To play or not to play, that is the question.
Le’Veon Bell may be a villain to some, namely exasperated Steelers fans frustrated with the team’s slow start. Bell’s ongoing absence could also be perceived as “greedy” considering the lucrative five-year, $70 million extension he reportedly turned down this summer, but let’s see it from his perspective.
I can, at least in theory, write fantasy football columns for the next 50 years. Bell’s chosen occupation as an NFL running back is far more fleeting and substantially more punishing. Bell’s job description is running full speed into muscle-bound monsters hell-bent on destroying him. I go to bed late sometimes and I did hit my head on the refrigerator the other day, but that’s about as rough-and-tumble as it gets in my line of work.
The most common criticism of Bell is that he’s letting down his team, which in some sense is true. James Conner has fared better than many would have expected, but on a talent level, he’s not in the same universe as Bell. Plain and simple, the Steelers are a worse team without Bell.
But is it possible that the Steelers are actually letting Bell down and not vice versa? And could it also be that Bell—who has now lost out on four game checks, each valued at $855,000—is actually a hero for leading the fight against profit-obsessed owners, who rake in billions but still won’t offer fully guaranteed contracts to players? That might be overselling it, but there’s still something to be said for Bell’s sacrifice, even if it tarnishes his image.
It wasn’t a popular move when Kawhi Leonard abandoned the Spurs last season. But after seeing Isaiah Thomas lose out on millions by playing through a hip injury, you can understand why Kawhi would be extra-cautious coming back from his own quad ailment.
Earl Thomas knew what he was doing when he flipped the bird while being carted off against Arizona last week. There was probably a better way of showing it—I can’t recall a player giving his own team the finger (scratch that, Marshawn did it)—but it’s easy to see why Thomas would lash out. The stud safety contemplated holding out into the regular season but wound up caving prior to Week 1. Unlike the Rams, who eventually made Aaron Donald the league’s highest-paid defender (well for 24 hours, at least), the Seahawks held their ground, refusing to meet Thomas’ ambitious contract demands. Now he’s damaged goods, out with a broken leg and sure to settle for a reduced salary on the open market. It’s Isaiah Thomas all over again.
Do we have to like it when players go AWOL, giving us a diminished product on Sundays? Of course not. I miss watching Bell as much as anyone. The “get off my lawn” version of myself wants Bell to quit whining so I can go ahead and jam him into my DFS lineups. But the reasonable, level-headed Jesse knows and respects that Bell has to do what’s best for his long-term future. And right now, that means coming back after the Steelers’ bye week.
It’s hardly ideal, but in a sport where something like this could happen at any moment, you need to be protected. If it prevents players from suffering the same fate as Thomas, Bell’s holdout will have been worth it. Now for those Power Rankings you came here for:
1. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 1
Jared Goff aced his Week 4 test against Minnesota, annihilating the Vikings by throwing for a career-high 462 yards and five touchdowns, which tied a franchise record. Goff achieved a perfect 158.3 passer rating, becoming only the third player to accomplish that feat while attempting 30 or more passes. He’s also the first Ram to go over 400 yards passing since Marc Bulger in 2005. The Rams will leave the state of California for the first time this year when they visit the Seahawks in Week 5.
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2. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 2
Kareem Hunt came to play in Week 4, ripping the Broncos for 175 yards (121 rushing, 54 receiving) and a touchdown. That’s more yards than he had in his previous three games combined. All Patrick Mahomes did this week was lead a fourth-quarter comeback with his non-dominant arm. To level the playing field, he’ll play blindfolded against Jacksonville this week. Kansas City’s defense hasn’t provided many highlights this year, but you’ll want to see this grown-man interception by Eric Murray.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 4
The Jaguars are off to a 3-1 start. That’s pretty good considering their top offensive weapon, Leonard Fournette, has seen just 45 snaps while working through a hamstring injury. Dede Westbrook broke the Jets in Week 4, smashing them for a career-high 130 yards on nine catches. The second-year man out of Oklahoma State appears to have supplanted Keelan Cole as Jacksonville’s No. 1 receiver. Blake Bortles shrugged off a disappointing Week 3 by throwing for a career-high 388 yards in Sunday’s victory.
4. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 5
Outdoor Drew Brees made an appearance in Week 4 and it wasn’t pretty. The NFL’s soon-to-be yardage king didn’t do much of anything against the Giants (season-low 217 yards), but Alvin Kamara made sure he didn’t have to, shouldering the load with 181 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. Kamara is now on pace for 2,444 yards from scrimmage, which would be the second-highest total in league history. Can we stop with this whole Taysom Hill charade? Taking out Brees to put in a gadget quarterback on the 11-yard line is pure lunacy.
