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Running backs will return to the fantasy spotlight in Week 4


Last week, we told you to expect a lot of scoring. Guess what? Teams combined for 751 points, or an average of 46.9 points per game. That's the sixth-most points scored in one weekend in NFL history.

Week 4 should be another big scoring weekend, but from a fantasy perspective I think the focus will be on 100-yard rushers. Here's why I say that: After three weeks, teams start to put a greater point of emphasis on what's going on around the league. There have been 135 TD passes in three weeks, projecting to 720 for the season, or 72 more than last year. I would expect teams to start focusing more this week on stopping the pass, and that should open up the run. So expect to see more 100-yard rushers this week and fewer 300-yard passers and 100-yard receivers.

You know to check out the injury list every week, but this week is more critical than ever, with the status of Jake Delhomme, Tarvaris Jackson, Plaxico Burress, Kellen Winslow and numerous other starters in question.

Here's a look at key fantasy matchups for Week 4:

Texans at Falcons

Texans QB Matt Schaub will get his numbers here, though I'm not sure who he'll be throwing to with Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones sidelined. Atlanta has a hard time stopping the run -- they rank 25th in run defense, allowing 142 yards per game on the ground -- so RB Ron Dayne could have a good game.

For Atlanta, I think QB Joey Harrington will do well, along with WR Roddy White, TE Alge Crumpler and RB Jerious Norwood. Dunn has 26 more carries this season, but I still like Norwood better here. Harringon had three TD passes in only previous game against Houston. This year, he's completing 68 percent of his passes and has an impressive 90.6 rating despite the two interceptions he had returned for scores in Week 1.

Jets at Bills

The injury-riddled Bills are last in all three major defensive categories, so feel free to play RB Thomas Jones, WR Laveranues Coles and QB Chad Pennington. Keep an eye on TE Chris Baker, who has two TD catches and has become a favorite target in the red zone.

For Buffalo, the only guy worth playing is RB Marshawn Lynch. The Jets are 28th in overall defense, but it's hard to play a rookie QB making his first career start, which is the case for Trent Edwards.

Ravens ar Browns

For Baltimore, RB Willis McGahee and TE Todd Heap are worth playing, but they might be the only safe plays here given the Ravens' unstable QB situation. Cleveland ranks 31st in total defense, so someone fromBaltimore should be able to post good numbers.

I don't like anyone for Cleveland. QB Derek Anderson has seven TD passes but is inconsistent. With TE Kellen Winslow hurt, WR Braylon Edwards is the only threat and will be blanketed by the Ravens' secondary. And against Baltimore's top-ranked run defense, you can forget about RB Jamal Lewis doing anything against his old team. The Ravens have yet to allow a rushing TD.

Rams at Cowboys

Rams rookie RB Brian Leonard starts in place of injured Steven Jackson, and it's tough to run on Dallas. So QB Marc Bulger and WR Torry Holt are the plays here against a Dallas pass defense that is susceptible to big yards through the air.

For Dallas, I like TE Jason Wittne, QB Tony Romo, RB Marion Barber and WR Terrell Owens, in that order. The Rams are pretty good in pass defense, but Romo is hot.

Bears at Lions

I think QB Brian Griese will play well in his first game after replacing Rex Grossman. Detroit is 31st against the pass. Chicago's game plan last year was to run on Detroit, so you've got to like RB Cedric Benson as well. WR Bernard Berrian has yet to catch a TD pass this season, but he could break out here.

I don't think you can run on Chicago, although with DT Tommie Harris out, that increases the Lions' chances a little. Detroit is averaging 345 passing yards per game, so you've got to keep playing QB Jon Kitna and WRs Roy Williams and Shaun McDonald.

Raiders at Dolphins

Miami is 29th against the run, so RB LaMont Jordan could do some damage. I think the speed of the game will make it hard for QB Daunte Culpepper to be successful. Consequently, don't expect much from WR Ronald Curry. The long trip for Oakland, and then sitting on the sunny side of the field in those black uniforms will make it very difficult for the Raiders.

For Miami, I like RB Ronnie Brown, WR Chris Chambers and QB Trent Green, in that order. Don't forget what we've been saying all along: Oakland's defense is not what it was last year. After three games, the Raiders rank 27th overall, allowing 83 points, or more than 27 points per game.

Packers at Vikings

Could this be a trap game for Green Bay prior to next week's showdown with Chicago? I don't think the Packers can run against a Vikings defense that allows fewer than 3 yards per carry. Look for QB Brett Favre to break the NFL records for career TD passes and attempts. Favre will be passing early and often here, so it's possible that WRs Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones can all do well.

