1:00PM ET Games
Seattle @ Indianapolis
The Seahawks are playing defense differently on the road than at home in a trend that dates back to last year. In two 2013 road contests, Seattle has permitted 242 yards on 55 carries (4.40 YPC) to opposing tailbacks. The Seahawks have stymied enemy runners for 59 yards on 33 runs (1.79 YPC) at CenturyLink Field. Trent Richardson has been running with overt caution as he continues to familiarize with his new blockers, but is buoying his value with goal-line plunges and breaking tackles at a league-best rate, per Pro Football Focus' Elusive Rating. This projects as an above-average fantasy matchup after Arian Foster and Ben Tate tagged Seattle for 216 total yards and a touchdown in Week 4. View T-Rich as a high-end RB2 with a strong chance to score. ... Ahmad Bradshaw is out indefinitely and considering neck surgery, leaving change-up duties to Donald Brown. Although Brown broke off a well-blocked 50-yard run in last week's win over Jacksonville, he managed five touches and 13 snaps. Brown is not a real threat to Richardson's workload. ... Andrew Luck's target distribution through one month: Reggie Wayne 33, T.Y. Hilton 30, Darrius Heyward-Bey 20, Coby Fleener 18, Bradshaw 8, T-Rich 4, Brown 3.
Indy's offense is run oriented and more likely to have rushing than passing success Sunday. The Seahawks are playing top-four pass defense with a 3:7 TD-to-INT ratio against and allowing the lowest passer rating in football (60.7). They're No. 2 in PFF's pass-rush metrics with SLB/DE Bruce Irvin back from suspension this week. View No. 7 fantasy quarterback Luck as a lower-end QB1. Unless the Seahawks throttle the Colts' defense with points, I wouldn't be so sure Luck exceeds 30 pass attempts in this game. ... Seattle was playing stingy tight end coverage before serving up a combined 11-141-1 line to Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham last week. Seventh in fantasy scoring among tight ends the past three weeks, Fleener is a viable TE1 in Week 5. ... 29 of Wayne's team-high 33 targets have come over the middle or against right cornerbacks, which means he'll see slot CB Walter Thurmond III and RCB Brandon Browner on most of Sunday's snaps. On the perimeter, Hilton and Heyward-Bey will have their hands full with Browner and shutdown LCB Richard Sherman. The Seahawks do not move Sherman off his left corner island. Continue to view Wayne as an every-week WR2. ... Heyward-Bey is playing good football -- he hasn't dropped a pass since the opener and is kicking tail as a run blocker -- but DHB is not a fantasy option against the Seahawks. ... Playing limited snaps in a run-first offense, Hilton has paid off as a fantasy start in just 1-of-4 games thus far. He's a boom-or-bust WR3/flex play.
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $15,000 Fantasy Football league for Week 5. It's just $5 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Sunday at 1pm ET. Here's the link.
Russell Wilson is in a similar quandary to Luck, though to a far more painful degree for fantasy owners. The Seahawks rank last in the league in pass attempts per game, and Wilson is only on pace for 35 more rushing yards than his rookie year. The Seahawks are 4-0, so don't expect their formula to change. An incredibly disappointing 21st in fantasy quarterback scoring, Wilson is a QB2 until further notice. The Colts rank No. 7 against the pass and are tied for seventh in sacks (13). No team has yielded fewer passing TDs (2) through four games. ... Whereas Seattle's run-first philosophy hurts Wilson's fantasy value, it's translated to top-five production from Marshawn Lynch despite a three-year low in YPC average (3.90) and minimal passing-game involvement. The Seahawks are second in the NFL in rushing attempts and Lynch is No. 4 in carries. View Lynch as a high-end RB1 against Indy's middling run defense. The Colts rank 16th in rushing yardage allowed and are permitting the 11th highest yards-per-carry average (4.23) among NFL defenses. They're also without critical run defenders SS LaRon Landry (ankle) and DE Ricky Jean-Francois. ... Wilson's target distribution on the year: Golden Tate 22, Sidney Rice 20, Doug Baldwin 15, Zach Miller 14, Lynch 9, Luke Willson 6, Jermaine Kearse and Robert Turbin 4.
The lack of passing volume has had an obvious impact on Seattle pass catchers. Not one of them has even approached fantasy consistency, and team target leader Tate is on pace for 700 scoreless yards. Tate is a bottom-barrel WR3 play against Indy's surprisingly stout pass defense. ... Rice's stat lines through four weeks: 2-35, 1-13, 5-79-2, 1-11. With essentially no reason to think things will get better, I'd rather let someone else deal with that. ... Miller scored two fluky red-zone touchdowns in Week 3, and otherwise has six catches for 71 yards on the season. Now battling a bum hamstring, Miller is a fantasy TE3 against a Colts defense that has yet to allow a tight end touchdown this year. ... Baldwin is a very effective real-life slot receiver, but he plays limited snaps and has cleared 60 yards in just one of his last 15 games. He gets a difficult Week 5 draw against red-hot Colts slot CB Darius Butler. ... I write it in this space every week and will continue to: Lynch owners need to have Christine Michael rostered. The Seahawks view Robert Turbin as a change-of-pace and passing-down specialist only, and Michael would be the carries favorite if Lynch went down. Including the playoffs, Lynch has 358 carries since last September 30. I'm not saying Lynch will break down, I'm saying you need to be prepared if he does. Michael is your preparation.
Score Prediction: Colts 23, Seahawks 20
New England @ Cincinnati
Entering the season, facing Cincy's defense was supposed to be an unwelcome chore. It hasn't been so far. LE Carlos Dunlap has disappointed as a pass rusher following a $40 million offseason extension, and the Bengals are tied for 24th in sacks one year after ranking third. RE Michael Johnson (concussion) is in danger of missing Sunday's game. This may not be a plus matchup for Tom Brady but isn't imposing, either, based on to-date performance. ... The Bengals were without DBs Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Reggie Nelson due to a rash of hamstring injuries in last week's loss to Cleveland. Nelson will return against the Pats, but top corner Hall remains out. It’s a good matchup for New England pass catchers. ... Brady's target distribution on the year: Julian Edelman 43, Kenbrell Thompkins 39, Aaron Dobson 23, Danny Amendola 14, Brandon Bolden 7, Josh Boyce 6. ... Coming off a seven-catch, 118-yard effort in Atlanta, Edelman is solidified as a fantasy WR2/3 and will remain an every-down receiver even with Amendola (groin) tentatively due back. With Amendola in the Week 1 lineup, Edelman played 84-of-95 snaps (88.4%) and saw nine targets, securing seven for 79 yards and two touchdowns. It isn't crazy to think Edelman could actually benefit from Amendola's attention-commanding presence. ... Thompkins has become an increasingly frequent target of Brady on end-zone fades, scoring three touchdowns over his last two games. He's getting better every week. Consider Thompkins an every-week WR3 until further notice. He'll see a lot of RCB Pacman Jones on Sunday, and Pacman has been Cincinnati's weakest secondary link. … Assuming Amendola is indeed active – we won’t know for sure until Sunday morning – he’ll be a plug-and-play starter in all leagues.
Dobson is New England's inferior rookie wideout to Thompkins, securing just 11 of his 23 targets for 118 yards (10.7 YPR). Dobson's lone touchdown came on a blown coverage in Week 2 against the Jets. Listed as questionable with a neck injury, Dobson will lose snaps to Amendola if he plays, and is fantasy bench fodder. ... The Pats are less likely to generate ball movement on the ground than via the pass game. The Bengals have held enemy tailbacks to a sub-pedestrian 348 yards on 92 runs (3.78 YPC), and New England's backfield has devolved into a three-man timeshare. Although he remains the lead runner in terms of snaps and touches, Stevan Ridley has lost 34 early-season carries to hammer back LeGarrette Blount, who scored a 47-yard TD on a wide-open gap run in last Sunday's win over the Falcons. Blount's surprisingly voluminous involvement has been the single-greatest drain on Ridley's value, not Bolden's pass-game role. Until Ridley regains a stranglehold on carries -- which may not happen because the 4-0 Pats may not fix what isn’t broken -- Ridley can only be viewed as a weekly flex. ... Blount's standalone value remains scant, particularly in a difficult matchup like this. Averaging just 8.5 touches per game -- all carries -- Blount is a runner who needs a ton of room to operate. He’s unlikely to get it at Cincinnati. ... While Bolden plays a lot of snaps because he's New England's go-to back in three- and four-wide packages, he's not getting the ball enough for more than desperate flex consideration. Bolden had eight touches in Week 3, and seven in Week 4. Since being benched in the opener for fumbling, Ridley has not put the ball on the ground and is handling 13.7 touches a game. Ridley is no longer an RB2, but he's still the best fantasy running back bet in Foxboro.
