As we head into Week 4, seasoned fantasy players and actual NFL front office people find themselves in similar positions. By now you’ve seen your guys perform for three weeks and you’ve pretty much calibrated your expectations for each guy. Some have exceeded your preseason expectations. Others have been major disappointments.
Overall though, by now, the waiver wire has been scoured through pretty extensively. There’s no way Brent Celek, Joe Flacco, Cedric Benson, or Mike Sims-Walker is around if anyone knows what they’re doing.
Similarly, I doubt that guys like Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Larry Johnson, Beanie Wells, Josh Morgan, Chris Henry, or Anthony Fasano are clogging up any fantasy rosters out there.
Your team is your team at this point, barring trades. Going forward the only maneuvering you’ve got at your disposal is who you start and who you sit, and again, as in real life, bye weeks mess up everything.
Match-ups, obviously, are a major factor in winning or losing from week to week. Sure, there are two or three guys on your team that you’re absolutely committed to play each and every week (except for the bye, of course), but everyone else, your second running back and wideout, probably your tight end, maybe even your defense, is a fluid situation.
You’ve got to find the right matchup for your guys, and there are two different schools of thought on this, both of them yardage related.
One way to go about it is to track which teams have been victimized by 300 yard passers, 100 yard rushers, or 100 yard receivers.
So far the Chiefs, Dolphins, Jaguars, Lions, and Texans have all given up two 300 yard passing games each. Eleven other squads have been firebombed once.
The Texans have allowed a 100-yard rusher in all three of their games, while the Buccaneers, Packers, and Redskins have wilted twice each. Again, 11 others have done the deed once.
Finally, the Titans have been a tour-de-force of suck when it comes to pass coverage, allowing a mind-boggling four (FOUR!) 100-yard receivers in three games. Meanwhile the Bears, Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, Falcons, Lions, Ravens, and Saints have allowed two guys to hit the century mark apiece, and eight more teams have given it up once.
What do we do with that information?
We cross-reference it with the top fantasy performers – so far – to figure out who is likely to have the biggest games in Week 4. Some are obvious, others a bit less so.
By employing this method, our two big plays at quarterback are Jay Cutler squaring off against the Lions and Eli Manning going against the Chiefs. The former has the eighth-most fantasy points at QB so far, while the younger Peyton’s kid brother is 11th. Two other strong options should be Tom Brady, the 14th-rated QB in the early going, facing an overrated Ravens secondary and Jason Campbell, who is believe-it-or-not the 12th rated passer through three weeks, getting to feast on the pathetic Bucs.
Again, don’t interpret this like, “Idiot boy wants me to bench Peyton Manning for Jason Campbell,” because that’s not what I’m saying. But if your choices are like, say, Aaron Rodgers and Jason Campbell, you might want to roll the dice with the latter.
At running back Adrian Peterson owners have to be licking their chops at the prospect of facing a surprisingly pliable Packers front seven, and indeed he is our only direct correlation among our top-15 backs. However, there are three other good match-ups out there with Julius Jones going against the Colts, Cedric Benson facing the awful Browns, and Ronnie Brown of the quarterback-challenged Dolphins getting the Bills at home the week after Buffalo was sliced and diced by the Saints ground game.
Don’t be surprised if any of these “#2 RBs” out perform your main guy in Week 4.
Now, at receiver, there are some real options. The Giants get the Chiefs this week, when just last Sunday both Celek and DeSean Jackson of the Eagles were repeatedly left uncovered by Kansas City. What this means is it’s time to giddy up if you own Steve Smith (the one who didn’t hang his quarterback out to dry on Monday Night Football) and Mario Manningham. Also, Randy Moss is in line to have a big day against the Ravens, as are a couple of relative unknowns, Jerrico Cotchery of the Jets at New Orleans and Johnny Knox of the Bears against the Lions.
While none of these guys have hit the 100-yard plateau in any game yet, but it might be worth taking a chance on TE Kevin Boss of the Giants, Wes Welker of the Pats (if he’s healthy again), Dustin Keller of the Jets, and Devin Hester of the Bears, just because they’re facing the teams I’ve mentioned above. Tab likes Knox and Keller a lot too.
At tight end no one has a super match-up, but John Carlson at the Colts and Vernon Davis against the Rams are strong plays, Davis in particular because someone will have to step up for the Niners with RB Frank Gore out. In his otherwise flawless column, Mike Sholty seems to agree with me.
The other way we can look for matchups is to forget the position yardage plateaus and just go strictly by team yardage rankings. We’ll do this by highlighting meetings between top dozen rushing or passing offenses against bottom dozen rushing or passing defenses.
What did we find doing this?
Well, at running back, not a whole hell of a lot.
Amazingly, only one of the top dozen running attacks so far are getting to face one of the bottom dozen run defenses in Week 4, and again, the matchup in question – #7 Minnesota against #23 Green Bay – is already a no-brainer.
So what this means for us is that we have to use some counterintuitive thinking. Instead of looking for a running back sleeper when none exists, this might be the week to use a third receiver in your flex spot, or a second tight end. It’s just looking like a day where you’re not going to get much performance from your backs.
Using this method to compare strong passing attacks and terrible pass defenses, wasn’t any more helpful. Again, only one direct link, and even that is fairly weak. The Redskins, who are tied for 10th in passing yards, are facing the Bucs, who are 21st in pass defense. So take a flier on Campbell, as I mentioned above, and also stock up on Santana Moss and Chris Cooley.
If we want to cheat a little, the Bears, who are 13th, get the 30th ranked Lions, but again we covered Cutler and his wideouts already. Don’t forget about Greg Olsen though.
Maybe the only thing we should expect from Week 4 is low scores across the board and for defenses to rule the day. If you’re not satisfied with the DEF you have, try to see if you can swing a trade or a waiver claim for the Broncos or Saints. They’re the two top-10 defenses going right now that were not too highly valued going into drafts, and there’s a decent chance you can get them by offering an overrated defense in return, such as the Cowboys, Packers, Chargers, or Titans.