For Minnesota, don't expect much of anything in the passing game. That makes RB Adrian Peterson the only play here, but he's going against a good Packers run defense that ranks 10th in the league and hasn't allowed a rushing TD.

Buccaneers at Panthers

For the Buccaneers, I like QB Jeff Garcia, RB Cadillac Williams and WR Joey Galloway, in that order. RB Earnest Graham started to get some carries last week, but look for him to be more of a factor after this week. Graham has been a key special teams contributor while their top ST player, Torry Cox, has been out on suspension. Cox is due back next week, so that's when Graham will really be free to do more on offense.

If QB Jake Delhomme plays then I like WR Steve Smith a lot in this game. Smith plays very well against Tampa; in his last four games against the Bucs, he's got 470 yards and four TDs. But if David Carr starts, I'm not sure Smith will be as good. RB DeShaun Foster had a coming-out party last week and I think he'll continue to play well here.

Seahawks at 49ers

Teams have been trying to run the ball and control the clock against San Francisco, and that bodes well for RB Shaun Alexander in this game. I like Alexander, WR Deion Branch and QB Matt Hasselbeck, in that order.

For the 49ers, RB Frank Gore is the only play. Gore played very well in two games against Seattle last year (356 combined rushing yards, but no TDs). QB Alex Smith is not playing very well at all.

Steelers at Cardinals

I like QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Willie Parker and WR Santonio Holmes, in that order. The Steelers have thrown four TD passes to tight ends, but three different TEs have been on the receiving end, so it's tough to figure which one is worth playing. That said, they are certainly looking to the TE position in the red zone.

I would imagine Arizona will be throwing on almost every snap, because it's very hard to run on Pittsburgh. In other words, forget about RB Edgerrin James here. Pittsburgh ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing defense (79.7 yards per game) and sixth against the pass (164.7 yards per game). Since Arizona is now employing something of a QB rotation with Kurt Warner spelling Matt Leinart, it's hard to rely on either. But WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald both should do well.

Broncos at Colts

I like RB Travis Henry for Denver. QB Jay Cutler will do OK, not great, and I like WR Brandon Marshall more than Javon Walker.

For Indianapolis, RB Joseph Addai will do well. The Colts seem to want to run the ball more this season, and Denver is 26th against the run, allowing 166 yards per game. Of course, QB Peyton Manning and WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are automatic starts, though I think CB Champ Bailey will prevent Harrison from having a big day.

Chiefs at Chargers

It's hard to like anyone here for Kansas City, though you have to play RB Larry Johnson (even though he's averaging just 2.8 yards per touch). I do not think Kansas City has the weapons to throw the ball downfield in this contest.

For San Diego, QB Philip Rivers is playing pretty good and should continue to do so, with TE Antonio Gates as his top target. Look for RB LaDainian Tomlinson to finally get a lot of work. He's averaging only 19 carries a game this season, and he hasn't had a run longer than 15 yards in his last five games dating to last season.

Eagles at Giants

It's a common theme every season, but you need to keep a close eye on RB Brian Westbrook's status on the injury report. Still, you have to like his chances here. QB Donovan McNabb looked like a new player last week with the knee brace off, and now he gets to face a Giants defense that allows 266 passing yards per game. McNabb and WR Kevin Curtis should fare well.

For the Giants, QB Eli Manning is playing very well. RB Derrick Ward is becoming a factor both running and receiving, even though he doesn't seem to get the goal-line carries. WR Plaxico Burress is playing well, but check the injury reports because he might not be able to go here. TE Jeremy Shockey has been catching a lot of passes between the 20s, but he hasn't been very active in the red zone.

Patriots at Bengals

These two teams have combined for 19 TD passes in the first three weeks, so this could turn into a fantasy owner's dream game. RB Laurence Maroney did very well against the Bengals last year, so perhaps this will be the week he breaks out. Of course, QB Tom Brady and WR Randy Moss are automatic starts, and TE Benjamin Watson and WR Wes Welker should be productive as well.

Bill Belichick has done a decent job of taking WR Chad Johnson out of the game in the last two meetings, and it's been WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh making big plays -- he's averaged 140 yards in those two games. If there's a weakness for New England on defense, it's that opponents have scored TDs on all five trips to the red zone. QB Carson Palmer should have a good game, and I think RB Kenny Watson will have a good game here in place of injured Rudi Johnson.