NFL Skinny: Week 4 preview

Alright, I know enough about the NFL to know that I'm going to get my butt handed to me more than a few times this year with my picks, be it game predictions or player rankings. But, I have to admit, I'm feeling a nice measure of pride for my 14-2 record in last week's Skinny. Steelers fans despised me for picking Cincinnati. Texans fans called my Jaguars pick ridiculous (to put it mildly). And many were sure I was on hallucinogens for tabbing the Lions to get their first win since '07. To all of you that mocked me (and you know who you are), I just want to confirm your suspicions that the little widow-peaked face in the upper left-hand corner of this column does, indeed, look a little more smug than usual this week.

Week 4 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 4 matchup

Key Stats: LIONS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 279 YPG passing, 10 TD passes allowed
BEARS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 199 YPG passing allowed | 9 QB sacks
What to watch for: DET is 7th in the NFL in rush attempts, but it will have a hard time reaching previous carry levels given the health of RB Kevin Smith(notes) – he's iffy right now with a shoulder injury. RB Maurice Morris(notes) has experience substituting in the lead back role from his days backing up Shaun Alexander(notes) in Seattle, but he's not ideally suited for the job and he managed just 10 yards on 8 carries filling in for Smith in Week 2. Odds are that Morris and rookie Aaron Brown would split the load, and neither is recommended for fantasy duty at Chicago on Sunday. It certainly looks like QB Matthew Stafford(notes) could have his first 40+ attempt game – and in leagues that don't discount for turnovers, he's flyer material. Double-coverage or not, this is a game where you should expect to see Calvin Johnson(notes) get double-digit targets. WR Bryant Johnson(notes) was productive in Week 3, which should help alleviate pressure on Megatron, if only slightly. And don't be surprised if TE Brandon Pettigrew(notes) gets a lot of attention. SEA had several opportunities to pick up nice gainers from TE John Carlson(notes) in Week 3, but QB Seneca Wallace(notes) missed him on a few occasions and Carlson also had a drop.

RB Matt Forte(notes) had another subpar outing in Week 3, but he wasn't afforded a whole lot of room. He's a rock-solid all-around NFL back, but he's not so talented that he can consistently make something out of nothing. At least QB Jay Cutler(notes) is finding him in the passing game – 11/73 combined in past two games. Don't be surprised if DET puts more emphasis on shutting down Cutler through the air. Cutler is gaining steam and given the speed threat the receiving corps brings to the table (Devin Hester(notes), Johnny Knox(notes) and Greg Olsen(notes)), not to mention Forte out of the backfield, Forte may see some opportunities up the gut as the Lions guard against big-play possibilities. Forte gets his first 100-yard game this week.

Calvin Johnson, Matt Forte, Jay Cutler, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen, Chicago Defense
Earl Bennett(notes), Kevin Smith
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Defense, Bryant Johnson
Sleeper: Johnny Knox, Brandon Pettigrew, Maurice Morris
Injuries: CHI RB Matt Forte (knee) might be questionable; CHI MLB Hunter Hillenmeyer(notes) (ribs) could be questionable; DET RB Kevin Smith (shoulder) is likely to be at least questionable; DET LB Ernie Sims(notes)
Prediction: Chicago 24, Detroit 16
Key Stats: BENGALS – 13 pass plays of 20+ yards allowed
BROWNS – 5.4 YPC, 8 rush TDs allowed | 5 QB sacks, 0 INTs
What to watch for: This could be a hangover game for CIN, going on the road to face the hapless Browns after a big home win against PIT. But CLE is just so inept offensively, and CIN can dominate the clock with a physical workhorse like RB Cedric Benson(notes), who has graduated to must-start territory. He's the No. 8 fantasy RB, and he's done it against three teams (DEN, GB, PIT) that allow less than 4 YPC. He's a lock for 25+ touches this Sunday against a CLE defense allowing 5.4 YPC – Benson carried 38 times for 171 yards at CLE in Week 16 of '08. QB Carson Palmer(notes) is still getting comfortable back in the saddle of this offense, but he settled into a nice rhythm in the face of a strong PIT pass rush down the stretch of last week's comeback win. He may not need to throw a ton, but I think he'll do enough to be serviceable for fantasy owners. Among Palmer's targets, WR Chad Ocho Cinco(notes), who saw 11 looks in Week 3, is the only one I'd trust to start – although Andre Caldwell(notes) is becoming something of a pet red zone project for Palmer.

