Back in August, when Lions fans were looking ahead to the early weeks of the season, there's no way anybody saw a path to 1-3. No way.
Granted, if you've been following Detroit for a few years, it's possible that you're a chronic worrier, not naturally inclined toward rosy projections. Still, your team's September schedule didn't seem unusually rough — St. Louis, San Francisco, Tennessee, Minnesota — and the roster isn't short on talent.
Yet here we are. The Lions are headed into a bye, having dropped three of their first four games. Detroit has actually allowed multiple TDs on special teams in each of the past two weeks, which isn't the traditional recipe for success. When this group returns from the break in Week 6, they'll travel to Philly. Then it's another road game at Chicago in Week 7, followed by a home match-up with Seattle.
By the time the calendar flips to November, the Lions could easily be 2-5, or perhaps 1-6.
Of course the fantasy community doesn't care about real-life winning and losing. Instead, this is what worries us:
Matthew Stafford, 2011, first four weeks — 1217 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs
Matthew Stafford, 2012, first four weeks — 1182 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs
Calvin Johnson, 2011, first four weeks — 24 REC, 321 yards, 8 TDs
Calvin Johnson, 2012, first four weeks — 29 REC, 423 yards, 1 TD
It may seem greedy and unreasonable to complain about a quarterback who's averaging 295.5 passing yards per game and a receiver averaging 105.8, but fantasy owners paid for greatness when they drafted Lions, not merely goodness. The early numbers haven't met expectations.
Stafford has been victimized by multiple dropped passes — Brandon Pettigrew had a brutal drop in the end zone on Sunday — so we can only assign so much blame to Detroit's QB. He's no less talented today than he was when you drafted him. Same story with Calvin. In the end, these guys are both going to deliver useful-enough stats, assuming good health.
But here's the problem: By the time the useful numbers finally arrive, owners of Stafford and Megatron could face terrible playoff odds. Many investors in this offense are now 1-3 themselves — and, again, Detroit is on shutdown in Week 5.
Thus, there's a decent chance we'll see a fire sale on Lions in the days ahead. I've already received trade pitches from two different Stafford owners. As much as we preach patience around here, if you're a fantasy manager with a one-win (or no-win) team, you cannot afford to take another loss next week. So if you're looking to deal Stafford or 'Tron for something that improves your Week 5 outlook, I get it. These things happen.
This is how the rich get richer in fantasy, and slow-starters have their rosters picked clean. It's the circle of life, basically, with yardage bonuses. Let's just hope you're among the October buyers.
• Miami receiver Brian Hartline was only started in four percent of Yahoo! leagues in Week 4, which means that I'm part of a very small population of owners who will actually lose to him somewhere. [Expletive]. Hartline hauled in 12 catches for 253 yards and one TD in the Dolphins' OT loss at Arizona, reaching triple-digit yardage for the second time this season. He roasted William Gay on this 57-yard reception, then got him again on this late go-ahead 80-yard TD. You shouldn't need an expert to tell you to add a guy who just put up 253 receiving yards. Do it. He's a clear favorite of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and his upcoming match-ups shouldn't frighten you (at CIN, vs. STL).
Sure wish I'd added Hartline after the 111-yard performance versus Oakland, but I pinned that one mostly on the Raiders' ineptitude. Alas.
Kevin Kolb, we should note, was terrific in the biggest moments against Miami, directing a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives. He went 29-for-48 against the Dolphins, throwing for 324 yards and three scores. Andre Roberts hauled in two of the TDs, giving him four on the season. He's a receiver of interest, depending on your league depth. Don't fret about Ryan Williams' quiet day (13 carries, 26 yards); no one has had much success on the ground against Miami's defense (2.5 YPC allowed).
• If you can see any issues with Adrian Peterson's surgically rebuilt knee on this 18-yard run, please share it with the group. AP looked outstanding in Week 4, as he has pretty much all year. He rushed for 102 yards on 21 carries against the Lions on Sunday, and then chatted about it with YSR's Peter Brown.