Friday Update: Ridley (thigh/knee) has been ruled out for Week 5. In addition, Brandon Bolden was spotted limping in the Patriots' locker room this week after aggravating a recurring knee injury in last Sunday night's win over Atlanta. LeGarrette Blount is a limited player with no passing-game value, but he has a chance to carry the ball 16-plus times behind one of the league's top run-blocking lines. He's worth serious consideration as a Week 5 plug-and-play flex.
A changing of the guard took place in Cincy's backfield two weeks ago. Over the last two games, Giovani Bernard has played 80 snaps to BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 41, seeing 30 touches to Law Firm's 16. Bernard is averaging 4.59 yards per carry, Green-Ellis 2.73. Helping Gio's Week 5 cause is Pats NT Vince Wilfork's Achilles' tear, which will have a ripple effect on New England's run defense. Lock in Bernard as an RB2/flex for the foreseeable future. ... Green-Ellis, on the other hand, will hurt you any given week he doesn't score a goal-line touchdown. And he's not even getting all of those chances anymore. Each of Bernard's two rushing scores this season have come inside the ten-yard line. Upside seekers can cut the cord on Green-Ellis. Also favoring Bernard in Week 5 is the Patriots' suspect linebacker coverage out in the flats. They've given up 21 receptions for 178 yards to opposing running backs through four games. ... The Bengals have a Super Bowl-caliber offense outside of quarterback play. Becoming a bigger liability every game, Andy Dalton played hesitantly in last week's loss to the Browns, struggling to move the offense and committing two turnovers while failing to lead a touchdown drive. Dalton was completely ineffective as Joe Haden all but erased A.J. Green. The Pats can follow Browns DC Ray Horton's blueprint by attempting to take away Green with Aqib Talib. Dalton is just a two-QB-league shot in the dark at this point.
Enemy No. 1 receiver stats versus New England through four games: Julio Jones 6-108; Vincent Jackson, 3-34; Santonio Holmes 3-51; Stevie Johnson 3-39-1. Talib did not allow a single Week 4 catch to Jones; Julio got almost all of his production against RCB Alfonzo Dennard. Green owners should hope for the same, because Talib is playing lights out. He's Pro Football Focus' No. 2 overall cover corner at the season's quarter pole. ... Dalton's Weeks 1-4 target distribution: Green 50, Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu 24, Tyler Eifert 17, Bernard 15, Marvin Jones 10, Green-Ellis 2. ... A huge disappointment in both real life and fantasy, Sanu could not capitalize on Haden's Week 4 blanket coverage of Green, and is on pace for 584 yards without a touchdown. Obviously limited skill wise, Sanu is a WR5. ... The Bengals' tight end situation is a recipe for fantasy failure, even after Tony Gonzalez's 12-149-2 Sunday night demolition of Patriots linebackers and safeties. Gresham is averaging 45 scoreless yards per game. Eifert also has yet to find pay dirt and is averaging under 40 yards. Combine them and you'd have a fantasy TE1. As Eifert and Gresham are separate entities, neither is more than a low-ceiling week-to-week TE2.
Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Bengals 20
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Detroit @ Green Bay
Matthew Stafford is fifth in fantasy quarterback scoring and has taken just three sacks among 159 dropbacks. At 1.9%, it's the best sack rate in the NFL and half of his 3.8 sack percentage from 2012. Stafford is a locked-in every-week QB1 entering Sunday's likely shootout at Lambeau. The Packers allow the second-highest YPA (9.0) in football with an 8:2 TD-to-INT ratio against. The matchup is a passer's delight. ... Like the rest of the league, Packers DC Dom Capers can't figure out how to contain Calvin Johnson. Mega's last three stat lines against Capers' defense: 11-244-1, 5-143-1, 10-118. ... Reggie Bush is back at USC in the Lions' wide-open, space-creating offense. He's averaging 5.29 yards per carry and 145 total yards per start, despite leaving one early with a minor knee injury. Johnson and Bush work off one another and make each other better as two incredibly dynamic, game-changing weapons for whom defenses must account. If we could re-draft fantasy rosters today, you could argue Bush as a top-five overall pick regardless of PPR or standard scoring. ... With Bush restored to full health in Week 4, Joique Bell touched the football 11 times in the Lions' win over Chicago, generating 42 total yards with a lost fumble. Bell remains an ideal lottery-ticket stash due to Bush's durability woes, but he's a weak flex option. Bell just won't play or get the football a lot when Bush is all systems go. And Bush is all systems go in Week 5.
Stafford's targets since Nate Burleson fractured his arm prior to Week 4: Megatron 10, Brandon Pettigrew 7, Bush 6, Bell and Kris Durham 4, Tony Scheffler 2, Ryan Broyles and Theo Riddick 1. ... Pettigrew is a plodding presence with stone tablets for hands, but he's coming off a rare efficient game (seven targets, seven grabs, 54 yards) and Green Bay has had some problems defending tight ends. Enemy TE stats against the Pack so far: Vernon Davis 6-98-2; Jordan Reed/Fred Davis/Logan Paulsen 6-34-1; Jermaine Gresham/Tyler Eifert 5-34. Pettigrew is just a bye-week filler, but you could do worse in a crunch. ... Durham and Pat Edwards (ankle) are the complementary role players across from Megatron. Durham played a lot of Week 4 snaps, but neither is a viable WR3/flex. ... Broyles was among last week's biggest fantasy disappointments. Despite playing 43-of-67 snaps (64.2%) and running 22 pass routes, Broyles commanded one target and didn't catch it. That target-to-playing time ratio looks awfully fluky. In this projected high-scoring affair, I wouldn't be opposed to trotting Broyles back out as a desperation WR3. He will likely play more snaps and is a virtual lock to see more footballs then he did against Chicago.
This game's over-under is 53.5 points, the third-highest of Week 5 behind only Eagles-Giants and Broncos-Cowboys. At 1-2, the Packers are approaching must-win territory and will have had 14 days to not only get healthy, but prepare for this critical division game following a Week 4 bye. ... Meanwhile, the Lions got banged up in the secondary in last week's win over the Bears. Top CB Chris Houston suffered a right hamstring injury, and coach Jim Schwartz has been coy about his Week 5 availability. He's listed as questionable and hardly practiced this week. 33-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis only lasted nine snaps against Chicago before a "head" injury ended his day. Aaron Rodgers should carve up this defense with so much study time and the bevy of matchup issues in Detroit's back half. ... Eddie Lacy is back from his pre-bye concussion and figures to form a one-two punch with fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin. The Lions are playing strong pass defense, but their run defense is vulnerable and always will be due to Schwartz's gap-inviting Wide 9 scheme. Detroit ranks 20th versus the run, has allowed five rushing scores through four games, and is silver plattering 5.21 yards per carry -- the fifth-highest average in football. Lacy is a plug-and-play RB2 in this matchup. ... After a slow preseason and camp, Franklin touched up the Bengals for 103 yards on 13 runs (7.92 YPC) and caught three balls for 23 yards prior to the bye. Franklin did lose a fumble, however, and is likely to be no more than a change-of-pace back until James Starks (knee) returns.
Rodgers' target distribution entering Week 5: Randall Cobb 33, Jordy Nelson 23, James Jones 22, Jermichael Finley 16, Andrew Quarless 8, Starks 6, Franklin 3, Lacy 2. ... Finley has bounced back from a Week 3 concussion to square off with a Lions defense that coughed up an 8-90 line to Martellus Bennett last week. Redskins TEs tagged Detroit for a combined 9-101 number the week before. ... Rodgers' most heavily targeted receiver, Cobb is the No. 7 wideout in fantasy points per game and a legit WR1 against the Lions' battered back end. Cobb's two 2012 stat lines against Detroit: 7-102, 9-74-1. Slot CB Bill Bentley is really struggling, and Cobb should eat him up inside. ... No. 4 in per-game wideout scoring, Nelson will be the primary beneficiary if Houston (hamstring) is inactive or hobbled, because they play the majority of their snaps on the same side. Houston and/or rookie backup CB Darius Slay could get their lunch money stolen by Nelson. ... Rodgers has made an obvious effort to re-involve Jones since his Week 1 goose egg, targeting him 20 times the past two games. I still think Jones is a risky WR3 and pretty much always will be because he's Rodgers' No. 4 passing-game option. He's a boom-or-bust fantasy play. The matchup is right for Jones to pay dividends, however, and the game's high-scoring potential certainly helps.
