Often the first bye week in prior years, Week 4 was supposed to feature games with all 32 NFL teams this week. Unfortunately, Covid had other plans. With the late-breaking news that the Titans-Steelers game will be postponed until later this season, a bunch of fantasy stars such as Derrick Henry and JuJu Smith-Schuster will join injured ones such as Christian McCaffrey on the sidelines. Fortunately, some plus venue and defensive matchups make a number of normal second-tier fantasy players excellent starts this week.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him within a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and opponent tendencies (Opp). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
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|Best Week 4 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Matthew Stafford has overcome a difficult start to the season -- a Bears matchup, a pair of road games, and a pair of games without No. 1 receiver Kenny Golladay -- to throw five touchdowns and remain in the top 20 at the position in fantasy. At the start of the season, one might have assumed a home game against the Saints would continue the trend of difficult matchups. They were the 10th-ranked DVOA pass defense last season (-0.6%). But so far this year, they've fallen to 21st (18.1%) and are a top-five booster of passing touchdowns per attempt (31%). That, plus the healthy return of Golladay, should allow Stafford to take full advantage of playing at home in the dome where he has averaged close to a full fantasy point more per game than on the road since 2017. He jumps from 19th in my true-talent quarterback rankings to 11th this week.
Across the field from Stafford, Drew Brees enjoys the benefits of a dome -- which, while not as extreme as for the home quarterback, increases road quarterbacks' completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns per attempt by 2% apiece -- and a Lions defense that also boosts passing touchdowns by 30% per attempt. But that still isn't enough to push Brees into my top 12 at the position this week. Since 2017, he has averaged 5.2 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road, and lost in the concerns over his arm strength is the fact that home and road have seemingly driven his successes and failures this season. He has five touchdowns and no interceptions in two home games but threw just one touchdown and had a pick on the road in Las Vegas, also in a dome and also against an opponent that should have been a plus matchup for opposing quarterbacks. At this point, I only want to start Brees in the Superdome in my shallow formats.
They haven't been as extreme as Brees, but Deshaun Watson and Jared Goff are both in the upper third of current quarterback starters with 2.4 and 1.8 more fantasy points scored at home than on the road since 2017. That makes both players excellent starts at home this week. Goff should enjoy the better matchup in absolute terms. He faces a Giants team that boosts passing yards by 9% and passing touchdowns by 24% per attempt. But a Vikings opponent that slightly increases completion percentage and yards per attempt and slightly decreases touchdowns per attempt should feel like a cakewalk for Watson after starting the year against top-13 DVOA defenses in the Chiefs (-0.1%, 13th), Ravens (-4.8%, 10th), and Steelers (-26.9%, third). I have Watson first at the position this week.
|Worst Week 4 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Carson Wentz has fared better this season in fantasy than he has in reality. He has edged out Stafford by a half-point to land in the top 20 at the position, but his -63.9% passing DVOA is far and away the worst among quarterbacks. I've always believed in his talent, but I'm not going to bet on his bounceback this week in San Francisco, no matter how hurt the 49ers defense is. I project the 49ers as a top-two cutter of passing yards per attempt (19%) and touchdowns per attempt (37%), and their accumulating injuries didn't seem to help Sam Darnold or Daniel Jones, who both threw for just 179 yards and combined for one passing touchdown against them the last two weeks.
Cam Newton has always been a difficult matchup play. With his legs tending to drive his fantasy success, he won't necessarily feel the full force of the Chiefs' cutting of passing touchdowns by 31% per attempt. And Newton has a reverse split where he has scored 1.1 more fantasy points on the road than at home since 2017 -- although he has spent more games than not on the sidelines in that time. Still, I subjectively trust the projections that suggest he falls outside the top 10 at the position this week. If the Chiefs have anything close to the success against the strong Patriots secondary that they did against the strong Ravens secondary on Monday night, then the Patriots may have to skew toward the pass and away from their preferred run game. Newton could still score if his team ends up near the goal line, but I'd probably chose a different week to rely on him in daily formats.
The Patriots' former quarterback Tom Brady doesn't have the same extreme opponent concerns this weekend, but he has to worry about several smaller factors that add up to close to a point lost in our projections this week. First, he will be without one of his main receivers in Chris Godwin, which influences his drop to 18th in my true-talent rankings. Second, Tampa has a 64% chance of rain on Sunday afternoon with projected wind speeds into the double digits of miles per hour. Given that the Chargers are already a cutter of a passing yards and touchdowns per attempt, it likely makes sense to avoid Brady this week in all but two-quarterback formats. And definitely avoid his opponent Justin Herbert. Even in the best of circumstances, he would be hard-pressed to throw on Tampa's top-three overall (-28.6% DVOA) and top-two pass defense (-24.9%).
|Best Week 4 Matchups - Running Backs|
Kenyan Drake has a top-10 total of 59 touches this season, but he has scored just one rushing touchdown. That may end up being a problem all season with quarterback Kyler Murray's rushing ability, but this week, Drake is comfortably in my top 20 with a top-10 projected rushing touchdown total. His opponent, Carolina, boosts opponent yards per carry by 20% and touchdowns per carry by 171%. Since their Week 7 bye last season, the Panthers have allowed 31 rushing touchdowns in 13 games, an average of 2.4 per game. And they've only failed to allow two or more touchdowns in three of those 13 games.
