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Start 'Em & Sit 'Em: Week 4


Note: Sleeper alert focuses on players who aren't considered regular starters but have favorable matchups and could produce at a high level. Owners beware focuses on prominent players with unfavorable matchups who could fail to meet statistical expectations.


Donald Driver, WR, Green Bay: One of the most underrated wideouts in the NFL and fantasy football alike, Driver is on pace for 1,400-plus yards and double-digit touchdowns this season. Based on his track record against this week's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, Driver should extend those tremendous projections even further. In his past three games at the Metrodome, Driver has recorded a combined 22 receptions, 437 yards and four touchdowns. In his last start in Minnesota, he had 191 yards and one score. With numbers like that, Driver should is a must-start in all fantasy formats.


Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia: McNabb's 381-yard, four-touchdown performance last week against Detroit was a real positive after two previous mediocre stat lines against Green Bay and Washington. His chances to have another monster start are tremendous, as he faces a New York Giants defense that ranks 29th against the pass and has allowed eight passing touchdowns -- that's tied with Cincinnati for the second most in the league. Two of the three quarterbacks to face the G-Men this season posted at least three touchdowns, and McNabb could join that list.

Chad Pennington, N.Y. Jets: Despite the fact that he has missed one start due to an injured ankle, Pennington has still thrown four touchdown passes -- that's more than Marc Bulger, Matt Leinart and Vince Young. He should build on that total this week in Buffalo, where he'll face a Bills defense that is riddled with injuries. DE Ryan Denney (foot), LB Keith Ellison (ankle), LB Paul Posluszny (forearm), LB Coy Wire (knee) are all out for Week 4, so the Bills and their lowly 32nd-ranked pass defense could be sitting ducks for Pennington and his receivers.

More quarterbacks with favorable matchups: Tom Brady at Cincinnati, Brett Favre at Minnesota, Jeff Garcia at Carolina, Trent Green vs. Oakland, Eli Manning vs. Philadelphia.

Sleeper alert: Brian Griese at Detroit.


Matt Schaub, Houston: Schaub makes his second consecutive appearance on the sit portion of our column. Andre Johnson (knee) remains out of action, and now rookie standout Jacoby Jones is out several weeks with an injured shoulder. With Johnson on the sidelines, Schaub mustered one touchdown and two interceptions in last week's loss to Indianapolis. While he'll be motivated to produce this week against his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, Schaub can't do it alone on offense. The Falcons are also ranked eighth against the pass, so Schaub could be in for a hard afternoon.

Matt Leinart, Arizona: Leinart couldn't have more negatives facing him this week. He was benched in favor of Kurt Warner in Baltimore due to ineffectiveness, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt could continue to use Warner at times in a sort of quarterback committee. If that weren't reason enough to reserve Leinart, keep in mind that he also faces a Pittsburgh defense that ranks sixth against the pass and has surrendered a mere two passing touchdowns. Furthermore, the top performance from a quarterback against the Steelers came from Alex Smith, who had a mediocre 12 fantasy points.

More quarterbacks with unfavorable matchups: Derek Anderson vs. Baltimore, Daunte Culpepper at Miami, Jay Cutler at Indianapolis, Jake Delhomme vs. Tampa Bay, Ben Roethlisberger at Arizona.

Owners beware: Philip Rivers at Kansas City.


Joseph Addai, Indianapolis: It sounds nuts, but fantasy owners would have been better off drafting Addai ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Jackson or Larry Johnson after three weeks. Addai is on pace for 43 receptions, 1,712 all-purpose yards and 20-plus total touchdowns, and he'll be a focal point when the Colts face Denver at the RCA Dome. Teams have run the ball on the Broncos with ease -- their defense has surrendered an average of 166.0 rushing yards per game -- so look for Addai to see 20-25 touches and produce a solid stat line in what could be an important AFC clash.

Marion Barber, Dallas: It seemed like a difficult mission for Barber to duplicate the 16 total touchdowns he had last season, but he's already on pace to smash that number. The aggressive back has scored five times total, and he'll no doubt find the end zone again when the Cowboys host St. Louis at Texas Stadium. The Rams field the 28th-ranked run defense in the NFL -- they've allowed an average of 152.3 rushing yards per game -- and only one team (N.Y. Giants) has allowed more rushing touchdowns. As a result, owners should consider Barber a must-start.

More running backs with favorable matchups: Thomas Jones at Buffalo, LaMont Jordan at Miami, Laurence Maroney at Cincinnati, Willis McGahee at Cleveland, Brian Westbrook at N.Y. Giants.

Sleeper alert: Marshawn Lynch vs. N.Y. Jets.


