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It’s certainly been a wacky 2018 NFL season. Ryan Fitzpatrick is setting NFL records, Adrian Peterson is a high-level running back again, and the Cleveland Browns have a better record than the New England Patriots.
The madness has carried over into the fantasy football world. That Browns defense is a must-start, Tom Brady has been bench-worthy, and Seahawks rookie tight end Will Dissly has outscored Patriots superstar Rob Gronkowski. Where can you hope to put your trust in Week 4? Well, we’re here to help with that.
We’ll be looking at some of the toughest Week 4 matchups and deciding whether players are worth the start by analyzing factors like opponent, early-season performances and player health.
We’ll be making our choices based on point-per-reception (PPR) scoring formats. All rankings and fantasy statistics via FantasyPros.
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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco isn’t a fantasy must-start, but he can be a valuable streaming option with the right matchup. Last week, he had a modest 277 yards and one touchdown, but the week before, he racked up 376 yards with two touchdowns. Of course, Flacco also had two interceptions in that game and has one fumble in each contest this season, which is why he’s a streamer and not a weekly starter.
With both Alex Smith and Cam Newton on bye this week, a streamer may be what you’re looking for. So the question is if you can trust Flacco against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
The answer is yes. This game is going to be physical, and Flacco is likely to turn the ball over a time or two. However, the Steelers secondary is a disaster, and Pittsburgh’s defense has been particularly bad in the second half.
The Steelers have been outscored 59-30 after halftime this season. Given the potency of Pittsburgh’s offense (29.3 points per game), it’s unlikely the Ravens will be simply nursing a lead in the second half. It’s much more probable that Flacco will be slinging the ball all four quarters.
Projection: 343 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, one fumble
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You might be tempted to look at Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr as another streaming possibility. He has passed for at least 280 yards each week this season, is coming off a 345-yard outing and is playing at home for the first time since Week 1.
However, Carr is a major risk this week. While he has racked up yardage this season, he’s also tossed five interceptions against two touchdowns. He’s also going up against that tough Cleveland Browns defense.
Cleveland has actually allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks—an average of just 9.8 per week. Considering two of the three quarterbacks the Browns have faced so far are Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, that’s pretty impressive.
The Raiders average just 17.3 points per game, while the Browns have scored 20.0 per game, so this isn’t likely to be the kind of shootout that adds to Carr’s value either.
Projection: 255 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, one fumble
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If you were smart enough to stash Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard as a handcuff to Joe Mixon—or if you snaked him outright—and had him in the starting lineup last week, you were rewarded with 61 rushing yards, 25 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Bernard should get the start against the Atlanta Falcons while Mixon continues to recover from his knee procedure, but the sixth-year back was also limited this week with a thigh injury. Can you count on Bernard to be a quality starter for a second consecutive game? We believe so.
The reality is that the Bengals don’t have a ton of other options they’re willing to lean on. Mixon and Bernard are the only running backs who have received carries through three weeks, and Bernard will be going up against a Falcons defense that has allowed 5.2 yards per carry.
Cincinnati should be looking to run the ball early and often to keep Atlanta’s potent offense off the field, but Bernard is also a very capable receiving back if Cincinnati does find itself in catch-up mode.
Projection: 85 yards rushing, five receptions, 30 yards receiving
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Injury led to opportunity for Bernard, and it’s done the same for San Francisco 49ers running back Alfred Morris. With Jerick McKinnon out for the year, Morris and Matt Breida have led San Francisco’s backfield.
Now, Breida has been limited in practice, according to Cam Inman of the Mercury News. Coming off a 67-yard, one-touchdown day, Morris might look like an attractive spot starter or flex option.
Don’t trust him.
Morris is certainly a serviceable pro back, but last week was his only notable game of the season, and it came against a terrible Kansas City Chiefs defense. He’ll be facing a better Los Angeles Chargers defense on Sunday, and he’ll be doing so without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo under center.
With Garoppolo done for the season, opposing defenses are going to dare the 49ers to beat them through the air. Expect the Chargers to clamp down on Morris, even if he does see the bulk of the carries.
Projection: 50 yards rushing
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New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard makes for a tough lineup decision primarily because it’s difficult to predict which version of quarterback Eli Manning we’re going to get. Manning struggled to find Shepard for big plays over the first two weeks of the season—eight receptions for 72 yards combined—but then the two went off for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Houston Texans last week.
There’s also the fact that Shepard is, at best, the third option in the passing game behind Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Saquon Barkley. He’s also sharing targets with tight end Evan Engram.
