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NFL Skinny: Week 4

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

In case you were wondering, more than 30,000 Week 3 matchups in Yahoo! fantasy leagues had their game decided by the final play of the Monday night game between Green Bay and Seattle. As my colleague Andy Behrens said, if you lost because of that play, that's an instant classic bad beat. As a lifetime Seattle homer, I'll unapologetically take the W — cheap victory, without a doubt, but karmic payback for some terrible calls in the past (Vinny Testaverde, Super Bowl XL). That said, I actually picked Green Bay to win in this forum last week, and that misfire meant I finished the week picking only three winnners out of a possible 16. Ouch! As I always say, reality bites. Life is just a fantasy … let's take the first look at the virtual insanity of Week 4, which excludes the first bye teams of the year, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh:

Total Week 4 green-light plays by position: 7 QB; 15 RB; 16 WR; 14 TE; 7 DST

QUARTERBACKS

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Michael Vick is a hard QB to rank this week. On one hand, his opponent, the Giants, allow a league-high 9.3 yards per pass attempt. On the other hand, Vick is a turnover machine, and that could be a big problem on Sunday night against a relentless Giants defensive front line. But the one result you should be able to count on in this setup is Vick running often (assuming he remains in one piece). He's kept it himself 28 times combined in his past three meetings with the Giants, netting 195 rushing yards and 2 TDs.

After the Monday night debacle, you have to feel sorry for the defenseless Saints drawing the Packers in Week 4. If Aaron Rodgers doesn't open a vintage can of whoop ass on New Orleans, I'll be shocked.

Carson Palmer has averaged 293 passing yards and 1.5 TD passes in 12 games as an Oakland starter. Last year, his second-best game as a Raider came against Denver (332 yards, 3 TDs). The Broncos have allowed the 10th-highest QB rating this season and the 7th-most fantasy points to QBs. Palmer's a solid play this week and you could argue his rest-of-the-season value is as good, or better, than the QB he'll face on Sunday (Peyton Manning).

You really have to bench Jay Cutler until further notice. He owns the second-worst QB Rating in the league and, this week, he faces a Cowboys team that has been the best in fantasy against opposing QBs.

Interesting contrast in the TEN/HOU game, as the Texans lead the NFL in time of possession while the Titans rank last. Matt Schaub is coming off a big 4-TD pass game and certainly the matchup, on paper, bodes well for a nice follow-up effort. But this feels more like the Miami and Jacksonville contests, where big early leads led to an ultra-conservate Schaub.

Most FAN PTS allowed to QB: WAS; TEN; KC; CLE; CIN

Least FAN PTS allowed to QB: DAL; HOU; CHI; SEA; PHI

RUNNING BACKS

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Adrian Peterson carried 25 times in Week 3 and became just the second RB in the past 25 regular season games to top 76 rushing yards against the 49ers. He may not be all the way back to his "must-start" designation, but he's damn close.

The Saints have allowed all three backfields they've faced this season to score 25-plus fantasy points (Yahoo! default scoring). Yes, Cedric Benson will most likely bring a can of whoop ass to the table on Sunday, as well. And, by the way, Benson looked strong in the second half of the Monday night affair in Week 3 — plenty of yards after (hard) contact.

Fred Jackson is expected to practice (and play) for the Bills this week, well ahead of his original targeted return date from his knee injury suffered in Week 1. New England has been strong against the run this season but, then again, they've faced two of the worst rushing offenses (Tennessee and Arizona). Brad Evans has been quick to point out this week that F-Jax owns a 5.0 YPC mark against the Pats in his career. And his lone meeting with them last season produced 161 YFS and a TD. Assuming Jackson gets a green light from the Bills this week, he has to get at least a yellowish-green light from fantasy owners.

Michael Turner picked up nice garbage time production last week in a win over San Diego. But, for the first three quarters, he looked like the same old flat tire from the previous two weeks. In other words, he's still far from a safe bet. But the history card against Carolina (97.9 rushing yards per game and 11 TDs in 8 career meetings) is too juicy to ignore. And Carolina has allowed more fantasy points to RBs this season than all but New Orleans and Jacksonville.

I can't get myself to fully endorse Mikel Leshoure this week. Although he became the first Lions RB to rush for 100 yards in his first game since Billy Sims in '80, he needed 26 carries and overtime to reach that total. And Tennessee had already yielded large returns to Stevan Ridley and Jackie Battle in previous weeks. Minnesota should present Leshoure with a stiffer test. The Vikings are the top fantasy run defense, to date, shutting down the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore and Donald Brown. Don't make the mistake of assuming Leshoure is an automatic start this week.

I won't attempt to get into the mind of Bill Belichick to explain why Danny Woodhead, and not Stevan Ridley, led the team in carries at Baltimore in Week 3. But Ridley should return to a decisive lead backfield role against Buffalo. Ridley averaged 5.9 yards per carry on 21 attempts against the Bills last season.

Chris Johnson is last in the league among starting RBs in yards after contact (1.3), which is not surprising since he's been hit in the backfield often before he even has a chance to build up a head of steam. Johnson has an awful matchup against a Houston defense that he combined for just 79 rushing yards (0 TDs) on 25 carries in two meetings last season. I have Johnson listed as an extreme caution flag, but that's probably still giving him too much credit.

Most FAN PTS allowed to RB: NO; JAX; CAR; TEN; CIN

Least FAN PTS allowed to RB: MIN; SF; CHI; TB; DET

WIDE RECEIVERS


I've been harder on Vincent Jackson than most the past few years, deriding his inconsistent, rollercoaster nature. But even I have to fully endorse him this week against a Redskins secondary that has allowed a receiver to reach 120-plus receiving yards in each of their three games. Only Tampa Bay has allowed more passing plays of 20-plus and 40-plus yards.

