When doing my fantasy football rankings, I employ a highly scientific method calculated by four super computers, several chess champions and mathematicians and, in the event of a tie, one dartboard.
Okay, so I might be making that up. In reality, when coming up with these rankings I study matchups, past performances and try to project which players are due for a breakout performance. Like all of fantasy football, it isn't an exact science, but it's a good guide for the upcoming week.
And yes, I keep the dartboard handy.
Notes: Rankings for standard-scoring leagues and scoring via ESPN. Washington, the Minnesota Vikings, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all on byes this week.
Until a defense can slow him down, Peyton Manning will top these rankings every week. He's been unstoppable.
A tasty matchup against the Oakland Raiders vaults Philip Rivers to No. 2 on this list, while Cam Newton coming off a bye (and facing an Arizona Cardinals defense that has been friendly to opposing quarterbacks not named Mike Glennon in fantasy football) is primed for a big week.
A lot of fantasy's top quarterbacks have tough matchups this week, as reflected in the rankings. One to watch for, however, is Sam Bradford. He faces a hapless Jacksonville Jaguars defense that has given up a combined total of 39 fantasy points to Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck the past two weeks.
Add in the fact that the St. Louis Rams can't run the ball—they are averaging 47.3 rushing yards per game, worst in the NFL—and you have the recipe for Bradford to post huge fantasy numbers.
Running Back Notes
This is a week to trust your big names, even if they have tough matchups. Folks were probably worried about Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster this week, as both the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks are tough against the run. But good players overcome bad matchups, and Foster scored 22 points while Lynch added 17 in standard-scoring leagues.
One player to watch out for is Fred Jackson. The Cleveland Browns are solid defensively and have made the going tough for opposing running backs, but Jackson is a good play this week. He's been surprisingly consistent—he's scored double-digit fantasy points in all four weeks—and C.J. Spiller could miss the game on a short week after injuring his ankle.
From Mike Rodak of ESPN:
For what it's worth, Jackson sprained his MCL, but he expects to play. Obviously, monitor this situation closely heading into Thursday night.
As for Ray Rice, expect the Baltimore Ravens to return to the running game after Joe Flacco threw five interceptions against the Buffalo Bills. Rice has been one of fantasy's biggest disappointments to start the year, but that will end in Week 5.
Wide Receiver Notes
In four games this season, the Philadelphia Eagles defense has allowed six wide receivers to score double-digit fantasy points. If you have Victor Cruz this week, sit back and enjoy the show.
A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall failed to record double-digit fantasy points this week, but expect that to be the exception, not the rule. Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones (10 points) had modest weeks by their lofty standards, but each have good matchups to exploit.
Will the real DeSean Jackson please stand up? In the first two weeks, he totaled 41 fantasy points. In the last two, he's managed just nine. Against a porous New York Giants secondary, he should return to fantasy prominence.
If he doesn't, it might be time to consider those first two weeks an outlier.
Tight End Notes
Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron produce like wide receivers playing the tight end position. They are no-brainer starts every week.
In Week 1, the Arizona Cardinals gave up 24 points to Jared Cook. In Week 3, they were torched by Graham to the tune of 25 points. Expect Greg Olsen to have a huge week.
Antonio Gates has now registered double-digit fantasy points in three straight weeks. He's back, folks, and his resurgence seems to mirror that of Philip Rivers.
The Jaguars allowed Zach Miller to post 12 fantasy points against them in Week 3. In Week 4, Coby Fleener scored 13 on them. Expect Jared Cook—who had more points in Week 1 (24) than he's had the rest of the way (nine)—to rebound in a big way against Jacksonville.
Defense/Special Teams Notes
The Kansas City Chiefs have registered 20 or more fantasy points in three games, and now they face a Tennessee Titans team that will be without Jake Locker. From Adam Schefter of ESPN:
Don't sleep on the Titans defense, either—it has scored nine or more fantasy points three times this year. Expect a defensive showdown in that contest.
The Seahawks remain the safest play among fantasy defenses, while the Texans and 49ers should lock horns in a defensive duel. Speaking of horns, the Rams are a great play this week, facing a Jaguars defense that has given up double-digit points to opposing defenses every week this year.
Finally, on a short week facing a Bills team with a beat-up backfield, the Browns are a nice play. Cleveland has been good for seven or more fantasy points in every game this season. Give the Browns a look on Thursday night.
Kickers are fickle, so if you have one you trust—and one on an explosive lineup—stick with him. If you own Matt Prater or Stephen Gostkowski, for instance, you won't need to spend too much time obsessing over your kicker—they're weekly plug-and-play options at the position.
Hit me up on Twitter—I'll answer your fantasy lineup questions, make ill-fated NFL predictions and tweet cheesy jokes. You might even see yourself on the Jumbotron.