OK, gamers, we've finally reached the point in the season when you're actually required to do a little managing. The bye weeks are upon us. Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota and Tampa Bay are all off this week, which should allow just enough time for Tony Romo(notes) to jet down to Honduras (or wherever), and for Brett Favre(notes) to raise the new barn.
There's no rest for the fantasy owner, though. This is a tricky week, loaded with injuries and ugly matchups. We have a new offensive coordinator in San Francisco, too. And of course this is Round 1 of McNabb vs. Vick, which was supposed to be McNabb vs. Kolb, but has really always been McNabb vs. Reid.
Again: Big week. If you're currently 0-3, you cannot go 0-4. Somebody always has a story about the year they began oh-and-whatever, then went on an unprecedented streak, riding Neil Lomax and Chuck Muncie and Darnay Scott to their league title and SHATTERING all known fantasy records. But the fact remains, if you begin the season with an 0-4 record, your playoff odds aren't so good.
Below you'll find a rough draft of my ranks for Week 4. The final version isn't due for another 24 hours or so, and there will be changes. I'll be watching the practice reports, same as you.
You can shuffle those top three anyway you like, they all have spectacular matchups. And presumably none of you are wrestling with a Brees-or-Manning decision. If you are, then you clearly need to make a trade, urgently. … OK, I realize that I've been in the sell-high camp on Michael Vick(notes) — and I might actually be the only member of that camp — but it's tough to demote him from the top-tier this week, facing Washington. The 'Skins currently rank next-to-last in the NFL in pass defense (325.7 YPG), and they just allowed a 235-yard game to rookie Sam Bradford(notes). … Donovan McNabb(notes) is a terrific player who's about to find himself in a bizarre environment in Week 4, again trying to elevate a sketchy receiving corps. (Joey Galloway(notes)? Really? And it's not 1997?) His supporting cast isn't strong enough to rate him as an elite starter, but let's not overrate Philly's defense. That group allowed 32 points to the Shaun Hill(notes)-led Lions.
I'll rarely go higher than No. 13 on Carson Palmer(notes), and I may demote him before the final ranks are due this week. That's a team that simply intends to run and defend; the passing game is just decoration. In each of the Bengals' two wins this season, Palmer has thrown for fewer than 200 yards. … We've all enjoyed the Dustin Keller(notes) show, but Buffalo's defense is so ridiculously user-friendly for opposing running backs (141.0 rush YPG). The Jets could go Wishbone here and play this thing like it's the '78 Orange Bowl. I'm not ready to bet my fantasy week on Mark Sanchez(notes) quite yet. … If I weren't such a rankings coward, I'd have Bruce Gradkowski(notes) a few ticks higher. The Texans rank No. 32 in the league in pass defense (368.7 YPG), and Gradkowski has a few respectable weapons at his disposal (Murphy, DHB, Miller, McFadden).
Drinking game proposal: Whenever a fantasy expert uses the words "burst" and "LaDainian" in the same sentence, you chug. We are an absolute herd, saying the same things, all relying on the same clichés. You'd think that someone would mix in the word "explosiveness," but no. We've all settled on "burst." Sorry. I'll say this much about LT: He's shedding the first tackler with apparent ease, he's presently healthy, and the Jets are very good at creating running lanes for their backs. Plus LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) can catch things, and Shonn Greene(notes) can't. … Yeah, OK, that's too high on DeAngelo Williams(notes). I told you this was a rough draft. He's great, of course, and the Saints don't exactly shut down the run (145.0 rush YPG), but it's tough to imagine how that game can be competitive. This doesn't set up as a 20-carry day for DeAngelo. … You can find a little BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) propaganda right here; no one ever notices, but the Patriots have had a competent run game for years. When they're not stuck in committee, they deliver a useful fantasy back.
It's silly to attempt to rank the following broken players on a Wednesday: Jahvid Best(notes) (toe), Steven Jackson (groin), Ray Rice(notes) (knee) and Pierre Thomas(notes) (ankle). Clearly I have my doubts about Best's availability, as well as Jackson's. Rice seems likely to play, but it's a messy matchup (Pittsburgh). The Rams may dip into the UFL talent pool if Jackson's injury sidelines him for any length of time. (It's swine groin, not avian groin. So that's good). … Clinton Portis(notes) (wrist) practiced fully on Wednesday, perhaps even vigorously. Do with him what you must. … Ryan Mathews(notes) also returned to practice, and he's expected to start in a friendly matchup with Arizona. Mike Tolbert(notes) still looks like the goal-to-go option for the Chargers, however.
Jeremy Maclin(notes) has played 10 quarters of football with Mike Vick this year, and he's caught four TD passes. And, again, Washington has been destroyed through the air. … Just scroll through the comments section below, and you'll quickly find confirmation that Michael Crabtree(notes) is, in fact, a nice buy-low candidate. The firing of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye certainly can't hurt Crabtree's value. He's the sort of talent who demands a certain level of patience from his owners. … Andre Johnson(notes) (ankle) is a clear problem this week. He's dealing with a high ankle sprain that he aggravated last Sunday, and if he takes the field against Oakland, he'll draw Nnamdi Asomugha(notes). We've seen AJ overcome tough matchups before, but the injury certainly complicates his short-term outlook. … The Brandon Lloyd(notes) fetishists are unbelievable. I didn't even know they existed, to be perfectly honest. It's as if you'd never seen one of his li'l outbursts before. The Denver receiving corps is going to be tricky to arrange for fantasy purposes all year, because they seem determined to not designate any player as a No. 1. Lloyd is actually third on the team in receptions; four Broncos wideouts have double-digit catches.
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