5. New England Patriots
Last Week: 13
Tom Brady campaigned for James White to play a bigger role following the team’s loss to Detroit in Week 3. The Patriots heeded his advice, letting White go for 112 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 16 touches Sunday against Miami. Sony Michel shined in his Gillette Stadium debut, blowing up for 112 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in the victory. Rob Gronkowski (ankle) looks like a long shot for Thursday night’s game against the Colts, though fortunately the Pats will be getting back Julian Edelman, who is done serving his four-game PED suspension.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 16
Alex Collins made his third end-zone visit of the year in Week 4 but also lost a goal-line fumble, which is a good way to get in John Harbaugh’s doghouse. John Brown only caught three-of-seven targets in Sunday’s win at Pittsburgh, but that was still good enough for 116 yards and a touchdown. That marked Brown’s first 100-yard game since Week 4 of 2016 when he was still with Arizona. Michael Crabtree has had stone hands this year, dropping five of his 34 targets from Joe Flacco. That puts him in a three-way tie with Melvin Gordon and Demaryius Thomas for the league lead in drops.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 3
Alshon Jeffery didn’t miss a beat in his return from shoulder surgery, corralling eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown while playing 65-of-78 offensive snaps in Week 4. That was Jeffery’s first 100-yard receiving game since Week 1 of 2016. Zach Ertz leads all tight ends in catches (31) and is second in yards (327) behind Oakland’s Jared Cook, though he’s still looking for his first touchdown of 2018. The Eagles haven’t won on the road yet (0-2), though luckily, they’ll be at the Link to face the Vikings this week in a rematch of last year’s NFC title game.
8. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 6
Cam Newton has stuffed the stat sheet over his last two games, exploding for seven touchdowns including two of the rushing variety. He’s been deadly accurate during that stretch, hitting on over 68 percent of his targets. Christian McCaffrey has done everything this year … well except score a touchdown. But we won’t hold that against him, not when he’s averaging 90.3 rushing yards per game, second in the league to Ezekiel Elliott. Needing safety help with Da’Norris Searcy on injured reserve, the Panthers added Eric Reid, a one-time Pro Bowler who brings 70 games (including 69 starts) of NFL experience.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 15
Make that back-to-back 300-yard passing games for Andy Dalton, who ranks second in the league with 11 touchdown passes. That’s more 300-yard performances than Dalton had all of last year. A.J. Green lit up the Falcons for 78 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, showing no ill effects from the groin injury that led to his exit in Week 3. Green’s touchdown, his fifth of the year, put Cincinnati ahead with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter. Prayers up for Tyler Eifert, who deserved better than another season-ending injury.
10. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 17
Mitchell Trubisky was dispiritingly bad in his first three appearances this year but that didn’t stop him from having the game of his life Sunday against Tampa Bay. The second-year signal-caller was unstoppable, dismantling the Bucs for 354 passing yards, 53 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Tarik Cohen broke out for 174 yards (53 rushing, 121 receiving) in the win while out-touching teammate Jordan Howard by a convincing 20-11 margin. Khalil Mack continues to taunt Jon Gruden from 2,000 miles away. This week he made his presence felt with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
11. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 12
The season is only a quarter over and Green Bay wideouts are already dropping like flies. With Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion) both in danger of missing Week 5, the Packers could be down to Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling at receiver for Sunday’s game in Detroit. How is this a competition anymore? Aaron Jones (6.3 yards per carry) continues to run circles around Jamaal Williams (3.4), yet coach Mike McCarthy insists on keeping the committee intact. Little known fact: Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since Week 3 of last season.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 7
Kirk Cousins let it rip in Week 4, carving up the Rams for 422 yards. That was his second 400-yard passing game of the year and the fifth of his career. Adam Thielen extended his streak of 100-yard games to four with another monster effort in Week 4, though it came in a losing effort. He’s on pace for 160 catches, which would shatter the current NFL mark held by Colts great Marvin Harrison. Minnesota’s passing game has been a sight to behold this year, but at some point, the backfield will have to start pulling its weight. Vikings running backs have combined for just 38 yards on 17 carries (2.24 yards per attempt) over the last two weeks.
13. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 20
It looked like Tennessee could be in for a long year after losing to the Dolphins in Week 1 but instead the Titans have bounced back by winning three straight. Last week’s victory over Philadelphia featured a breakout performance by Corey Davis, who won the game in overtime with a 10-yard walk-off touchdown. The second-year wideout compiled 161 yards in the victory, which is more than he had in his previous three games combined. Marcus Mariota’s 343 yards in that contest were his most since Week 9 of 2015.
14. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 14
Melvin Gordon continued his scoring binge with another touchdown in Week 4. That was his fifth end-zone trip in the last three games. Antonio Gates’ touchdown Sunday against the Niners was the 115th of his career, good for sixth on the all-time list. Last year, the Chargers tied for fifth in the league with 43 quarterback sacks. This year with Joey Bosa hurt, they’re tied for 22nd. After missing a field goal and two extra-points against San Francisco, Caleb Sturgis may be kicking for his job this week.
15. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 8
The Dolphins have challenged the Patriots in recent years but Sunday’s game at Gillette was not one of those instances. Ryan Tannehill put up a goose egg in fantasy, which is actually pretty hard to do. You would have been better off playing his backup, Brock Osweiler, who threw a late touchdown pass to Frank Gore in a blowout loss to the Patriots. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to hate The Drake. The third-year back has been invisible over his last two games, totaling just six yards on eight carries (0.75 yards per attempt) during that span.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 9
Think the Steelers miss Le’Veon Bell? Through four weeks, they’ve averaged the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game behind Minnesota, Arizona, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. James Conner has fallen on hard times, stumbling to a dismal 3.03 yards per carry over his last three contests. Antonio Brown has scored a touchdown in three of four games this year but is on pace for his fewest yards since 2012. This won’t solve all of Pittsburgh’s ills, but here’s a strategy that could work—feed Vance McDonald. The tight end has caught all nine of his targets for 174 yards and a touchdown over his last two contests. He’s also on my fantasy team, so there’s that.
17. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 18
Adrian Peterson will have the #RevengeGame narrative going Sunday when he faces the Saints, who traded him to Arizona after just four games last year. Of course, that’s assuming he even plays—the 33-year-old tweaked his ankle before the bye week. The Redskins will probably be Vernon Davis’ final NFL stop but there’s still a little left in the 34-year-old’s tank as the tight end showed by delivering a team-high 70 yards in a Week 3 win at Green Bay. At an alarmingly thin fantasy position, he’s someone to keep an eye out for, especially considering Jordan Reed’s injury history.
18. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 19
The Case Keenum Era has gotten off to a rocky (no pun intended) start in Denver. The first-year Bronco hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 1 and is tied for second in the league with six interceptions. Denver native Phillip Lindsay scored his first career touchdown in the loss to Kansas City. He’s been a pleasant surprise, averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry, good for third in the league behind Matt Breida and Austin Ekeler. Before Patrick Mahomes gashed them for 304 yards in Week 4, the Broncos hadn’t allowed a 300-yard passer since the AFC Championship against New England in 2015.
19. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 10
Julio Jones hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this season despite leading the league with 502 receiving yards. Remarkably, he’s made just four end-zone visits over his last 25 regular season outings. Speaking of touchdowns, Alabama rookie Calvin Ridley leads the league in that statistic with six. Five of those have come in his last two games. Mohamed Sanu broke the elusive 100-yard barrier in Week 4, the first time he’s reached that threshold since Week 8 of 2014 when he was still with Cincinnati. Only the Bucs and Raiders have allowed more points than Atlanta this year.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 11
We knew it had to end sometime but the Fitzmagic period in Tampa was fun while it lasted. Ryan Fitzpatrick will cede the starter role to Jameis Winston, who completed 16-of-20 passes for 145 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in his return Sunday against Chicago. A healthy scratch for the first three games of the year, rookie Ronald Jones finally saw the field in Week 4, totaling 29 yards on 10 carries in his Bucs debut. DeSean Jackson has gone over the 100-yard hump in three of four games this year after reaching that mark just once last season.
21. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 23
The Seahawks burned plenty of fantasy owners by making Chris Carson a surprise inactive last week. Mike Davis took the backfield reins in Carson’s absence, cruising to 101 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a victory over Arizona. Doug Baldwin wasn’t held back in his return from a knee injury, leading the team with seven targets while seeing the field on 50-of-66 offensive snaps. Will Dissly caught a bad break in Week 4, exiting with a torn patellar tendon. The rookie’s injury will require season-ending surgery.
22. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 26
Ezekiel Elliott gave Dallas everything he had in Week 4, smoking the Lions for a career-high 240 yards from scrimmage. It almost wasn’t enough as the Cowboys needed a last-second field goal by Brett Maher to secure a narrow 26-24 win. Dak Prescott came out of hiding in Week 4, topping 200 yards passing for the first time since Week 15 of last season. It was also a big week for pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, who sacked Matthew Stafford three times to take over the league lead in that stat (5.5).
23. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 21
Baker Mayfield’s first career start was a mixed bag as the reigning Heisman winner tallied a respectable 295 passing yards but completed just 21-of-41 passes (51.2 percent) while also throwing two interceptions. Nick Chubb balled all the way out in the loss to Oakland, ripping off 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just three carries. Antonio Callaway has had a rough go of it, securing just 10-of-24 targets with three drops over his last three outings. If the Browns are able to beat Baltimore this week (Vegas has them as three-point underdogs), it would be their first win on a Sunday since Week 14 of 2015.
24. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 22
Coach Matt Patricia believes Kerryon Johnson is getting enough work, but I beg to differ. Despite averaging an embarrassing 2.7 yards per carry (fourth-lowest in the NFL), LeGarrette Blount has seen just three fewer rushing attempts than Johnson, whose 5.7 yards per carry is the league’s sixth-highest. Golden Tate left it all on the field against Dallas, spouting off for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Surprisingly, that was the first time Tate has ever gone for 100 yards and two touchdowns in the same game.
25. Houston Texans
Last Week: 30
The Texans snapped their nine-game road losing streak with an overtime win Sunday at Indianapolis. Pass-rushers Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt spent the afternoon tormenting Andrew Luck, dragging him for a combined four sacks. Patrick Mahomes’ college teammate Keke Coutee enjoyed a monster debut, torching the Colts for 111 yards on 11 catches. With Will Fuller (hamstring) banged up, Coutee’s volume won’t be going away any time soon.
26. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 24
What’s this about Andrew Luck’s arm strength? The Stanford grad looked just fine Sunday against Houston, shredding the Texans for a career-high 464 yards. Nyheim Hines led Indy with nine catches in the loss, giving him 22 for the year. That’s second among NFL rookies. It’s always refreshing to see coaches take chances, though perhaps Frank Reich was a little too daring going for it on fourth down in his own territory during the last minute of overtime. With T.Y. Hilton nursing a hamstring injury, fantasy owners would be wise to familiarize themselves with Zach Pascal, who went for 56 yards and a touchdown in Week 4.
27. New York Giants
Last Week: 25
Janoris Jenkins shut down Michael Thomas in Week 4, limiting the star receiver to a season-low 47 receiving yards. Unfortunately, the Giants didn’t have an answer for Alvin Kamara, who bulldozed his way to three touchdowns. Saquon Barkley was a bright spot in Week 4, scoring his second touchdown in as many weeks. The rookie out of Penn State has topped 100 yards from scrimmage in every game he’s played this year. New York was held under 30 points again in Week 4. That’s a threshold the Giants haven’t reached since the final week of 2015.
28. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 27
Rather than working out a trade or signing a free agent to replace Jimmy Garoppolo, the Niners stayed in house by handing the keys to C.J. Beathard. The 2017 third-rounder took his lumps against the Chargers in Week 4 but still threw for a career-high 298 yards and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns went to Beathard’s former Iowa teammate George Kittle, who also set a career-high with 125 receiving yards. Among tight ends, only Jared Cook (370) and Zach Ertz (327) have logged more yards than Kittle (316) this year.
29. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 31
Jon Gruden’s first win in a decade didn’t come easy. The Browns made sure of that by scoring 42 points, though fortunately Oakland’s offense was up to the task. Marshawn Lynch rumbled to 130 rushing yards, his most since 2014 when he hung 157 yards on Green Bay in the NFC title game. Meanwhile Jared Cook continued his blistering start, feasting with 110 yards and a pair of TDs. That marked the tight end’s first multi-touchdown game since Week 14 of 2014. After getting owned by Xavien Howard in Week 3, Amari Cooper bounced back with 128 yards and his first touchdown of 2018.
30. New York Jets
Last Week: 28
A week after scoring two touchdowns against the Browns, Isaiah Crowell was held to three yards on five touches in a loss to Jacksonville. That’s pretty pathetic, but at least he has a new endorsement deal with … well you’ll see. Sam Darnold’s production has fallen off a cliff over the last two weeks. During that span, he’s completed just 49.2 percent of his passes while averaging a sluggish 5.17 yards per attempt. Quincy Enunwa has been the intended receiver on 29.1 percent of Darnold’s throws this season. That’s a higher target share than both Antonio Brown (28.5) and Michael Thomas (27.0).
31. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 29
After a surprisingly competent Week 3 against the Vikings, the wheels fell off for Josh Allen in Week 4. The rookie out of Wyoming crashed and burned in his first trip to Lambeau Field, completing just 16-of-33 passes for 151 yards and two interceptions. He was also dropped seven times for a loss of 64 yards, bringing his season sack total to 18. That leads the league. Fantasy owners expecting workhorse usage from LeSean McCoy this year may want to rethink that strategy. Shady has seen just 9.7 touches per game in the early going, a far cry from the 21.6 he averaged in 2017. Zero: that’s how many points the Bills have scored in their last six quarters.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 32
After seeing an inexplicably light workload over his first three games, David Johnson finally got the bell-cow treatment in Week 4, contributing 112 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 25 touches. Josh Rosen did some nice things in his first career start, though he couldn’t get on the same page with Larry Fitzgerald, who managed just three catches for 28 yards on seven targets. The 35-year-old has been a non-factor with 65 yards and no touchdowns over his last three games while playing through a nagging hamstring injury.
Biggest Jump: Ravens10
Biggest Drop: Buccaneers, Falcons9