As I mentioned, the Bucs have had big-time issues in defense of receivers, as well. Unfortunately for Pierre Garcon owners, the likelihood of Garcon returning from a foot injury this week is not good. If Garcon doesn't go, bump up his replacement, Leonard Hankerson, several spots (into late chartreuse territory). He led Redskins WRs in targets (7) and yards (56) last week.

Lance Moore has three more targets, two more catches, 60 more receiving yards and two more touchdowns than Marques Colston through three games. Moore also has nine touchdowns in his past 10 regular season games, while Colston has five in that span. I'm not saying that I'd start Moore over Colston this week, but the gap between the two is getting closer.

San Diego has been tough against receivers this season (6th-best in fantasy), but it'd be hard to sit Dwayne Bowe this week considering he's been targeted 15-plus times in each of the past two weeks. Bowe ranks behind only Reggie Wayne and Victor Cruz in total targets for the season among receivers.

DeSean Jackson ranks 13th in total targets but, according to ProFootballFocus, only Calvin Johnson has seen more than Jackson's 226 snaps among receivers. Typical Andy Reid, who also has LeSean McCoy atop the snap leaders among RBs. Reid loves speed and the big-play threat and, obviously, Jackson supplies that in spades. The Giants have allowed at least 8.5 fantasy points to six receivers through three games and it's reasonable to go fishing for more of the same with Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin, this week.

If nothing else, Sidney Rice ranks second among WRs in red-zone targets (6). And one of his two TDs last season came against the Rams. Seattle hasn't had much opportunity to cultivate the Russell Wilson-to-Rice connection because they've faced teams (Arizona, Dallas Green Bay) that apply relentless pressure on the QB (all rank among the top 10 in QB sacks, thus far). The Rams, however, have just four sacks on the season, 6th-lowest in the league. This is a good week for the Seahawks to explore Rice's avenue a bit more. I can easily imagine a 60-yard, TD type of performance from Rice.

Jacksonville rookie Justin Blackmon has caught just four of 13 passes thrown to him, the lowest catch percentage among WRs that have played 50 percent of their team's snaps. Apparently, he's frustrated with how things have gone for him in his first three games as a pro. But likely not as frustrated as his fantasy owners. He's droppable at this point in shallow leagues and he has no business starting this week in anything but the deepest of leagues.

Stevie Johnson has just one 100-yard game in his past 25 regular-season contests, but he's topped 50 yards in 18 of those games. And he has a TD in four straight games, going back to Week 17 of '11. He's also scored in three of his past four games against New England. You have to like his chances of scoring this week as the Pats have already allowed 4 TDs to WRs. When New England went to Buffalo last season, Johnson finished with a 8/96/1 line. And that's about what I'd be expecting this time around.

Most FAN PTS allowed to WR: WAS; TB; CLE; BUF; NYG

Least FAN PTS allowed to WR: DAL; CAR; HOU; GB; ATL

TIGHT ENDS

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Time to start paying attention to Oakland's Brandon Myers. He keeps showing up with nifty catches across the middle each week. Not only is he the only TE to have at least 55 receiving yards in each of his first three games, he's also caught all 15 passes thrown to him. Denver, his opponent in Week 4, has allowed the 4th-most fantasy points to TEs, thus far. While I didn't give him the official chartreuse designation this week, I'm already having second thoughts for not doing so.

Really, there's a ton of outstanding TE options for Week 4 — 14 green lights and four others (from Celek to Myers) that I also like. Conversely, there's not a lot of slam dunk receivers this week. This is a good week to think about running a second TE in a FLEX spot instead of a dice roll from the weak middle class of receivers this week.

Rob Gronkowski is coming off his worst fantasy effort since Week 4 of last season. But he gets the best hangover cure possible this week in the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have been solid against the tight end position this season, but they haven't faced any A, or even B, listers at the position. And Gronk has owned them in his two seasons in the league, averaging 78.5 receiving yards and scoring 7 TDs in four career meetings.

Kyle Rudolph was talked up over the summer, tabbed by some as the MVP of Vikings training camp. Those good vibes have carried into the season, as he's finished No. 18, No. 10 and No. 2 at the position in fantasy points, respectively, in the first three weeks of the season. This week, he faces a Detroit squad that has allowed the 2nd-most fantasy points to TEs, thanks to back-to-back big weeks from Vernon Davis and Jared Cook. Rudolph absolutely deserves top 10 considertaion at the position this week.

Most FAN PTS allowed to TE: TEN; DET; WAS; DEN; SF

Least FAN PTS allowed to TE: NO; IND; PHI; BUF; HOU

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

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Most FAN PTS allowed to DST: PHI; DET; CIN; STL; KC

Least FAN PTS allowed to DST: ATL; NYJ; OAK; NE/SEA/JAX/BAL

WEEK 4 GAME PREDICTIONS

Baltimore 26, Clevland 13
Houston 30, Tennessee 17
New England 37, Buffalo 27
San Francisco 22, NY Jets 13
Seattle 17, St. Louis 14
Atlanta 31, Carolina 23
Detroit 24, Minnesota 23
Kansas City 27, San Diego 24
Arizona 20, Miami 12
Cincinnati 23, Jacksonville 20
Washington 24, Tampa Bay 20
Denver 28, Oakland 20
Green Bay 41, New Orleans 27
Philadelphia 30, NY Giants 26
Dallas 27, Chicago 17

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