Disclaimer ... Before you start reading, please understand that we are not in the business of stating the obvious and wasting your time (or ours), so you won't be reading here why you need to start Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Calvin Johnson or any other top-tier players. We're here to help you make a decision on players you are on the fence about.
More injuries, more crazy finishes and more monster games from people not named Chris Johnson highlighted Week 3. Week 4 brings our first bye week of the season and while the loss of the Colts and Steelers shouldn't cripple your team, here are some suggestions to keep you on the winning track this week.
Get 'em active ...
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (at KC)
Current own/start %: 94/68
I'd start him over: Michael Vick (vs. NYG), Eli Manning (at PHI), Tony Romo (vs. CHI)
Last week was one to forget for Philip Rivers, but a Week 4 trip to Kansas City should fix that. Through three games, the Chiefs have allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for eight touchdowns, second most in the league. Every quarterback who has played the Chiefs in 2012 has thrown for multiple touchdowns, produced at least 22 Fantasy points and finished in the Top 12 at the position for the week. Rivers has been hot and cold this year, but this should be a hot week against a Chiefs team that he has an 83 percent consistency rate against in his last six games. He did not have a single passing score against the Chiefs in 2011, but he will have a couple this week as the Chiefs have really struggled with outside receivers and tight ends in 2012, allowing four scores a piece to those two positions. With Ryan Mathews fully ready to get in the mix this week look for San Diego to make an offensive statement, making Rivers a solid start again for your teams.
Other QBs with favorable matchups: Joe Flacco (vs. CLE), Peyton Manning (vs. OAK), Christian Ponder (at DET), Matt Schaub (vs. TEN), Carson Palmer (at DEN), Matthew Stafford/Shaun Hill (vs. MIN), Josh Freeman (vs. WAS)
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (vs. CAR)
Current own/start %: 100/64
I'd start him over: Chris Johnson (at HOU), Trent Richardson (at BAL), Michael Bush (at DAL)
Nothing can help turn a running back from a crud to a stud faster than playing against a defense that either quits or just cannot stop the run. In Week 3, Michael Turner had a little bit of the Burner back as he ran for 80 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown on only 14 carries against the Chargers. In the first half, he was held to a typical 15 yards on six carries, but as the game went on and the Chargers laid down, Turner capitalized with eight carries for 65 yards and a score in the second half. In fact, 57 of those yards and the score came on his four fourth quarter carries, which was the first time this year that he got some of the valuable garbage time production we count on from big running backs. In Week 4, Turner should feel like he is running in the fourth quarter for the entire game as the Panthers bring their 27th-ranked run defense (139.3 yards per game) to town. So far, five different running backs have produced at least 10 points against the Panthers this season and Turner averaged 107.5 yards and a touchdown per game against them last year. In 2012, Carolina is giving up 207 total yards and one touchdown per game to opposing runners while allowing 26 Fantasy points to the position each week, third most in the league. Even Mark Ingram got to 10 points against Carolina in Week 2 and last week Andre "The Giant" Brown pumped in 24 points. Look for the Falcons to use Turner to soften this defense and he should be able to find the end zone and hit at least 10 points for the third straight week. At that point, feel free to sell high on good ol' Ankle Weights.
Cedric Benson, RB, Packers (vs. NO)
Current own/start %: 98/54
I'd start him over: Steven Jackson (vs. SEA), Stevan Ridley (at BUF), Andre Brown (at PHI)
If we consider Carolina to be a generous run defense, then the Saints are looking to go down in history as the most philanthropic Fantasy run defense of all time. Through three games, the Saints are giving up a league high 32 points per game to opposing running backs. No running back group has produced fewer than 24 points, two individual rushers have topped the 21-point mark and they have allowed five different runners to score against them in just three games! The Saints have allowed a league-high six rushing touchdowns so far and all have come from running backs. No team is giving up more rushing yards per game than the 215 currently being allowed by the Saints, which is just astonishing. Seriously, 215 yards rushing per game allowed! That is not misprint and it becomes even more amazing when you consider that the second worst run defense in the league has given up almost 200 fewer rushing yards than the 645 allowed by the Saints over three games. Alfred Morris, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and of course Jamaal Charles (who just put up 288 total yards and a touchdown against New Orleans in Week 3) all have their highest Fantasy point totals of the year against the Saints. I don't know what other point to make other than if there ever was a week to start Cedric Benson, this is it. Keep in mind that last year James Starks only scored one rushing touchdown for the Packers and it came against this Saints team. Start Ced Ben and you should get his third straight double-digit performance.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers (vs. WAS)
Current own/start %: 100/79
I'd start him over: Hakeem Nicks (at PHI), Kenny Britt (at HOU), Lance Moore (at GB)
This season is going to be up and down for Vincent Jackson, as he will have to take advantage of favorable matchups to be successful on the run heavy Buccaneers. He is averaging a very healthy nine targets per game, so he is getting the chances week in and week out. It really comes down to how efficient he can be with them. In Weeks 1 and 3, Jackson caught only five of his 17 targets for a grand total of 76 yards receiving. In Week 2 however, he had a favorable matchup with the injury depleted secondary of the Giants and caught five of his 10 targets for 128 yards and a touchdown. I am expecting a repeat of Week 2 against the Redskins, who have no pass rush due to devastating injuries and therefore have no pass defense. Through three weeks, the 'Skins have allowed a league high 10 passing touchdowns (and at least three in every week), a league high six scores to wide receivers and are giving up 350 yards passing per game. In three games this year, the opposing top target (in terms of target volume, where Jackson is the unquestioned leader in Tampa) has amassed 28 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns. That is ridiculous and in each of the last two weeks the opposing No. 1 receiver has been Top 6 in terms of Fantasy points for the week. This is definitely a week to expect Jackson to moonwalk across the end zone, so get him in your lineups.