Fortunately, Chris Carson seems to have avoided a major injury on what was a scary tackle on Sunday. He even has a chance to play in Week 4. But if Carson does miss the road start in Miami, backup Carlos Hyde should become a compelling flex option against a Dolphins team that is a top-10 increaser of yards per attempt (15%) and touchdowns per attempt (34%). They also increase running back completion percentage, yards per target, and touchdowns per target, and so DFS tournament players could consider gambles on Travis Homer or even DeeJay Dallas. But my money is on Hyde to pace the team in touches. If the Seahawks build a lead, he is the natural choice to kill clock in the second half.
|Worst Week 4 Matchups - Running Backs|
Remember what I said about Justin Herbert's difficult circumstances against Tampa Bay this week? Well, I'm not sure the Chargers would have the same success with a run-focused game plan on Sunday that they did against the Chiefs in Week 2, either. The Bucs were last year's No. 1 DVOA run defense (-34.7%) and are fifth (-34.8%) so far this season. A top-three projected reception total keeps Austin Ekeler in my top 10 in PPR formats, but keep in mind that the Bucs defense has held Christian McCaffrey to 53, 57, and 88 yards in their last three games, and Ekeler has much lower chances to score with Joshua Kelley in his backfield.
I wouldn't bench Miles Sanders, Nick Chubb, or David Montgomery despite difficult opponent matchups in the 49ers, Cowboys, and Colts -- especially now that Tarik Cohen is out for the season and Montgomery could see a big increase in his target share. But you might be surprised to hear that Chubb comes the closest for me. With Kareem Hunt seeing a top-30 39.8% carry share, Chubb is just 16th at the position with a 52.0% share and remains uninvolved in the Browns passing game. Chubb will likely need to score to earn RB2 status this week, and that could be difficult with the Cowboys cutting rushing touchdowns by 19% per attempt.
|Best Week 4 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
It isn't a great week of matchups for the top-tier fantasy receivers. With all of their injuries, it hasn't been a great year. But there are a number of typical flex-range receivers who enjoy a marked matchup boost this week. Will Fuller is my favorite of that set. He benefits from the Texans' return to the dome in Houston, and his opposing Vikings have clearly missed their losses in the secondary. They are a top-10 increaser of completion percentage (22%), yards per target (9%), and touchdowns per target (37%) to No. 1 receivers.
Hunter Renfrow's fantasy case likely depends on the health of normal outside starters Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards. Without them, Renfrow jumped to a 28.1% target share last week that was eighth-highest among wide receivers. And Ian Rapoport is reporting that neither is likely to play in Week 4 against the Bills. The Bills likely won't be a plus matchup for slot receivers with their excellent coverage linebackers and safeties all healthy again, but slot receivers tend to enjoy bigger boosts from playing at home than field-stretchers do. It's enough to boost Renfrow to 25th in my PPR rankings this week.
The three Cowboys games this year have produced 70, 86, and 97 combined pass plays. Those are the 22nd-most, third-most, and most of the 48 games played so far this season. That may be enough to consider secondary Cowboys and Browns targets CeeDee Lamb and Jarvis Landry this week in the dome in Dallas. But I also like their matchups against undermanned secondaries. Cornerback Denzel Ward may make Amari Cooper's life difficulty (if he can play through his groin injury), but the Browns are the No. 2 booster of No. 2 receiver touchdown rate. And the Cowboys are a top-five booster of touchdown rate to both No. 2 and slot receivers.
|Worst Week 4 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
After the Chiefs shredded them on Monday night, the Ravens may not scare you as an opponent for your fantasy receivers. I still think they should. The Chiefs are such a problem because they have multiple talented and fast receivers. Washington relies heavily on just Terry McLaurin, and that makes it much easier for the Ravens to sic their $99-million cornerback Marlon Humphrey on him. Last year, Humphrey allowed just 5.0 yards per target, the fifth-lowest rate of 89 qualified cornerbacks. To offer some context, defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore allowed 6.4 yards per target. Naturally, the normal WR2 McLaurin falls to 22nd at the position for me this week.
|Best Week 4 Matchups - Tight Ends|
George Kittle suffered an injury in a Week 1 matchup against a Cardinals defense that looked favorable for opposing tight ends. Well, now healthy, Kittle should have another chance at a big day at home against the Eagles. They are the No. 1 booster of tight end touchdowns and just allowed three of them to the lone top-10 option they've faced this season, Tyler Higbee, in Week 2.
