Chiefs at Chargers
The Kansas City Chiefs have a rare opportunity to bury the annual champions of their division this week. KC has a two game lead on both the Chargers and the Raiders, so with only 4 games left in the regular season… a second December loss for Rivers and the rest of the Chargers would all but kill their hopes of making the playoffs. They would drop below .500 and have nothing but an outside shot at a wild card spot, assuming they win the next three to finish 9-7. The Chargers defense has been great all year, statistically, and should pose problems for Cassel and the Chiefs. They have been able to bring pressure on the QB with their blitzing scheme all year, but they have not faced many offenses as balanced as the Chiefs. The Chiefs’ two headed rushing attack of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones has been the key to their success and while Charles is clearly the superior back, the carries get split roughly evenly to keep both of them rested throughout the game. A solid rushing attack like this allows the Chiefs to win tough, low scoring games like last week, but their pass catching tandem of Cassel and Bowe is currently responsible for the most TD passes in the league. The Chiefs are a very complete team this year, even on the defensive side of the ball… but I have to think that the Chargers are more desperate and will find a way to win an important game at home in December. Expect a good game from Philip Rivers against the 21st ranked pass defense in the league and Malcom Floyd is the receiver most likely to have a good week for fantasy owners. Antonio Gates is holding his spot at the top of my TE rankings, so don’t keep downgrading him for his planar fascia injury. Jamaal Charles should have trouble consistently finding holes in the Chargers stout defensive front, but his big-play ability keeps him as a must start and a top 10 in my rankings. Even after being shut down last week against Denver, Dwayne Bowe remains a must start as he leads the league with TD catches and has earned a free-pass.
Patriots at Bears
Despite receiving very little recognition, the Bears are 9-3 and atop their division. They are hoping to stay a game ahead of the Packers, but face the best team (by record) that the AFC has to offer. Tom Brady has made the league’s elite defenses look foolish each time he has played one in recent weeks, but possibly faces the best pass rush he will in 2010. Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher are playing inspired football so far this season and have been adept at forcing turnovers (26). Brady on the other hand has not thrown an INT since week 6 against the Ravens in an OT win. Tom Brady passed Brett Favre for the longest home winning streak by a starting QB in NFL history, but the game is in Chicago! I expect the Bears to win this game, if Cutler is able to keep playing smart football and not put the ball where defenders can make a play on it. If he can reduce his mistakes and limit his turnovers to, at most, one… He will upset the Patriots and earn a win that would all but clinch a playoff berth for his team. I really like Earl Bennett’s chances to exploit a weak and inexperienced Patriots secondary and to continue his hot streak for fantasy owners who have recently added him to their team. Cutler should have a good day as well, but there is always the concern that he starts making bad decisions and throws a small handful of INTs to one of the league’s worst secondaries. Lower expectations for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but he remains a top 20 RB in my rankings for week 14. Wes Welker is back to being a starting, quality, fantasy wide receiver finally and should be the one to see the most targets as Brady looks to his hot route to avoid the pass rush.
Raiders at Jaguars
The Jaguars have made a habit of being a part of the playoff conversation, but that almost always quiets down by the time the playoffs actually start. The Raiders on the other hand have not played a game with meaning in December for quite a long time. Jason Campbell has been playing some quality football and finally doesn’t need to worry about losing his job any longer with Bruce Gradkowski out for the year. The Jaguars have not been able to cover any WRs that they have faced all season long and I do not expect that to start now. The Raiders have embraced the youth on their team and have started to develop a new dynamic play maker in Jacoby Ford. They have gone out of their way to get this guy the ball in space to let him make a play and it has been a quality strategy so far. Because of this he is returning kicks, playing receiver, and even getting involved in the running game. Don’t worry about sneaking Ford into your lineup unless you are desperate because we have all been burned by a Raider WR at some point during our fantasy football career… but he has stuck around and been a factor longer than anyone in his position in recent memory. I like the Raiders to find a way to contain Maurice Jones-Drew (somewhat) and to make a few big plays and earn a tough win on the road. The Raiders have managed wins against a lot of opponents better than the Jags in recent years and they have never had so much incentive. Downgrade all members of the Jaguars passing game against a formidable Raiders secondary led by Nnamdi Asomugha, but don’t be caught with MJD on your bench for some strange reason! A lot of fantasy owners and analysts seem to have forgotten how good Darren McFadden has been this season, but with only two games all season (that DMC played in) where he did not toal 100 all-purpose yards and 3 consecutive good matchups… he is essential to any playoff run you hoped to make. DO NOT get caught with this guy on your bench.