CLE enters Week 4 with big question marks at QB and RB. QB Brady Quinn(notes) was benched midway through Week 3, but backup Derek Anderson(notes) threw three interceptions in relief. AT RB, Jamal Lewis(notes) sat with a hamstring injury, leaving the rushing duties to Jerome Harrison(notes) – preseason rookie sensation James Davis handled just five carries, presumably because his shoulder is less than 100 percent healthy. CLE has allowed 11 sacks, which is the 2nd-most in the league. Getting Lewis back would be a huge help in taking the heat off the QB. Quinn and Anderson had to heavily target Harrison and short-route option WR Mike Furrey(notes) for half of the pass attempts against BAL in an effort to survive the intense pressure – go-to WR Braylon Edwards(notes) had just five targets. CIN is one of the top teams in the NFL at sacking the QB, so Lewis gives them their best hope of taking the pressure off Anderson or Quinn – starter TBD. TE Robert Royal(notes) may also have some opportunities this week as CIN has had its issues limiting TEs in recent seasons.

Cedric Benson, Chad Ocho Cinco, Cincinnati Defense
Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis, Carson Palmer, Jerome Harrison
Derek Anderson, Mike Furrey, Laveranues Coles(notes), Cleveland Defense
Sleeper: Andre Caldwell, Robert Royal
Injuries: CLE RB Jamal Lewis (hamstring) could be questionable; CIN G Nate Livings(notes) (knee) could be out; CIN CB Leon Hall(notes) (knee) could be questionable; CLE RG Floyd Womack(notes) (ankle) could be out;
Prediction: Cincinnati 20, Cleveland 14
Key Stats: HAWKS – 5.6 YPC allowed | 175 YPG passing allowed
COLTS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 192 YPG passing, 1 TD pass allowed
What to watch for: SEA put up 346 yards on offense with QB Seneca Wallace at the helm in Week 3, but the team had a couple costly turnovers and stalled too often in the red zone. If Wallace is forced into duty again, which is probably better than a 50/50 proposition at this point, it's good news for WR Nate Burleson(notes), who was Wallace's clear preferred target last week. Because of his lack of size, Wallace struggles throwing over the middle, and that clearly was to the detriment of TE John Carlson and WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes) against CHI. But IND has long been stalwart at limiting all facets of the passing game, and this may turn into a heavy workload day for RB Julius Jones(notes), who is riding a three-game TD streak. He's hit the 19-carry mark twice this season, and he's likely being game planned to top that level in Week 4. To be honest, though, I think the SEA defense will struggle mightily against the Manning Machine, so attempts to establish the running game could go out the window quickly. If Hasselbeck plays, he'll benefit from IND DE Dwight Freeney's(notes) injury absence, and you can expect more emphasis on the pass as his quick-hitting style could be effective against IND, and would better involve Housh and Carlson.

SEA has strong pass defense numbers, but that's more a benefit of having faced STL and SF, thus far. I don't expect that QB Peyton Manning(notes) and company will have any reservations going up top against the Seahawks. Certainly, against a team allowing 5.6 YPC, RBs Joseph Addai(notes) and Donald Brown(notes) will get their fair share of the workload, and I'd expect it to be at least an even split between the two RBs like we saw last week – Brown seems to be getting a higher percentage of "important" carries, though. Frankly, you really have to like the prospects of all the Colts skill position starters in this one.

Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne(notes), Pierre Garcon(notes), Dallas Clark(notes), Joseph Addai, Donald Brown
Julius Jones, Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, John Carlson, Matt Hasselbeck(notes), Indianapolis Defense
Seneca Wallace, Seattle Defense
Sleeper: Justin Forsett(notes)
Injuries: SEA QB Matt Hasselbeck (ribs) could be out; SEA G Rob Sims(notes) (oblique) could be out; SEA T Brandon Frye(notes) (groin) could be questionable; SEA LB Lofa Tatupu(notes) (hamstring) could be out; SEA LB LeRoy Hill(notes) (groin) is likely to be out; SEA CB Ken Lucas(notes) (groin) could be out; IND DE Dwight Freeney (quad) is out.
Prediction: Indianapolis 31, Seattle 14
Key Stats: GIANTS – 6.1 YPC allowed | 124 YPG passing allowed, 5 INTs
CHIEFS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 243 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: TB was just what the doctor ordered for a NYG struggling ground game. The Giants ran 49 times against the Bucs in Week 3, ripping off 4.6 YPC. KC has improved against the run this season, but there is little reason for NYG to think they wouldn't be successful with a smash-mouth approach once again. Like last week, expect RBs Brandon Jacobs(notes) and Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) to inflict a symphonic thunder-and-lightning storm on KC. WRs Steve Smith and Mario Manningham(notes) are both among the top 20 most-targeted wideouts, thus far, and the running game should open up some opportunities vertically. Smith is QB Eli Manning's(notes) obvious go-to guy, but both are reasonable plays this week. Manning should also be a serviceable option because he should be in the red zone regularly. But he won't likely throw the ball that much in general.

