For some, Week 4 in fantasy football was like a hangnail – persistently, annoyingly painful. For me, it started with a Sunday morning lineup decision: start WR Ronald Curry, cut WR Patrick Crayton to pick up a warm-bodied tight end (Visanthe Shiancoe) to fill in for an injured Vernon Davis. For some, it was gambling on late Week 4 running backs Brian Westbrook (hamstring) and Laurence Maroney (groin) to play, only to be stuck without options when they were ruled out. Or, back to me again, it was the agony of having to sit in a chair for the 90 minutes leading up to the kickoff of the early games because of my involvement in the Fantasy Football Live show, powerless to move an inactive Calvin Johnson (back) out of a few of my lineups. Throw in a handful of injuries, the most devastating being Carnell Williams' season-ending torn patella tendon, and it's doubtful that many owners came through the weekend unscathed. The fantasy game is changing. It's morphing from Candyland into Risk. There'll be no gently-winding path to fantasy success. Bye weeks are upon us, stars are either underperforming or succumbing to injury and, my God, the Cleveland Browns are beating up on the likes of Cincinnati and Baltimore. Landmines abound. Watch your step …
The Good: Ronnie Brown. For the second consecutive week, Brown amassed more than 200 yards from scrimmage and led all running backs in fantasy points. I had Brown as a top 15 player on my Big Board heading into the season because I figured new head coach Cam Cameron would look to employ Brown in a similar multi-faceted manner to LaDainian Tomlinson, who Cameron coached in San Diego. My faith in that ranking was shaken over the first two weeks of the season as Brown was splitting unproductive carries with backup Jesse Chatman for a Miami team that was starting to resemble the '06 Raiders. But Brown has emerged the clear-cut go-to guy in the past two weeks. And the expected improvement in receiving numbers under Cameron has been prevalent all season – Brown has at least 36 receiving yards in all four games and has caught six passes in three of the four contests. Miami still has its problems on offense, namely that offensive line. But Brown has proven that he'll be just fine against weaker competition. With Cleveland, Buffalo (twice), the New York Jets and Giants on the schedule over an upcoming nine-game stretch, Brown will face run softies more often than not leading up to the fantasy playoffs.
The Bad: The Chicago Bears. The Bears led at Detroit 13-3 after three quarters only to allow the Lions to run off an NFL-record 34 points in the fourth quarter – Detroit won the game 37-27. With injuries forcing Chicago to make three starters in the secondary inactive along with All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs, it figured that Mike Martz's aerial attack would put up big numbers. But with veteran QB Brian Griese taking over for a turnover-prone Rex Grossman behind center against the Swiss cheese Lions' defense, it was somewhat surprising to see the typically on-target Griese throw three interceptions in his '07 debut. Another surprise: Detroit's Jon Kitna throwing a mere 24 times, less than half as many as Griese threw (52). The Bears struggled in all facets of the game, with RB Cedric Benson producing less than 75 yards of total offense for the third time in four weeks – it's past time to be worried about him. His next three opponents, Green Bay, Minnesota and Philadelphia, are among the top 11 at limiting running back fantasy points.
The Ugly: Carnell Williams. Nothing was uglier than the sight of the hurdler's stretch Williams was forced to perform in the first half against Carolina, an awkward tackle that resulted in Williams tearing his patella tendon. He's done for the year, if not longer. It's the kind of injury that may never heal in a way that would allow again for the type of pounding an NFL running back takes on a weekly basis. In Williams' absence, Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman will shoulder the backfield load. It's just one more RBBC to add to the list. Graham has looked fairly stout in short-yardage situations, so he's likely to get the majority of goal-line carries. But Pittman, a fantastic receiver and decisive, high-energy runner, should get the lion's share of touches.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Greg Jennings, GB, WR – Since returning from a hip injury in Week 3, Jennings has settled in nicely as the starter opposite Donald Driver in the second-most pass-happy offense in the league (42.5 pass attempts per). Jennings has scored a TD in each of his two games to go with an average of 62.5 receiving yards. Brett Favre is rolling like it's the late 90s, so all Pakcres receivers should be upgraded.
Derrick Mason, Bal, WR – After T.J. Houshmandzadeh, no receiver has been targeted as often as Mason. The fact that QB Steve McNair struggles to throw beyond 10-15 yards has played perfectly into the crisp, quick-hitter routes of Mason, who has amassed 33 catches for 287 and a touchdown on 50 targets. He has yet to be thrown to less than 12 times in any game.
Jerry Porter, Oak, WR – Porter hauled in three of the five passes Daunte Culpepper completed on Sunday, two of them finding pay dirt. For the year, three of Porter's seven catches have gone for touchdowns. Getting steady playing time once again behind an improved offense, Porter should continue to be a strong red zone presence. He is one of the more athletic receivers in the league, and a nice target standing 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. I'd bet that he reaches the nine-touchdown mark for the third time in his career.
Joey Harrington, Atl, QB – The way Harrington's been going the past couple weeks, don't assume that Byron Leftwich will automatically take over the Atlanta offense when he's deemed ready. Not only has Harrington not turned the ball over for three consecutive games, he's also thrown two TD passes in each of his past two contests.
Dwayne Bowe, KC, WR – There is no question about Bowe's athletic ability – he's got it all. That he landed in Kansas City was a buzz kill for fantasy owners, but Bowe has managed to rise above the team's offensive inadequacies, scoring touchdowns in three consecutive games. After breaking out for eight catches and 164 yards on Sunday, Bowe sits among the top 15 receivers in fantasy.
Roddy White, Atl, WR – Teammate Michael Jenkins (2 TDs) stole the limelight in Week 4, but White continued to figure prominently in the Atlanta passing game, picking up 64 receiving yards on Sunday. Over the past three weeks, White rates as a top 15 fantasy receiver.
Jerricho Cotchery, NYJ, WR – Playing through a shoulder injury, Cotchery caught eight passes for 106 yards on Sunday. It was the second time in the past three games that Cotchery has topped the century mark.
Derek Anderson, Cle, QB – Through the first month of the season, Anderson sits among the top five fantasy QBs. True, five of his eight TD passes came in one game (Cincinnati), but he's coming off a 204-yard, 2 TD performance against Baltimore, that serves as a healthy dose of street cred. The browns' offensive line is much improved, giving Anderson time to utilize big talents Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow.
Matt Leinart, Ari, QB – Leinart has been marginalized by a QB committee in Arizona. He now has to perform admirably out of the gate or he knows that Kurt Warner will come in and take over – it's happened in each of the past two games. According to Yahoo! NFL writer Michael Silver, Leinart's not too happy about the whole situation.
Marc Bulger, StL, QB – Things have gotten ugly fast in St. Louis. The offensive line is decimated by injuries, and losing Steven Jackson to a groin tear in Week 3 further exacerbated the situation. Against Dallas in Week 4, Bulger could muster 114 yards on 11-of-24 passing before being pulled for backup Gus Frerotte. Bulger, who is dealing with two broken ribs, is expected to return to his starting role in Week 5.
Cedric Benson, Chi, RB – Benson has topped 50 rushing yards just once in four games, this after a preseason in which he barely topped two yards per carry. If he continues this way for a couple more weeks, don't be surprised if we're calling this an RBBC with Adrian Peterson before October ends.