Week 4 Fantasy Football: Last-Minute Lineup Advice

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice
Sep 15 2013 Baltimore MD USA Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice 27 runs with ball as Cleveland Browns defensive back Buster Skrine 22 defends during the second half at MT Bank Stadium The Ravens won 14 6 Brad Mills USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell is expected to make his professional football debut in London on Sunday. He probably never imagined those words would be spoken. The day couldn’t have come sooner for the reeling Pittsburgh Steelers, who at 0-3 are 30th in the NFL in rushing. The offensive line is banged up, with center Maurkice Pouncey out for the season on injured reserve. The Vikings are only 21st against the run, and 28th in overall defense. It can be unwise to start an unproven player, especially a first-start rookie. But with all the uncertainty surrounding running backs around the league, there are certainly worse options today. Felix Jones deserves to be dropped in all formats.

Another player will be getting his first career game action in Week 4. Mike Glennon will be starting indefinitely for Tampa Bay. Quarterbacks obviously have a much steeper learning curve, so avoid starting Glennon at all costs. Unless you’re in a three-quarterback league and struck gold with Glennon, just about every other quarterback will be a better option this week. The good news is the Cardinals are 26th against the pass, but smother those hopes until they’re fully extinguished. There’s no need to consider any Buccaneers receiver either; Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson piled onto the bad news by both missing valuable practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

Ray Rice should start Sunday in Buffalo unless he has a setback in pre-game warmups (per Adam Schefter). John Harbaugh said, “We’ll know on Sunday. We’ve got our fingers crossed.” Buffalo’s 27th-ranked defense (and 30th against the run) will not do much to stop any rushing attack. The Ravens’ running backs have gotten off to a slow start (25th in rushing), but look for that to change today. Should Rice be held out, give Bernard Pierce the start as a high-end RB2.

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Ahmad Bradshaw was ruled out of Week 4’s game in Jacksonville with a neck injury. Talk about bad timing. This has all the makings of a trap game, but few expect anything outside of a complete Colts domination. Jacksonville ranks 32nd in the NFL in run stoppage. Seattle carried the ball for 156 yards last week – Marshawn Lynch earned 69 of those yards – and Oakland racked up 226 rushing yards in Week 3, including 157 yards of offense for Darren McFadden. Presuming Trent Richardson has picked up the playbook quickly enough, he should have his way with this team. He’s spent extra hours every day, learning the offense, and Indianapolis sure hopes it will pay off right away.

Rob Gronkowski was ruled out for Sunday night’s game in Atlanta. But the bigger news this week was that he and the Patriots can’t seem to agree on how healthy the oversized tight end is. New England originally determined the Gonk could return by Week 2, while the player has been targeting Week 6 since training camp. The rift doesn’t help their relationship, but it should have no bearing on your fantasy team. Whenever Gronkowski returns, he will immediately become a top three tight end option every week for the remainder of the season.

Danny Amendola is also out, and is not expected to return until Week 5. That leaves Julian Edelman to own the slot again. Through three weeks, Edelman remains the league-leader in receptions, and has dropped from second to seventh in targets. It’s a results-based game, and the only takeaway from that small change in targets is the incredible efficiency with which Edelman is operating. Edelman remains incredibly underrated in fantasy circles, and is deserving of a starting spot in all leagues.

C.J. Spiller is probable for Week 4’s match with the Ravens. If you like to watch running backs, this is the game of the week for you to watch. The Bills are currently the fifth best team in rushing. This will be a matchup of strength versus strength, as the Ravens are number four against the run. Fred Jackson may be the most capable backup running back in the NFL, recording 5.3 yards per carry for the season. In fact, although Jackson has only seen 32 carries to Spiller’s 43, the former is leading the team with 169 yards rushing. I’ve been saying it since December; the 2013 Bills may be the new Carolina backfield, with two immense talents preventing one another from holding much actual fantasy value.

Reggie Bush practiced this week, suggesting he may be ready to start against Chicago today. The Bears have a great defense again, and a better team than Detroit overall. Even with Bush at 100 percent, the Lions could be forced into passing to come from behind. There’s a reason Detroit’s offense is ranked number two in the air. Joique Bell would carry the load should Bush miss any or all of today’s action. Expect the starter’s primary value for today’s game to come from receiving out of the backfield. Give them an appropriate bump where PPR has value.

Andre Johnson and Roddy White will each start Sunday, though both could be limited with their respective injuries. DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones should receive more targets as a result.

Miles Austin was ruled out for Week 4’s game in San Diego. This should be a big passing game for both sides, and Romo always seems to make stars of his backup receivers. How many years have you heard of a third Dallas wide receiver who had a breakout year? Austin was one, as was Laurent Robinson. Terrence Williams should get the start in Austin’s place, but the electric Dwayne Harris will be in the shadows as well. If you’re desperate for a lottery pick at wide receiver this week, start one of Harris or Williams.

Malcom Floyd is still out for the Chargers, leaving Philip Rivers with his very short list of options. Vincent Brown is the most talented of the bunch, if you believe the hype. Eddie Royal has been doing great in the slot. Brown should be able to have a breakout year; all the stars have aligned perfectly for him. If he doesn’t start producing like a stud soon, he may be a never-will-be. Brown is a flex option today.

Arian Foster and Ben Tate face the incredible Seahawks defense at 1:00PM. Head coach Gary Kubiak has committed to a timeshare at running back, further rendering these two obsolete this week. If you have any other options today, go with them. If you own Foster, however, you’re probably stuck playing him somewhere in the lineup. Trade this guy already. What are you waiting for? Foster is going to become one of the cheapest and most controversial buy-low players after this game.

Steven Jackson is still out for the Falcons. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling filled in nicely last week, each averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Rodgers received 18 carries for 86 yards, while Snelling stepped in to see 11 rushes for 53. Snelling was out of the league briefly this offseason, but was later re-signed by Atlanta. He always did well as a substitute for Michael Turner, as a career 4.0 yards per carry runner with 15 all-purpose touchdowns. And at 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds, he seems a lot better equipped to handle a starter’s workload than the 5-foot-6 Rodgers. Snelling may be a sneaky sleeper over the next couple weeks as Jackson recovers. The Patriots are 24th against the run, and with as bad as their offense has looked, the Falcons could be running early and often. Give these two Falcons a shot for some good RB2 upside.

Stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.

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Dave Major
Senior Fantasy Analyst for @XNSports. While not wasting immeasurable time as a stand-up comic in New York, Dave Major can be found watching three football games at once and telling people how to live their fantasy lives. If you're out of ideas, use your one phone call on !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');