• We discussed the Ryan Mathews-Jackie Battle workload split early in the day, and it's clear enough that Mathews was being shamed for fumbling in Week 3 (and for the 10 other fumbles in his pro career). Mathews still served as the closer in Sunday's win at Kansas City, a fact that Norv Turner mentioned in his post-game comments:
"You ask about the confidence I have in him. We're trying to put the game away, and he's the guy handling the ball, so I think that answers that question."
Mathews finished with 61 rushing yards on 14 carries, adding two catches for 21. Whatever else you think about this situation, you have to recognize that Mathews legitimately played his way into trouble. Ball-security equals job-security. The kid gets it...
"I showed them I could put the ball on the ground," Mathews said. "Now, I've got to show them I can keep it in my arms."
Battle becomes a necessary add, the clear Plan B for the Chargers, an effective goal line runner and competent receiver. He broke the plane twice in Week 4.
• Elsewhere in the Chargers-Chiefs tilt, Dwayne Bowe was again a garbage-time monster, hauling in a very late 29-yard TD. (Will he ever catch a touchdown when a game's outcome is in doubt? Dunno, and don't much care. The current arrangement is working for me). Matt Cassel was mostly awful (3 INTs), but Jamaal Charles was helpful for a second straight week. Charles finished with 115 total yards, two touchdowns, and one of the year's better highlights
• Nothing went right for the Jets on Sunday, and a few things went terribly wrong. Santonio Holmes was carted off with what appears to be a serious foot injury; he's headed for a Monday MRI, and you can't be expecting good news. Mark Sanchez played so poorly against the Niners (13-for-29, 103 yards, INT) that his coach had to offer a post-game vote-of-confidence. Tim Tebow, stay ready. The Jets host another punishing defense next week, as Houston rolls into town. Start no one in green in that one. And start no one named Greene. Avoid green(e) in all its forms.
• The MVP of the Rams-Seahawks game was unquestionably St. Louis kicker Greg Zuerlein. That dude booted a 24-yarder, a 48-yarder, a 58-yarder, and a 60-yarder, which is like kicking for the cycle. Phenomenal performance. He's now 12-for-12 on field goal attempts this year. Marshawn Lynch had an excellent day for Seattle in a losing effort (118 yards, TD), and Danny Amendola caught a touchdown pass from his team's punter. Because it was that sort of afternoon. Zuerlein is so good, they use him as a decoy.
• The Panthers dropped another game on Sunday, falling to 1-3, but Cam Newton's owners are feeling a whole lot better. Cam passed for 215 yards and two TDs against the Falcons, plus he led his team in rushing with nine carries for 86 yards and a 4-yard score. There was never any reason to panic with Newton, and hopefully you didn't. He's still a dual-threat monster.
For Atlanta, it was just like old times in Week 4. Michael Turner broke out with 103 rushing yards, adding an uncharacteristic 68 as a receiver. He didn't exactly set a land speed record on his 60-yard touchdown catch, but he eventually crossed the goal line. Roddy White had a huge game, with eight catches for 169 yards and two scores, while Matt Ryan was excellent again (369 yards, 3 TDs). If you like to play the on-pace game, you'll note that Ryan's current level of production will lead to 4648 yards and 44 scores. He's got Washington and Oakland on deck, so you can't expect the good times to end.
• Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker suffered an early injury to his non-throwing shoulder in Week 4, forcing Matt Hasselbeck into the fray. Locker could be out for multiple weeks, but we won't have clarity on his situation for a few days. There's no need to mess with Hasselbeck, except in two-QB leagues. He threw two touchdown passes to teammates on Sunday and two to Texans. Chris Johnson unexpectedly gained 141 yards on 25 carries against Houston, essentially quadrupling his year-to-date rushing total. (Would I buy CJ today? Nope, I'm not there yet. This offense is swimming in problems). Rookie Kendall Wright caught a final-minute TD that meant very little in reality, but might just get me a fantasy win ... not that you're expected to care.
• Stop me if you've heard this one before: Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is off to a blazing start in the opening weeks. He entered the day with eight touchdown passes, then tossed four more on Sunday, along with four picks. Fitzpatrick's fantasy outlook gets a boost from Buffalo's defensive incompetence, but his schedule is about to take a bad turn: at SF, at ARI, vs. TEN, bye, at HOU. Exercise caution here. We've had this drill before. Fred Jackson out-carried CJ Spiller in the Bills' loss to New England (13 to 8), but we won't have a clear read on this split until both players are at full strength. Spiller clearly wasn't right on Sunday; he seemed to feel his injury more than once.
