Looking ahead to Week Four of this NFL season has Fantasy team owners asking two questions: Is there anyone who can I keep and produce as a sole back in today's pass-heavy offenses? And, possibly more interesting than that -- what on Earth is going on with Defenses winning games single-handedly?
We'll tackle those questions in order, but first, a quick look at injured folks that could change your lineup options this week.
*C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF. The Bills' nominal starting back suffered what was first reported as a knee injury, but was clarified later in the week to be an injury to his quad. Coach Doug Marrone expects Spiller to be fine, and coaches tend to be vague on these issues when there is any doubt. Start him, but do so with caution.
*Terrelle Pryor, QB, OAK. Easily the best news out of Oakland in some time, Pryor's ascent to Fantasy usefulness has surprised many, and pleased the 12% that drafted him. His concussion at the end of the Monday Night game means he has one less day to get through the league's process to be medically cleared to play again, so there is an outside shot that Matt Flynn would be a necessary pick-up for Pryor owners. Of course, only owners of Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton should be too worried about Flynn's availability, since those two are on Bye Week, and Flynn should not have been owned by any sane owner before Pryor's injury.
*Vincent Jackson, WR, TB. V-Jax's rib injury will limit his usefulness against a strong Arizona secondary in Sunday's home matchup. While the injury doesn't look to be a long-term consideration, it could still inhibit his ability to run and breathe deep, as anyone who has taken a pop in the ribs will know full-well. Only start him if you have no other options.
*Andre Johnson, WR, HOU. The short version: If DeAndre Hopkins is available in your league, grab him immediately. Seriously. Minimize this window, click onto your league's website, drop your second kicker (no bye week excuse...just drop him) and add Hopkins. It's ok...I'll wait here.
(Waiting. Imagine hold music, or possibly an elevator music version of Justin Timberlake playing here.)
You back? Good. DeAndre Hopkins is averaging nine targets a week, and Johnson will play, but will be hindered a bit. Expect Johnson to see some action on shorter routes, and act as a decoy to get Hopkins free further up the field. Johnson will get 6 rec. for 80 yds., while Hopkins will get many more looks, even against a stout Seahawk secondary.
Grab 'Em and Start 'Em
The running back situation in the NFL has triggered Fantasy headaches for the last several years, but this year's emphasis on the short passing game has made the problem even more apparent. Even teams with elite backs (Houston, Washington, Minnesota) aren't getting strong production at the position, forcing Fantasy owners to look to the specialty backs for prominent roster positions.
SO...what does that mean for your team this week? If you don't have Shady McCoy, A.P. or any back with the initials D.M. (DeMarco Murray in DAL, Doug Martin in T.B.), find low-rated backs and play them by matchup.
This week's faves: Le'Veon Bell against MIN (in London, no less. Jet lag = running game), Daryl Richardson from the Rams, as the Niner D is missing both Aldon Smith and probably Patrick Willis, and Saints' RB Pierre Thomas, facing a Cameron Wake-less Dolphins' squad.
Other F.A. grabs to look for:
E.J. Manuel (QB, BUF) against Baltimore - think 250, 2 TD's, 50 yds rushing. Brian Hartline (WR, MIA) is averaging almost 10 targets a game, and has already surpassed his TD total for 2012. Bernard Pierce (RB, BAL) is the man this week, with Ray Rice out with an injury. Even facing a solid front seven in Buffalo, his position as the sole back should make him useful if DeAngelo Williams is normally in your lineup (Bye Week). If you don't have one of the five DEF that are racking up TD's every week, like Chicago and Kansas City are prone to, there is still hope. Go grab IND DEF quickly, before the rest of the teams in your league remember that they're playing the Jaguars.
Josh Freeman, QB, TB. He is not the starter any longer, due to an unspecified fallout with his coach and team. Expect him to be traded to a desperate team soon...or possibly waived.
Any CLE QB not named Brian Hoyer. The team signaled its plans to play for next year by trading RB Trent Richardson to IND last week, and they responded by going off through the air. Many CLE starters are solid plays, including TE Jordan Cameron and WR Josh Gordon, plus Hoyer's performance could be repeatable, although his O-line will have to work hard to keep the Bengals' defense from sacking him, locking him in the trunk and raiding his fridge this week.
Brandon Bolden, RB, NE. Normally, anyone likely to get the lion's share of carries would be someone to possibly pick up, but the Pats don't emphasize the run game when Steven Ridley isn't in. Bolden is slated for a lot of action, but history says this is set to be 15 carries for 38 yards.
Matchups to watch this week...
Chicago's offensive arsenal versus DET DEF. QB Jay Cutler seems to have found his stride early into the season, taking only three sacks so far. Expect WR Brandon Marshall and WR Alshon Jeffery to see plenty of attempts this week, as the Lion D will focus on locking up RB Matt Forte and trying to nail Cutler to the ground.
Falcons' offense versus NE DEF. The league leader in interceptions so far this season plays for New England. Seriously. Aqib Talib has 3 INT's in the bag, and Chandler Jones is providing pressure on the pocket. How ATL QB Matt Ryan responds to that pressure, along with which RB gets the carries (either Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling), will determine whether this game ends 34-30...or 34-10.
Blown Pick of the Week Gone By:
Each week, I'll quote myself from the week before, and where I totally blew it (supposing, of course, that I never turn in a perfect week. If I ever do, I promise to only gloat a little). From Week Three's Dump 'Em:
"RB Bilal Powell (NYJ) - 3.1 yards per carry against the fourth-ranked defense in the league against the run, with a sprinkling of Geno Smith under center equals a free agent-in-the-making for many leagues. If you're a Jets fan who wants to start a RB, bet on Chris Ivory vulturing red zone opportunity and at least splitting the remaining carries."
Actual results: Powell gets 27 carries, and runs for nearly 150 yards. Meanwhile, Chris Ivory took his four carries for a grand total of five yards. As always, these picks are guaranteed, or your money back. Ugh.
TEN QB Jake Locker is on the rise. His athleticism and arm strength have always been there, but film suggests his brain is catching up to his A-Plus physicality. Expect more good news from the Titans.
Rookie TB QB Mike Glennon has been named the starter, in Josh Freeman's odd purgatory-like absence. The slow-footed, big arm from N.C. State will be hung out like a dripping wet side of beef for the Cardinals' front four, who have already racked up 5 sacks and have a hungry Honey Badger breaking through in the secondary. Feel sad for fellow league members who are stuck with Bucs in prominent roles for the next few weeks.
If MIN RB Adrian Peterson doesn't register a big week against the Steelers defense in this week's home game, you may be able to pry him out of that owner's hands for a more reasonable price than should be there for an elite, untradeable back like he is. Peterson's stats have not been #1 overall pick-worthy, and another substandard week may make owners edgy. If so, swoop. Barring injury, Peterson is set to go off with a favorable schedule once his team returns from London. Giving up decent players to get a truly top-shelf star is always a good idea. Whenever a three-for-one trade goes down, bet on the team getting the 'one' winning the deal.
Good luck, and good scoring.
By Bill Hudson @nosduhllib