Other WRs and TEs with favorable matchups: Brandon Lloyd (at BUF), Wes Welker (at BUF), Percy Harvin (at DET), Steve Johnson (vs. NE), Torrey Smith (vs. CLE), Eric Decker (vs. OAK), Demaryius Thomas (vs. OAK), Anquan Boldin (vs. CLE), Denarius Moore (at DEN), Danny Amendola (vs. SEA), Sidney Rice (at STL), Andrew Hawkins (at JAX), Malcom Floyd (at KC), Santonio Holmes (vs. SF), Nate Washington (at HOU), Jerome Simpson (at DET), Owen Daniels (vs. TEN), Brandon Pettigrew (vs. MIN), Dennis Pitta (vs. CLE), Brent Celek (vs. NYG), Kyle Rudolph (at DET), Marcedes Lewis (vs. CIN)
Cardinals DST (vs. MIA)
Current own/start %: 78/59
I'd start them over: Green Bay (vs. NO), Chicago (at DAL), Philadelphia (vs. NYG)
Through three weeks there has been a desert swarm brewing in the Valley of the Sun and if you don't believe me, just ask Mike Vick. Last week, the Arizona defense held the explosive Eagles to just six points, forced three turnovers and sacked the Eagles quarterback five times. Over the last two weeks, the Eagles and Patriots have combined for just 24 points against the Cardinals, who have the top-ranked scoring defense in the NFL at just 13.3 points per game. The Cards are third with 12 sacks, tied for sixth with six takeaways, they already have a defensive touchdown and have given up a league-low two total touchdowns. Last week, the Cards scored 25 Fantasy points and have produced double figures in every game so far this year. This week, the Cardinals play host to a Miami team that produced 19 Fantasy points for the Texans in their only road game of the year. Making matters worse for the 'Fins is that they could very well be without Reggie Bush for the game. Opposing defenses have scored at least 14 points in two of three against the Dolphins and the Cards could hit the 20-point mark this week, making them a must start.
Ride the pine ...
Jay Cutler, QB, Bears (at DAL)
Current own/start %: 89/21
I'd rather start: Carson Palmer (at DEN), Joe Flacco (vs. CLE), Christian Ponder (at DET)
In his last two games, Jay Cutler has thrown for 309 yards and one touchdown with five interceptions, which is a far cry from the 333 yards with two scores and one interception he had in the season opener. Unfortunately for Cutler, things are not going to get any easier in Week 4 against what very well may be the best pass defense in the NFL. Sure, the Cowboys had a little hiccup in Week 2 at Seattle, but just ask Eli Manning and Josh Freeman how tough this pass defense is. So far, no quarterback has thrown for multiple touchdowns, reached 220 yards passing, hit 15 Fantasy points or even sniffed the Top 12 against this defense. The Cowboys are allowing just 5.9 yards per pass attempt, third best in the entire league. They are the only team that has not allowed a single touchdown to a wide receiver this year. When you consider that tight end Kellen Davis is not quite in the mold of Jimmy Graham, you see that this could be another tough day at the office for Cutler. There are so many better options you can utilize in Week 4. I would keep Cutler reserved to avoid another prime time horror show.