Well, there should be plenty of targets to go around this week when the New Orleans Saints come to town. New Orleans is surrendering the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers by a significant margin. While that stat is a product of the Saints dealing with both the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiving corps so far this season, it isn’t the only reason to trust Shepard.
The Saints are averaging 34.7 points per game in 2018, second-most in the NFL. There’s a very good chance that Manning and Co. will be airing it out just to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Projection: Five receptions, 88 yards, one touchdown
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New York Jets wideout Robby Anderson was a surprise fantasy standout last season, racking up 941 yards and seven touchdowns. While he did have a 41-yard touchdown reception in Week 1, he’s largely become a minor piece of the team’s passing attack since then.
Anderson has been left frustrated.
“I just want to pick up from last year,” he said, per Darryl Slater of NJ Advance Media. “I feel like I’ve proven. I’ve showed what I can do. I just want to do it.”
So is this the week Anderson turns it around?
The Jets are traveling to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been particularly stingy against opposing wide receivers—only two teams have allowed fewer fantasy points against the position. While rookie quarterback Sam Darnold isn’t going to be intimidated by Jacksonville’s vaunted defense, he’s also been more of a short-to-intermediate passer as a pro, which doesn’t highlight Anderson’s skill set.
Projection: Three receptions, 38 yards
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Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin has been out since suffering an MCL injury in Week 1, but he returned to practice this week.
“It’s a great step and jump for him to make,” head coach Pete Carroll said, per Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.
While Baldwin has been out, fellow receiver Tyler Lockett has emerged as a reliable fantasy option, scoring at least one touchdown in each game. However, Baldwin is nearing his return, and the Seahawks are going up against the division rival Arizona Cardinals.
While the Cardinals have struggled, they’ve also allowed the seventh-fewest points to opposing wide receivers.
We’d suggest sticking with Locket for at least another week, though, even if Baldwin does return. The Seahawks have struggled to run the ball—no back has averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry—and it’s likely that Russell Wilson will again be moving the offense through the air.
Projection: Five receptions, 67 yards, one touchdown
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While Lockett has been getting looks this season, Dallas Cowboys receiver Allen Hurns (four receptions, 51 yards) has not. He was signed to be a big part of the Cowboys receiving corps, and he’s frustrated with his lack of targets.
“I don’t do nothing,” Hurns said, per Calvin Watkins of The Athletic. “Hopefully they see it on film.”
Perhaps the Cowboys will see that Hurns has been underutilized, but what they won’t see on film is an aggressive passing attack. Dak Prescott has yet to top 170 yards passing in a game this season, and he’s thrown a mere two touchdown passes.
While we do believe Prescott will have some better games this season, it probably won’t come against the Detroit Lions, who have the league’s No. 1 pass defense right now (152.0 yards per game allowed). They made Tom Brady look pedestrian a week ago, and they’re likely to do the same to Prescott.
Hurns’ breakout game as a Cowboy will have to wait.
Projection: Three receptions, 48 yards
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Browns tight end David Njoku has been a fantasy disappointment to this point in the season. Through three games, he has just nine receptions and 69 yards. He has yet to score a touchdown. On Sunday, he’ll be on the road with a rookie quarterback who is making his first ever start.
The situation doesn’t sound ideal, but this could be the week Njoku finally breaks out.
Part of the reason he has underwhelmed has been the timid passing of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Baker Mayfield was a much more aggressive passer in his two-plus quarters of action against the Jets last week—and he got Njoku more involved in the passing game.
Mayfield and Njoku connected for two catches and 36 yards. If we project that over an entire four quarters, we get a respectable tight end stat line of four receptions and 72 yards. Plus, with this being Mayfield’s first start, Njoku could be even more involved as a security blanket.
Projection: Five receptions, 75 yards, one touchdown
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The Tennessee Titans defense has been a solid unit, both in real life and in fantasy. It has allowed an average of just 16.7 points per game and ranks in the top 10 in defensive fantasy scoring. However, Tennessee is far from a must-start in Week 4.
The Titans will be hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, who will have Carson Wentz for the second consecutive week and recently got wideout Alshon Jeffery back at practice.
“We’re hoping he’ll be good to go, Wentz said of Jeffery, per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Tennessee, meanwhile, has issues at quarterback that could hamstring its offense. Blaine Gabbert (concussion) and Marcus Mariota (elbow) are both injured, and the team recently added Austin Davis to fill in at signal-caller. Against Philadelphia’s championship-caliber defense, that could lead to a lot of short drives, turnovers and Eagles’ scoring opportunities.
Plus, unless your league has a very nuanced scoring system, opposing defensive scores will count against your defense and special teams.
Projection: 28 points allowed, two sacks, one interception