Injuries, tasty matchups, lineup switches and a whole lot of unknown. Just another game week taking shape in the Fantasy Football-friendly NFC South. As week 4 unfolds, the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all facing different sets of variables in terms of adversity and opposition. By the end of the night on Sunday, each team in the division will have completed a quarter of their respective 2014 seasons, with a dozen more tilts and a clutch open date remaining on the slate.
Here is an NFC South Roundup as we enter week 4:
It's been all injuries all the time for the defending NFC South champs. Dating back to Cam Newton's preseason rib injury, which sidelined the 2011 offensive rookie of the year for week 1, the Panthers have seemingly dealt with a key injury at a different, important position each week thus far.
In addition to Newton's offseason ankle injury and rib ailments, DeAngelo Williams has missed the team's last two games, and while the veteran is set to return for week 4, teammates and fellow backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert will not be available. Week 4 is looking like the DeAngelo Williams show on the ground for Carolina.
Stewart suffered a sprained knee in last Sunday night's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and while he surprisingly practiced on Friday, the 27-year-old is not expected to play this weekend against Baltimore. Tolbert, meanwhile, has landed on short-term IR with a small fracture and bone bruise in his left leg.
Both players were expected to miss at least a month, and while Stewart may be closer to a return than originally expected, the mail will be Williams' to carry for week 4 and perhaps, beyond. Williams appears to be over the thigh injury which has hampered him since week 1, and is in line to handle bell cow duties against the Ravens.
While the matchup is not ideal on paper, as Baltimore boasts the league's 8th-best rush defense which allows just under 88 yards per game, Williams' workload should be sky-high. Additionally, with Tolbert and Stewart on the shelf, the likes of Darrin Reaves and Fozzy Whittaker are expected to back up the Memphis alum. Whittaker has been bothered by a thigh problem of his own, and is not a lock to play Sunday, while Reaves is a former undrafted free agent signed off of the team's practice squad just last week. The Panthers recently worked out Whittaker's former University of Texas and Cleveland Browns teammate Chris Ogbonnaya in case they decide to bring in another player to add to their depleted backfield.
Williams, who rushed for 843 yards and 3 scores a season ago, will have plenty of opportunities to help make a positive impact for both the Panthers, and fantasy owners in need of a decent RB2 or FLEX option with injuries and Bye weeks starting to rear their ugly heads. He hasn't had a 1,000 yard campaign since 2009, a season after he piled up 18 rushing touchdowns, but the two flies in his ointment in the form of Stewart and Tolbert won't be in the picture, at least for a game. He's still good in the open field, and Carolina is expected to try and establish the run early, after failing to do so against the Steelers last week. If you're in need of a boost in week 4, look for one from DeAngelo Williams.
New Orleans Saints
If you like points, yards, big plays, or anything that involves the usage of words or phrases like barn burner and shootout, the Sunday night matchup between the Saints and the Dallas Cowboys is for you. This game possesses the league's highest over-under for week 4 at 53.5, and the final tally of points between the teams could easily eclipse that mark.
Both defenses have had their share of struggles, particularly against the pass. Drew Brees and Tony Romo should both have good nights, with favorable matchups and sitting ducks across the board on either side. With New Orleans having had success against Dallas in recent history, especially in the Sean Payton years, there are a couple of players we like this week from the Saints' perspective.
In need of a flyer due to the dreaded Bye week/injury combo? Our deep sleeper for week 4 could be an option for you, and should be available on the waiver wire in most 10/12 league formats. That man would be Kenny Stills, who, like every skill position player in this game, has a peach of a matchup on the table. Brandin Cooks is a player to watch this week.
The Saints have won the last three meetings between the teams, and have emerged victorious 8 out of the last 9 times the teams have matched up, with Dallas' last win coming in 2009. Payton, a former Cowboys assistant, has seen his team make hay via the big play in the passing game, and there will be opportunities all night down the field. Stills, a second-year wideout from Oklahoma, who caught a 54-yard touchdown in this game a season ago en-route to a 49-17 Saints win, could be in for a surprise performance this weekend.
New Orleans has seen the likes of Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and most recently, Stills, have nice outings while serving as deep threats against the Dallas secondary in past games between the two teams. Marques Colston had a huge game of his own in last year's showdown, and the Cowboys' secondary is as vulnerable as ever.
