Starks, Ingram primed for big days; Mendenhall not so much
2011 NFL Week 4 Fantasy Football Start & Sit
These are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.
2011 NFL Week 4 Fantasy Football Rankings
Sneaky Start of the Week
James Starks, RB, Green Bay vs. Denver
The 30th best running back in fantasy so far, Starks should get the opportunity to handle the entire workload this week against Denver. Ryan Grant (kidney) is out, meaning the second-year player and playoff stud from a year ago, and have his best game of the season.
Denver is 14th in the NFL against the run at 100 yards per game and also give up 20.7 points a game. Now the Broncos travel to Green Bay, the No. 10 rushing team in the NFL at 109 yards per game with the league's fifth best scoring offense at 33 points a game.
Simply put: Denver will be hard pressed to stay in this game for long, leaving more than enough time for Starks to get his on Sunday.
We've seen scenarios play out like this already this year, where we think a team will roll over another, but it doesn't come to fruition. I think this one does come to fruition, and Starks is the one you want closing the deal.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans at Jacksonville
The Saints are the second highest scoring team in the league at 34.7 points per game; the Jaguars are the second lowest scoring team in the league at 9.7. I think a 35-10 score would suffice in this game, and if that's the case then this should be the game where we get to see a lot of the rookie from Alabama.
The Saints should be able to jump out to an early lead, and even though the Jaguars own the NFL's No. 5 rush defense at 83.7 a game, they haven't seen an offense like this yet.
Ingram is owned in 83 percent of Yahoo leagues but is the 42nd best back so far. He had his highest output of the year (10.5) last week thanks to a TD on nine carries. He should get more than nine this week as New Orleans grinds down the clock with its ground game.
Unexpected Sit of the Week
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Pittsburgh at Houston
Remember that whole "we thought a team would roll" scenario? Well, Pittsburgh was supposed to be that team last week in Indianapolis. Mendenhall was supposed to be the closer.
Instead, Mendenhall is fantasy's 34th best running back, playing behind a poor, and injured offensive line and simply not producing. A first-round pick by many, Mendenhall has 25.4 fantasy points through three games.
The Texans are in the top half of the league against fantasy RBs, allowing 18.7 fantasy points a game. Miami's Daniel Thomas got 107 yards on 18 carries and no scores behind a better offensive line two weeks agon. Last week, Darren Sproles needed six catches for 50 yards and rushing TD to get to 20.2. Mendenhall has had 18-plus carries in back to back games and has a yards per carry average of 2.8 during those two games. He also doesn't catch enough balls to be a PPR threat, and he has scored just once in three games.
The Steelers are 23rd in the NFL in rushing at 85.7 yards a game, and it's not rushing that's going to keep them in this game. The Texans' defense will be able to get after Ben Roethlisberger, and the Houston offense, seventh in the league in scoring (30 PPG) should have no trouble moving the ball at home, either.
Mendenhall will become obsolete as Pittsburgh tries to keep up.
Eli Manning (NYG) at Arizona — It would be nice if Hakeem Nicks (knee) would be a 100-percent go in this one, but even if the Giants' No. 1 receiver is down, Manning should excel. The Cardinals are 10th worst against fantasy QBs at 22.2 points per game, and Manning just got done scoring 33.9 fantasy points against a much tougher Philadelphia Eagles team.
Cam Newton (CAR) at Chicago — Newton's torrid start was only slowed by the monsoon in Charlotte last week. The Bears are allowing 22 points a game to fantasy QBs, and even in the downpour last week, the rookie still scored 17 fantasy points. Newton's WRs should be able to get beyond the Bears' Cover 2 defense, and he can also utilize his TEs, which Chicago is second worst against at 17.1 fantasy points a game.
Rex Grossman (WAS) at St. Louis — He wasn't as spectacular as I thought he would be against the Cowboys' secondary in Week 2, but he did still throw for 250 yards. Grossman gets a chance to rebound against a Rams team that just gave up 35.3 fantasy points to Joe Flacco a week ago in the dome. The Ravens had 406 yards by halftime.
Mark Sanchez (NYJ) at Baltimore — Receivers Plaxico Burress (hamstring) and Santonio Holmes (quad) are both battling injuries, the run game is beyond inconsistent, and the Ravens just made Sam Bradford look pedestrian to the tune of 11.8 fantasy points a week ago. Baltimore, despite its secondary issues, is allowing a fourth-best 12.4 fantasy points a game to QBs. If the receivers are banged up and the Ravens are able to focus more on Sanchez's BFF, TE Dustin Keller, where is the production going to come from?