Don't let the 6.1 YPC allowed by the NYG fool you. The Giants have played with a lead for most of the season and for that reason, they are the least run upon team in the league. And only DAL has managed to do anything of significance against the men in blue on the ground. RB Larry Johnson(notes) has yet to score or average better than 3.3 YPC in a contest this season. The running game has been so abysmal that head coach Todd Haley all but ignored a 17-0 halftime deficit in Week 3 in an attempt to try and establish a ground game – KC ran 20 of the team's 28 second-half plays in a 34-14 loss. Backup RB Jamaal Charles(notes) emerged from the dog house to lead KC with 70 YFS on 9 touches in Week 3. His speed will likely be put to use even more on Sunday as you can almost guarantee KC will be playing from behind and consistently looking at passing-down situations. Also, WR Mark Bradley(notes), in the absence of Dwayne Bowe(notes) (who could be out again), flashed impressive versatility in Week 3, catching a 13-yard TD pass, taking a reverse 22 yards and connecting with Charles on a 26-yard pass after a lateral from QB Matt Cassel(notes). Don't be surprised if Haley pulls out all the stops in this one, and that makes Charles and Bradley intriguing. As for Cassel, he's been at least respectable in fantasy circles the past two weeks, and he's not the worst option this week as the team should open things back up.

Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith, New York Defense
Eli Manning, Mario Manningham, Kevin Boss(notes), Matt Cassel
Larry Johnson, Bobby Wade(notes), Kansas City Defense, Sean Ryan(notes)
Sleeper: Mark Bradley, Jamaal Charles
Injuries: KC WR Dwayne Bowe (hamstring) is expected to be at least questionable; KC LB Derrick Johnson (groin) could be out; NYG WR Hakeem Nicks(notes) (foot) could be questionable; NYG WR Domenik Hixon(notes) (knee) could be out; NYG RT Kareem McKenzie(notes) (knee) could be questionable; NYG LG Rich Seubert(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; NYG CBs Aaron Ross(notes) (hamstring) and Kevin Dockery(notes) (hamstring) are likely to be at least questionable
Prediction: NY Giants 30, Kansas City 16
Key Stats: RAVENS – 2.5 YPC allowed | 232 YPG passing allowed | 6 INTs
PATS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 174 YPG passing, 3 QB sacks allowed | 0 INTs
What to watch for: BAL loves to run, and it should go for the NE jugular this week given the injuries to DT Vince Wolfolk and LB Jerod Mayo(notes). It leaves a NE interior vulnerable to the punishing BAL ground game. NE has allowed nearly 13 yards per reception to opposing RBs, so watch for Ray Rice(notes), who has 11 catches (one catch shy of the team lead), to be active in all facets of the offense. BAL is No. 3 in the league in red zone possessions, and you can't think about benching goal-line RB Willis McGahee(notes). NE hasn't allowed a TD to a WR and has done a good job of limiting the opposing team's go-to WR. But BAL should be able to keep NE thinking about the run, and that will open up plenty of opportunities for WR Derrick Mason(notes). He's the only receiving option for QB Joe Flacco(notes) that I'd trust this week.

NE finally turned to the ground game in Week 3, rushing 39 times in a victory over ATL, 23 carries coming in the second half while sitting on a narrow lead. But it'll most likely be QB Tom Brady(notes) chucking it 40-50 times again on Sunday considering that BAL allows just 2.5 YPC and NE is so good at pass protection (1 QB sack allowed). A return of WR Wes Welker(notes) would be ideal for Brady, as he's so effective underneath and a valuable safety valve against an attacking defense like BAL. If he can't go, expect BAL to really sell out on shutting down WR Randy Moss(notes). If Welker can play, that should allow Moss some opportunities, and we've already seen taller go-to wideouts Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson(notes) have success against BAL this season. I think Welker plays, so I'm giving Moss the green light for now.

Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason, Tom Brady, Randy Moss
Joe Flacco, Todd Heap(notes), Baltimore Defense, Wes Welker, Benjamin Watson(notes)
Mark Clayton(notes), Le'Ron McClain(notes), Fred Taylor(notes), Sammy Morris(notes), New England Defense
Sleeper: Kevin Faulk(notes)
Injuries: NE DT Vince Wolfolk (ankle) could be out; NE LB Jerod Mayo (knee) is out; NE WR Wes Welker (knee) could be questionable;
Prediction: Baltimore 23, New England 21
Key Stats: BUCS – 5.2 YPC allowed | 245 YPG passing, 7 TD passes allowed
SKINS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 198 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Combine head-turner QB Josh Johnson(notes), who was timed at 4.5 in the 40 prior to the '08 NFL Draft, has been given the starting nod over the statuesque Byron Leftwich(notes) in Week 4. But, despite his speed, Johnson is a pass-first QB. At San Diego University in his senior season, he threw for 42 TDs and had just one interception while completing 68 percent of his passes. Yes, the competition was light, but those numbers can't be ignored. WAS has not rushed the passer well, thus far, and TB, at 0-3, has little to lose by turning Johnson loose. But head coach Rahim Morris stressed that Johnson won't have much of a chance without a solid rushing attack. RB Derrick Ward(notes) hasn't received many touches the past couple weeks, and he's done little with what he's been afforded. That said, he's the healthiest back TB has and the Bucs don't want to pound it too often with RB Carnell Williams(notes) on artificial turf (it bothers his knee), so I'd expect something close to 20 touches from Ward on Sunday. In the passing game, it should be noted that WRs Antonio Bryant(notes) and Sammie Stroughter(notes) were targeted a combined 7 times in Week 3, 6 of those looks counted among the 10 passes Johnson attempted. Bryant is coming along slowly from a knee injury, but he may be ready to take a step up in Week 4. And TE Kellen Winslow(notes), who was called out by Morris for not being able to convert a third-down play in Week 3, should be motivated this week.

WAS head coach Jim Zorn is under fire for a 1-2 start that has produced the NFL's 5th-worst offense (13.3 PPG). And with RB Clinton Portis(notes) looking like a shadow of his former self and the WAS O-line failing over and over again in crucial situations, it seems like a ripe time to turn QB Jason Campbell(notes) loose – he had three pass plays to WR Santana Moss(notes) of 20+ yards (one for 57 yards) in the second half of Week 3, and also had a 21-yard scramble. TB is prone to allowing big plays – 10 pass plays of 20+ yards and 5 runs of 20+ yards – so look for WAS to take some deep shots with Moss once again. RB Clinton Portis looks like a nice play on paper, but he hasn't been able to score or reach 80 rushing yards against either STL or DET in the past two weeks, so he's no guarantee and has to be put under the caution flag for this one. Look for WAS to compensate for its running game by looking frequently to TE Chris Cooley(notes) and RB Ladell Betts(notes) (4 catches, 43 yards in Week 3) out of the backfield.

Kellen Winslow, Santana Moss, Jason Campbell, Chris Cooley
Antonio Bryant, Derrick Ward, Clinton Portis, Antwaan Randle El(notes), Washington Defense
Michael Clayton(notes), Carnell Williams, Tampa Bay Defense
Sleeper: Josh Johnson, Ladell Betts
Injuries: TB WR Antonio Bryant (knee) could be questionable; DT Albert Haynesworth(notes) (buttocks) could be questionable; WAS CB Carlos Rogers(notes) (ankle) could be questionable;
Prediction: Washington 20, Tampa Bay 16
Key Stats: TITANS – 2.2 YPC allowed | 275 YPG passing allowed
JAGUARS – 3.7 YPC allowed | 282 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: TEN is just middle of the pack in rush attempts (80) in '09, and that's a problem for a team that was 5th in the NFL in carries in '08. Last season, TEN averaged 32.5 carries in two meetings with JAC and you can count on TEN looking to at least meet, and likely exceed, that number on Sunday. JAC has allowed 19 receptions to RBs and it may be tested in that fashion often by RB Chris Johnson. While RB LenDale White(notes) had a nice TD run in Week 3, clearly this backfield is no longer looking like much of a platoon. TEN is working Johnson more and more each week and he could be set to surpass 25 touches for the first time this season. JAC has big-time issues in the secondary, and play-action should be there for a long gainer to either WR Nate Washington(notes) or rookie Kenny Britt(notes) at some point. History card enthusiasts will like that WR Justin Gage(notes) topped 140 receiving yards and had 2 TDs in his visit to JAC in '08, but I'm not feeling it for him in this one. The switch to a 3-4 alignment has worked well for JAC against opposing TEs, limiting both Dallas Clark and Owen Daniels(notes) to less than 40 yards – not that you would consider a TEN TE this week.