Stills' targets and snap counts have increased since he made his debut in week 2 at Cleveland. He is still reestablishing himself in the lineup, having been bothered by a quad injury through most of July and August, but Stills is due for a breakthrough game soon, and that game could come as soon as Sunday night.
Another Saints player to watch in this one is Brandin Cooks. The impressive rookie seems primed for another big game, and with Stills back and defenses keying on Jimmy Graham and Colston, the speedster, who has been used in a variety of different ways by Payton, could have himself a good night in Dallas. Through three games, he has 18 catches on 24 targets for 164 yards and a touchdown, while serving as an additional threat on the ground via designed plays, as well as in the return game. Payton has been known to open up the bag of tricks in prime time, so expect Cooks to have several chances to swing for the fences at Jerry World.
The Falcons managed to get rowdy even without Roddy last Thursday night, as they dismantled their NFC South rival Buccaneers 56-14. Roddy White sat with a hamstring injury, though the veteran likely could have played if not for the nature of his injury and the short week at hand. Atlanta never needed him, with the likes of Julio Jones, Devin Hester and Harry Douglas stepping up in White's absence, as Matt Ryan and his teammates put Tampa to the sword. Ryan and Roddy will hope to hit Minnesota's underrated pass defense for some big plays in week 4.
White has practiced this week, and looks to be a go for Sunday's meeting with the Minnesota Vikings. With Julio Jones coming off a monster game, look for White to get some opportunities early on. Ryan will need to play with the type of confidence he displayed last Thursday night, so some easy, high-percentage throws to White should be on the docket, while the veteran will remain a viable red zone threat. Though Minnesota has showed out reasonably well against the pass, having frustrated Drew Brees and the Saints at times a week ago, the trio of Ryan, Roddy and Julio will be fine week 4 plays.
Look for Atlanta to test the Vikes' resolve in the passing game, in an attempt to create early separation from Minnesota, and put the onus on rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who will make his first career start with Matt Cassel (foot) out for the rest of the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There was more bad news in store for Tampa this week, as it was announced that offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will be taking a leave of absence from the team due to medical reasons. Tampa has struggled offensively through three games, failing to secure an identity and seeing injuries mount at crucial positions. With their play-caller gone and a struggling, and now wounded quarterback, the immediate future for Lovie Smith and the Bucs does not look great, though they did get a slight dose of better news this week.
That news involves the return of RB Doug Martin and the availability of veteran WR Vincent Jackson. Martin has missed the last two games after injuring his knee in week 1. Jackson suffered a small fracture in his wrist in the week 3 debacle, though the 31-year-old is also ready to rock for week 4. Vincent Jackson is set to play in week 4 despite an injured wrist.
The return of both players is not just good news, but great news for QB Mike Glennon, expected to make the start while Josh McCown sits with a sprained thumb on his right, throwing hand. McCown is expected to be out indefinitely, so Glennon, who started 13 games a season ago as a rookie after the Josh Freeman era came to an abrupt end, will have a chance to ignite Tampa's offense.
Outside of a strong week 2 effort from Bobby Rainey, Tampa has struggled to establish the run and build an identity offensively. If Martin can re-capture his rookie form, when he rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, the Bucs will be well on their way to turning things around. Similarly, if Jackson and Glennon can get back on the same page that saw the two build a nice rapport last year (the tandem hooked up for a garbage time score last week), Tampa's fortunes could begin to flip in the right direction with 13 games still to be played.
The Bucs face a banged up Steelers defense this week, and while Glennon is well down the pecking order for fantasy owners in need of a QB play, Martin could be in line for a bounce-back performance, having put up a dud in week 1 before leaving with his knee injury. The Steelers rebounded against the run in Carolina last week, but lost a pair of linebackers in the form of Jarvis Jones and rookie Ryan Shazier to injuries in the game. The Steelers also lost CB Ike Taylor, who despite his struggles, has the veteran presence to combat the skills of a player like Jackson.
Rainey lost two fumbles in Atlanta last week, so Martin's leash should be plenty long. Like Roddy White, he may have been able to go in the last game, if not for the short week. Jackson, while knicked up, should have a tasty matchup on the perimeter. V-Jax may be more in the boom-or-bust category due to the nature of the Bucs' QB situation, but Martin should have an opportunity to re-stake his claim as Tampa's main man at running back. If Glennon can ignite the offense and the Bucs can get, and then stay healthy, both players could begin trending back towards their usual figures soon.