Matt Ryan (ATL) at Seattle — He is not currently playing the best football of his career. And now he goes on the road, to play in a tough environment with the Seattle crowd. In 20 games outdoors (of 49 career games), Ryan has thrown 18 of his 38 career INTs, has a 57.7-percent completion rate and a QB rating of 78.2 compared to his career 86.5. That's a lot of nerd numbers, but I'm a nerd. Simply put: This team is underachieving, and going out to Seattle is not usually a place to turn things around. Plus, Seattle has actually been pretty good against fantasy QBs — top 10 actually — at 15.2 points per game.
Sam Bradford (STL) vs. Washington — You saw the pressure the Redskins put on against Tony Romo Monday night, right? They pressured Romo 13 times, got three hits and one sack and he registered 8.1 fantasy points. Last week against Baltimore, Bradford was sacked five times, hit seven times, pressured 11 times and had 11.8 fantasy points to show for it. Like Baltimore, Washington is allowing under 15 points (14.4) to fantasy QBs through three games this season.
LeGarrette Blount (TB) vs. Indianapolis — The Colts are actually pretty good against fantasy QBs at 14.1 points per game, but allow 21.4 points a game to RBs. The Bucs seem to be coming around to the idea that controlling the game with Bloiunt is the way to go. He had 24 carries for 81 yards last week. Expect to see much of the same this week, and with Curtis Painter slated to go at QB for the Colts, Blount should have plenty of possessions with which to work.
Tim Hightower (WAS) at St. Louis — Not only are the Rams letting fantasy QBs score all over them, RBs are getting in on the action as well. St. Louis is fifth worst against the position at 28.7 a game, and now they get Hightower, who is coming off a 20-carry, 96-yard performance to go along with five catches for 39 yards. Hightower, fantasy's 12th-best back currently, should be able to get his early, produce for you as a nice flex and then give way to rookie Roy Helu, who might be a sneaky play in his own right.
Peyton Hillis (CLE) vs. Tennessee — Back from strep, Hillis should be a decent flex play. The Titans are great against the pass, but middle of the road against fantasy RBs at 20.7 points per game. Hillis may have to split some of his role with Montario Hardesty, but he is still a great goal line threat and always an added bonus are his pass-catching abilities. Call it a hunch, but in a game where points will be rare, Hillis could have the Browns' via short-yardage situations. Plus, the Browns get 6-6, 330 right tackle Tony Pashos (ankle) back this week.
Frank Gore (SF) at Philadelphia — How bad has it become for Gore? He's going against the team that allows the most fantasy points to RBs (31.8) and I still think he should sit. First reason: He's battling an ankle injury. Second reason: He may share duties with rookie Kendall Hunter even if he does play. Third reason: Are the 49ers going to be in this game, at Philadelphia, long enough for the running game to even matter? Plus, 26.4 fantasy points for a top flight RB through three weeks is not getting it done.
Shonn Greene (NYJ) at Baltimore — Our patience is wearing mighty, mighty thin with the Jets' starting running back. He has not gone over 14.1 points this season, and carried the ball just seven times for 59 yards in last week's loss to the Raiders. An unlikely seven catches for 46 yards is the only thing that made it a respectable day. I doubt he gets it turned around at Baltimore or at New England the next two weeks. The Ravens are second-best in fantasy at defending RBs at 12.8 points per game. It's starting to look like another year of disappointment for those of us that drafted Greene in any of our leagues.
Cedric Benson (CIN) vs. Buffalo — The Bills give up 25 points per game to fantasy running backs, good for eighth worst in the league. But the Bills are also in high-scoring games. It takes two to be in high-scoring games, and I don't see the Bengals holding up their end of the bargain in that department this week. Plus, if Benson has any chance of starting his suspension in Week 5, who's to say the team doesn't start seeing what Bernard Scott or Brian Leonard can give them in live action?
Brandon Lloyd and Eric Decker (DEN) at Green Bay — This is purely a garbage-time play for both of them. You would expect Green Bay to pour it on at Lambeau this weekend, right? Well, if they don't, it's going to be Denver's passing game that keeps the Broncos involved. Lloyd might have a tougher time if the game is close, but Decker just finds ways to get open. Green Bay is the third-worst team against fantasy WRs at 35.7 points per game.