New England rolled up 580 total yards and 52 points on Buffalo, embarrassing a defense that was well-hyped and well-paid during the off-season. The Pats ran the ball 40 times, as Stevan Ridley and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden each topped 100 yards. Ridley you already know, but Bolden is an interesting puzzle piece, too. He's a hard charger, a run-you-over back with a Green-Ellis vibe (same school, similar style). He has the Pianowski endorsement, which is key. Clearly worth a speculative add.
• Andy Dalton didn't quite deliver a third straight 300-yard game, but you can't complain if you started him in Week 4. Dalton passed for 244 yards and two scores, plus he rushed for another. AJ Green was sensational again, per his usual, catching six balls for 117 and one TD. "Any time [Green] can get one-on-one, we're gonna throw him the ball," said Dalton after the game. It's crazy that any defense ever leaves AJ singled up, but there it is. His quarterback knows what to do.
• Peyton Manning was a layup start this week, facing Oakland. He finished with 338 passing yards, three scores, and no sacks. All the key Broncos feasted on the Raiders D, as Willis McGahee, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker all delivered double-digit fantasy production. Both of Denver's fantasy-relevant tight ends made highlight-quality catches, too. Here's Joel Dreessen, here's Jacob Tamme.
For those who wish to continue picking on Oakland (smart move), here's the team's upcoming schedule, following a Week 5 bye: at ATL, vs. JAC, at KC, vs. TB, at BAL, vs. NO, at CIN. Make your plans now.
• And while we're on the subject of generous defenses, you'll note that Josh Freeman finished just one yard short of becoming the fourth straight QB to pass for 300 against Washington. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams each hit triple-digits in receiving yards, with V-Jax hauling in a second-half score. Tampa didn't inflict much damage on the ground, however, as Doug Martin gave us another meh performance (eight carries, 33 yards). LeGarrette Blount gained 17 yards on six carries, and he poached a short-yardage score in the fourth quarter. Blount is a worry for Martin owners.
Robert Griffin III was great again, to no one's surprise, passing for 323 yards, rushing for 43 and a score, directing a game-winning drive (without a headset). The degree of difficulty increases for Griffin next week, as the 'Skins host Atlanta. You've heard my RGIII take already, and Sunday's performance certainly didn't my stance.
• Usually, when fantasy experts hype a game as a potential epic shootout, we end up getting a 16-13 dud. But that was not the case with Sunday's meeting between the Saints and Packers at Lambeau. The teams combined for 895 yards and 56 points. Drew Brees passed for a ridiculous 446 yards on 54 attempts, and Aaron Rodgers delivered 319 yards and four scores. Marques Colston had the inevitable breakout game (153 yards, TD), Jordy Nelson finally returned to the end zone, and James Jones caught a pair of touchdown passes (one of which may have been intended for Jermichael Finley). Randall Cobb reestablished himself in the box score, too, with seven catches for 66 yards.
Fantasy-wise, the only bad news coming out of Green Bay this week is that Greg Jennings aggravated his groin injury, forcing him to the sidelines in the second half. He found the end zone before checking out, so that's somethin', but the Packers may not have his services next week at Indy.
EARLY ADDS FOR WEEK 5
QB Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (vs. MIA)
QB Alex Smith, San Francisco (vs. BUF)
QB Kevin Kolb, Arizona (at STL)
RB Brandon Bolden, New England (vs. DEN)
RB Jackie Battle, San Diego (at NO)
RB Kendall Hunter, San Francisco (vs. BUF)
WR Brian Hartline, Miam (at CIN)
WR Kendall Wright, Tennessee (at MIN)
WR James Jones, Green Bay (at IND)
WR Andre Roberts, Arizona (at STL)
WR Donald Jones, Buffalo (at SF)
WR Jeremy Kerley, NY Jets (vs. HOU)
TE Greg Olsen, Carolina (vs. SEA)
D/ST Minnesota (vs .TEN)