Surprisingly, Drew Sample caught just one pass for 1 yard for the Bengals against those Eagles last week. But that happens to every TE2 a few times per season. The important thing for Sample's future fantasy consideration is that he played 89% of the Bengals' offensive snaps in his first game without teammate C.J. Uzomah available. The Bengals' offensive line is a problem that may make Sample stay in and block when he faces better pass-rushing teams such as the Eagles (10.6% adjusted sack rate, fifth). His Week 4 opposing Jaguars are not that (3.6%, 29th). And that should let him take full advantage of a defense that is a top-three booster of tight end completion rate, yards per target, and touchdowns per target.
|Worst Week 4 Matchups - Tight Ends|
With Dallas Goedert out for multiple weeks with an ankle injury, Zach Ertz should see a bump in targets. That motivates his small jump to second in my true-talent tight end rankings. But that jump may not be as much as you might expect. Last season, the Eagles were the No. 1 relier on two-tight end formations (57%), and after Goedert went down last week, slot receivers Greg Ward and Deontay Burnett saw a lot of run (15 combined targets). It's enough to scare me away from Ertz in daily formats, where the 49ers are the No. 2 cutter of tight end completion percentage (17%) and yards per target (31%). I have him fourth at the position in PPR formats.
I want to endorse Jimmy Graham now that Nick Foles has taken over for Mitchell Trubisky. As I mentioned in my waiver wire column this week, Foles has thrown 25.8% of his passes since 2018 to tight ends, while Trubisky has thrown just 14.8% of them to the position. But Graham doesn't land an easy opponent in his first game with a new quarterback starter. The Colts have been much better defensively (-32.3% DVOA, first) than I ever expected, and they have been particularly dominant against tight ends. They are the No. 1 decreaser of tight end completion percentage (20%) and yards per target (43%), and they are the sixth-biggest cutter of tight end touchdowns per target (83%). That latter one is especially tough for Graham as the 2020 leader in end zone targets.
|Best Week 4 Matchups - Kickers|
Watson and the Texans' passing gains should also be gains for kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn. In addition to the dome boost, his opposing Vikings increase short field goal attempts by 21% and long field goal attempts by 11%. Those are both top-five in football.
None of the other kickers with plus matchups have things quite so good across the board. But Matt Prater also plays at home in his dome in Detroit. Sam Sloman plays a Giants team that increases long field goal attempts by 11%. And Joey Slye faces a Cardinals team that boosts short attempts by 23%, the most in football. All three kickers are in my top 12 this week.
|Worst Week 4 Matchups - Kickers|
Jason Myers and Zane Gonzalez kick for explosive offenses in the Seahawks and Cardinals and face porous defenses in the Dolphins and Panthers on Sunday. That may sound like a recipe for fantasy success, but that actually isn't the case. It turns out, those defenses are a little too porous, and that turns a lot of field goal opportunities into touchdowns and single fantasy points for point-after attempts. The Dolphins are the No. 1 decreaser of both short (60%) and long field goal attempts (40%). The Panthers are a little friendlier at 13% and 10%, both 20th. But those problems are exacerbated by being on the road and outdoors.
|Best Week 4 Matchups - Defenses|
Now that I'm starting to buy into the excellence of the Colts defense, they draw a plus matchup on the road in Chicago. With Foles under center, the Bears may not live up to their traditional turnover ways. But the Colts are still the No. 1 increaser of interceptions per pass attempt and are the No. 3 cutter of rushing touchdowns per carry.
Meanwhile, I'm enthusiastically back in on the Ravens playing in Washington this week. Even ignoring the subjective boost they could enjoy because of an attitude change following the Chiefs drubbing, the Ravens could force a ton of sacks of Dwayne Haskins. He led all regular starters last year with a 12.5% sack rate, and Washington generally boosts sacks per pass attempt by 40%, fourth-most in football.
You certainly don't want any of the Jets' skill-position players in fantasy, but you could deploy their defense on Thursday night if you are comfortable with a little risk. The Broncos were already a top-two increaser of tackles for losses and sacks per pass attempt before they decided to trot out Brett Rypien, their third-string quarterback to start the season. Meanwhile, the Jets have fared better defensively without some of their opt-outs such as C.J. Mosley than I would have expected. They are 14th in defensive DVOA (0.6%) and are particularly effective against the run (-39.7%, third). That's the right split to have against a Broncos team that will surely try to run Melvin Gordon as much as possible tonight.
|Worst Week 4 Matchups - Defenses|
The Browns defense took excellent advantage of the aforementioned Washington matchup in Week 3, forcing three sacks and catching three interceptions. But that doesn't make the defense an every-week starter. This week in the dome in Dallas, I'd definitely leave the Browns on your fantasy benches. With their stout offensive line and a quarterback who throws the ball quickly, the Cowboys cut tackles for losses by 31% and sacks per pass attempt by 43%, both in the top three in football.