It's Week 4 of the 2012 NFL season, and that means that by the end of this week's action we'll have reached the end of the first quarter of this year's fantasy football campaign.
As we move deeper into the season and the bye weeks begin, each week's games take on added importance, especially for struggling fantasy squads that are attempting to right the ship.
That makes getting the best possible players inserted into starting lineups more important than ever, so whether it's some under-the-radar pros who should make for solid starts or some stars that may be better left on the bench, here's some last-minute advice for fantasy owners in Week 4.
Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has made great strides under center so far in 2012, tossing four touchdowns against no interceptions while posting a quarterback rating more than 90 in each of his three starts this year.
That success has translated to fantasy football as well, with the former Florida State star posting at least 25 fantasy points in each of his last two games.
There's a good chance that hot streak will continue this week when Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings travel to face the Detroit Lions, who have struggled defending the pass this year and are a top-10 fantasy matchup for opposing quarterbacks.
There was some concern in fantasy circles that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton could experience something of a statistical regression after his phenomenal rookie season, especially where his record-setting 14 rushing touchdowns were concerned.
However, things to this point have been even worse that those pessimists feared.
Through three games Newton has accounted for only four touchdowns as opposed to six turnovers, and things aren't apt to get much better this week against an Atlanta Falcons defense that both leads the NFL in takeaways and has allowed the fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.
Listen, I'll be the first to admit that Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson is more of a plow horse than thoroughbred, and the eighth-year pro's 3.1 yards a pop on 46 carries so far this season is hardly eye-popping.
However, if there was ever a week to roll Benson out there, it's Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
To say that the Saints run defense has been terrible this season would be kind. New Orleans has surrendered a whopping 215 yards a game on the ground this season and is coming off a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs where Jamaal Charles gashed them for 233 yards.
Fantasy owners who drafted Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray in the first round over the summer can't be overly happy with the return on their investment to this point.
Granted, to this point in the season Murray ranks 13th at his position in fantasy points in point-per-reception leagues, but the second-year pro has only one 100-yard rushing game and a single touchdown so far this season.
Murray told Calvin Watkins of ESPN that "We just got to run better," but Murray may be hard-pressed to improve on his 2.7 yards per carry average over the last two games against a Chicago Bears defense that ranks sixth in the NFL against the run and has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs.
As the 2012 season has progressed, we could be seeing a changing of the guard at running back for the Atlanta Falcons.
In the Falcons' Week 2 win over the San Diego Chargers, second-year pro Jacquizz Rodgers saw more snaps than veteran Michael Turner, and Rodgers responded with 67 total yards and a receiving touchdown.
Rodgers' speed and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield add another dimension to the Falcons' ground game, and both Rodgers and Turner could be viable flex plays this week against a Carolina Panthers run defense that has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing ball-carriers this season.
Fantasy owners of Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush no doubt recoiled in horror last week when the NFL's second-leading rusher through two games went down with a knee injury against the New York Jets.
However, the injury did not turn out to be serious, and in fact the seventh-year pro practiced on a limited basis Friday and may well take the field when the Dolphins travel west to face the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.
With that said, even if Bush does suit up in the desert, fantasy owners with other viable options would be best served exploring them, as the Cardinals have been stingy against the run, giving up the fourth-fewest fantasy points so far in 2012 to running backs.
It's been a very up-and-down first season in Tampa for wide receiver Vincent Jackson, as the eighth-year veteran has had one huge game this year sandwiched in between two very pedestrian outings.
However, the 29-year-old absolutely should be in fantasy lineups this week when the Buccaneers face the Washington Redskins.
No team in the National Football League has allowed more fantasy points to wideouts this year than the Redskins, and as A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals and Danny Amendola of the St. Louis Rams have already demonstrated, wide receivers have a tendency to blow up against Washington.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall is off to a solid start to his tenure in the Windy City, as the seventh-year pro has averaged more than five catches and 70 yards a contest in his first three games as a member of the Chicago Bears.
It's awfully hard to actually sit the 28-year-old in fantasy football leagues, but consider this fair warning.
No team has been stingier to opposing wide receivers this season than the Dallas Cowboys, who are allowing fewer than 20 points per game to the position, so statistically speaking it will be an uphill climb for Marshall Monday night.
If you're looking for something of a "sleeper" wide receiver start this week, look no further than Washington Redskins wideout Leonard Hankerson.
With Pierre Garcon's foot injury likely to sideline him for a third consecutive game, second-year pro Hankerson, who has six catches for 124 yards and a touchdown so far this year, will draw another start at the "X" receiver spot for the Redskins.
That should translate to more than a few targets for Hankerson against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense giving up the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers this year.
Wide receiver Danny Amendola has been a force both in the NFL and in fantasy football so far this season.
The fourth-year pro has been a top-five fantasy performer at his position in 2012, as Amendola has reeled in 25 catches for 296 yards and a score to this point in the year.
However, Amendola may find the sledding significantly tougher when the Seattle Seahawks come to town this week, as the Seahawks have surrendered the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this year and have two big, physical cornerbacks who will pose matchup problems for the smaller Amendola.