We’ve now come to a dreaded (or celebrated, depending on your roster) moment in the schedule; the start of bye weeks. Of course, this stretch also elevates the importance of articles like this, as owners are now forced to scrounge for potential gems on the waiver wire junk heap to fill in for idling studs. So, if you are missing key starters from the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, or Atlanta Falcons, listen up!
Oh, and if you care about my track record, please check out my weekly self-evaluations on my personal fantasy football blog, Gridiron Meanderings.
Quarterback Dark Horses
David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars – Garrard has not done a whole lot in his first three weeks, but this should be the week all that changes. This is a game the Jaguars need to win to have any chance to keeping pace in the AFC South, and their success lies in how well they pass the ball. The Tennessee Titans can play the run (rank 2nd), but they have yet to show they can defend the pass (rank 29th in pass defense). All signs point to a big week for Garrard.
Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins – Campbell and the entire offense are getting crucified in the press for their horrid loss in Detroit, but they are lucky to have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to rebound against. Tampa has a poor passing defense (rank 21st), so Campbell should have a chance to finally get the team into the end zone this week. Some may argue Clinton Portis and the run game will have more success against the Buc’s 31st ranked run defense, but Jim Zorn needs to prove his passing attack can hold up in the red zone. Plus, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed seven passing touchdowns versus only two rushing.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers – On paper, Big Ben has a tough matchup against a good San Diego Chargers passing defense (ranked 8th), but Ben has a habit of looking good against the Chargers. For his career (including post-season), Ben averages 235 yards and a TD, and he wasn’t passing nearly as much back then. He should have to shoulder the load once again to win this game. Heck, he may even benefit on some deep balls if the running game shows some life, which is possible against the 26th ranked unit.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have struggled to remain consistent, and the offensive line is vulnerable to teams with good pass rushes. Elvis Dumervil has been on a(n) (un)holy tear of late against two decent lines, and he should continue to have success harassing Romo in Denver. Romo is looking at having a day similar to his nightmare against the New York Giants in week 2.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens – I like Flacco, and he’s progressing nicely in his second year, but the New England Patriots have actually held up well against the pass through three weeks. The last good passing defense he faced (San Diego) held him to 190 yards passing, and New England is a slightly better unit. That game was also his only road game thus far, and he is on the road up in New England. He should struggle again this week.
Mark Sanchez, New York Jets – Sanchez has performed as well as he has needed to, but that has not translated into great fantasy numbers. The New Orleans Saints have a solid defensive unit that should keep Sanchez in check. In fact, expect Sanchez to finally make a turnover or two against this very opportunistic unit.
Running Back Dark Horses
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers – Willie Parker is dealing with a painful case of turf toe, which should limit how much he can do this week. Mendenhall was publicly chastised for a poor week of practice last week, so he has a ton to prove this week. If there is a chance for this underperforming first-rounder to shine, this week is it. He’s worth considering as a flex play if you need help.
Tashard Choice, Dallas Cowboys – Currently, rumor has it that Marion Barber will be active, but Dallas will probably play it safe and have him split the load with Choice, especially with Felix Jones out the next couple weeks. Denver is not going to be an easy hurdle to clear, but Choice has taken advantage of every chance he’s had in his young career. He is the epitome of a dark horse.
Jamal Lewis/Jerome Harrison, Cleveland Browns – Lewis is questionable for Week Four, but looks likely to play this weekend. Willie Parker finally got it going against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, and my gut tells me Lewis, who is playing for his job now, will light it up. He will get some help with the Bengals having to now respect the deep ball of Derek Anderson, which opposing units did not have to worry about in the first three weeks against Brady Quinn. If Lewis sits, Harrison should find similar success in his place.
Running Back Non-starters
Thomas Jones, New York Jets – He’s been a major disappointment in the first three weeks, and it won’t get better against a good New Orleans Saints run defense (ranked 5th). Faster running backs like Fred Jackson have been more successful, which leads me to think Leon Washington will out-shine Jones once again this week.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay Packers – He’s been solid thus far, but the Minnesota Vikings run defense will be his toughest challenge of the season. He’s missing a lot of support on the offensive line, which will limit his usual success against the Vikings. If the Cincinnati Bengals can hold him to 46 yards rushing, so too can the Williams Wall.
Fred Taylor, New England Patriots – He showed us he still has a little left in the tank against the Atlanta Falcons, but just about anyone can run against that interior defense. There will be many an owner tempted to give him the nod this week, but they will be thoroughly disappointed with his efforts against the Baltimore Ravens. It will be the type of game in which Kevin Faulk should be the better option.
Wide Receiver Dark Horses
Torry Holt, Jacksonville Jaguars – Mike Sims-Walker is getting a lot of love after two solid weeks, but Holt has been seeing almost an equal number of looks. Tennessee will likely focus on the deep threat that is Sims-Walker, leaving Holt to work underneath.
Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings – He’s been MIA through three weeks, but it all changes this week. In case you have not been watching ESPN, it’s Brett Favre vs. Green Bay in Minnesota on Monday Night Football. Despite what Favre says, he wants to shine against his old team, which means Berrian will see more deep balls coming his way. Now is the time for frustrated owners to give him another chance.
Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos – I said not to expect much out of him until he proved he was back in the zone, but it looks like he’s back. Dallas has a miserable secondary that can even Kyle Orton can take apart. Marshall should find the end zone again as he abuses any and all of the Cowboys’ cornerbacks.
Wide Receiver Non-Starters
Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings – Everyone and their mother drools like Pavlov’s dog when they hear Harvin’s name, and so far he has lived up to the hype. However, he’s about to face the toughest secondary to-date of his young career, and the Packers’ 3-4 alignment may hinder any carries he might get. Owners should be cautious if they can afford to be.
Ted Ginn, Miami Dolphins – It’s uncertain what kind of rapport Chad Henne will have with Ginn, and this is not a good week for owners to gamble. Buffalo will still get pressure on the quarterback despite being banged up in the secondary, and Henne did not look Ginn’s way in Week Three. In fact, it looks like Davone Bess may be the real winner with the new quarterback. This is a case where everything on the surface favors starting Ginn, but at best Ginn should be your flex play if you really need to roll the dice.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks – Despite getting plenty of targets (nine every game), he’s produced what can only be politely described as disappointing numbers. In fact, based on targets, he’s really the number two wide receiver behind Nate Burleson. The Indianapolis Colts’ secondary has been surprisingly resilient and should limit Mr. Championship’s opportunities.
Tight End Dark Horses
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers – Miller continues to be an underrated tight end option, but is a major offensive weapon for the Steelers. He’s been targeted an average of six times every game, and he’s due for a score. In fact, after last week’s debacle in scoring, Ben Roethlisberger should go back to looking for Big Money in the red zone. The San Diego Chargers have given Zach Miller his only big game and allowed Todd Heap to score in Week Two – something tells me Miller should find the end zone in Week Four.
Anthony Fasano, Miami Dolphins – A young starting quarterback’s best friend is a pass catching tight end, and Fasano is exactly that. A depleted Buffalo Bills defense will still be getting pressure on Henne, so he will need to go to his hot read, which should be Fasano in many cases. He’s worthy of a start this week.
Kevin Boss, New York Giants – The Chiefs are terrible in coverage against opposing tight ends. Brent Celek and Todd Heap had monster games against them, and we can throw out Zach Miller’s bad day given how poorly JaMarcus Russell has been throwing the ball. Boss is due for a big game, and this has the look of being it.
Tight End Non-Starters
Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota Vikings – Shiancoe has yet to show owners anything close to what they expected when Brett Favre decided to un-retire for the second time. He’s targeted less than four times a game and has produced just six catches for 49 yards and a score. Not ground-breaking numbers. Barring Daniel Fells’ out-of-nowhere two score game, which we’ll consider a shoot-out mulligan, the Packers have defended the tight end position well. Shiancoe is a risky play until he sees more focus in the offense.
Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders – Miller receives plenty of looks in the offense, but his quarterback throws about as well as a drunken frat boy on a Saturday night. As good as this week’s match-up is against the Houston Texans, owners have to bench Miller until JaMarcus Russell proves he can complete passes.
Daniel Fells, St. Louis Rams – Don’t be fooled by his Week Three score-fest: the Rams will have a tough time passing this week against a solid San Francisco 49ers defense, and it’s highly unlikely Fells scores even once this week. Unless you’re very desperate, wise owners will wait to see how Kyle Boller operates in this offense before committing to an unknown quantity like Fells.