Week 4 of the NFL season will start Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens welcome the Cleveland Browns to town. Of course the game will be notable since the regular officials will be in place for the first time this season, but fantasy football owners also have to deal with the first week of byes on the schedule. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts have the week off, so the impact is minimal this week, but that will change as we go along.
As I have done and will do each week throughout the season, I will highlight players with nice upside for fantasy owners (“Studs”) and those I feel have significant downside (“Duds”). I always try to avoid obvious names that any sane fantasy owner will start each week no matter what, but those players become worthy of consideration here sometimes.
Here are my “Studs And Duds” for Week 4.
Stud-Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Manning seems to slowly be working his way back into form and he is coming off his most productive game of the season in Week 3 against the Houston Texans with 330 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception. For the season, he has completed 60 percent of his passes with five touchdown passes and all three of his interceptions came in the first quarter of Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons. Manning now gets a very favorable matchup in Week 4 against the Oakland Raiders, who have allowed 21 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (ESPN scoring) so far this season. That is inflated somewhat by the 384 yards and four touchdowns they allowed to Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, but the Raiders have not intercepted a pass yet and injuries to top cornerbacks Ron Bartell (shoulder) and Shawntae Spencer (foot) look likely to keep them out of action again this week. Manning may not be the same player he was prior to his neck issues, but this is a week to absolutely get him in your lineup and expect a big game.
Dud- Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler did not have a good performance in Week 3 against the St. Louis Rams, throwing for just 183 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He has struggled since topping 300 yards through the air in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, throwing for just 309 yards with one touchdown pass over the last two games combined, though some of his struggles can be chalked up to poor pass protection as he has already taken 11 sacks and is under duress virtually constantly. Things will not get easier in Week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys, who have allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the league (158 per game) along with registering at least two sacks in all three games. Cutler should get plenty familiar with Cowboys’ outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware next Monday night, and the fact he can be reckless with the ball gives him even more downside this week.
Stud-Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Gore had 12 carries for 63 yards and one catch for nine yards against the Minnesota Vikings because the fact that the 49ers face a surprising deficit and did not have the ball a lot reduced his workload somewhat. He does not have more than 17 carries in a game yet this season, but that may change in Week 4 against the New York Jets, who have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing running backs (21.3 per game, ESPN scoring) along with opposing running backs having the fourth-most total carries (91) against them. If San Francisco is forced to throw the ball more in some games, Gore’s role looks likely to be diminished, but this does not like one of those weeks since the 49ers’ defense should be able to easily contain the Jets’ offense. His fantasy owners should expect 20 or more carries for Gore in Sunday’s game, and if he maintains close to his season average of 5.9 yards per carry, he looks like a legit RB1 for Week 4.
Dud-Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Jackson did not practice due to a groin injury entering Week 3 against the Chicago Bears and the results showed as he had just 29 yards on 11 carries and two receptions for five yards in the game. Another difficult matchup is coming for Week 4 against the Seattle Seahawks, who have allowed the fewest rushing yards to opposing running backs (39.7 per game) this season and the fourth-fewest fantasy points (ESPN scoring) to the position as well. The Seahawks do rank toward the bottom part of the league in receptions allowed to running backs with 18, but if Jackson is less than 100 percent, he may not be able to take advantage of any vulnerability there. Rookie Daryl Richardson may also see a fair amount of work if Jackson is not completely healthy, creating even more downside. There does not seem to be much question Jackson will play on Sunday at this point, but he is really nothing more than a low-end RB2 this week.
Stud- Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jackson had just one catch (on seven targets) for 29 yards in Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys, as he continues his career trend of inconsistency with a new team. He has alternated bad games with good thus far this season, topping 100 yards receiving in Week 2 against the New York Giants, and things should be even easier this week against another NFC East opponent in the Washington Redskins. The Redskins rank among the worst in the league against opposing wide receivers in receptions (45), yards (766) and touchdowns (six) allowed, and have yielded a league-high 38 fantasy points per game (ESPN scoring) to the position. Jackson, even without a big catch total, should be able to get open downfield for a few big plays during Sunday’s game and his physical tools will be hard for a mediocre Redskins secondary to handle. There is always downside for fantasy owners who have to rely on Jackson to produce well on a weekly basis, but his upside this week is hard to ignore in a very favorable matchup.
Dud- Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
Smith has been fairly productive through three games this season with a per-catch average over 21 yards and two 100-yard games despite dealing with foot and knee issues that have limited his practice time. He remains a every week fantasy starter even at age 33, but a tough matchup is on the slate for this week against the Atlanta Falcons and if Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is off his game the way he has been, Smith could struggle to produce. The Falcons rank among the best in the league in terms of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, and it’s a solid assumption the Atlanta secondary will try to take Smith away and force Carolina’s other receivers to beat them. It would take a fantasy owner with serious guts to bench Smith under any circumstance, but those with some wide receiver depth and better options should do just that.
Stud- Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Rudolph had arguably the best game of his career against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, with five catches for 36 yards and two touchdowns in the game. He has emerged as a primary target for Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder and a favorable matchup is now coming in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions. Detroit has been generous to opposing tight ends so far this season, allowing the second-most fantasy points to the position (13.3 per game, ESPN scoring), with 15 of the 18 catches and all three touchdowns they’ve allowed coming over the last two weeks. Rudolph did miss Wednesday’s practice with a sore thigh, which is worth keeping an eye on, but there does not seem to be any concern over his availability for Sunday’s game. The second-year man out of Notre Dame is emerging as a viable weekly fantasy starter, and as long as he is active, he is a TE1 with nice upside for Week 4.
Dud-Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles
Celek followed up a solid first two games (12 receptions for 222 yards) with a two-catch, 36 yard game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3. The entire Eagles offense struggled to get on track in that game and the going may not be much easier this week against the New York Giants. The Giants are in the top five in the league against opposing tight ends (4.7 fantasy points per game-ESPN scoring) and their pass rush is capable of taking advantage of a banged up offensive line to make life tough for Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday night. Celek may be asked to stay in a pass blocker extensively in order to help keep the Giants’ defensive line at bay, which would obviously limit his opportunities as a pass receiver. The chance for few targets and a tough matchup gives Celek a lot of downside and makes him bench material for those with a better option available.
Review of Week 3 “Studs And Duds”
Stud- Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions- 33-for-42, 278 yards, one touchdown; two carries for 12 yards; left game with hip injury
Dud- Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers- 21-for-38 for 173 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions
Stud- Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns- 12 carries for 27 yards and one touchdown: six receptions for 24 yards
Verdict: Borderline Stud
Dud- Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans- 14 carries for 24 yards; 1 reception for five yards
Stud- Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys- five receptions for 107 yards
Verdict: Low-End Stud
Dud- Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos- three receptions for 34 yards
Stud- Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions- eight receptions for 61 yards
Verdict: PPR Stud
Dud- Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers- four receptions for 60 yards
Verdict: Low-End Stud