Score Prediction: Packers 30, Lions 27
Baltimore @ Miami
Daniel Thomas was a team killer in last Monday night's blowout loss to the Saints, repeatedly getting dumped on short-yardage runs and managing five yards on four carries. The Dolphins abandoned the run despite Lamar Miller's early-game dominance, putting their fate on the back of a quarterback who has a chance to be great but simply isn't ready to go toe to toe with Drew Brees. On the year, Thomas is averaging 2.80 YPC. Miller is at 4.56 YPC, and 5.85 with two touchdowns over his last three games. Perhaps Miller created separation from Thomas, or perhaps he didn't. But there is no doubt any longer that the Fins should be riding Miller and not their 2011 second-round bust. View Miller as a low-end RB2/flex against Baltimore's stout run defense, which has limited the Broncos, Browns, Texans, and Bills to 427 yards and one score on 121 carries (3.53 YPC). Thomas is waiver-wire fodder. ... Ryan Tannehill isn't quite ready for primetime, evidenced by his four-turnover unraveling at the Superdome. He's 20th in fantasy quarterback scoring and a two-QB-league play only against a Baltimore defense that has allowed one passing touchdown since Week 1. A long-range concern for Tannehill is his pass protection. He's on pace to absorb 72 sacks, four shy of David Carr's NFL record 76 (2003). The Ravens are fifth overall in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics and tied for seventh in the NFL in sacks (13).
Tannehill's target distribution: Brian Hartline 32, Brandon Gibson and Mike Wallace 28, Charles Clay 25, Miller 9, Rishard Matthews 6, Thomas 4. ... Forget Wallace's two drops against the Saints for a minute. The fact that he's being targeted only as much as Gibson tells you the Fins aren't using him as a classic go-to, No. 1 receiver. They've only done that in one game; Week 2 at Indianapolis when OC Mike Sherman force fed Wallace after he complained publicly about his role. Otherwise, Wallace has been more decoy than playmaker. I'd like him better against Ravens outside CBs Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham if Wallace were playing better. He's not performing on the field, or being heavily targeted. He's a risky WR3. ... The Ravens have shown some signs of stingy tight end defense since benching Michael Huff for rookie Matt Elam. They held Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham to 29 combined yards on nine catches in Week 3, and in Week 4 Scott Chandler managed 28 yards against Baltimore. This isn't a great matchup for Clay, but he could still rack up receptions underneath and pay dividends as a back-end TE1. He's eighth in tight end scoring up to this point. ... Hartline plays hard and gets favorable coverage due to Wallace's presence, but on the field he's just a guy. He's a mid-range to low-end starting No. 2 NFL receiver. So because Hartline is a limited on-field player, he's more likely to underperform in the box score. Hartline is a dicey WR3 now and will remain that way for the rest of the season.
Much has been made of Baltimore's Week 4 abandonment of the run. Veteran fantasy players know this is actually a common NFL occurrence when teams fall behind big on the scoreboard. The Ravens trailed the Bills 20-7 at halftime and called just two second-half run plays. Although his to-date scoring has been a major disappointment, Ray Rice's fantasy value did not change last week. He's still a borderline RB1/2 against a Dolphins defense surrendering the ninth highest YPC average (4.24) in football. Coach John Harbaugh indicated this week the Ravens will make every attempt to reestablish the run in Week 5. Because it lacks viable possession receivers, Baltimore must have a run-game foundation to sustain offense. This isn't breaking news. The coaching staff knows it. Expect 20-plus touches for Rice at Miami. ... Bernard Pierce has resumed "big back" change-of-pace duties with Rice's hip back to full strength and will likely receive 7-12 touches per game moving forward. Though still valuable in the event of further Rice injury, Pierce would be a weak Week 5 flex play. ... Joe Flacco's target distribution this season: Torrey Smith 42, Dallas Clark 29, Marlon Brown 23, Brandon Stokley 16, Rice 15, Vonta Leach 10, Tandon Doss and Ed Dickson 9.
Just 26th in fantasy quarterback points, Flacco is a low-end QB2 against the Fins. Likely getting back star LE Cameron Wake (knee), Miami boasts top-notch up-front pass rush and the Ravens are breaking in brand-new LT Eugene Monroe. Baltimore will have trouble keeping Flacco's pocket clean. ... Beyond Rice, Smith is the Ravens' lone every-week fantasy starter. Smith is on pace for 1,740 yards on 84 catches, shattering his previous career highs of 855 and 50. Kudos to those who identified Smith as a pre-season breakout candidate. He's going to meet that expectation. ... The Dolphins are vulnerable everywhere in the secondary besides left cornerback, where Brent Grimes has flashed shutdown cover skills. Smith and Brown frequently flip-flop sides and Grimes is not utilized to shadow opposing top receivers, so both Baltimore wideouts will play snaps against him. Although Brown has scored a touchdown in 3-of-4 games, he is battling a hamstring tweak and in some danger of losing snaps to Jacoby Jones, assuming Jones returns from his MCL sprain. This isn't the week to play Brown. ... The Dolphins are allowing the most fantasy points in the league to tight ends, but Ravens TEs are awfully hard to trust. 34-year-old Clark is a half-decade removed from his prime and hasn't cleared 50 yards since Week 1. Purely in terms of pass catching, Dickson has been the worst tight end in football through four games.
Score Prediction: Ravens 20, Dolphins 17
New Orleans @ Chicago
I was surprised to see the over-under on Saints-Bears at just 48.5 points. I think this game has pass-happy shootout potential, and would eyeball sleepers here. ... The old Jay Cutler returned in last week's loss to Detroit, committing four turnovers in a 40-32 loss. He's still on pace for career bests in TDs (32) and completion rate (64.2), and a six-year high in passing yardage (4,040). The Saints' shockingly stout pass defense makes Cutler a boom-or-bust Week 5 option. New Orleans ranks fifth against the pass, third in picks (7), and third in QB rating allowed (65.1). ... Cutler's target distribution: Brandon Marshall 42, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett 32, Matt Forte 26, Earl Bennett 10, Michael Bush 2. ... It's a great time to buy low on Marshall, capitalizing on his owners' anxiety. He's going to be just fine. Marshall hasn't scored a touchdown in two straight weeks, but ranks ninth in the NFL in targets and has a cakewalk upcoming schedule. After this potentially high-scoring affair, Chicago faces the Giants, Redskins, Packers, and Lions over its next four games. ... With Marshall taking a brief backseat, Jeffery has come on the past two games, seemingly bypassing Martellus as the Bears' No. 2 pass-game option. Jeffery has 19 targets over that span and is coming off a 5-107-1 line in Detroit. The Saints move their corners around under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan, so it's tough to say which receiver will face whom. I like Jeffery as a WR3 gamble because I think this game could produce lots of scoring.
Martellus rebounded from his Week 3 clunker in Pittsburgh (2-10) to secure 8-of-12 targets for 90 yards against the Lions. I like Jeffery to out-produce him the rest of the way, but Bennett is right back in the TE1 mix and a quality starter versus New Orleans. The Saints coughed up a 6-42-1 line to Dolphins H-back Charles Clay last Monday night. ... The No. 4 overall fantasy back behind only Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, and LeSean McCoy, Forte is arguably playing the best football of his career under new coach Marc Trestman. He's on pace for 1,920 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns. Supposed goal-line vulture Bush played just two snaps last week. Whereas Ryan's defense has been stingy versus the pass, it is exploitable on the ground. The Saints rank 22nd against the run and are shelling out the highest yards-per-carry average in the game (5.48).
Julius Peppers is playing well again, but otherwise Chicago's defense continues to be a major disappointment in terms of pass rush. They're 30th in sacks (6) and 29th in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metrics. Three-technique DT Henry Melton's ACL tear could haunt this defense the rest of the way. ... Give Drew Brees a clean pocket and he'll pick you apart every time. After a slightly slow start to the season, Brees has completed 59-of-85 passes (69.4%) for 755 yards (8.9 YPA) and a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last two games, rushing for an eighth touchdown. He is on fire. ... Jimmy Graham isn't just the No. 1 overall fantasy tight end. He's the No. 2 scorer among non-quarterbacks, trailing Adrian Peterson by one point. The Bears' defense has allowed the second most receptions in football to tight ends (28). ... With top CB Charles Tillman (groin, knee) continuing to play at significantly less than 100%, the Bears have struggled to contain opposing No. 1 receivers. Stat lines against them so far: A.J. Green 9-162-2; Antonio Brown 9-196-2; Greg Jennings 5-84; Calvin Johnson 4-44-1. Marques Colston is coming off his best game of the season (7-96) and is on pace for 1,192 yards, which would be the second most of his career.
