Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 4

After a slow start to the season against tough defenses, Eddie Lacy finally has a favorable matchup in Week 4.

I've always laughed at the fantasy owners who complain about bye weeks. It's as if no other team is suffering through them as well - only their team is decimated.

I think bye week complainers are the same people who whine about airport security, or criticize the world for the existence of Mondays because "Mondays suck." Meanwhile, we're all taking off our shoes before we hop on an airplane and, whether you want to believe it or not, we all experience Mondays. All of us.

I'm sure people who hate bye weeks like Nickelback, too.

The fact is, we're all going through this difficult time in the fantasy football season. And to be honest, I like it. This is my favorite time of year. It's when fantasy owners start showing off their depth, and it's when lineup decisions become even more crucial.

That means these start/sit columns are even more important. Here's to not screwing up your team in Week 4.


Start Ben Roethlisberger - The Steeler offense really got things moving against Carolina on Sunday night, and Ben Roethlisberger increased his season-long Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) total by four points as a result. Not bad considering Carolina's pass defense is fourth-best when adjusted for strength of schedule according to our metrics.

This week, Big Ben and the Steelers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are giving up nearly half an expected point below expectation on each passing play. That's worst in the league, and about 0.20 points lower than the 31st-ranked Rams.

The Steelers have been effective running the ball this year - second-best in the leaugue behind only Seattle - but Ben should have no trouble scoring fantasy points this week with his arm.

Sit Geno Smith - Through three weeks, Geno Smith ranks as the 16th-best fantasy quarterback, scoring an average of 15 points per game. In 2013, his Week 4 matchup agains the Lions would've been a great one, and I definitely would've touted him as a good streaming option for the week.

But this is 2014, and the Lions defense is performing well above expectation, ranking second in the league according to our metrics behind only the Patriots. Both their rush and pass defense is in the top seven, which makes sense considering how well they played against Green Bay this past week.

Though Geno's Passing Net Expected Points total is improved from last season, this isn't a week to start him, despite the Jets playing at home.

Start Teddy Bridgewater - Welcome to the Teddy Bridgewater era, ladies and gentlemen.

The Vikings' rookie quarterback gets the first start of his career this weekend, and fortunately for fantasy owners, it's against a secondary that's generally been lacking over the last year-plus. Yes, Atlanta looked fantastic at home against Tampa Bay this past week, but they were the worst pass defense by far a season ago, and have still allowed a touchdown pass in each of their first three contests.

If this game was in Atlanta, I'd be scared about Teddy. But it's in Minnesota, and Bridgewater brings the rushing element to his game that gives him a nice weekly floor in fantasy. With relatively decent weapons for him to throw to, we can expect Bridgewater to be a nice QB2 this week, and a good option for teams needing a bye week filler or quarterback streaming option.

Sit Cam Newton - A Cam Newton who sits in the pocket and isn't a red-zone threat with his legs is not a Cam Newton that you want in your fantasy lineup.

He hasn't been atrocious through two games - a 9.76 Passing NEP, which is 18th-best in the league - but Cam's rushed for just 26 yards, throwing only two touchdown passes. He'll travel to Baltimore this week and face a Ravens secondary that's allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, despite ranking in the lower third against the pass in terms of NEP.

There are injuries all across the Panthers offense, and the running game should continue to struggle this week. If you have another option - like Ben Roethlisberger - I'd look that way this week.

Other Players to Start: Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford
Other Players to Sit: Joe Flacco, Alex Smith

Running Back

Start Eddie Lacy - Eddie Lacy's gotten off to a really slow start, but there's a pretty good reason for it. He's faced the Seahawks (fifth against the run according to NEP), Jets (eighth) and Lions (second). Last season, each of those teams ranked in the top eight in terms of Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points as well, so it's very obvious that their run-stopping ability is legitimate.

He finally gets a favorable matchup against Chicago, a team ranking 19th against the run according to our metrics, and one that was dead last - by far - a season ago. Expect Fat Eddie to eat this week, getting right back on track.

Sit Joique Bell - I got this one dead wrong last week, as I expected Joique Bell to run all over a Packers defense that couldn't stop a thing through two weeks of the season. This week, Bell gets a Jets defense that, as noted with Lacy, is one of the best at stopping running backs. In fact, so far to date, no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing backs. And that includes Matt Forte, too.

Many teams are flexing Joique Bell (not putting him in a starting running back spot), and if you're fortunate enough to have a decent running back option this week, he probably has a better outlook than the Lions' runner.

Start Lamar Miller - With Knowshon Moreno sidelined, Lamar Miller has a lot of opportunity to shine. And as I mentioned in my 15 Transactions article last week, the Dolphins upcoming schedule is a cakewalk, which means Miller could actually produce really solid fantasy totals. He did that last week, rushing for over 100 yards on 15 carries.

Oakland's defense - his Week 4 opponent - has been pretty bad against the run, ranking 18th according to our advanced metrics and 24th in fantasy points against. Given Miller's probable workload, he should be in for another solid day.

Sit Chris Johnson - Remember when I talked about how Chris Johnson wasn't even average? Yeah, well, that's showing so far in 2014.

Behind the same offensive line in the same situation, Johnson has a Rushing NEP score that's almost 10 points lower than Chris Ivory this year. On a per touch basis, Johnson is losing 0.10 points for the Jets, while Ivory is adding 0.19. And in the passing game, no running back has a lower Target Net Expected Points total so far this year than Chris Johnson.

In Week 4, he'll face a Lions front that, as noted earlier, ranks second against the run this year. Chris Johnson is barely worthwhile to start in a regular matchup, let alone one that is completely unattractive.

Start Donald Brown - With both Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews sidelined, Donald Brown becomes the de facto number-one guy in San Diego, and that's huge for fantasy owners.

The Chargers continue to be one of the more run-heavy teams in the league (fourth-lowest pass-to-run ratio through three weeks), and we saw this last week, as Brown received 31 carries.

Against a Jacksonville team that's allowed the most fantasy points to running backs this year, and in a game that has the Chargers favored by 13 points, Donald Brown is the perfect start in Week 4. Even if he's inefficient, his volume will let him do big things in fantasy.

Other Players to Start: Matt Asiata, Khiry Robinson
Other Players to Sit: Toby Gerhart, Darren McFadden

Wide Receiver

Start Brandin Cooks - When you look at the number of points the Cowboys have allowed to wide receivers this year (they rank eighth), you may be turned off by Cooks' Week 4 potential. But this is why Net Expected Points exists - the Cowboys secondary is not good.

In fact, so far this season on a per play basis, only four teams have a worse Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP than the Cowboys. They're a good matchup, even if fantasy points against data doesn't show that.

Enter Cooks, who should continue to benefit playing in numberFire's top-rated offense. He has two games with seven or more receptions, and has played more snaps than any other Saints wide receiver this season. Given the high over/under of this game, you should expect Cooks to be a top-rated wideout in Week 4.

Sit Kelvin Benjamin - Fantasy owners were happy to see a garbage time touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin in Week 3, but his outlook doesn't look bright in Week 4. The Ravens secondary, as noted with Cam above, has been average this year, but cornerback Jimmy Smith could be covering Benjamin all day, and that could be trouble. Don't be afraid to sit him for someone like Brandin Cooks, who's noted above.

Start Markus Wheaton - This is a little bit of a deeper play, but Markus Wheaton isn't a bad bye week fill-in for your fantasy teams. He's averaging five catches per game, and while he hasn't found the end zone, he has an opportunity to do so against a team that's allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers, and is by far the worst secondary according to our metrics.

Wheaton's been more efficient than most number-two wideouts are in Todd Haley's offense, ranking 18th out of 61 wide receivers in Reception NEP per target so far this season. The Steelers are heavy favorites in this one, and should have no trouble throwing the ball on the Bucs at home.

Sit Dwayne Bowe - I could probably copy and paste this "sit" each week, as Bowe continues to disappoint during the Alex Smith era in Kansas City. Through two games (remember, he was suspended in Week 1), Bowe has seen 11 targets, catching 6 of them for 72 yards. Over this two-game stretch, Bowe has just 17% of the team's receiving yards.

The Chiefs face Darrelle Revis and the best secondary in the league this week, and Revis could easily shadow Bowe. Don't start him.

Start Michael Crabtree - This is a pretty obvious start after catching 17 passes over his last two games, but Crabtree has a beautiful matchup against the Eagles this week. Philly's allowed the second-most fantasy points to wideouts this year, and rank in the bottom half of our pass defense efficiency rankings. Crabtree wasn't 100 percent in Week 1, but even with a two-reception performance, he ranks as the 13th-best receiver from a Net Expected Points standpoint.

Other Players to Start: Greg Jennings, Golden Tate
Other Players to Sit: Torrey Smith, Riley Cooper

Tight End

Start Antonio Gates - Ladarius Green was involved last week against Buffalo, catching more passes for more yards than Antonio Gates. But even with his one target to Green's five, Gates is the superior play given the way Weeks 1 and 2 went.

The Chargers face the Jaguars in Week 4, a team that's allowed a tight end touchdown in each of their first three games, including two last week to Indianapolis. Expect Gates to bounce back nicely.

Sit Jason Witten - It's just tough to trust Jason Witten right now, but he's still being started in over 92 percent of leagues. Considering his TE26 status, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Among the 27 tight ends with 10 or more targets this year, Witten ranks 20th in Reception NEP per target. There are eight players ahead of him within the efficiency metric who can be found on many league waiver wires, including Travis Kelce and Owen Daniels.

Witten is getting enough volume, but he's not doing enough with it. His matchup isn't terrible this week, but it's generally difficult to trust a guy who's been so inefficient to start the year.

Start Owen Daniels - The season-ending hip injury to Dennis Pitta is sad news, but the show must go on. And fortunately for fantasy owners and the Baltimore Ravens, things could be worse.

Owen Daniels was always a borderline TE1 in Houston, and he'll now be gobbling up a lot of the tight end looks in Baltimore with Pitta out of the picture. Through three games - including a pass-heavy Week 1 where quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball 62 times - Pitta saw 22 targets to Daniels' 11.

Daniels has been solid so far this year, ranking fifth out of the 19 tight ends with 10 or more catches in Reception NEP per target. Much of that has to do with the fact that Daniels has caught 10 of 11 passes thrown his way.

Daniels was able to produce TE1 numbers against Pittsburgh in Week 2, and with an increased workload, he's not a terrible option against Carolina this week. The matchup could be better, but Daniels should see volume.

Start Garrett Graham - I'm thinking positively here, so rather than giving you another sit, I figured I'd add another tight end streamer to the list this week. Don't overlook Garrett Graham, who caught five passes last week in a game that finally wasn't in Houston's favor - the team had to throw the ball a little more.

Though the Texans are three-point favorites against Buffalo this week, the Bills are a middle-of-the-road team at defending tight ends, allowing an average of seven receptions to the position in each game this year. Graham, in a tight-end friendly offense, could be a good guy to add given the injuries to the position this week.

Other Players to Start: Travis Kelce, Niles Paul
Other Players to Sit: Charles Clay, Coby Fleener


Start the San Diego Chargers - In Week 1, the Eagles sacked Jaguars' quarterback Chad Henne three times, recovered a fumble and scored a defensive touchdown. In Week 2, the Redskins sacked Henne 10 times, picked him off once and scored 18 fantasy points. And last week, the Colts had four sacks against the Jags to go along with three forced turnovers and a touchdown.

Sensing a theme? No matter how good or bad a defense is, you start them against the Jaguars. That's San Diego this week.

Sit the San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers defense hasn't been as strong as year's past, and now ranks 24th according to our schedule-adjusted metrics. Meanwhile, their Week 4 opponent, Philadelphia, has put together the seventh-best offense in the league thus far. With an over/under that's greater than 50, there's no reason to roll with the 49ers defense in your fantasy lineup this week.

Other Defenses to Start: Detroit, Pittsburgh
Other Defenses to Sit: Tampa Bay, Philadelphia