Carnell Williams, Tampa Bay: Williams has been no stranger to the end zone with three scores in three weeks, but he has a mediocre 3.5 yards-per-carry average and lost time to Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman against St. Louis. This week he heads to Carolina to face the Panthers, who have allowed an average of just 95.3 rushing yards per game. What's more, head coach John Fox's crew has surrendered one rushing touchdown. The Buccaneers will look to hurt the Panthers through the air more often then on the ground, so Williams could have a weak stat line.

Jamal Lewis, Cleveland: There's no doubt that Lewis will be motivated to produce solid numbers against his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, but motivation doesn't outweigh talent. The Ravens defense ranks first against the run, allowing a miniscule 61.7 rushing yards per game, and no one has scored a touchdown on the ground against them in the first three weeks. It should also be noted that outside of his impressive 216-yard, one-touchdown outburst against Cincinnati, Lewis has 91 rushing yards and no touchdowns against tougher defenses from Pittsburgh and Oakland.

More running backs with unfavorable matchups: Warrick Dunn vs. Houston, Brandon Jackson at Minnesota, Edgerrin James vs. Pittsburgh, Kevin Jones vs. Chicago, Derrick Ward vs. Philadelphia.

Owners beware: Larry Johnson at San Diego.


Plaxico Burress, N.Y. Giants: Burress is third among wide receivers in fantasy points in standard formats, and he's done it at less than 100 percent. He battled back problems in the preseason, and now he has an ankle sprain that could make him a gametime decision in Week 4. If he is active (he hasn't missed a start due to the ailment), Burress is a must-start wideout against a Philadelphia defense that ranks 26th against the pass and could be without CB Lito Sheppard (knee). If he is declared inactive, however, consider Amani Toomer a nice fantasy starter.

More wide receivers with favorable matchups: Bernard Berrian at Detroit, Chris Chambers vs. Oakland, Laveranues Coles at Buffalo, Lee Evans vs. N.Y. Jets, Derrick Mason at Cleveland.

Sleeper alert: Darrell Jackson vs. Seattle.


Deion Branch, Seattle: Branch will be active in a lot of fantasy football leagues this weekend, but don't be shocked if his numbers are less than impressive in San Francisco. The Niners vastly improved their pass defense in the offseason with the addition of cover cornerback Nate Clements, as the unit ranks 11th in the NFL in pass defense and has allowed just one 100-yard performance from a wide receiver. Furthermore, the opposition's No. 1 receiver has failed to surpass the 75-yard mark in the first three weeks, and Hines Ward was held to one catch for two yards in Week 3.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit: Johnson has had a nice start to his rookie season, as he's on pace to finish with 50-plus receptions and 1,008 yards. However, this week's game against what will be a mad Chicago defense is not conducive for statistical success. The Bears have some injuries on defense but will be motivated to remove the bad taste of a blowout loss to Dallas out of their mouth, and Johnson will have to face them at less than 100 percent after he suffered a bruised back in Philadelphia. Unless you need a No. 3 fantasy wideout, it might be better to keep Johnson reserved.

More wide receivers with unfavorable matchups: Anquan Boldin vs. Pittsburgh, Ronald Curry at Miami, Santonio Holmes at Arizona, Vincent Jackson vs. Kansas City, Javon Walker at Indianapolis.

Owners beware: Marvin Harrison vs. Denver.


Todd Heap, Baltimore: Heap sustained a concussion last week but is still expected to start in Cleveland, so fantasy owners should be sure to have him active. The Browns rank 21st in pass defense, and no team has surrendered more receiving touchdowns (11) after three weeks. Heap has also found success against the AFC North opponent, as he's averaged close to five receptions in his past six contests against them. The Ravens will no doubt look to throw the football often to exploit the Browns, and Heap should be one of the main targets in the pass attack.

Benjamin Watson, New England: Watson has recorded nine receptions for 75 yards, but he's found the end zone in each of the first three weeks and ranks fifth in fantasy points among tight ends. An obvious red-zone threat for Tom Brady, Watson should continue to find success against a Cincinnati team that ranks 23rd in receiving defense and has allowed eight receiving touchdowns. That's tied with the N.Y. Giants for the second-most receiving scores surrendered. The Patriots should score some points in this Monday night contest, so Watson is an attractive option.

More tight ends with favorable matchups: Alge Crumpler vs. Houston, Owen Daniels at Atlanta, Jeremy Shockey vs. Philadelphia, Kellen Winslow vs. Baltimore.

Sleeper alert: Matt Schobel at N.Y. Giants.


Heath Miller, Pittsburgh: Miller posted solid numbers last week, as he recorded four catches for 82 yards in a win over San Francisco. However, that was his first performance with 80-plus yards since the Steelers' regular-season opener in 2006. He'll be hard pressed to post solid numbers this week, as Miller faces an Arizona defense that ranks 12th in receiving defense and has allowed just two receiving touchdowns. Furthermore, the three top tight ends the Cardinals have faced this season have averaged two catches for 21 yards with no touchdowns.