Brees' 2013 targets: Graham 42, Colston 29, Darren Sproles 28, Pierre Thomas 21, Kenny Stills 14, Lance Moore 11, Ben Watson 7, Robert Meachem 4, Nick Toon 2. ... Last Monday night, the Dolphins applied bracket coverage to Graham. Sproles proceeded to gash them for 142 yards and two scores, reminding everyone that he is an every-week RB2 regardless of scoring format. He's now the No. 12 non-PPR fantasy back. ... Thomas has been a bust with Mark Ingram (toe) ailing, losing clock-killing carries to UDFA Khiry Robinson against Miami and managing 105 combined yards on 26 touches the past two games. Thomas hasn't found pay dirt yet this year. He's a shaky flex against Chicago's No. 15 run defense. ... Despite Moore's Week 4 absence due to a wrist injury, rookie Stills played a season-low 50.7% of the offensive snaps, essentially sharing time with Toon and seeing six targets. Toon, Watson, and Meachem combined for five targets against the Fins. Although they all play in a high-scoring, passing-based offense, Stills, Toon, and the rest are complementary players without big enough roles for fantasy reliability.
Score Prediction: Bears 30, Saints 28
Philadelphia @ NY Giants
David Wilson's run defense schedule from Weeks 5-16: vs. PHI (26th), @ CHI (15th), vs. MIN (13th), @ PHI (26th), vs. OAK (21st), vs. GB (8th), vs. DAL (3rd), @ WAS (31st), @ SD (25th), vs. SEA (18th), @ DET (20th). So far, the Giants have faced the run defenses of Denver (1st), Dallas (3rd), Carolina (7th), and Kansas City (24th). Wilson remains a risky flex, but he's got arguably the most favorable rest-of-season schedule among NFL backs. ... The Giants waived passing-down back Da'Rel Scott this week. Scott's release was not surprising because he was ineffective, but has fantasy implications because he was playing 48.6% of the snaps. Meanwhile, Wilson played a season-high 29 snaps in Week 4 against the Chiefs and pass blocked effectively for the third straight week, per Pro Football Focus' game charts. Wilson hasn't fumbled since the opener, and has quietly strung together 95 yards on his last 17 carries (5.59 YPC). If his role continues to grow and the Giants become even a remotely competitive team, Wilson has fantasy-team-carrying talent. ... Although Tom Coughlin hinted at a Wilson-Brandon Jacobs "one-two punch" this week, Jacobs' role has been evaporating each week under playcaller Kevin Gilbride. Since playing 14 snaps in Week 2, Jacobs has turned in snap counts of six and five, and had one carry in the loss to K.C. He is out of gas. ... Eli Manning's target distribution through one month: Victor Cruz 43, Brandon Myers 26, Hakeem Nicks 25, Rueben Randle 23, Scott 17, Wilson 5.
The No. 1 overall fantasy receiver, Cruz is dominating targets not only because the Giants are frequently playing from behind, but because Eli is so often under pressure and Cruz is his go-to hot read. Eagles DC Billy Davis will likely blitz Manning heavily, which would be good news for Cruz. ... Nicks is struggling both physically and mentally. He can't run like he used to, and in Week 4 failed to secure three catchable passes. The good news is Nicks still saw nine targets, has a plus Week 5 matchup, and the G-Men figure to design plays for him against the Eagles because they need Nicks if they're going to turn their season around. Expect Nicks to square off regularly Sunday with Eagles RCB Cary Williams, who got beaten to a pulp in Baltimore last year and currently ranks 68th of 101 qualifiers in PFF's coverage ratings. ... An early-season tease, Myers' production has dropped in three straight weeks and he bottomed out with a catch-less game in Week 4, despite playing 56-of-64 snaps (87.5%). I wonder if the Giants will begin scaling back Myers' role because he's getting blown up as a blocker. He blocked poorly in Oakland last year, as well. ... I really, really like Randle's talent, but he has been maddeningly inconsistent with stat lines of 5-101, 3-14, 2-40, and 1-7 through one month. Randle is worth a bye-week fill-in WR3 look just because his matchup is so attractive, but his box-score results are far from dependable.
Besides his own O-Line and well-below-average defense, the primary obstacle standing in the way of Wilson's long-awaited breakout game is an Eagles team that ranks No. 2 in total offense, No. 1 in rushing, and No. 11 in passing. When teams grab big leads, opposing run games are often rendered non-factors. The Eagles have the firepower to grab just that. ... The No. 3 overall fantasy back behind only Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy squares off with a Giants defense that ranks 28th against the run and has had trouble defending offenses with dual-threat quarterbacks. In Week 3, DeAngelo Williams, Cam Newton, and Mike Tolbert pummeled the G-Men for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 39 combined carries (4.62 YPC). In his two 2012 meetings with Robert Griffin III, Giants DC Perry Fewell's unit coughed up 405 yards on 58 runs (6.98 YPC) to RG3 and Alfred Morris. On Sunday, Giants run-plugging DT Cullen Jenkins may not play due to a right Achilles' and knee injury, and NT Linval Joseph (knee/ankle) has been ruled out. Fire up McCoy and No. 4 overall fantasy quarterback Michael Vick. ... Vick's target distribution in the season's first month: DeSean Jackson 37, Jason Avant 22, Riley Cooper 18, Brent Celek 15, McCoy 11, Zach Ertz 8, Bryce Brown 4, Chris Polk 2.
Although Jackson has had two slow weeks along with the rest of Philly's passing attack, the target leader on an offensive juggernaut remains an every-week WR2. The Giants' No. 19 pass defense has surrendered a league-most ten passing scores and is tied for last in sacks (4). G-Men CBs Corey Webster (groin), Aaron Ross (back), and Jayron Hosley (hamstring) will all be inactive. Passing success shouldn't be difficult to come by for the Eagles. ... In back-to-back weeks, the Chiefs and Broncos have used bracket zones to stifle D-Jax, showing no respect for the other Eagles pass catchers by leaving them in strict man coverage. Defensive coordinators place no value on Philly's pass-game alternatives, and nor should fantasy owners. ... Perhaps the league's least effective No. 2 wideout, Cooper is on pace for 32 catches and 372 scoreless yards. He's dropped two of his 19 targets. ... Celek's pace stats are 28-524-4. Simply not a big part of Chip Kelly's passing attack, Celek is waiver-wire material. ... Coming off a one-catch, seven-yard game, 30-year-old possession receiver Avant lacks any semblance of upside. ... Polk is a player to watch. For a brief period in training camp, he was running ahead of Brown as the Eagles' No. 2 back behind McCoy. Polk broke off 52 yards and a score on five touches in last week's loss to Denver. Brown did total 60 yards on ten touches and remains the preferred Shady handcuff.
Score Prediction: Giants 24, Eagles 21
Kansas City @ Tennessee
This game has the appearance of a surefire defensive struggle. Its 39-point over-under is easily Week 5's smallest, and both clubs rank top nine in total defense. Kansas City's quarterback is a career game manager, while Tennessee's new signal caller is a pick-prone gunslinger whom OC Dowell Loggains will undoubtedly look to rein in. ... Leave out their Week 3 game in Philly, and the Chiefs have played solid run defense. In its other three contests, Kansas City has held the Giants, Cowboys, and Jags to a combined 206 yards on 60 scoreless carries (3.43 YPC). So despite the Chiefs' No. 24 run-defense ranking, this isn't necessarily a plus matchup for slumping Chris Johnson. Still making little pass-game impact and averaging a career-worst 3.30 yards per carry, Johnson is a boom-or-bust RB2. With the Seahawks and 49ers next on Tennessee's schedule, selling high on Johnson if he plays well Sunday might not be the worst idea. ... Jake Locker is out at least one month with hip and MCL sprains, leaving signal-calling duties to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Although Fitzpatrick was miscast as the centerpiece of Chan Gailey's spread offenses in Buffalo, he's a quarterback capable of moving the chains and is willing to at least attempt tight-window throws. "FitzMagic" is not a recommended two-QB-league start against a Chiefs defense that ranks second versus the pass and first in sacks (18), but I'm not so sure his insertion is a huge downgrade to Tennessee's offense. It may look that way Sunday, however, due to the opponent.
