As a general rule in life, one should think twice before making bets that could cause physical pain at a later date. This is common sense to everyone but Rick Reilly and me.
Last week you’ll recall that I was quite confident in a Week 3 breakout performance from Titans running back Chris Johnson against a notoriously woeful Denver run defense. This now regrettable sentence was written under Johnson’s name as I forecasted the week’s top RBs:
If he doesn’t bust out this week against a run defense that’s given up 2,735 yards in its last 18 games, I’ll swim in a pool of Frank’s Red Hot.
Johnson then ran for a pathetic 21 yards on 13 carries, and was horrifically awful for the third straight week. I’m sure hot sauce is cleansing, right?
We’re pretty sure hot sauce isn’t healthy or safe for certain parts of the body, and by that we mean any part that isn’t the mouth. But we’ll figure out something in the next little while that’s a roughly equivalent punishment.
If you have any suggestions, fire away. When it comes to hot sauce and searing pain we always encourage creativity.
With that confession out of the way let’s move on to Week 4, and I promise I won’t ever, ever be wrong again.
1.Tom Brady @ OAK – Anyone scared by Brady’s four interceptions also has an irrational fear of the sun, ATMs, and Donald Duck. Cornerback Chris Johnson still isn’t practicing due to a hamstring injury, leaving the Raiders to possibly still rely on rookie Chimi Chekwa. Tom Brady eats rookie cornerbacks for breakfast.
2. Aaron Rodgers vs. DEN – It’s looking like Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil will return, and Rodgers will be playing without Ryan Grant. Regardless, a 12-year-old wearing water wings could still carve up this run defense, and until that’s fixed elite passers like Rodgers will be given the space to pick apart a secondary that gave up 236.2 yards per game last year.
And yes, a 12-year-old wearing water wings is still better than Chris Johnson.
3. Michael Vick vs. SF — The risk of starting Vick sounds minimal. In fact, if you listen to him there’s exactly a zero percent risk, and he’s set up to exploit a defense that doesn’t see many mobile quarterbacks. Last year Rodgers and Josh Freeman finished behind Vick in quarterback rushing yards, and San Francisco’s 2010 games against Green Bay and Tampa Bay resulted in two loses by a combined score of 55-15.
4. Drew Brees @ JAC — He had 20 fantasy points last week against a Houston pass defense that has supposedly gone through a drastic and sizable offseason improvement.
5. Matthew Stafford @ DAL — Good: Michael Jenkins is banged up, and Terrence Newman is old. Bad: between DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, and the rapidly emerging Sean Lee, this is the first true test for a leaky offensive line that hasn’t broken yet for Stafford, but has bent more than a Slinky going down the biggest set of stairs in the world.
6. Philip Rivers vs. MIA — Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd will continue to fill the void left by Antonio Gates, but last week we began to see how much Gates’ absence could affect the fantasy numbers we see from Rivers. Last year with a healthy Gates at tight end he averaged 309.9 passing yards, and without him that number dropped to 266.
7. Josh Freeman vs. IND — Gray Brackett and Melvin Bullitt are gone, so Freeman should beak out with both his legs and his arm against a pass defense that was already allowing 8.5 yards per reception.
8. Ryan Fitzpatrick @ CIN — Fitzpatrick has only faced one respectable secondary, and that convenient fantasy trend isn’t ending this week.
9. Ben Roethlisberger @ HOU — Houston’s remodeled secondary gets another test after Danieal Manning, Johnathan Joseph et al coughed up 370 passing yards and three touchdowns to Brees.
10. Matt Schaub vs. PITT — This feels painfully low despite the poor matchup. I won’t promise to bath in more unhealthy substances if Schaub still thrives, because if I did I fear that more hot sauce would find it’s way into undiscovered bodily crevices.
Notable omission(s): Despite the paper bag that’s blocking for Jay Cutler I came several keyboard punches away from actually recommending Chicago’s favourite bulls, literally and figuratively. But then I realized I’d be doing that based on the assumption that Mike Martz would finally lean on Matt Forte more to give Cutler space against a depleted Carolina front seven playing without Jon Beason.
Even with the constant pressure Cutler faces, Forte is still ranked 27th in carries through three weeks and has only a combined 19 over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Cutler has been asked to drop back 114 times. His poise has been shaken, and your confidence in him as a viable weekly fantasy option should be minimal until Martz changes his approach.