Jeff King, Carolina: King has become a viable option for fantasy owners this season. Believe it or not, this relative unknown is on pace for 60-plus receptions in the offense of coordinator Jeff Davidson, but he could struggle to produce this week against Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have an improved core of athletic, fast linebackers, and their defense as a whole ranks ninth against the pass. Another reason to avoid King is the Bucs' effectiveness against tight ends. After three weeks of action, the opposition's top tight ends have averaged under 30 yards with no touchdowns.

More tight end with unfavorable matchups: Dallas Clark vs. Denver, Daniel Graham at Indianapolis, Randy McMichael at Dallas, Visanthe Shiancoe vs. Green Bay.

Owners beware: Jason Witten vs. St. Louis.


Nick Folk, Dallas: Folk wasn't even on the radar in most fantasy drafts, but he now ranks second at the position in fantasy points and has become a solid option in most leagues. Behind one of the NFL's top offenses, Folk is on pace to kick 32 field goals and an incredible 75 extra points. His success should continue this week against St. Louis, which has allowed over 22 points per game and has surrendered seven field-goal conversions. The Cowboys should put up some points on the Rams, so look for Folk to have another nice stat line.

Jeff Reed, Pittsburgh: Reed leads all kickers in fantasy points with a league-high nine field-goal conversions, but for some reason he's only starting in 68 percent of leagues. This week he's facing an underrated Arizona defense that bends but doesn't break in the red zone. As a result, the Cardinals have surrendered eight field-goal conversions -- that's tied with Buffalo for the most conversions allowed in the NFL. In what could be a defensive battle, Reed should see his share of opportunities to score and is a solid option.

More kickers with favorable matchups: Josh Brown at San Francisco, Stephen Gostkowski at Cincinnati, Matt Stover at Cleveland, Jeff Wilkins at Dallas.

Sleeper alert: Phil Dawson vs. Baltimore.


Jason Hanson, Detroit: After a fast start to the season, Hanson slowed in Week 3 with a missed field goal and a total of three points in a loss to Philadelphia. Based on the numbers, the veteran kicker could be in for another porous stat line when the Lions host Chicago. The Bears have some injuries on defense, but this unit has still surrendered just three field-goal conversions on the season. Hanson has also not made a field goal in his past two starts against the new Monsters of the Midway, and he's scored a mere four fantasy points in those contests.

Shayne Graham, Cincinnati: Graham has been one of the better kickers in fantasy football in recent seasons, but this week's game against New England on Monday Night Football ia anything but favorable. The Patriots have allowed an average of just 11.7 points per game, and their defense has not surrendered even one field goal on the season. What's more, Graham is in the middle of the pack at the position with 24 fantasy points, so owners should be able to find a far more productive kicker with a more favorable opponent on the waiver wire.

More kickers with unfavorable matchups: Mason Crosby at Minnesota, Jason Elam at Indianapolis, Robbie Gould at Detroit, John Kasay vs. Tampa Bay.

Owners beware: Neil Rackers vs. Pittsburgh.


Dallas defense: The Cowboys defense didn't start the season on a high note, but it has climbed into the top-five in fantasy points after consecutive solid performances against Miami and Chicago. Its success should continue at home against St. Louis, which has lost three offensive linemen and is averaging the fourth-fewest points per game (10.7) headed into Week 4.

Houston defense: The Texans have come out of nowhere to become fantasy relevant in 2007. After three weeks, DE Mario Williams and his crew have scored the fourth-most fantasy points and are tied for the league lead with three defensive touchdowns. They face an Atlanta offense that averages a mere 10.0 points per game under Joey Harrington, so the Texans are a nice option.

More defenses with favorable matchups: Green Bay defense at Minnesota, Kansas City defense at San Diego, Pittsburgh defense at Arizona, San Diego defense at Kansas City.

Sleeper alert: N.Y. Jets at Buffalo.


Denver defense: The Broncos have the top-rated pass defense in the NFL, but they're vulnerable to the run and haven't faced an offensive attack that rivals the Colts this season. Indianapolis has averaged 31.0 points per game under Peyton Manning, who seems primed to lead his team back to the Super Bowl. Denver is no more than a middle-of-the-road fantasy defense, so look for a better option.

St. Louis defense: The Rams will be in for a long afternoon in Dallas, where they'll face a Cowboys offense that averages an NFL-best 38.7 points per game and make the Bears look like lambs in Week 3. St. Louis is in shambles on offense, so its defense could be on the Texas Stadium field quite a bit in this NFC contest. Don't be shocked if the 'Pokes put up another 30-point performance.

More defenses with unfavorable matchups: Cincinnati defense vs. New England, Miami defense vs. Oakland, N.Y. Giants vs. Philadelphia, San Francisco defense vs. Seattle.

Owners beware: Philadelphia defense at N.Y. Giants.