Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
By Week 4, fantasy owners start to identify their every-week anchors, their biggest lineup questions and which defenses present the best and worst matchups for their chess pieces. Will your players be pawns or royalty?
QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: As questions about his arm strength grow louder, Manning steps into one of the best fantasy matchups for quarterbacks. The Oakland Raiders have yielded 271.7 yards and 2.0 scores per game to passers. No. 18 won't have much of a running game if Willis McGahee (ribs) sits and would instead lean on his cavalcade of receiving options.
RB Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers: The New Orleans Saints have allowed the most standard-scoring points per game to running backs (31.7) over the first three weeks. In Week 2, Green Bay leaned on Benson (20 carries, four catches, 116 total yards) against the Chicago Bears. With their pass blocking under mass scrutiny, the Pack should use this opportunity to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers and slow down another high-octane offense.
WR Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots: Immune to the target carousel involving Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and Julian Edelman (hand), Lloyd has been targeted at least eight times in each game, including 25 over his last two contests. Lloyd has 22 grabs and is improving his chemistry with Tom Brady in Josh McDaniels' system, Lloyd's comfort zone. The Buffalo Bills (28.3 standard points allowed to wideouts per game) won't contain him.
WR Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: Expect Smith's emotional Week 3 ride (six catches, 127 yards, two touchdowns) to continue against a defensive backfield once again without the suspended Joe Haden, who contained Smith last year. The Browns' secondary looks like a practice squad without its star.
Arizona Cardinals defense/special teams: Coordinator Ray Horton's unit has been much more aggressive this year, with 12 sacks tying them for second in the NFL. The Miami Dolphins might be without playmaker Reggie Bush (knee), and if so, would be ripe for the picking.
QB Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: Romo's yardage has been solid (no less than 251 in his three games), but he boasts only one aerial score since the opener and was sacked four times last week. His offensive line has betrayed him, and that should continue against the Bears, who lead the league with 14 sacks.
QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Probably an easy recommendation following his three-interception performance last Thursday night, but Carolina is reportedly concerned about the mental flaws that are surfacing during Newton's sophomore slump. Let him work through his issues on your bench against a potent Atlanta Falcons wall.
RB Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions: In his first NFL action, Leshoure logged 30 touches against a porous Tennessee Titans front. Don't count on such a workload vs. the Minnesota Vikings, who remain stout against between-the-tackles types. Kevin Smith and Joique Bell should mix in more often as Detroit attacks the Vikes frequently through the air.
RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams: Coming off a groin-hampered Week 3 and continuing to lose touches to Daryl Richardson, Jackson can't be counted on to bounce back immediately, especially not when facing the Seattle Seahawks' run-stuffers. It'll be a slow day for St. Louis' offense. (If there's a Jackson owner looking to trade him, though, put in a call.)
TE Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots: New England's shaky front five forced Gronk to stay in to block more often Sunday night against the Ravens' strong pass rush. Reminder: Bill Belichick doesn't care about your fantasy squad as he makes his weekly game plans. New England may focus on snuffing out the Buffalo Bills' Mario Williams, so Gronk, though hard to bench, looks like he'll underwhelm again.
RB Ben Tate, Houston Texans: Employing Tate is typically a crapshoot because his involvement depends on game flow. See his 74-yard, two-touchdown Week 2 and the 32 combined rushing yards in his other two affairs. But Houston should control the clock against the Titans, whose run D has been one of the worst all year. Tate could see 15 touches, a perfect bye week fix.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons: Complementary backs have tormented the Panthers, who have allowed 214.0 yards per game to enemy carriers. Rodgers, of course, is becoming more than just a side piece; Michael Turner isn't as busy because of his slowing giddy-up and Atlanta's transition to a high-paced vertical scheme. Rodgers owners should love the Panthers' average of 10.67 catches per contest by running backs.
RB Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers: The New York Jets have allowed 173.7 offensive yards to running backs per game. San Fran will continue conserving Frank Gore. Quick backs have haunted New York this year (C.J. Spiller, Reggie Bush before his injury), and Hunter fits that bill as an intriguing flex play.
WR Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins: With several lineup staples on bye, Hankerson makes for a useful rental. He caught four of his seven Week 3 targets and has registered 56-plus receiving yards in each of the last two games while also nabbing a 68-yard touchdown in Week 2. Pierre Garcon (foot) is uncertain for Week 4, which would open up Hankerson for another solid workload, this time against a favorable Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.
TE Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars: Lewis might be sent out on routes more this week with wideout Laurent Robinson (concussion) still a bit woozy. The Cincinnati Bengals present a prime opportunity for Lewis; their messy pass coverage has let opposing tight ends top 90 receiving yards in two of their three games.
by Tim Heaney