Although only three NFL weeks are in the books, the fantasy football landscape is already changing. The Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers are both on the bye in Week 4, which means that plenty of fantasy lineups will need to be shuffled. Luckily for owners of players from those teams, there are plenty of good backup plans.
Most fantasy teams are solid when their regular starting lineup is in place, but continuing to win with players on the bye could mean the different between making the playoffs and sitting at home. With that in mind, it is of the utmost importance to either choose the correct bench players to plug and play or add the right guys off the waiver wire.
Here are three sleeper players that aren't usually viewed as fantasy starters, but are poised to go off in Week 4 thanks to favorable matchups and situations.
While categorizing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as a sleeper could be considered a stretch due to his real-life success, Big Ben has been far from starter-worthy in fantasy terms this season. He and the Steelers' offense looked anemic in the season's first two weeks, but things changed in Week 3. The Steelers lost yet again to the Chicago Bears; however, Roethlisberger had a huge night with over 400 passing yards and two scores.
The Bears have one of the league's best pass defenses, so Big Ben's showing shouldn't be shrugged off. Wide receiver Antonio Brown accounted for nearly half of those yards, and it bodes well for Roethlisberger that he appears to be locked in.
One thing holding Roethlisberger back is Pittsburgh's anemic running game; however, rookie running back Le'Veon Bell could play this week, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which would be huge for the offense as a whole.
#Steelers Tomlin: CB Cortez Allen will practice, as will Le'Veon Bell. Optimistic both will play Sunday. Big news on Bell.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) September 24, 2013
In addition to that, the Steelers are facing one of the league's worst pass defenses. Minnesota has surrendered nearly 316 passing yards per game, including 321 yards and three touchdowns to Cleveland Browns journeyman Brian Hoyer last week. Roethlisberger is far better than Hoyer, so make sure you get him in your lineup if there's room.
Week 4 Projection: 335 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, 11 rushing yards
Prior to last week, New York Jets running back Bilal Powell was never much more than a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust plodder. He had a career day against the Buffalo Bills, however, with 149 rushing yards. That performance has earned him consideration for the FedEx Ground Player of the Week, according to Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press, and he may be able to build upon that performance against the Tennessee Titans in Week 4.
Although the Titans aren't necessarily bad against the run—they're allowing just over 101 yards per game—this contest figures to be a slugfest. The Jets and Titans have both started 2-1 thanks largely to strong defensive play, but their respective offenses aren't great. New York is likely to embrace a ball-control offense, and Powell will be the main beneficiary. According to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, backup Chris Ivory suffered a hamstring injury in Week 3 that could keep him out for a while.
Chris Ivory hamstring: Same one as camp, but injury in different spot. Given slow recovery the 1st time, team not expecting quick rebound.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 23, 2013
With nobody blocking Powell's path to playing time, it appears as though he is the Jets' bell-cow back for the time being. That doesn't guarantee that he'll put up big numbers, but unquestioned running back starters are extremely valuable fantasy commodities. Expect Powell to turn in yet another strong showing in Week 4.
Week 4 Projection: 74 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown and three receptions for 18 yards
Which Week 4 fantasy sleeper will have the best performance?
After getting shut out in Week 2, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Denarius Moore bounced back in a big way against the Denver Broncos in Week 3. Moore finished the Monday-night encounter with six grabs for 124 yards and a score. He also caught a touchdown in Week 1, so he is definitely an intriguing No. 3 fantasy receiver or flex play moving forward.
With the Raiders facing the Washington Redskins in Week 4, another huge game may be on the horizon for him.
The Redskins' defense has been a joke thus far, especially against the pass. Washington is surrendering 333 yards per game through the air, and there haven't been any signs of improvement.
The only real question mark for Moore relates to who his quarterback will be. He and Terrelle Pryor appeared to have a great rapport on Monday; however, Pryor suffered a concussion, and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain, according to Scott Bair of CSNCalifornia.com.
If Pryor can't go, then backup Matt Flynn will have to step in. Even if Flynn plays, Moore should still be in line for a solid game. The 'Skins' secondary is porous, and Moore has big-play ability. Since so many excellent fantasy receivers are on the bye this week, Moore is definitely worth starting if you're in a pinch.
Week 4 Projection: Five receptions for 111 yards and one touchdown
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