JAC's offense revolves around RB Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), who is averaging just shy of 5 YPC this season, albeit against relative run softies. Facing TEN will easily be his stiffest challenge yet. I think JAC will at least try to run MoJo 15+ times, but it will almost certainly be forced to the air more than usual. And, as stated here last week, it's all about Mike Sims-Walker(notes) and Torry Holt(notes) now at WR. The two combined for 17 targets last week, while no other wideout on the team was targeted by QB David Garrard(notes) more than once. TEN has allowed four 100-yard receiving games to WRs, so game on for Sims-Walker, and Holt isn't a bad option either. TEN has also yielded the 6th-most receiving yards to TEs, so TE Marcedes Lewis(notes) can at least be considered.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, David Garrard, Nate Washington, Mike Sims-Walker
Kerry Collins(notes), LenDale White, Torry Holt, Tennessee Defense
Jacksonville Defense, Justin Gage, Bo Scaife(notes)
Sleeper: Marcedes Lewis, Kenny Britt
Injuries: TEN TE Bo Scaife (knee) is likely to be questionable; TEN CB Cortland Finnegan(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable; JAC RT Eben Britton(notes) (knee) is likely to be out;
Prediction: Tennessee 21, Jacksonville 13
Key Stats: RAIDERS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 211 YPG passing allowed
TEXANS – 6.3 YPC allowed | 232 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: HOU has a major problem stopping the ground game – 6.3 YPC allowed is worst in the NFL. You can count on HOU loading up against the run this week with QB JaMarcus Russell(notes) coming to town. That might make it a bit tougher for RB Darren McFadden(notes), but I still like how it sets up for him to break a long one when an opening does present itself. HOU has allowed a league-high seven rushing plays of 20+ yards and three of 40+ yards. TE Zach Miller has plenty of (wasted?) talent, but you can't really roll with a TE who has just 1 TD in his past 20 games – it's not your fault, Zach. Stay away from all things involving the OAK passing game. It's as bad as can be imagined.

HOU RB Steve Slaton(notes) ran 12 times for 76 yards in Week 3, his first significantly positive step of the season. And backup RB Chris Brown had a crucial fumble in Week 3 at the goal line, so there's hope that Slaton might get a shot to get back in the goal line mix going forward. DEN ran all over OAK in Week 3, and you'd expect Slaton to be very active on Sunday – he could get extra love in the passing game where OAK has allowed 40+ yards to three different backs already this season. Physical WRs have faired moderately well against the OAK pass defense this season, as WRs Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Marshall(notes) have combined to average more than 12 fantasy points (traditional scoring). Don't over think the fact that WR Andre Johnson(notes) is facing CB Nnamdi Asomugha(notes). And with the OAK secondary as a whole in questionable health at the moment, all the receiving components for HOU are reasonable considerations.

Steve Slaton, Darren McFadden, Matt Schaub(notes), Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter(notes)
Zach Miller, Houston Defense
JaMarcus Russell, Louis Murphy(notes), Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes), Oakland Defense
Sleeper: Michael Bush(notes)
Injuries: OAK FS Michael Huff(notes) (rib, quad) could be questionable; OAK SS Tyvon Branch(notes) (leg) could be questionable; OAK FS Hiram Eugene(notes) (calf) is likely questionable; OAK CB John Bowie(notes) (knee) could be doubtful;
Prediction: Houston 28, Oakland 14
Key Stats: JETS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 173 YPG passing allowed
SAINTS – 3.2 YPC allowed | 245 YPG passing allowed | 7 INTs
What to watch for: This feels like the week for NYJ RB Leon Washington(notes) to have a breakout performance. He's getting even reps with RB Thomas Jones(notes) now and has been the more effective back the past couple weeks. NO has fared well in fantasy against opposing RBs mostly because it has played with a lead for most of the season and it has the 4th-fewest rush attempts against (63). Assuming NYJ can keep the score close, Washington should reach 20+ touches for the first time since his rookie season. NO hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of QBs, thus far (Matthew Stafford, Kevin Kolb(notes), Trent Edwards(notes)), so not too much can be made yet of its 7 INTs and 6 sacks. Rookie QB Mark Sanchez(notes) is proving, like Matt Ryan(notes) last season, that he has the maturity, skill and talent around him to be at least serviceable most weeks, and often muc better than that. WR Jerricho Cotchery(notes) has developed as Sanchez's clear-cut go-to option and he's yet to deliver less than 87 yards this season. He's orbiting must-start real estate.

