We've made it through a quarter of the NFL season and you should be starting to have an idea of what players you can depend on and which ones you can't as we continue on through the fantasy season. I recently fleshed out one question for each team in the NFL, separated by conference (you can find each one here: AFC and NFC). Some of those involved some of the biggest disappointments of the season so far, as well as some of the biggest surprises, as you should definitely be getting a feeling about what each player's value is going to be going forward. Now, that doesn't mean some guys' situation can't change at some point, it just means that you need to have an idea of what each player can give you, as well as what they can't.
As you know, I'll go over some of the best overall games for all fantasy players involved here. This just means that I like the situation for both sides and just because I leave out a high flying offense (like the Falcons, for example) doesn't mean that I don't like their players this week, it just means I don't like the other team in that match-up. Just because I don't have St. Louis vs. Green Bay listed here, doesn't mean I wouldn't start Aaron Rodgers here. This is all about how many usable fantasy players I think there will be in each game. Let's get to the games!
Chicago Bears @ Kansas City Chiefs - Oct. 11, 1:00 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 45
Overview: The Bears have to be hoping WR Alshon Jeffery gets back in time for this game, as the Chiefs 28th in the league in pass defense and dead last in fantasy points allowed per game to both opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks. They're slightly better against the run -- middle of the pack at 16th -- but have still given up the 10th most fantasy points to running backs. The Bears are much better in the passing yardage department -- they're ranked 6th in passing yards allowed -- but they've given up 10 passing TDs, tied for second most behind, you guessed it, the Chiefs, who have allowed 11. They're also terrible against wide receivers, where they've allowed the 7th most fantasy points. Strangely, the Bears are ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, but have given up the 11th least amount of points to RBs. Expect that to change. The only area where both teams appear to be solid is against tight ends, where the Chiefs are 5th in fantasy points allowed and the Bears are 10th, and you're likely starting both of those guys anyway.
Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler returned last week to lead the Bears in a come from behind victory against the Raiders. He threw 43 passes and completed 65% of them for 281 yards and 2 TDs (to go along with 1 INT). If Chicago can somehow get Alshon Jeffery back onto the field this week, he'd give Cutler the chance for a huge game against the Chiefs' swiss-cheese like secondary. Either way, you can feel confident in Cutler as a bye-week fill or injury replacement this week, as he's in the Top 10-12 range.
As I've mentioned twice already, the Bears really need Jeffery back to have a legitimate receiving weapon besides TE Martellus Bennett. Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson are fine role players, but neither guy has the ability that Jeffery does. If he plays this week, he should be an automatic start and should put up WR1 numbers. Speaking of Royal and Wilson, if you're looking for a deep league or DFS tournament play, they're good guys to take a shot on. Royal had a nice Week 4 with 7 catches for 54 yards and 1 TD, but he's also questionable for Sunday after missing practice on Thursday. Just keep an eye on it. TE Martellus Bennett is basically a must-start guy if you own him and although Kansas City has been decent against TEs, you're not worried about Cutler avoiding him.
Matt Forte is tied at #4 in fantasy points scored in standard leagues so far this season and has the most rushing attempts in the league at 84, as well as 20 targets in the receiving game. I don't need to tell you to start Forte, but...start Forte.
Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith is actually 6th in the NFL in passing yards through four games, he just hasn't been able to get many touchdowns, as he has only 4. Something has to give here against a weak Bears pass defense, especially in the passing touchdown department. I have Smith in the same range as Cutler at QB this week and you can start him with confidence if you need a replacement.
WR Jeremy Maclin has gone off in two straight games for 19 catches on 24 targets for 289 yards and 1 TD and I don't see the the Bears' secondary slowing him down. You're ignoring any other receivers from Kansas City, but TE Travis Kelce is another guy you have to start every week. Again, the Bears aren't scaring me here, despite their decent ranking against tight ends.
Jamaal Charles is one of the premier running backs in football and is someone you never bench, regardless of match-up. The only reason the Bears have allowed the 11th least amount of fantasy points this season is because opposing RBs only have 2 rushing TDs and 3 total. Don't be worried about this game if you're a Charles owner.