We're dealing in a very small sample here, but these were Fitz's targets after replacing Locker in the third quarter against the Jets: Nate Washington 4, Kendall Wright 3, Damian Williams 1. ... Two of Fitzpatrick's three completions went to Washington for 83 yards and a score. I always hesitate to trust Washington because he's been around nine years and is a letdown more often than not, but he's a top-six fantasy receiver the past three weeks and is a fine real-life player. He's also likely to get the Brandon Flowers treatment Sunday. Washington can be penciled in as a dicey WR3. ... Wright has at least five receptions in three straight games and played a season-high 72.4% of the Titans' Week 4 snaps. As a slot receiver, Wright is a fit for Fitzpatrick's average to sub-average arm talent. The Chiefs' secondary is most vulnerable in the slot, where CB Dunta Robinson is getting burned relentlessly. Purely in terms of pass coverage, Robinson is Pro Football Focus' No. 93 corner among 101 qualifiers. Victor Cruz demolished Robinson for a 10-164-1 line in Week 4. ... Titans TE Delanie Walker is battling turf toe and rib injuries, and is more blocker than receiver. He's off the fantasy radar. ... Two career catches, two career touchdowns for rookie Justin Hunter. Unfortunately, that isn't reliable fantasy production, and Kenny Britt returns this week to cut into Hunter's snaps. Hunter has three targets on the year. He was Tennessee's No. 4 receiver even with Britt (ribs) inactive last week, playing 20.3% of the snaps.
With Cleveland's finally earning some national respect, Tennessee is left with the most underrated defense in football. Sparked by ex-Saints DC Gregg Williams' heavy-handed influence, the blitz-heavy Titans rank No. 9 in total defense and No. 7 in points allowed. They're tied for third in sacks (14). Although Alex Smith has greatly exceeded expectations as the No. 6 fantasy quarterback on a small, four-game sample size, he continues to offer minimal week-to-week upside and is not a recommended Week 5 streamer in this difficult road matchup. ... Jamaal Charles is Kansas City's lone locked-in fantasy starter, and should continue to pile up catches as Smith's hot read against Tennessee's blitz. Charles already leads all running backs in targets -- by seven -- so this plays into the Chiefs' hands. He's tied with Matt Forte and Darren Sproles at No. 1 in receptions. The Titans have also been weaker in run than pass defense, allowing the eighth-highest YPC average (4.26) in the NFL. Charles is the No. 2 overall fantasy running back, behind only Adrian Peterson.
Smith's target distribution: Charles 35, Donnie Avery 26, Dwayne Bowe 24, Dexter McCluster 18, Sean McGrath 13, Anthony Fasano and Anthony Sherman 7, A.J. Jenkins 2, Knile Davis 1. ... After lighting up the sieve-ish Eagles on wide-open crossing routes for a 7-141 line in Week 3, Avery confirmed the performance fluky with two catches for 23 scoreless yards in last week's win over the Giants. Throw out the Philly game and Avery has failed to clear 40 yards in 3-of-3 weeks. ... The Titans' corners are playing really well, particularly contract-year RCB Alterraun Verner. LCB Jason McCourty has always been a steady, if overpaid presence. I don't think Kansas City will have much passing success as a team on Sunday, and don't see reason to believe Avery or Bowe would be a particularly strong fantasy start. View Bowe as a shaky WR3, and Avery as waiver-wire fodder. ... McCluster played poorly in Kansas City's first three games, dropping a pass each week. McCluster finally avoided drops against the G-Men, secured 5-of-5 targets for 48 yards, and returned a punt 89 yards for a score. I suppose you could use him in a return-yardage league.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 20, Titans 17
Jacksonville @ St. Louis
Blaine Gabbert looked like a rookie again in his Week 4 return from a hand laceration against the Colts. He shrunk when pressured and perceived pass rush that wasn't there, repeatedly bailing out of the pocket with negative results. Gabbert threw three picks, and his season TD-to-INT ratio currently stands at 0:5. ... Because Gabbert already plays scared, it's troubling to imagine how frightened he'll play now that the Jaguars have traded LT Eugene Monroe. Jacksonville's new right tackle will be Austin Pasztor, a 2012 undrafted free agent out of Virginia with short arms and limited athleticism. He played guard in college. New LT Luke Joeckel is 57th of 72 in PFF's 2013 tackle ratings. ... The Rams are 1-3 and have looked like a genuinely bad team in back-to-back games. With Robert Quinn bookending Chris Long, the one thing St. Louis does effectively is rush the passer. And they are coming off a long week to get issues corrected. I'd be excited to start the Rams' fantasy defense in Week 5. ... Gabbert's target distribution on the season: Cecil Shorts 22, Ace Sanders 17, Justin Forsett 7, Allen Reisner 6, Jordan Todman and Clay Harbor 4, Maurice Jones-Drew 3. ... Shorts' stat lines in his last six games when both he and Gabbert have played together extensively: 3-40, 3-56, 8-116, 2-43, 1-8, 7-61. Unable to practice due to a groin injury, Shorts is a low-end WR3 play this week.
The return of Justin Blackmon gives inept Gabbert another "weapon," though owners can't expect immediate dividends. Rams LCB Janoris Jenkins has flashed shutdown coverage skills as a sophomore and is likely to match up with Blackmon on most of Sunday's snaps. Throw in the Gabbert factor and Blackmon is a WR4. ... Slot guy Sanders has the best matchup of Jaguars receivers with Rams slot CB Cortland Finnegan (thigh) listed as doubtful, but Sanders' snaps will decline with Blackmon off suspension, and he has 162 scoreless yards through four games. ... Joeckel has been getting blown up as a run blocker, and the Jaguars' interior trio of C Brad Meester, RG Uche Nwaneri, and LG Will Rackley is getting pulverized every week. The Rams are 30th in run defense, so at least the matchup is right for Jones-Drew to have a shot at a productive game. I'm still skeptical. Even on the rare occasions MJD has had lanes this year, he's appeared less powerful than ever with little burst or lateral movement. He hasn't topped 3.00 YPC in any of the first four games. On the off chance MJD does impress in the Week 5 box score, it'll be time for fantasy owners to sell. With Gabbert at the controls, any offense would be a dumpster fire.
Struggling Daryl Richardson wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he will not start against the Jags, likely due to ineffectiveness. While St. Louis' line play has been abysmal -- Pro Football Focus grades them 28th in run blocking -- Richardson deserves a large chunk of blame for failing to create on his own and missing too many cutback opportunities. He was leaving yards on the field. Look for a Week 5 RBBC, with Zac Stacy likely at the forefront and either Richardson or Isaiah Pead in the scatback change-of-pace role. To this point, at least, UDFA Benny Cunningham has been utilized sparingly as a ball carrier and more on special teams. Stacy is worth rostering in all fantasy leagues. Whichever Rams back gets the carries Sunday should be positioned for some success. Eviscerated on the ground, Jacksonville is surrendering the fourth-highest YPC average (5.21) in football and has served up a league-high nine 20-plus-yard runs. ... Sam Bradford has performed poorly in back-to-back tilts with Dallas and San Francisco, but there's nothing like a meeting with the Jaguars when you need to bust a slump. Simply lacking talent, the Jags have surrendered a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing passers and rank 26th in sacks (8). As a team, PFF grades Jacksonville 24th in both pass rush and pass coverage. Fire up Bradford in two-quarterback-leagues and give him a look as a desperation QB1 streamer. His matchup is cake.