Sidney Rice (SEA) vs. Atlanta — I'm not crazy about it, and he is my 36th WR this week, making him the bottom of the WR3s, but he went 8-109 in his 2011 debut last week against Arizona. He's at home again, QB Tarvaris Jackson had his best game with him in the lineup and Atlanta is middle of the road against fantasy WRs at 21.2 points a game — 4.2 better than Arizona's 25.4. It's a hunch, a gamble, but worth it as a WR3/flex play.
Torrey Smith (BAL) vs. New York Jets — The deep threat is what Baltimore needed for Joe Flacco to excel, and the rookie Smith provided it with three TDs on his first three career receptions last week. Smith is back again this week with Lee Evans (ankle) still expected to be sidelined, and he may benefit from another injury, that of Jets DB Antonio Cromartie (ribs/lung). If the Jets keep Darrelle Revis on Anquan Boldin, the ninth-most targeted receiver in football (28), then Smith could excel once again for the Ravens in his prime-time debut.
Nate Washington (TEN) at Cleveland — It's going to take me a while to believe Washington can succeed as the Titans' No. 1 receiver. It certainly will be a tough debut against Cleveland DB Joe Haden, who has been targeted 22 times and given up just 10 catches, according to Pro Football Focus. I expect this to be a sluggish game due to both teams struggles on offense and their strengths being on the defensive side of the ball.
Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. Minnesota — He's been targeted 22 times, caught 11 of them for 185 yards and a score. He's also leading the league in drops (4), and I see his QB, Matt Cassel, being dropped plenty of times thanks to the sack-happy Vikings defense, which has nine through three games. Cassel has attempted 26 passes when blitzed or pressured this season and completed 12 of them for 75 yards with three interceptions and been sacked five times, according to Pro Football Focus. Maybe this turned into more of a bench Cassel rant, which you should have already done, but it illustrates what Bowe is working with, and says don't be uplifted by the 13.8- and 14.7-point days he's had the last two weeks.
Devery Henderson (NO) at Jacksonville — Marques Colston is apparently set to return. Lance Moore is a Drew Brees favorite once again. Robert Meachem is still there, along with TE Jimmy Graham and pass-catching RB Darren Sproles. It could be any one of the aforementioned that has a big day, as it always is with the Saints, but the addition of Colston and the fact that the Saints should be in control leads me to believe we will see more of Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas than anyone.
Brandon Pettigrew (DET) at Dallas — Coach Jim Schwartz said the Lions used Pettigrew as their running game last week, spreading him out and hitting the tight end with short passes to move the chains. It resulted in 11 catches for 112 yards against the Vikings. Now he gets a Cowboys team that is 10th against fantasy RBs (16.3), but allows a seventh worst 13.7 points to TEs. Pettigrew might be the "running game" again.
Randy McMichael (SD) vs. Miami — He's never done much with the opportunities, but with Antonio Gates out, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson nursing injuries he is a good play this weekend. The game is in San Diego, the Chargers are taking on a Dolphins team that is the worst in the league against fantasy TEs at 20.7 points per game — and worst by 3.6 points. It's just too good a match up to pass up.
Scott Chandler (BUF) at Cincinnati — Normally I'm not a low-target kind of fantasy player, but Chandler is starting to become the exception. He faces a Bengals team that is sixth worst against fantasy TEs at 14 points per game. Chandler is on a high-scoring team that has targeted him just 12 times, but he has nine catches, 89 yards and four scores off of the 12. I expect to see the Bills in the red zone often, and I expect Chandler to grab at least one score. And that's good enough for me from the TE position.
Dallas Clark (IND) at Tampa Bay — Simply put: I'm not trusting Dallas Clark until I see it. Tampa is average against fantasy TEs at 10.3 points per game. But Clark, as the 12th-most targeted TE in the NFL at 19, has just 10 catches, 83 yards and a score to show for it. The 11 target leaders ahead of him are combining to average 14 catches, 187 yards and 1.5 scores through three games; Clark is averaging 3.3-27.6 and .3 scores per game.