NO QB Drew Brees(notes) can expect to be under pressure from the opening bell on Sunday. NYJ has just 4 sacks, but their constant blitz barrage has wreaked havoc on opposing QBs – the Jets' 50.2 QB rating allowed is second-lowest to only the NYG, and it's come against Matt Schaub, Tom Brady and Kerry Collins. NYJ CB Darrelle Revis(notes) is the real deal, and he's shut down WRs Andre Johnson and Randy Moss, thus far. This is cause for sizeable concern for owners of WR Marques Colston(notes). But I have a hunch that Colston will have at least a serviceable afternoon. With trusty middleman WR Lance Moore(notes) hurting, and the undersized Brees likely to struggle to see over the middle because of the heavily-populated pass rush, Colston should see a steady diet of quick slants and outs. NYJ is showing some susceptibility against the run as TEN RB Chris Johnson picked up 97 yards on 22 carries against them last week. RB Pierre Thomas(notes), coming off 126 yards and 2 TDs in Week 3 is worth doubling down on. He should at least get a crack or two at the end zone. NYJ has done a good job at limiting good receiving backs like Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson and Kevin Faulk in the passing game, and I wouldn't bet big on RB Reggie Bush(notes) this week.

Pierre Thomas, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jerricho Cotchery, Leon Washington
Dustin Keller(notes), Thomas Jones, New Orleans Defense, New York Defense
Reggie Bush, Devery Henderson(notes), Jeremy Shockey(notes), Chansi Stuckey(notes)
Sleeper: Mark Sanchez
Injuries: NO RB Mike Bell(notes) (knee) is expected to be out; NO WR Lance Moore (hamstring) could be out; NO LT Jammal Brown(notes) (hip) is out; NO T Jermon Bushrod(notes) (ankle) could be out; NYJ CB Lito Sheppard(notes) (quad) could be out
Prediction: New Orleans 27, NY Jets 23
Key Stats: BILLS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 273 YPG passing allowed
FINS – 3.0 YPC allowed | 265 YPG passing allowed | 0 INTs
What to watch for: Beast-Mode returns! BUF RB Marshawn Lynch(notes) is back from a three-game suspension this week, and head coach Dick Jauron has set expectations of a 50/50 timeshare with RB Fred Jackson(notes). MIA has slammed the door shut on opposing backs this season, so both BUF RBs are less than appealing in this one. This could be the big week from WR Terrell Owens(notes) that his owners have been waiting for. Jauron stated on Monday that the team has to take more shots his way. QB Trent Edwards is risk averse, but TO should have an advantage (be it size on CB Will Allen or experience on rookie CB Sean Smith(notes)) that Edwards can pick at. TE Derek Fine(notes) was the team's top target (9) in Week 3 and he could be a sleeper as MIA has allowed the most yards to TEs (320) – although, it has faced Tony Gonzalez(notes), Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates(notes).

With QB Chad Pennington(notes) out for the season with a shoulder injury, Chad Henne(notes) takes over the reins of the MIA offense. His strong arm is ideally suited for the speed of WR Ted Ginn Jr.(notes), who is under a lot of scrutiny after last week when his unreliable hands were as obvious as ever. The BUF secondary is banged up, so Ginn could have some opportunities to make some plays. He's worthy of consideration, but he really needs to show us some improvement in his ability to catch a pass this week before we lose complete trust in him. Trust is what Henne seemed to have in WR Davone Bess(notes), who targeted Bess 7 times in less than two quarters. The attention paid Bess is worth looking into this week given the state of the BUF secondary. MIA has the 3rd-ranked rushing attack in the NFL and RBs Ronnie Brown(notes) and Ricky Williams(notes) are likely to be leaned on even more with Pennington out. If you saw the way NO RB Pierre Thomas shredded BUF in the 2nd half in Week 3, there's no way you're benching Brown this week. And Williams isn't a bad flex play, as well.

Terrell Owens, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams
Trent Edwards, Fred Jackson, Lee Evans(notes), Ted Ginn Jr., Miami Defense
Marshawn Lynch, Chad Henne, Anthony Fasano(notes), Buffalo Defense
Sleeper: Derek Fine, Josh Reed(notes), Davone Bess
Injuries: BUF CB Leodis McKelvin(notes) (leg) is out; BUF FS Donte Whitner(notes) (thumb) could be out; BUF MLB Paul Posluszny(notes) (arm) is out; BUF TE Shawn Nelson(notes) (shoulder) is likely questionable; MIA QB Chad Pennington (shoulder) is out; MIA LB Joey Porter(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable;
Prediction: Miami 21, Buffalo 17
Key Stats: RAMS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 255 YPG passing allowed
49ERS – 3.0 YPC allowed | 253 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: It's possible that the NFL's least productive offense (8 PPG) will be even worse in Week 3. STL could be without QB Marc Bulger(notes) and is definitely going to miss WR Laurent Robinson(notes), who is expected to miss the remainder of the season because of a broken leg. Robinson was important because he was proving himself to be the most reliable and polished receiver on the team. With the QB and WR positions up in the air, only RB Steven Jackson is worth considering and, with 69 touches and 349 YFS through three games, you can't really consider not playing him.

SF RB Frank Gore(notes) is out three weeks with an ankle injury, which thrusts rookie RB Glen Coffee(notes) into the spotlight this week. SF is a run-centric squad but it has struggled mightily to convert third downs – pass protection is a major issue – and therefore it has run the 4th-fewest plays from scrimmage in the NFL. Luckily for SF, the Rams don't apply much pressure on the QB (3 sacks) and teams have been successful converting third down situations against them. All of this is to say, SF should be able to control the ball with the conservative style it prefers. Expect a solid 20+ carry effort from Coffee, and another strong outing from top target TE Vernon Davis(notes) – STL has allowed the 4th-most passing yards to TEs. QB Shaun Hill(notes) should be good for his usual efficient 200 yards and a TD pass.

Steven Jackson, Vernon Davis, Glen Coffee, San Francisco Defense
Shaun Hill, Isaac Bruce(notes)
Marc Bulger, Kyle Boller(notes), Donnie Avery(notes), Keenan Burton(notes), Randy McMichael(notes), St. Louis Defense
Sleeper: Josh Morgan(notes)
Injuries: STL QB Marc Bulger (shoulder) could be questionable; STL WR Laurent Robinson (leg) is out; STL WR Donnie Avery (ribs) could be questionable; STL RT Jason Smith(notes) (knee) is questionable; STL SS James Butler(notes) (knee) is out; STL CB Ron Bartell(notes) (quad) could be questionable; SF RB Frank Gore (ankle) is out; SF LT Joe Staley(notes) (knee) could be questionable;
Prediction: San Francisco 23, St. Louis 6
Key Stats: COWBOYS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 268 YPG passing allowed
BRONCOS – 3.3 YPC allowed | 136 YPG passing allowed | 10 sacks, 5 INTs
What to watch for: The defensive numbers of DEN certainly have been helped by having faced two of the three worst offensive teams in the NFL (CLE, OAK). DAL is the 5th-highest scoring team in the league (28 PPG) and the top rushing unit (194 YPG). CIN RB Cedric Benson looked good against DEN in Week 1, and I would expect a bruising combo of RBs Marion Barber(notes) and Tashard Choice(notes)Felix Jones(notes) is out with a banged up knee – will do just fine. And if Barber can't go once again, Choice becomes a major player in Week 4. DAL may struggle a bit in the passing game. DEN has not allowed a TD pass this season, though, again, we're talking Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell. But DEN CB Champ Bailey(notes) should be able to manage WR Roy Williams. TE Jason Witten(notes) should be fine, however. He and Romo have an air-tight connection – Witten has caught 19 of 23 passes thrown his way, including 9-of-9 last week.

DEN is the No.4 rushing attack in the NFL (159 YPG) and has the 3rd-most rushing attempts. RBs Knowshon Moreno(notes) and Correll Buckhalter(notes) have settled into a nice 65/35-ish division of the workload. Moreno is an especially fine looking start candidate in Week 4 against a DAL defense allowing 4.7 YPC. In the passing game, DEN is spreading the ball around, but it finally leaned heavily on WR Brandon Marshall in Week 3. Marshall could draw the kind of attention (CB Terrance Newman and a safety shadow) that caused CAR WR Steve Smith fits this past Monday night. For that reason, I'd run Marshall under the caution flag this week. WR Eddie Royal(notes) could benefit if Marshall does receive double coverage, but he has yet to do anything to hang your hat on this season, so don't. The TE has been a non-factor for head coach Josh McDaniel.

Jason Witten, Tashard Choice, Knowshon Moreno
Brandon Marshall, Marion Barber, Tony Romo(notes), Kyle Orton(notes), Eddie Royal, Patrick Crayton(notes), Dallas Defense
Roy Williams, Tony Scheffler(notes)
Sleeper: Correll Buckhalter, Jabar Gaffney(notes)
Injuries: DAL RB Felix Jones (knee) is out; RB Marion Barber (quad) could be questionable; DEN T Ryan Harris(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; DEN G Ben Hamilton(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable;
Prediction: Denver 21, Dallas 20
Key Stats: CHARGERS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 180 YPG passing allowed
STEELERS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 213 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: It's a tough week for SDG to be traveling to PIT, who will be ornery after losing a late lead in CIN last week. SDG has not been able to run the ball with RB Darren Sproles(notes) filling in for LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) the past two weeks (combined 28 carries for 67 rushing yards). PIT has shut down RBs Chris Johnson and Matt Forte, thus far, and were doing an admirable job on Cedric Benson until a late TD jaunt in Week 3. Assuming LT misses another game, SDG can't expect much from Sproles on the ground. Like each QB that has faced PIT this season, QB Philip Rivers(notes) can be expected to throw it 35+ times … well, maybe even 45+ times. Standout WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates should see plenty of work. And don't be surprised if we something solid from WR Legedu Naanee(notes) or Malcom Floyd(notes). We've seen No. 3 receivers Kenny Britt, Johnny Knox and Andre Caldwell produce three of the four best fantasy days at WR against the Steel Curtain this season.