New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles - Oct. 11, 1:00 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 49
Overview: Yeah, I know. This game definitely feels like a trap. There always seems to be one game that looks like it's going to be a shootout that ends up just being terrible. Whatever, I'm trying the reverse-jinx here! The Saints have been bad against opposing QBs this year and have allowed the second most fantasy ppg. They're also only 1 of 3 teams to not yet have an interception on defense, along with the Redskins and...the Seahawks? Weird, right? Anyway, New Orleans is actually 9th in fantasy ppg allowed to WRs, which can only mean one thing: they are terrible against tight ends. They're ranked 30th in that category, behind only the Raiders and Giants. They've also been decent against RBs at 13th in fantasy ppg, I just don't actually believe the defense is any good. The Eagles have been great against both RBs and TEs and are in the Top-5 for both of those categories. They're middle of the pack against QBs and the one area where they've been torched is WR, where they're giving up the 6th most fantasy ppg
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees didn't look completely healthy after missing one game with an injury to his throwing shoulder. I don't think this is something that is going to go away quickly, but you have to assume that even 50% of Brees is better than 100% of a backup. A lot of points are expected in this game and if that's going to be the case, Brees will have to put up some numbers. He's still completing 68.5% of his passes, the problem is he's only got 4 TDs so far. With Jimmy Graham gone, the Saints might just continue to run the ball in the red-zone and take away from Brees' touchdown numbers. People were expecting more long TDs to guys like Brandin Cooks, but that connection just hasn't come to fruition. Hopefully Brees can get it together, but in the meantime, he's still a starting QB.
The receiving options in New Orleans have left something to be desired, as Brandin Cooks has not carried over the momentum he built in the preseason. The expectation for Cooks was a ton of targets and some big plays mixed in, but the big plays just haven't been there. Cooks is hard to start as a WR2 right now, but some owners may be in a bind and have to use him as such. Otherwise, he's a good bet as a WR3 or flex. The other options here are Marques Colston, Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead, all of which should really be ignored as starters in standard leagues. Snead might actually be the most interesting, as he's come on in the past three games with at least 6 targets in each. Again, you shouldn't be starting him, but he's a shot in the dark in DFS. The tight ends have been all but invisible, although Josh Hill did manage to catch a 3 yard TD last week. Ignore both him and Benjamin Watson.
Mark Ingram has managed to be a solid fantasy play each and every week, despite the instability of the rest of the offense around him, and has scored 11, 11, 15 and 12 fantasy points in Weeks 1-4. Despite the fact that the Eagles haven't given up much to opposing RBs, I think you can start Ingram with some confident that he's going to get you something. Not that you're using him or anything, but I just have to say something about how annoying it is for Ingram owners to have Khiry Robinson steal touches from him, especially goal-line touches. Robinson is a good player and the Saints like him, but this is the kind of thing that somewhat limits Ingram's fantasy value. C.J. Spiller actually made a big splash last week with 5 catches for 99 yards, but basically all of it came on his 80-yard TD catch in overtime to win the game. The Saints should find a way to get Spiller a few more touches, but at this point, he's really only interesting as a flex in PPR leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Bradford hasn't been what we expected this year, at least not yet. He's only completing about 61% of his passes and is only averaging 6.5 yards per pass attempt (ypa), which is lower than Alex Smith...by over a yard (7.8 ypa)! He also hasn't really gotten the ball to anyone other than Jordan Matthews on a regular basis and should probably get rookie Nelson Agholor involved more, as he is likely their most dangerous big play threat. Bradford should be a starter this week, but I'd only be cautiously optimistic.
The aforementioned Matthews has been a target magnet with 38 through four games. He's dropped more passes than you'd like to see and he's been robbed of a few TDs from bad calls and penalties, but I can't imagine Bradford or Chip Kelly going away from him. He's a solid WR2 in this game and most other weeks. Agholor hasn't shown much yet, but that really isn't his fault, as his number of targets has been minimal. Hopefully he'll be able to build on Week 4, when he caught 3 of his 4 targets for 64 yards. It's hard to play him in anything other than DFS tournament lineups if you wanna take a shot. I think I'm just done with Zach Ertz. He has the tools and physical traits to be a great receiving tight end, but whether it's Chip Kelly, the offense in general or Ertz himself, he's just not getting it done. He shouldn't even be owned right now.
