Week 4 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Smart Matchup Plays, Sleepers and More
Another week is in the books for the NFL and fantasy football, and we're already anticipating whom we need to start for this week's matchups.
We lose some players to bye weeks this time out, with Carolina and Green Bay taking an early break. So we'll keep that in mind.
First, let's revisit last week's article and see what advice worked and what didn't.
In this case, I didn't count Daryl Richardson or Chris Ivory as hits despite warning you that Ivory gets hurt a lot. Injuries can't be mistaken for bad performances, though; they're simply bad luck.
Eli Manning: 119 yards passing, 1 INT
Greg Olsen: 4 catches, 54 yards (8 targets)
Ryan Tannehill: 236 yards passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Daryl Richardson: Hurt on first play of game
Steve Johnson: 6 catches, 86 yards (13 targets)
START: Bilal Powell, Running Back, New York Jets
Let's start off with an "off-the-radar" guy for a lot of fantasy GMs.
New York Jets running back Bilal Powell is coming off a 149-yard performance and could get the start with Chris Ivory dealing with yet another hamstring injury.
The Tennessee Titans are a middle-of-the-road group against the run, allowing 102 yards per game right now. They have faced two teams with mediocre-to-awful rushing attacks—the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers—and allowed the Houston Texans duo of Ben Tate and Arian Foster to total 172 yards on the ground.
They can be beaten.
The New York Jets offensive line is playing very well right now and the Jets appear to have realized the best way to help Geno Smith cut down on interceptions is to give him a strong running game to depend on.
I wouldn't expect the 149 yards Powell racked up against the Buffalo Bills, but he should tally enough yardage to be considered a really nice flex or RB2 with upside.
SIT: Matt Schaub, Quarterback, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans walked into Baltimore and received a pretty thorough beating at the hands of a red-hot Ravens team.
Matt Schaub struggled to get the ball to his receivers against tight coverage and his pick-six in the second quarter turned the whole game around.
This coming week, the Texans will face the Seattle Seahawks, and while the game is at home, the Seahawks are as tough a defense as there is in the the league today.
On top of that, the Texans and Schaub don't exactly rise to the occasion against the better teams in the league.
It's going to be a long day against the fierce Seahawks front seven and the coverage of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
If you have another option and aren't looking for an Aaron Rodgers/Cam Newton replacement, Schaub is best left on your bench.
START: Jay Cutler, Quarterback, Chicago Bears
While Jay Cutler didn't put up particularly great numbers against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he'd been solid the previous two games and avoided any costly mistakes.
This week, he faces the Detroit Lions, a team with a tough pass rush but no cornerbacks who can match up with the Bears receivers.
Chris Houston is the most talented defensive back on the roster, but he gives up five inches to Brandon Marshall and seven to tight end Martellus Bennett.
Physically, he just can't overpower either player.
Even if Houston can shut down one of them, there's nobody else to clamp down on the other guy. And if the Lions do manage to stop Marshall and Bennett, what about Alshon Jeffery or Matt Forte?
This is a situation where the weapons the Bears have are going to be way too much for the Lions.
Detroit's pass rush might concern you. It shouldn't.
Yes, it can be dangerous, but it's only generated six sacks on the season and three over the last two games—just one of which came against the Arizona Cardinals, who possess one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
That list of bad offensive lines used to include the Bears, but no longer. Chicago has given up just three sacks in three games, and the 13 quarterback hits (via NFL.com) it's allowed rank in the top 10.
Cutler will have a very good day.
SIT: C.J. Spiller, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
I got killed a couple of weeks ago when I said I didn't like where C.J. Spiller's 2013 was headed and that I thought he was someone whom, going forward, you might be sitting.
That assessment may have been premature at the time, but right now, it appears as if we're in a prime spot for some bad games from Spiller.
Spiller was ineffective against the New York Jets, even before he left the game in the second half with what turned out to be a quad injury. He is determined to play this coming weekend—against a Ravens run defense that has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher or a touchdown by a running back.
Now, you may be wondering why you would ever bench a player you picked in the first round. Normally, it's not something you'd do.
However, Spiller has yet to produce anything like top-10-running-back numbers, and further, he's facing a very hot run defense.
Starting him is a good way to score single-digit points at one of your key positions.
START: Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
Still, Thomas is one of Manning's top options and they face a downright awful defense fielded by the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering Week 4, the Eagles are the 29th-rated pass defense, according to NFL.com.
Manning should have no trouble adding to his record touchdown total to begin a season, and Thomas should have ample opportunity to put points on the board for your fantasy team.
SIT: Philip Rivers, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers is coming off one poor game after putting up two good fantasy outings in Weeks 1 and 2.
This past weekend against the surprising Tennessee Titans, Rivers avoided turning the ball over but also managed to avoid his receivers in the end zone.
He faces a team this week in the Dallas Cowboys that NFL.com rates as an average pass defense, but also one with 13 sacks (second-most in the NFL).
The Chargers have only allowed five sacks and eight quarterback hits this season, but while the offensive line is light years ahead of where it was last season, it won't be enough this time.
This is going to be a tough game for Rivers, and hopefully you aren't in the position of having to start him due to a bye-week dilemma.
START: Ahmad Bradshaw, Running Back, Indianapolis Colts
It's easy to point to Ahmad Bradshaw's game against the San Francisco 49ers as the basis to start him.
After all, it's clear that Trent Richardson is still trying to learn the playbook, and Bradshaw will get a decent amount of carries before the end of the game against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.
But if you look just a game prior to this past Sunday's, you'll see that Bradshaw notched a touchdown in that one as well.
He's definitely getting opportunities in the red zone, and while that may not last much longer, he'll still get those touches against the Jaguars. Bradshaw will find the end zone for the third week in a row.
SIT: Sam Bradford, Quarterback, St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford, despite solid numbers to start the season, doesn't look quite right.
In his defense, the team around him—carefully fashioned to give him all the tools he could ever need to win ballgames—hasn't lived up to its promise.
Of course, over the last two games, the same can be said about the San Francisco 49ers, who haven't looked right since Seattle punched them in the mouth to kick off their Week 2 showdown.
We expected them to turn things around against the Indianapolis Colts, but they were evidently still a bit dazed. San Francisco should be able to get back on track for a vital divisional game, though.
Expect a lot of effort from the front line—even without a rehab-bound Aldon Smith—to get after Bradford and force him into bad decisions.
While he avoided throwing any picks last week, Bradford was intercepted in each of the previous games. The Niners will be breathing down his neck and force him to turn the ball over at least once on Thursday night.
START: Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Without a doubt, Antonio Brown had a huge game against the vaunted Chicago Bears defense.
A flight to London later, you might expect some regression, but you shouldn't. The Steelers are in a must-win situation and facing a Vikings team that has allowed a 100-yard receiver in every game so far this year.
Brown was relatively quiet over the first two weeks, and understandably so because of the horror show that is the Pittsburgh offensive line and running game.
However, he stepped it up this past weekend, and before you think, "Oh, that was all garbage time," his two scores pulled the Steelers to within one touchdown after the Bears jumped out to an early lead.
Brown can ball and the Steelers will be determined to take advantage of a defense that's still finding its footing.
He should be an excellent start in England.
SIT: Le'Veon Bell, Running Back, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jay Glazer of FOX Sports tweeted that rookie Le'Veon Bell has healed faster than expected and is going to play this week in London against the Minnesota Vikings.
While we said earlier that you should start teammate Antonio Brown, and the Steelers are desperate enough to give Bell a bunch of carries, don't give in to temptation and put him in your lineup.
"Good enough to play" doesn't mean 100-percent healthy, and the team will likely ease him in—even if he gets the most carries on the team, Felix Jones, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will likely get their fair share of touches as well.
Enough to kill his value, or at least as much value as he can have behind that offensive line.
Bell is now going to deal with the usual rookie learning curve, and that will take time. While he will become a solid player down the road, this is the wrong week to start him.
Keep him on your bench until we see what we have in him.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.