1. Adrian Peterson @ KC — Ryan Mathews had only the second +90 rushing yard game of his career last week against a Kansas City defense that’s still listless in both pass and run coverage without Eric Berry.
2. LeSean McCoy vs. SF — Was given the ball 18 times last year against San Fran and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
3. Ahmad Bradshaw @ ARI — A Cardinals defense that gave up 145 yards per game on the ground last year is showing an early affinity for the big run, as opponents already have three runs of 20 yards or more.
4. Darren McFadden vs. NE — His sheer explosiveness and the heavy workload he receives in the Oakland offense keeps McFadden in the top five, but the Patriots still haven’t allowed an 80-yard rusher.
5. Ray Rice vs. NYJ — Eventually some sense of normalcy will return to this Jets run defense.
6. Frank Gore @ PHI — Usually I’m not much of a Gore fan, mostly because his lack of durability is a time bomb capable of exploding on any week. My risk taking ends with hot sauce, evidently. However, with the Eagles still desperately searching for answers in their front seven we should all be Gore superfans for at least one week.
7. Fred Jackson @ CIN — Run defense has actually been one of the moderately OK areas in Cincinnati, but that could change quickly this week as Jackson keeps rolling.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. NO — Jonathan Vilma missed the Saints’ Week 3 win over Houston, and missed Wednesday’s practice before being limited today due to a lower back injury. This is a good thing.
9. Chris Johnson vs. CLE — If you’re fooled once you can’t get fooled again, or something. I am still the exception. Can someone please pass the hot sauce?
10. Matt Forte vs. CAR — This is my way of still clinging to a shred of hope for Martz and the Bears’ schematic offensive woes outlined above. Forte needs to be utilized and leaned on heavily this week.
Notable omission(s): I jumped onto the highest of the high towers last week, and that failed spectacularly. The only way to avoid failing is to not try….at anything, ever. Since that’s not an option, it was incredibly tempting to take Hightower against St. Louis despite his poor Week 3 showing in Dallas. The worst rush defense in the league has given up 173.4 yards per game.
But my inexplicable infatuation with Rex Grossman has perhaps worn thin after the old, indecisive Chicago Rex resurfaced last week. His connection with Santana Moss is still there, but little else is, and that’s also led to confidence in Hightower falling a few rungs.
Michael Turner should still post fine numbers, but Seattle is an unpredictable fantasy mess, and usually plays well at home with the opponent crossing the country. Lastly, Ryan Mathews will continue his emergence, but not this week against a Miami defense that’s held opposing rushers to less than 70 yards in two of the first three weeks.
1. Calvin Johnson @ DAL –Newman can match Johnson’s speed, but not his size, strength, or anything else.
2. Stevie Johnson @ CIN — In his only career game against Cincinnati last year Johnson has 137 yards and three touchdowns, and that was before the offseason departure of Johnathan Joseph.
3. DeSean Jackson vs. SF — As a home run threat, Jackson has become the epitome of the boom or bust fantasy player. He had 102 receiving yards in Week 1, and followed that up with just 51 yards over the next two games. But much like the hole Stevie Johnson is set to exploit, the 49ers haven’t faced a receiver who comes close to Jackson’s speed since losing Nate Clements.
4. Andre Johnson vs. PITT — Drops a little lower than his usual top three perch due to a tougher matchup against Ike Taylor and/or Bryant McFadden. But those two were still there in 2008 when Johnson last faced the Steelers, and he had 10 catches for 112 yards.
5. Larry Fitzgerald vs. NYG — Cornerback Aaron Ross was the driving force behind Jackson’s poor Week 3 showing, holding the Eagles speedster to just two receptions for 30 yards. Now he’s faced with Fitz’s bulk combined with still high above average speed, and the results won’t be nearly as good.
6. Roddy White @ SEA — The disclaimer noted above about teams traveling coast-to-coast still applies here, but Matty Ice is showing early signs of an addiction to deep throws, which is clearly beneficial for White. Through three weeks he’s averaged at least 6.8 yards per throw each game. That will level out, but it’s a number that Ryan failed to reach in 13 of Atlanta’s games last year.
7. Wes Welker @ Oak — He’s been ranked much lower elsewhere. But with Aaron Hernandez possibly and likely sitting out one more game, Welker still doesn’t have to share the possession receiver role with anyone.
8. Vincent Jackson vs. MIA — Jackson typically enjoys a height advantage and uses his reach to win jump balls. But that could be nullified this week against Sean Smith, who’s 6’3″.