The running game in Philly has been one of the strangest situations in both real-life and fantasy football this season. It's well know that Chip Kelly wants to run the football and that the Eagles have been a great running team since he took over as head coach. But last year's leader in rushing yards, DeMarco Murray, has been unable to get literally anything going in the three games he has played in. Murray is averaging 1.6 yards per carry...yes, you read that correctly. Is it possible that you can't imagine both starting or benching a player at the same time? Apparently it is. I don't know what to tell Murray owners, other than you have to ride it out and see where it goes. Ryan Mathews has been the most effective every-down type back and had a nice game in Week 3 when Murray was out (24 carries for 108 yards). Last week, Murray got 8 carries, Mathews had 5 and 3rd down back extraordinaire Darren Sproles had 4. What do you even do with that? If there was one guy in this system, he'd be a starter no matter what. Someone here is going to have value this week and all of them will be usable at different times during the season, as we've already seen. It's just hard to know who it will be and when.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ San Diego Chargers - Oct. 12, 8:30 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 45.5
Overview: Both teams in this game are actually in the Top-15 in passing yards allowed and the Chargers are strong in all facets of the passing game in fantasy points per game (ppg), as they're 11th against QBs, 3rd against WRs and 10th against TEs. It's too bad Ben Roethlisberger isn't playing here, then I'd definitely say it wouldn't matter for any of those positions. The Steelers are right in the middle in fantasy pgg allowed to QBs at 15th and are 18th and 4th against WRs and TEs, respectively. But seriously, nobody is scared of that secondary. The run defense is the Chargers' downfall, as they're ranked 29th against the run and have given up the second most fantasy ppg. The Steelers have gotten lucky so far, as they're ranked 20th in rushing yards allowed but haven't given up a rushing touchdown yet, skewing their fantasy ppg against RBs to 5th. I wouldn't be concerned.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It's really a shame that Ben Roethlisberger was injured (although luckily not too seriously), as that will delay the true unveiling of the Steelers' offense with WR Martavis Bryant returning from suspension this week. Replacement Michael Vick should be able to get the ball to his primary targets in this game -- Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell at the very least -- but I'm not expecting huge numbers for him here. The Chargers' pass defense is actually decent and although I wouldn't be scared off is it was Big Ben, Vick isn't him. He'll run the offense, but don't start him expecting more than decent numbers. All that being said, I still think he's interesting as a tournament option in DFS, as he'll likely be fairly cheap.
As I said before, Martavis Bryant is returning this week and should help to open up the offense, especially for Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Brown is coming off a game where he caught 5 passes for only 42 yards -- breaking an NFL record in the process -- but he still could have caught a touchdown and a few more passes if Vick was a little more on target. Some more time to work on their chemistry should help and it's not like you're ever sitting Brown anyway. As for Bryant, I don't think you can start him as anything more than a WR3 this week, but he's the ultimate DFS play in tournaments because I'm not sure how many people will be on him with Roethlisberger being out in his first week back. Old and faithful Heath Miller is still the starting tight end in Pittsburgh, but at this point you're not using him unless you're truly desperate.
Le'Veon Bell looked great last week against Baltimore, racking up 129 yards and 1 TD on 22 carries for 5.9 yards per carry, as well at 7 targets in the passing game. Bell should be a workhorse, especially with Roethlisberger being out. He might be the #1 RB this week.
San Diego Chargers: Philip Rivers might be a Top-5 QB this week against that Steelers' defense and he's getting longtime favorite target Antonio Gates back this week. Gates doesn't have the wheels that he once did, but he's a great threat in the red-zone. Rivers is completing 70% of his passes and has thrown for the most passing yards in the NFL through four weeks, which is a great trivia question to win you a bar bet. If he's somehow on your waiver wire in shallow leagues, he's a great replacement for any byes or injuries you might be facing.
Keenan Allen has been a target monster in every other game this season, as he had 17 in Week 1 and 18 in Week 3. He turned those into big fantasy days and was able to get you 13 points in Week 4 as well, despite only getting 7 targets. I wonder how the targets will be divvied up with Gates back, but Allen has to get his share due to his productivity through the early part of the season. He's at least a high-end WR2. Gates himself is an interesting case, as Ladarius Green has actually played well in his absence. If the Chargers were smart they'd start going to some 2-TE sets to get their best weapons on the field, so let's see if that happens in this game and in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I think you can start Gates as a Top-10 option this week and if you've been stashing him, congratulations! Your time has come! Unfortunately, until we see both guys on the field, I don't think you can totally trust Green, but he's still a decent flier in deeper leagues due to his big-play potential. The guy this whole situation might hurt the most is WR Stevie Johnson. It's looked like Johnson has been operating out of the slot a lot and while he's been a decent and reliable target for Rivers, you know how much he trusts Gates. Johnson should be off your radar for the time being.
The running game in San Diego has been surprising to say the least. First-round pick Melvin Gordon has been a disappointment as a third- or fourth-round pick in fantasy drafts and has been outplayed by Danny Woodhead. Many though that Gordon would have his true coming out party against Cleveland's porous run defense last week, but it just didn't materialize. The Chargers have another great match-up for their running game and it's unfortunate that you just can't trust Gordon in your starting lineup. I can understand if you have to use him as a flex, but it seems likely that you have a better option at WR. Woodhead, on the other hand, is well worth a start as a RB2 in this game. He's been averaging 4.5 yards per carry and had 2 rushing TDs to go along with 17 catches for 204 yards receiving. He's also getting the red-zone and short yardage work. Rivers and the Chargers' coaching staff just trusts him over Gordon right now and it's very apparent.
I thought about listing the Patriots at Dallas game in here, but I figured that it's just no fun to list Dallas in anything anymore...I mean, who wants to talk about the Cowboys in fantasy football without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant? The running game is the only interesting topic in Dallas at the moment, as maybe we'll get to see what Christine Michael can bring to the table sometime soon. The over/under for that game is 49.5 and I think the Patriots will score most of that on their own.
Good luck in Week 5!