Bradford's target distribution: Tavon Austin 34, Jared Cook 32, Austin Pettis 31, Chris Givens 27, Richardson 14, Lance Kendricks 13, Pead 11, Brian Quick 10, Cunningham 5. ... Austin has resembled Dexter McCluster more than Percy Harvin through four games. His stop-start jukes aren't fooling anyone, and he is not a physical tackle breaker in the Harvin vein. Austin apologists blame OC Brian Schottenheimer. I do think this is a good week to roll the Tavon dice as a WR3. Coming off a Thursday nighter, Schottenheimer had a 10-day window to adjust, and Bradford is a virtual lock for a clean pocket against the Jags. ... Rams pass catchers are virtually impossible to project week to week because there are four guys bunched tightly atop the target totem pole, and none has flashed signs of consistency. Givens has a plus draw versus journeyman RCB Alan Ball, but he's been boom or bust and mostly bust to this point. ... Pettis has the least favorable matchup against LCB Will Blackmon, who has stood out positively in the back end of Jacksonville's defense. Pettis has cleared 60 yards in 1-of-4 games. ... Since leading all tight ends in Week 1 points, Cook has bottomed out as the No. 29 tight end scorer the past three weeks. Cook is a big play-dependent tight end who hurts you when he doesn't hit one. He's another boom-or-bust start, albeit one with a good matchup against a Jaguars team surrendering the tenth most fantasy points to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Rams 24, Jaguars 13
4:05PM ET Game
Carolina @ Arizona
Arizona's tailback picture has devolved into a two-headed timeshare with Rashard Mendenhall getting outplayed by rookie Andre Ellington, but still leading the committee in weekly carries. As the Cardinals' line does not open running lanes, Mendenhall is completely ineffective and will likely continue to be against Carolina's top-seven run defense. With just 51 yards on his last 22 carries (2.32 YPC), Mendenhall is approaching drop status in 10-team leagues. He's a low-ceiling RB3/4 in standard formats. ... Ellington adds juice and playmaking ability, and is a better fit behind the Cards' penetration-allowing front five because he can create his own running room on occasion with lateral moves. Unfortunately in fantasy terms, Ellington is only being utilized as a change-of-pace back and has yet to exceed seven touches in any game this year. He's not a flex option, at least not yet. ... Departed LT Levi Brown has long been a liability in pass protection, but his exit won't help Arizona's run game. Through four weeks, Brown was Pro Football Focus' No. 9 overall run-blocking tackle and easily the Cardinals' highest-graded run-blocking lineman. ... Carson Palmer's target distribution since Rob Housler returned from a high ankle sprain two games ago: Michael Floyd 16, Larry Fitzgerald 15, Ellington 13, Andre Roberts 6, Housler and Mendenhall 5.
Fitzgerald is an every-week fantasy starter. He beat Darrelle Revis for the game-winning touchdown last week in Tampa. It goes without saying Fitz should be in your lineup against a defensive backfield as talent-deficient as Carolina's. ... Housler's return has cut heavily into Roberts' targets and playing time. Whereas Roberts played 74% of the snaps in Weeks 1-2, he's down to 56% the past two games. Roberts needs to be viewed as a borderline-roster-worthy WR5 going forward. ... Separation has been established behind Fitz in the pecking order for Palmer's targets. Floyd is playing 92.2% of the snaps and coming off his best game of the season (5-87 on ten targets). I'm still skeptical Floyd will meet "breakout" expectations, but he's on the WR3 radar against the Panthers' suspect secondary. ... Housler has been more of a drain on Roberts’ value than standalone producer. I don't expect Housler to make a sustained fantasy impact at any point this season, regardless of matchups. ... Palmer is going to have his hands full against the Panthers, who bring enough pass rush that they are genuinely capable of torpedoing an offense. Just ask Eli Manning, whom Carolina sacked seven times before its Week 4 bye. To replace Levi Brown, the Cardinals are installing ex-Bucs practice squadder Bradley Sowell on Palmer's blind side. In his first NFL start, Sowell will square off with RE Greg Hardy, who’s on pace for 16 sacks in a contract season. Look for Hardy to eat, and Palmer to fail to pay dividends as any more than a mid-range to low-end two-quarterback-league start.
I was worried about Cam Newton after the Panthers' first two games. OC Mike Shula completely scrapped quarterback runs, and Newton's only rushing attempts were coming on scrambles. I was excited about Newton again when Shula made obvious adjustments in Week 3, re-implementing designed runs and giving Cam goal-line carries en route to a 38-0 dismantling of the Giants. Consider Newton a top-five QB1 moving forward. This is an excellent matchup, as Arizona ranks 20th in pass defense with the fourth-fewest sacks in football (7) through one month. ... Newton's 2013 target distribution: Steve Smith and Greg Olsen 26, Ted Ginn 13, Brandon LaFell 11, DeAngelo Williams 5, Mike Tolbert 4, Armanti Edwards 2, Domenik Hixon 1. ... Smith is going to get the Patrick Peterson treatment, one week after Peterson held Vincent Jackson to 27 yards on two receptions among 11 targets. Still, Peterson's coverage has been up and down this season, and largely throughout his career. He's certainly not a shutdown corner. As an explosive, 5-foot-9 jitterbug with springs for legs, Smitty also poses different problems for a 6-foot-2, 220-pound defensive back than 6-foot-5, 230-pound buildup speed receiver V-Jax. I see Smith as a fine WR3 option. ... LaFell scored two red-zone touchdowns against the G-Men, but isn't commanding enough targets for serious fantasy-start consideration. LaFell is on pace for 352 yards this year.
Enemy tight end numbers versus the Cardinals so far: Jared Cook 7-141-2, Brandon Pettigrew 3-32, Jimmy Graham 9-134-2, Tim Wright 5-41. Arizona has permitted the second most fantasy points to tight ends this season. Olsen is a strong, if back-end TE1 play. ... DeAngelo Williams owners should look to move him soon, because Jonathan Stewart (ankles/PUP) is on track for a Week 7 return and could immediately render Carolina's backfield an even timeshare. If Stewart's ankles are fixed following twin offseason surgeries, he is the Panthers' most dynamic and versatile back. On Sunday, Williams will take on an Arizona defense that ranks No. 2 against the run and is surrendering an NFC-low 3.03 yards per carry. The Cardinals shut down Doug Martin (27-45-0) last week, and get back run-clogging NT Dan Williams on Sunday following a two-game absence. D-Will remains likely to receive 20-plus rushing attempts in Week 5, but he's a dicey RB2/flex with limited fantasy upside because Newton and Tolbert are vulturing goal-line carries.
Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Cardinals 20
4:25PM ET Game
Denver @ Dallas
With a whopping 57-point over-under in the passer-friendly confines of JerryWorld, Broncos-Cowboys has major shootout potential. This is a game in which you want to start fantasy players. ... Primarily because they so often force opponents to play from behind -- a scenario which certainly could continue in Week 5 -- Denver ranks 30th in pass defense and has allowed the most 20-plus-yard completions in football (23). It's a great week to fire up Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Dez is too physical for beanpole RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and 35-year-old LCB Champ Bailey (foot) is not expected to play. ... Tenth in fantasy quarterback scoring, Romo has a chance to set a season high in pass attempts after being limited to 61 throws the past two weeks. Playing outstanding football despite surprisingly little buzz, Romo is completing a career-best 72.4% of his passes with eight touchdowns and one pick. Dating back to November of 2012, Romo has an 18:3 TD-to-INT ratio across his last seven home starts. ... Romo's target distribution since Miles Austin's hamstring strain in the third quarter of Week 3 against the Rams: Jason Witten 11, Dez 10, Terrance Williams 8, DeMarco Murray 5, Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley 3.
Williams had a drop and lost a critical fourth-quarter fumble in last week's loss to San Diego, but played 87% of Dallas' snaps and secured 7-of-8 targets for 71 yards. Williams has some Week 5 WR3 appeal due to this game's lofty scoring projection. He's clearly out in front of Harris and Beasley. ... Denver has allowed the fifth-most catches and third-most yards to tight ends through four weeks. At least until Austin returns, Witten is a virtual lock for double-digit targets. ... Murray is the lone Dallas skill-position player with a slightly imposing matchup. The Broncos are playing shutdown run defense, allowing a minuscule 3.22 YPC. On the bright side, Murray is seventh in the NFL in carries and fifth among running backs in catches, and it's entirely possible the Cowboys will game plan to establish Murray in an effort to keep Peyton Manning off the field. Seventh in running back scoring, Murray is a locked-in RB2 despite the tough on-paper matchup.
Peyton Manning leads the NFL in completions, completion rate, passing yards, TD passes, yards per attempt, passer rating, and QBR. That's enough. ... Demaryius Thomas has the best Week 5 matchup of Denver's receivers. The Cowboys have demoted whipping-boy RCB Morris Claiborne, but he is still playing right corner in all sub-packages. The Broncos go three-wide on 70% of their snaps, forcing defenses to play nickel and dime. Thomas runs most of his pass patterns at right corners and over the middle, so he will match up with Claiborne early and often. Behind perhaps only Megatron, I'd rank Thomas as a top-two fantasy receiver this week. Claiborne is toast. ... The Broncos have scored 52 more points than any other team and are averaging an easily-league-best 483 total yards per game. An overlooked factor behind Denver's offensive dominance is the crisp pace at which they play. Peyton and OC Adam Gase have the pedal to the medal, ripping off the fourth-most plays from scrimmage in football despite ranking a relatively modest 13th in time of possession. Throw in Manning's machine-like efficiency and it's genuinely possible to support 4-5 strong fantasy box scores from Denver's non-quarterback skill players every week. ... Peyton's to-date target distribution: Demaryius 38, Wes Welker 36, Eric Decker 35, Julius Thomas 24, Knowshon Moreno 9, Ronnie Hillman 6, Virgil Green and Andre Caldwell 4, Montee Ball 2.
Welker is inarguably an every-week starter, but has a tougher draw against feisty Cowboys slot CB Orlando Scandrick. Slot receivers versus Dallas the past three weeks: Dexter McCluster 2-14, Tavon Austin 6-30, Eddie Royal 3-42. ... Now far beyond his Week 1 clunker, Decker is a top-ten fantasy receiver over the past three weeks. Like Welker, however, Decker gets a fairly difficult matchup against LCB Brandon Carr, who per Pro Football Focus hasn't allowed a touchdown in six games going back to last season. Decker does play on both sides enough that he could easily still burn Claiborne on a given snap and deliver WR2 production. Welker and Thomas are WR1s. ... "Orange Julius" has been generously compared to Antonio Gates, and it just so happens Gates lit up this same Dallas defense for a 10-136-1 stat line in Week 4. ... Although the final box-score results may indicate otherwise, there is a clear lead back in Denver when games are competitive, and it is Moreno. Hillman and Ball have seen upticks in usage primarily because the Broncos are blowing out opponents. Moreno will remain locked in as the carries frontrunner due to his pass-protection skills. In last week's 52-20 blowout win, Moreno received eight first-half touches, including three red-zone runs and two inside the Philly five-yard line, converting the second for a four-yard score. Hillman was strictly a change-of-pace back until late in the second quarter, when he handled the full two-minute drill. Demoted to third string, Ball only played in garbage time. Now facing Dallas' No. 3 run defense, only Moreno can be counted on as a reliable Week 5 RB2/flex.
Score Prediction: Broncos 31, Cowboys 24
Sunday Night Football
Houston @ San Francisco
Matt Schaub has thrown a pick-six in three consecutive games and can set an NFL record with a fourth Sunday night at Candlestick. Despite limited secondary talent and the "leave of absence" by top outside rusher Aldon Smith, the 49ers rank third in pass defense and have permitted only five passing scores through four games. San Francisco's completion percentage against is 52.8, the second lowest clip in football. Playing with diminished confidence, Schaub should be viewed as a risky two-quarterback-league play despite his to-date box-score statistics. Since two fluky shootouts to open season, Schaub's stats over the past two games are 56-of-84 for 549 yards, two touchdowns, three picks, seven sacks absorbed, and nineteen QB hits. ... Arian Foster re-ascended to RB1 status in Week 4 against Seattle, improving his fantasy running back rank from 16th to 8th overall in a heavy-volume all-purpose performance. Foster out-touched Ben Tate 33:8 versus Seattle, and played 65 snaps to Tate's season-low 11. Despite Tate's better YPC average, Foster could continue to widen the playing-time gap due to his superior versatility and Tate's Week 4 lost fumble. The 49ers are allowing only 3.50 yards per carry on the season, but have dished out six rushing TDs through four games and rank 19th in run defense. View Foster as a matchup-proof every-week starter until something changes. Tate is a low-end flex play.
Schaub's target distribution: Andre Johnson 47, Owen Daniels 32, DeAndre Hopkins 29, Foster 22, Garrett Graham 16, Tate and Keshawn Martin 11, DeVier Posey 4. ... Johnson leads the NFL in receptions (34) and is coming off a nine-catch, 110-yard game against a Seattle secondary that is better than San Francisco's. He's a WR1. ... Hopkins has been up and down week to week, but has a plus Week 5 matchup versus 49ers LCBs Carlos Rogers and Tramaine Brock. (Rogers plays left corner in base packages and moves to the slot in the nickel, with Brock entering at LCB.) Rogers is struggling mightly at age 32. Brock is filling in for injured Nnamdi Asomugha (knee). This might be a good week to take the plunge on "Nuk." ... Daniels has exceeded fantasy expectations this season, but has the most difficult Week 5 matchup of Texans pass catchers. San Francisco has allowed the sixth-fewest catches (14) and yards (142) in the league to tight ends. And they'll be even better with ILB Patrick Willis back from his groin injury. Willis is the best pass-coverage linebacker in the NFL and often shadows opposing tight ends. ... Graham is currently the No. 12 overall fantasy tight end, though he's scoring touchdowns at an unsustainable rate. He has three red-zone TDs among 12 catches. 23 NFL tight ends have more targets than Graham, and 21 have more yards. Graham will hurt your fantasy team if he doesn't find pay dirt in any given week.
Amid all the handwringing over Colin Kaepernick's "lack of weapons" and the laughable notion defenses have "figured out" arguably the most talented all-purpose signal caller in the game, it's seemingly been forgotten Kaepernick has the NFL's premier quarterback guru working behind the scenes. And coach Jim Harbaugh had a ten-day time period between San Francisco's Thursday win over St. Louis and Sunday night's tilt with the Texans to make adjustments, grind tape, and "figure out" what's ailing his own passing attack. Assuredly helping matters is the healthy return of Vernon Davis, who is the lone 49ers pass catcher capable of creating cavities of separation in the intermediate and deep passing game. Although Houston ranks No. 1 versus the pass, the Texans have permitted the ninth most points in football with a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio against. The difficult on-paper matchup renders Kaepernick more low-end QB1 than elite fantasy starter, but he'll get back into the latter range soon. ... Davis has missed one game, had another cut short by a hamstring injury, and wasn't 100% at St. Louis, yet he's still on pace for 15 touchdown grabs. Among tight ends, I'd only start Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten over Davis in Week 5.
Still running hungry at age 30, Frank Gore has 235 yards and a TD on his last 31 carries (7.58 YPC). He's got a ton of juice left. The Texans are only conceding 3.97 yards per carry, but have allowed the tenth-most rushing yards in football. Gore is an every-week RB2. A league-best 9.8% of Gore's carries have gone for 15-plus yards. ... Kap's 2013 target distribution: Anquan Boldin 36, Kyle Williams 19, Davis 18, Gore and Bruce Miller 11, Vance McDonald 9, Jon Baldwin and Kendall Hunter 2. ... The Texans' corners have been up and down this season. LCB Kareem Jackson has always been beatable, and RCB Johnathan Joseph's best days are likely behind him. 5-foot-9, 180-pound slot corner Brice McCain can be overpowered. This is a plus matchup for Boldin, who despite early inconsistency is the No. 10 overall fantasy receiver and has actually performed better this season with a healthy Davis on the field. ... No other 49ers pass catcher is worth fantasy-start consideration, though Baldwin should be monitored in 12- and 14-team leagues. Coming off the extended layoff, there are indications Baldwin might draw the start at X receiver, replacing Williams opposite Boldin. Quinton Patton is out indefinitely with a broken foot.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Texans 21
11:35PM ET Game
San Diego @ Oakland
Due to baseball's postseason, this game will be played under the Black Hole lights. It'll be an all-nighter for Eastern and Central time-zone watchers on NFL Network. ... Philip Rivers entered 2013 with major supporting cast concerns, and his velocity had clearly diminished over the past two seasons. We're now four games in, and rookie coach Mike McCoy's offense is saving Rivers' career. Rather than ask Rivers to make seven-step drops and chuck downfield behind a leaky line -- cough, Norval -- McCoy has emphasized a high-volume, quick-trigger attack that plays to the strength of all involved parties while simultaneously masking their weaknesses. It's simply been an outstanding coaching job. While I remain skeptical the production is sustainable due to San Diego's talent limitations, I'd certainly advise riding Rivers while he's hot in plus matchups. This is one of those, as Oakland has permitted a 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing quarterbacks and ranks 28th in Pro Football Focus' team pass-rush metrics. Rivers should pick apart the Raiders from a squeaky-clean pocket. ... Also rejuvenated in McCoy's tight end-friendly scheme, Antonio Gates is the No. 3 fantasy tight end behind only Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron. Start Gates every week. He's tied with Graham for most catches by tight ends, and has more yards than Cameron.
Rivers' target distribution: Gates 31, Danny Woodhead 27, Vincent Brown 23, Eddie Royal 19, Keenan Allen 10, Ryan Mathews 7, Ronnie Brown 3. ... The jig is up on Royal, who has five catches for 76 scoreless yards on five combined targets the past two weeks. He's a WR4/5. ... A recommended sleeper in the Week 4 Matchups column, Allen delivered season highs in receptions (5) and yards (80). Unfortunately, Allen doesn't get to face Morris Claiborne every week. Allen's Week 5 matchup is favorable again versus struggling rookie RCB D.J. Hayden; it's just hard to trust a guy with ten targets through four games. He's a dicey WR3. ... Although Brown has struggled to get open downfield this year, he's coming off year bests in targets (9) and catches (7) and will do battle with LCB Mike Jenkins on the majority of Sunday's snaps. Jenkins is 73rd-of-101 in PFF's cornerback coverage ratings. I could name many worse bye-week WR3s than Brown. ... I underestimated Woodhead coming into the season. He is Rivers' new version of Darren Sproles, and an outstanding fit for McCoy's get-the-ball-out-quick offense, ranking fourth among all running backs in receptions and fifth in receiving yards. He's an every-week flex starter in PPR leagues. Since Week 1, Woodhead has averaged 13 touches and 34 snaps per game. ... Over that same three-week stretch, Mathews has averaged 27 snaps per game. Mathews remains in the RB2/flex mix in this particular game because Oakland ranks 21st versus the run.
Matt Flynn's abominable Week 4 start displayed just how many Raiders deficiencies Terrelle Pryor has been masking. Flynn absorbed seven sacks, committed three turnovers, and did not move the offense. Pryor's return gives the Raiders a huge shot in the arm. ... A shot in the arm for Pryor's Week 5 matchup is OLB Dwight Freeney's year-ending quadriceps tear. Look beyond the box score, and Freeney was tormenting offensive lines as an outside pass rusher. Unfortunately for San Diego, Freeney was the Bolts' only threatening edge presence on a team that ranks 29th against the pass and 25th versus the run. This is a cake matchup for Pryor, who has played well enough to earn serious QB1 consideration. ... San Diego is allowing 5.24 YPC, the third-highest average in football. Although FB Marcel Reece is tentatively due back from last week's knee injury, Rashad Jennings will start for Darren McFadden (hamstring) and projects as a 16-22 touch back versus a poor defense. Jennings is just a flex option, but an intriguing one. Though only a gets-what's-blocked ball-carrying talent, Jennings has plus versatility and every-down back tools. Jennings led Oakland in receiving with 71 yards on eight catches in Week 4.
Pryor's target distribution this season: Denarius Moore 19, Rod Streater 16, McFadden 10, Mychal Rivera 9, Reece 6, Brice Butler 8, Jeron Mastrud 2, Jacoby Ford 5, Jennings 3. ... Although it's clear Moore has ascended atop the target pecking order, I remain wary of Raiders pass catchers because there's so little volume to be passed around. This leads to major inconsistency. Oakland ranks 31st in pass attempts per game. Still, Moore is a high-ceiling WR3 play against a Chargers pass defense that he's historically torched, and is even worse this year. Moore's three career stat lines against San Diego: 5-123-2, 3-101, 1-5-1. ... On pace for 52 receptions and 688 scoreless yards, Streater can't be trusted in fantasy leagues regardless of matchups until he picks up his production. And this low-volume passing game is unlikely to support more than one viable fantasy starter. ... Reece's Week 5 role is entirely up in the air. He's a fullback/halfback hybrid and should see more work with McFadden sidelined, but is coming off an injury of his own and has been a non-factor to this point in terms of touches. Reece has two carries and six catches on the year.
Score Prediction: Chargers 27, Raiders 23
Monday Night Football
NY Jets @ Atlanta
The Jets enter Monday night severely banged up in their wideout corps with a struggling rookie quarterback facing Mike Nolan's highly multiple and complex defense. Nolan is one of the few defensive coordinators who have had success against Peyton Manning over the past two years. With Santonio Holmes nursing a multi-week hamstring injury and Stephen Hill's status up in the air due to a concussion, Geno Smith is a strong bet for a bad game at the Georgia Dome. Smith is on pace for a 16:32 TD-to-INT ratio with 12 lost fumbles. No quarterback in football has been sacked for more negative yards. Fire up Atlanta's fantasy defense. ... Jeremy Kerley will start for Holmes, and if Hill can't play stone-handed Clyde Gates will get the nod on the opposite side. Gates runs 4.3, but has three drops among 16 targets this season, and has cleared 50 yards only twice in his 30-game career. ... We should know more soon on the status of Hill, who must pass through the NFL's protocol concussion testing. If Hill does not play, Kerley would be a virtual shoo-in to lead the Jets in receptions. Although a poor performance from Geno seems inevitable, there are likely to be openings in Atlanta's back end. The Falcons rank 26th in pass defense with a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio against. Nolan's unit is tied for 27th in sacks (7). Kerley often plays inside, where Falcons slot CB Robert McClain has been eaten up. Tavon Austin scored his only two touchdowns of the season against McClain in Week 2, and he served up six catches to Brandon Gibson in Week 3. Patriots slot WR Julian Edelman tagged the Falcons for a 7-118 line last week.
Kellen Winslow was a non-factor in Weeks 2-3. He reappeared in last week's loss to the Titans, securing 6-of-9 targets for 73 yards. Winslow's knees are so rickety that his performance can be held hostage in any given week. Sharing time with Jeff Cumberland, Winslow is as far from being trustworthy as you can imagine. ... Mike Goodson's return from suspension adds dynamic all-purpose ability to the Jets' backfield. Goodson is averaging 4.88 YPC over the past three years, with 57 receptions. Though not yet in football shape, Goodson is a worthwhile stash to see what happens. ... Chris Ivory is apparently returning from his hamstring injury after practicing this week. With Ivory and Goodson in the fold, Bilal Powell's stranglehold on feature back duties will be short lived. On Monday night, Powell will be a dicey flex option against the Falcons' No. 6 run defense. If Ivory indeed is active, Powell will likely go back to seeing 12-13 carries and 2-4 catches a game.
The Jets are virtually certain to struggle for points on Monday night, but the Falcons could, too. Atlanta's offensive line is as exploitable as any in football, and will again be without LT Sam Baker (knee). Through four games, the Jets rank No. 2 in total defense and are tied for third in sacks (14). No defense in football has surrendered a lower completion rate (51.4) to enemy passers. View Matt Ryan as a risky, back-end QB1. This is the best defense he's faced this season. ... Since Steven Jackson strained his hamstring in Week 2 against the Rams, Jacquizz Rodgers has handled 48 touches to Jason Snelling's 30. Rodgers has played 127 snaps to Snelling's 98. If forced to pick between the two, I'm going to continue to lean to Quizz because he's getting the ball more and has a chance to break off a big gain if the Falcons scheme him into space. Snelling handles more of the power runs, which don't work against the Jets. Opposing feature back stats versus Rex Ryan's defense in Weeks 1-4: Doug Martin 24-65-1, Stevan Ridley 16-40, C.J. Spiller 10-9, Chris Johnson 15-21. Those four players have combined to average 2.08 yards per carry.
Ryan's targets: Julio Jones 48, Tony Gonzalez 33, Harry Douglas 23, Roddy White 18, Snelling 15, Quizz 14. ... After playing shutdown coverage in 2012, perennially inconsistent Antonio Cromartie has been one of the 2013 Jets' weakest links. He's 88th-of-101 in Pro Football Focus' cornerback ratings, and 98th in coverage. Nate Washington lit up the Jets for a 4-105-2 stat line in Week 4, and Vincent Jackson touched them up for 7-154 in the opener. Start Julio every week. ... Continuing to play through a debilitating high ankle sprain, White still isn't making full-speed cuts but is at least beginning to show signs of reemerging as a viable possession receiver. White played a season-high 74-of-76 snaps in last week's loss to New England and saw nine targets, though he converted only three for 28 yards. He's a low-end WR3 taking on LCB Darrin Walls. Hopefully the Week 6 bye gets White turned around. I'm skeptical. ... Gonzalez had three slow games to open the season. He confirmed he isn't washed up against the Patriots, devouring New England's linebackers en route to 12 catches, 149 yards, and two scores on 14 targets. The Jets have allowed a touchdown to a tight end (Delanie Walker, Scott Chandler) in back-to-back weeks.
Friday Update: Roddy White revealed after Friday's practice he experienced a setback in last week's loss to New England. "I ain't where I need to be yet," he said. White said he's already looking past Monday night's matchup with the Jets, and toward Atlanta's Week 6 bye. White has been playing only because he wants to keep his consecutive games-played streak alive. He's hurting his team and himself. White should be written off as a Week 5 fantasy start.
Score Prediction: Falcons 20, Jets 13