PIT desperately wants to be able to run the football effectively, and it finally did last week, for the first two quarters, at least. RB Willie Parker(notes) finished with 93 yards on 25 carries against CIN, but sputtered in the second half and is also dealing with a turf toe injury, always a cause for concern for RBs. This could be the week we see a significant increase in playing time for either RB Mewelde Moore(notes) or RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes), who is gaining a reputation for lacking intestinal fortitude. I've silently been acquiring Moore stock, as his annual awakening seems imminent. The nice thing about the lack of a running game is that QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) has called his own number at the goal line each of the past two weeks, a bonus for Big Ben owners. SDG has nice pass defense numbers, but it has played OAK, BAL and MIA, three teams not known for aerial exploits. WRs Santonio Holmes(notes) and Hines Ward(notes) are two of the top 25 most-targeted WRs in the league and they should both remain heavily in the mix on Sunday night. And TEs have had a long history of success against SDG, so a Heath Miller(notes) flyer is excusable.

Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger
Darren Sproles, Willie Parker, Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Defense, San Diego Defense
Chris Chambers(notes)
Sleeper: Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd, Mewelde Moore, Mike Wallace(notes)
Injuries: PIT RB Willie Parker (toe) could be questionable; SDG RB LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle) is likely to be questionable; SDG LB Shawne Merriman(notes) (groin) could be questionable;
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, San Diego 21
Key Stats: PACKERS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 207 YPG passing allowed | 7 INTs
VIKINGS – 3.4 YPC allowed | 168 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: GB finally got its offense on track at STL in Week 3, running up more than 400 yards of offense en route to a 36-point afternoon. But it could be one step forward, two steps back for the Pack this week at MIN. GB has allowed a NFL-high 12 sacks, and MIN is 6th in the NFL with 8 sacks. In a home divisional matchup, you can count on DE Jared Allen(notes) and Co. to have their ears pinned back out of the gates. GB was able to score 24+ points in each meeting with MIN last season thanks to a combined 3 TDs from special teams/defense. RB Ryan Grant(notes) was also one of three backs to have 75+ rushing yards against MIN, and the only one to do it twice. He carries a noteworthy 5.4 YPC mark against MIN into this contest. Expect GB to see if Grant still has MIN's number. I doubt he'll find much success, though, and I think we could see QB Aaron Rodgers(notes) turned loose in this one – 40-45 pass attempts. He had his two lowest pass attempt games of '08 against MIN (22 and 26), but I think GB will have no choice but to let it ride on Rodgers' arm this time around. WR Donald Driver(notes) has been spectacular the past two weeks, and his one-handed diving grab in Week 3 should wind up being one of the best catches of the year. I wouldn't worry too much about starting Driver or WR Greg Jennings(notes) (who is tied for the NFL lead with PHI WR DeSean Jackson(notes) with 3 catches of 40+ yards) based upon the MIN pass defense numbers. The Vikings have faced CLE, DET and SF, so you'd expect the kind of success its had, thus far.

GB has been manhandled by physical RBs Cedric Benson 29/141) and Steven Jackson (27/117) the past two weeks, which bodes well for RB Adrian Peterson on Monday night. Peterson has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of four career meetings with GB, and there's no reason to believe he won't make it four of five. Going against his former team, and coming off a dramatic victory in Week 4 in which he threw a laser-guided missile to WR Greg Lewis(notes) in the back of the end zone as time expired, Favre should be extra cocky in this one. He'll probably make a few ill-advised decisions, but MIN is going to make sure this remains the Peterson show. The only WR you can count on for MIN remains rookie Percy Harvin(notes). He's a versatile dynamo who has now scored in each of the first three weeks. While he's been used in a variety of ways, he did lead the team with 9 pass targets in Week 3, which further solidifies his quickly gained must-start fantasy status.

Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Percy Harvin, Minnesota Defense, Green Bay Defense
Ryan Grant, Chester Taylor(notes), Bernard Berrian(notes)
Brett Favre(notes), Sidney Rice(notes), Visanthe Shiancoe(notes)
Sleeper: Jermichael Finley(notes)
Injuries: GB T Chad Clifton(notes) (ankle) is likely out; GB WR James Jones(notes) (finger) could be questionable; GB WR Greg Jennings (wrist) could be questionable;
Prediction: Minnesota 28, Green Bay 24