Other QBs with tough matchups: Jake Locker (at HOU), Tony Romo (vs. CHI), Michael Vick (vs. NYG), Cam Newton (at ATL; I'm still starting him but he did have five interceptions in two games against them last year)
Chris Johnson, RB, Titans (at HOU)
Current own/start %: 100/59
I'd rather start: You, the reader (vs. ANY), Ben Tate (vs. TEN), Alfred Morris (at TB)
There are three teams in the NFL that have not allowed a rushing touchdown this year and the Texans are one of them. They also are the fifth-ranked run defense, allowing just 67.7 yards per game. I know what you are thinking. We would all do cartwheels if Johnson were to get to 67 yards rushing this week. While our expectations have only taken three weeks to evaporate, let me also let you know that no running back has even produced 70 yards on the ground against the Texans this year despite them facing Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew and Willis McGahee. Johnson has not seen 15 carries yet in a single game and has a grand total of 45 yards rushing on his 33 carries this year. Pretty sure 1.36 is much better as an ERA in baseball then it is a rushing average. In fact, the Titans enter Week 4 with the worst rushing offense in the NFL, picking up just 39 yards per game on a league-low 2.6 yards per carry. Johnson has been held under 20 yards rushing in two of his last four against the Texans and has not scored in three of his last four. In fact, over the last four games against the Texans -- and this includes one big game with 19 points -- Johnson is averaging just over seven Fantasy points per game. Given how good the Texans have been and how bad Johnson is, I would go ahead and keep him benched.
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns (at BAL)
Current own/start %: 100/86
I'd rather start: Doug Martin (vs. WAS), Michael Turner (vs. CAR), Mikel Leshoure (vs. MIN)
If I have learned anything from the first two real Thursday night games it is that on the short weeks, the team that is most physical will absolutely dominate the point of attack and therefore the game. It happened with Green Bay over the Bears and it was the same story in Week 3 when the Giants mauled the Panthers. Forgive me for expecting a third straight Thursday night beatdown in Week 4 when the lowly Browns travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. No team in the NFL is more physical than the Ravens and I expect complete domination at the point of attack of what is sure to be an overmatched Cleveland team. Other than his big game in Week 2 against the Bengals, Richardson is averaging just 47 total yards per game and is picking up just 2.2 yards per carry. The real hope here is that Richardson can score for the third week in a row against a Baltimore team that has allowed at least one running back touchdown in every game this year. The flip side of that is that the Ravens are giving up just 3.3 yards per carry on the year, the fourth stingiest average in the league. If he scores, I think you are looking at 10-11 points max from T-Rich. If he does not find the end zone (and the Ravens are bound to keep someone from scoring), this could be a 4-5 point Fantasy killer. The upside is not high enough for me to take this risk if I can avoid it for Week 4, so I plan on sitting Richardson.
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams (vs. SEA)
Current own/start %: 100/44
I'd rather start: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (at JAC), Ryan Mathews (at KC), Cedric Benson (vs. NO)
The Seahawks may have the best defense in the NFL this year, as we have seen them dismantle the Cowboys and Packers on offense over the last two weeks. The task will be much easier for the 'Hawks in Week 4 against the Rams, which is bad news for Steven Jackson. Jackson, who has battled a groin injury the last two weeks, has yet to run for 60 yards in a game this year and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The Seahawks enter Week 4 with the second-ranked run defense in the NFL, allowing just 58.7 yards per game on 3.1 yards per carry. No running back has even reached 50 yards on the ground against them and Seattle has surrendered only one touchdown, which is why the Seahawks have allowed the fifth-fewest points to running backs this year (9.7 per game). With his offensive line banged up, Jackson will not find many running lanes against the dominant front seven of the Seahawks. Jackson is averaging just 50 yards per game on the ground against Seattle in his last three games against them and could be right around that number again in Week 4. That is not good news for his Fantasy potential when you consider that Jackson has not scored a touchdown in six straight games and has just one score in his last 12 games. Let Jackson get healthy and have a good matchup before you count on him again, which means bench him against the Seahawks' tenacious defense.
Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys (vs. CHI)
Current own/start %: 100/49
I'd rather start: Martellus Bennett (at PHI), Owen Daniels (vs. TEN), Dennis Pitta (at CLE)
If I didn't know any better, I'd think that a lacerated spleen's biggest side effect was butter fingers. After all, since returning from the injury, the usually sure handed Witten has dropped at least five passes in two games. In those two games, Witten has seen 16 targets but has hauled in only six of them for 66 yards. That's a 37.5 percent catch rate and a four yards per target average for Witten, who entered 2012 with a career 70 percent catch rate and an 8.0 yards per target average. This week he will take on a Bears team that has been extremely tough on tight ends. The Bears have yet to allow a tight end touchdown (I am not counting Tom Crabtree's score on the fake field goal) this year and are giving up less than 50 yards per game to the position. Jermichael Finley, who destroyed the Bears in 2011, is the most Witten-like tight end that the Bears have faced this season and he was held to just 26 yards receiving on four catches. I think Witten will right the ship eventually, but with so many tight ends already producing I would not be playing him this week until he earns it.
Good luck this week!