9. Mike Wallace @ HOU – Wallace falls to a position that feels foreign in this space because of his matchup against Joseph, and the passing rushing ability of Mario Williams and J.J. Watt that could limit the time needed for Roethlisberger to uncork the deep ball.
10. Greg Jennings vs. DEN — I once wrote that Jennings hasn’t performed well against top pass defenses recently (which was true, at least at the time), and that worked out horribly. Still, Champ Bailey is healthy, and as always he presents a rather horrible matchup for your No.1 receiver.
Notable omission(s): Saints receiver Marques Colston will return this week, and will soon find himself back on this list. But for now he’ll be eased back into the lineup and will play a limited role Sunday.
A similar situation kept Hakeem Nicks out of the top 10 too. The Giants wideout likely won’t miss any game time, but he’s missed practice this week and is clearly being restricted by a lingering knee injury.
1. Jason Witten vs. DET — The Cowboys have a healthy Dez Bryant, but Miles Austin is remains out. Witten’s workload will remain heavy as long as one of the team’s main receiving threats is missing and Tony Romo is relying on inexperienced targets who aren’t running the proper routes. He’s averaging 6.3 receptions per game, which puts Witten on pace for his first 100 catch season.
2. Jimmy Graham @ JAC — Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey combined for 87 receiving yards and a touchdown last week against Jacksonville while playing in a monsoon. Unless he’s spooked by some strange and disrespectful skeletal creature in the parking lot before the game, Graham will be just fine.
3. Jermichael Finley vs. DEN — If Finley can’t even stop himself then there’s no hope for anyone else.
4. Rob Gronkowski @ OAK — He had the highest receiving yardage of his young career last week. Again, if Hernandez remains out it’ll be more of the same for both Gronk and Welker.
5. Dustin Keller @ BAL — Began the season as an unpredictable element in the Jets’ offense after having 10 games last year in which he finished with less than 45 yards. This is where I say something about it still being early, followed by something about how Keller has received the balls that used to be directed at Braylon Edwards, and is averaging 83 yards per game.
6.Vernon Davis @ PHI — He’s as fickle as the entire 49ers offense, and a matchup against a tougher coverage defense won’t help that cause. Davis had 114 receiving yards last week, but only 65 in the previous two games combined.
7. Jermaine Gresham @ BUF — He’s becoming the proverbial panic button for Andy Dalton, and Gresham now faces a Bills defense that gave up two tight end touchdowns in Week 3.
8. Brandon Pettigrew @ DAL — Nothing keeps the momentum going after an 11 catch week quite like the Cowboys’ feeble secondary.
9. Owen Daniels vs. PIT — As usual there are too many weapons on the Houston offense to keep the ball out of Daniels’ hands. But you may need to lower expectations this week against the league’s best pass defense.
10. Marcedes Lewis vs. NO — He’ll also benefit from an injured or hobbled Vilma, and should begin to slowly build chemistry with Blaine Gabbert.
Notable omission(s): Even though he was discarded with vigor in the preseason, Tony Gonzalez could soon start to creep back onto this list purely because of his red zone targets, and his three touchdowns in three games. For now though he still remains an outsider due to Ryan’s growing chemistry with Julio Jones, who’s starting to draw some of the balls that were once reserved for Gonzo over the middle.
We’ve also temporarily given up on Dallas Clark. There was a time only a few weeks ago when I stubbornly clung to the belief that he’d remain the only reliable piece in the Indy offense and squeak out to find space for Kerry Collins as he tried to make sure his head stayed attached to his shoulders. That didn’t happen, and we’re not sure if Collins’ head is indeed still attached.
1. Rob Bironas @ CLE
2. Sebastian Janikowski vs. NE
3. Mason Crosby vs. DEN
4. Dan Bailey @ DAL
5. Neil Rackers vs. PITT
6. Stephen Gostkowski @ OAK
7. Rian Lindell @ CIN
8. Robbie Gould vs.m CAR
9. Lawrence Tynes @ ARI
10. Nick Novak vs. MIA
1. Philadelphia @ SF
2. Atlanta @ SEA
3. San Diego vs. MIA
4. Tampa Bay vs. IND
5. Washington @ STL
6. New York Giants @ ARI
7. Detroit @ DAL
8. Pittsburgh @ HOU
9. Minnesota @ KC
10. Baltimore vs. NYJ