One wouldn't think that the time of a football game would affect a fantasy owner's decision making much, but in the case of Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson this week, I'd say it does. There are several important running backs who might be declared out by the time you read this or on Sunday morning, or they might play; however, it seems to me those fellows -- Ray Rice, Steven Jackson, Jahvid Best, Pierre Thomas -- aren't putting fantasy owners in a tremendous quandary. They play in early Sunday games. You'll know by game time and can prepare accordingly.
If Johnson, generally regarded as fantasy's top wide receiver and currently dealing with a sprained ankle, is ruled out an hour before his 4:05 p.m. ET game Sunday, many fantasy owners won't be pleased because they will be caught off-guard leaving him active. There is a way around this, depending on your league rules, and that is to have another wide receiver available playing in a late game or on Monday night. If Johnson doesn't suit up, which I doubt we'll know until the last minute, plug in Miami Dolphins such as Davone Bess or Brian Hartline for their nice Monday matchup against a poor New England Patriots secondary, or the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester/Earl Bennett for the New York Giants game Sunday night. Don't take a zero.
I think Johnson will play, but complicating matters this week is a difficult matchup against Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. In three prior meetings, Johnson has not fared well, catching a total of five passes for 94 yards and nary a touchdown. One could argue that a hobbled Johnson isn't a good fantasy option to start Sunday, even if he plays. I'd play him regardless, and consider promoting Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones into your lineups if Johnson sits, Walter first. Then again, Asomugha awaits.
As for the members of the running back M*A*S*H unit around the league, a lot can change between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning, so check out Fantasy Football Now on Sunday morning, colleague Tristan Cockcroft's inactives report and our Fantasy Surround live chat from 10 a.m. ET up until game time. If Rice, Jackson, Best and Thomas dress, my rankings on them as generally RB2 options stand. Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno has already been ruled out.
Here are a few other things to watch leading up to Sunday's games:
You Betts! I've written about New Orleans Saints running back Ladell Betts a few times this season, even though he has yet to carry the football. According to Brian Allee-Walsh of NewOrleans.com, if Thomas sits, Betts would become the featured back, leapfrogging Chris Ivory, who got seven carries in Week 3. That was enough for me to move Betts into my rankings Friday morning, though not in a spot I'd be likely to use him. Watch Drew Brees throw 48 passes.
Ryan's hope: The San Diego Chargers host the Arizona Cardinals in a late game Sunday, but all indications are that once-touted rookie running back Ryan Mathews will indeed play. I'm trusting Mathews as certainly usable this week, ranking him 21st at running back, and keep an eye on what Chargers beat writers and ESPN's reporters say about the situation. Everyone seems to love fullback Mike Tolbert; I ranked him well this week, because I expect a touchdown and 50 or so yards are certainly possible, but I think by this time next week we'll all be praising Mathews as the top-15 running back option he was drafted to be. Your window to buy low on him is running out.
Revenge matchup: And finally, we close the blog week with the big Sunday matchup. Will the Philly fans boo or will they cheer? The question here is whether fantasy owners will be the ones cheering. Donovan McNabb will be back in Philadelphia and while I ranked him 10th at quarterback this week, four spots worse than his opponent Michael Vick, I seem to be getting a lot of questions about how revenge plays a role in his performance. Sure, he wants to put on a show, but I wouldn't say that means he will. In other words, no matter what you read or hear about McNabb versus Vick, evaluate objectively. McNabb has fantasy games of seven, 21 and 13 points for standard leagues and is tied for 14th at quarterback in fantasy points. His running game is problematic. He did make my top 10 this week because the Philadelphia Eagles have played poorly on defense in two of three games, and the bye took Tony Romo and Brett Favre out of circulation. Don't let the continued hype fool you, as both McNabb and Vick, finally playing a decent defense, will be tested.
Good luck to all in Week 4 and beyond!