are so rickety that his performance can be held hostage in any given week. Sharing time with Jeff Cumberland, Winslow is as far from being trustworthy as you can imagine. ... Mike Goodson's return from suspension adds dynamic all-purpose ability to the Jets' backfield. Goodson is averaging 4.88 YPC over the past three years, with 57 receptions. Though not yet in football shape, Goodson is a worthwhile stash to see what happens. ... Chris Ivory is apparently returning from his hamstring injury after practicing this week. With Ivory and Goodson in the fold, Bilal Powell's stranglehold on feature back duties will be short lived. On Monday night, Powell will be a dicey flex option against the Falcons' No. 6 run defense. If Ivory indeed is active, Powell will likely go back to seeing 12-13 carries and 2-4 catches a game.
The Jets are virtually certain to struggle for points on Monday night, but the Falcons could, too. Atlanta's offensive line is as exploitable as any in football, and will again be without LT Sam Baker (knee). Through four games, the Jets rank No. 2 in total defense and are tied for third in sacks (14). No defense in football has surrendered a lower completion rate (51.4) to enemy passers. View Matt Ryan as a risky, back-end QB1. This is the best defense he's faced this season. ... Since Steven Jackson strained his hamstring in Week 2 against the Rams, Jacquizz Rodgers has handled 48 touches to Jason Snelling's 30. Rodgers has played 127 snaps to Snelling's 98. If forced to pick between the two, I'm going to continue to lean to Quizz because he's getting the ball more and has a chance to break off a big gain if the Falcons scheme him into space. Snelling handles more of the power runs, which don't work against the Jets. Opposing feature back stats versus Rex Ryan's defense in Weeks 1-4: Doug Martin 24-65-1, Stevan Ridley 16-40, C.J. Spiller 10-9, Chris Johnson 15-21. Those four players have combined to average 2.08 yards per carry.
Ryan's targets: Julio Jones 48, Tony Gonzalez 33, Harry Douglas 23, Roddy White 18, Snelling 15, Quizz 14. ... After playing shutdown coverage in 2012, perennially inconsistent Antonio Cromartie has been one of the 2013 Jets' weakest links. He's 88th-of-101 in Pro Football Focus' cornerback ratings, and 98th in coverage. Nate Washington lit up the Jets for a 4-105-2 stat line in Week 4, and Vincent Jackson touched them up for 7-154 in the opener. Start Julio every week. ... Continuing to play through a debilitating high ankle sprain, White still isn't making full-speed cuts but is at least beginning to show signs of reemerging as a viable possession receiver. White played a season-high 74-of-76 snaps in last week's loss to New England and saw nine targets, though he converted only three for 28 yards. He's a low-end WR3 taking on LCB Darrin Walls. Hopefully the Week 6 bye gets White turned around. I'm skeptical. ... Gonzalez had three slow games to open the season. He confirmed he isn't washed up against the Patriots, devouring New England's linebackers en route to 12 catches, 149 yards, and two scores on 14 targets. The Jets have allowed a touchdown to a tight end (Delanie Walker, Scott Chandler) in back-to-back weeks.
Friday Update: Roddy White revealed after Friday's practice he experienced a setback in last week's loss to New England. "I ain't where I need to be yet," he said. White said he's already looking past Monday night's matchup with the Jets, and toward Atlanta's Week 6 bye. White has been playing only because he wants to keep his consecutive games-played streak alive. He's hurting his team and himself. White should be written off as a Week 5 fantasy start.
Score Prediction: Falcons 20, Jets 13