The Cardinals are 3-0, the Packers are 1-2, and the Saints are currently on pace to have the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It happens every year, but it's still amazing just how surprising the start to the season has been.
Week four should provide some more fireworks as teams across the league will try to right the ship before it's too late. Where should you be focused in week four?
Match-ups to Watch
Miami DE Cameron Wake vs. Arizona RT Bobbie Massie
In spite of last week’s overtime loss to the Jets, Miami should feel pretty happy with their start to the season. Ryan Tannehill has looked better than expected, and the defense is making a transition to a 4-3 defense look pretty smooth. They can’t be as happy as the 3-0 Arizona Cardinals, however. The league’s biggest surprise welcomes the Dolphins to town on Sunday, and on paper it will provide a heck of a mismatch on the line.
The Dolphin’s defensive success is in no small part driven by the great start Cameron Wake is off to. He has yet to record a sack, but he’s got a ton of hurries and has been a disruptive force in the back field since week one. In spite of the lack of statistical production, Wake has looked like one of the best defensive ends in the league.
The dry spell will likely end Sunday as Wake will find himself lined up across from rookie right tackle Bobbie Massie. Massie was given the starting job after struggling through training camp and the preseason, and those struggles have carried over to the regular season. Stopping Wake will take the best effort of Massie’s young career – and if the Cardinals don’t get that, they may be looking at their first loss of the season.
Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph vs. Detroit LB Justin Durant
The absence of safety Louis Delmas has hurt the Lions’ defense in a number of areas, but the inability to stop opposing tight ends may be the biggest problem for Detroit right now. In week three Tennessee tight end Jared Cook was heading towards a career day before he went out with a shoulder injury and ended the day with 77 yards and a touchdown. The Lions tried covering him with Justin Durant, but he really had no chance to slow Cook down.
The Vikings will hope for a similar match up for Kyle Rudolph, who has become Christian Ponder’s favorite target. Amari Spivey may get matched up with Rudolph in addition to Durant, but Spivey has had his fair share of struggles in coverage too. If the Lions can’t figure out a way to slow Rudolph down, a game that should be a fairly easy win could very well turn into a shoot out.
Oakland LT Jared Veldheer vs. Denver Elvis Dumervil
Jared Veldheer has come a long way from his playing days at Hillsdale College, and the transition from playing there to playing left tackle in the NFL has not been a smooth one. He struggled for the first couple of years of his career, but 2012 has quietly been a breakout season for Veldheer. Week four will bring his toughest test of the season, however.
Veldheer will have to protect Carson Palmer's blindside from two of the best pass rushers in the league. The combination of having to face both Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil on the left side is almost unfair, but it’s what the small school product will be dealing with. A solid performance would go a long way in silencing doubters of Veldheer’s ability at this level.
Rookie QBs Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson
Week four should provide a great chance for both RGIII and Russell Wilson to take the next step in their careers. For Wilson, he’s coming off a game where he didn’t have great numbers but still helped lead his team to a slightly dubious victory over Green Bay.
This week, Wilson will be looking for a win that critics can’t credit to the officials. Fortunately, he’s got a great match up with a St. Louis defense that has been good, but not great during the NFL’s first month. If Pete Carroll will let Wilson air it out, he could be in for a big day.
RGIII hasn’t had much trouble putting up nice numbers, but getting wins has been a little more difficult. Unforutnately, some crushing injuries to the Redskins defense will only make that even more difficult for the rest of the year.
Washington and Griffin will have a great chance to turn that around when they face Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ defense has been dealt some injuries of their own, and overall their defense is 26th in the NFL against the pass. Griffin might be in for his best day yet as a pro – will it result in a Washington win?
Green Bay S Jerron McMillian
A criminally under-recognized rookie during the first month of the season has been Packers’ safety Jerron McMillian. McMillian has been one of the best players at his position in the league regardless of experience. He’s made some fearless plays over the middle with some surprisingly impressive hits. He’s excelled most in coverage however, and he’s helped strengthen a pass defense unit that was awful at times in 2011.
McMillian will face a major test when the Packers meet the Saints. Drew Brees will almost certainly look to test the rookie early, and see if he is as good as he looks on tape. Brees has been known to victimize some of the game’s best defensive backs – will McMillian be up to the challenge in what will be a huge game for both teams?
Miami RB Lamar Miller
Miami’s offense has largely been predicated on the success of Reggie Bush, but now that he’s dealing with a knee injury the Dolphins may be looking elsewhere for a spark on offense. This will shift a good deal of pressure to rookie Ryan Tannehill, who will be forced to make more plays through the air.
Another rookie Dolphin may help Tannehill succeed, however. Lamar Miller, a fourth round pick, has averaged almost six yards a carry on the limited touches he’s gotten and has looked like a potential playmaker. If Bush isn’t able to provide 100% of his big play ability this week, look for Miller to pick up some of the slack.
Fantasy Quick Hits
- Sometimes, fantasy football is just weird. Owners of Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta (including myself) can surely attest to this: Pitta went into Thursday night’s game with the Browns looking like a dream play. He had a great match up and had been getting a ton of targets, but ended the game with out a single catch. This is a weird, weird, game we play.
- If you have the depth to do so, stay far away from Buffalo running backs this week. We’ve gotten little details about the condition of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, and there’s no way to predict if either of them will play. Tashard Choice is just a guy and you should only put him in your line up if you truly have no other choice.
- The Texans have an extremely favorable match-up against the Titans’ run defense. Arian Foster is a guy you’d start regardless of the opponent, but I’d very strongly consider playing Ben Tate with a flex start. You’ll have a tough time finding a player with better upside in week four.
- Kenny Britt is a guy you should make a play for in all your leagues. Get him while he’s still dinged up – in his first full game back, Jake Locker targeted him 11 times. As soon as he’s healthy he should be back to putting up some big numbers on a weekly basis.
- Will week four be the week where we finally see JaQuizz Rodgers break out? He’s been a fantasy sleeper for a year and a half, and week three saw him finally get more playing time than the broken down Michael Turner. The situation in the Falcons back field will be one of the most focused in across the league in week four.