Ed Dickson (BAL) vs. New York Jets — Not everyone can have success against the Jets. I expect Ray Rice and Torrey Smith to be productive, but the Jets have allowed an average of 4.3 catches, 64.3 yards and no scores to the TE in the first three games of the season. Dickson's is averaging four catches for 45 yards and .3 scores per game.
Benjamin Watson (CLE) vs. Tennessee — Normally terrible against the TE, the Titans are actually doing pretty well this season — third best in fantasy at 5.7 points per game to the position. They have surrendered just nine catches for 126 yards and no scores. Watson has been inconsistent — three catches and a score the first game, two catches for 16 yards the second and five catches for 64 yards and no score the third. Plus, Evan Moore is there to garner red zone targets as well.
Jason Hanson (DET) at Dallas — First off, he's the No. 1 kicker in fantasy and only owned in 51 percent of Yahoo leagues. So go get him. He has eight field goals — two from 50-plus — and 11 PATs. Dallas has allowed six field goals and seven PATs.
Rob Bironas (TEN) at Cleveland — He's going up against a Browns team that has allowed the most field goal attempts (10) and makes (9) and just five PATs against. The Titans should be able to move the ball, but will more than likely stall out in the red zone. Enter Bironas to kick those field goals.
Ryan Longwell (MIN) at Kansas City — The Chiefs have allowed 13 PATs — the most in the league — and six field goals — also in the top half of FGs allowed. Longwell has six field goals and six PATs, and should have opportunities at both Sunday.
Dan Bailey (DAL) vs. Detroit — It's going to take more than six field goals to keep up with the Detroit offense this weekend. The Lions have surrendered just four PATs and six field goals.
Josh Brown (STL) vs. Washington — We had so much hope for the Rams' offense under Josh McDaniels this season, meaning more opportunities for Brown. He is tied for 24th amongst fantasy kickers with five field goals and just one PAT.
Mike Nugent (CIN) vs. Buffalo — The Bengals aren't going to be able to keep up with the Bills by kicking field goals, and after their poor offensive performance against the 49ers a week ago, there's nothing to say they will be involved in a shootout with Buffalo. Sit fantasy's 10th-best kicker this week.
Washington at St. Louis — Owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues, the Redskins are the eighth best fantasy defense with 53 points allowed, eight sacks, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, a block and a touchdown. St. Louis has scored just 36 points, given up 12 sacks and has coughed up the ball five times.
Minnesota at Kansas City — Obviously the Chiefs are scoring challenged at nine points per game, and they have the third worst total offense at 244 yards per game. The Chiefs have fumbled the ball five times, been intercepted five times and given up five sacks. The Vikings' pass rush can get to Matt Cassel as evidence to their nine sacks through three games. Minnesota also has three interceptions to its credit, and if it can put two halves of football together for once, would be a solid weekly fantasy DST. KC will make the Vikes look good this week.
Tennessee at Cleveland — Only owned in 15 percent of Yahoo leagues, the Titans' defense/special teams ranks 12th with just 43 points allowed, six sacks, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. It should be a sluggish game, where points are at a premium — bad for fantasy offense players on these two teams, good for the fantasy defenses.
Pittsburgh at Houston — Maybe it seems obvious, maybe it doesn't. The Steelers are owned in 99 percent of Yahoo leagues and anked 17th in fantasy points. They've given up just 49 points, but have not produced in other categories — one interception, seven sacks, one fumble recovery and a TD return by Troy Polamalu that bounced right into his hands and no one in front of him to the end zone last Monday in Indy.
San Diego vs. Miami — The Chargers are owned in 70 percent of Yahoo leagues, but are the second worst defense in fantasy with just 13 points scored in three games. The Dolphins can move the ball and do not turn it over that often (three interceptions, two fumbles). They are tied for fifth with 11 sacks given up, but the Chargers are in the bottom five in sacks with five, and are 13th in points allowed at 69. Best-case scenario for San Diego this week is getting up big, forcing Chad Henne to throw and trying to get sacks and picks that way, but that's not a chance I'm willing to take with a current bottom two DST.
New England at Oakland — Owned in 76 percent of Yahoo leagues, the Patriots are the 24th best fantasy defense with 22 points scored. They have six sacks, five picks and two fumble recoveries. However, 73 points allowed is offsetting their fantasy production. Traveling out to Oakland, the Raiders will welcome them with a strong running game and an adequate enough passing game. Plus, the Raiders have given up just two sacks and only thrown one INT.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter