Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff calls signals during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) takes a snap during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throws against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) avoids a tackle byf Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
LOS ANGELES (AP) Even Sean McVay realizes there’s a strong argument to be made that the Chicago Bears ended the Los Angeles Rams’ two seasons of offensive brilliance with their 15-6 victory at Soldier Field last season.
McVay, Jared Goff and the Rams (5-4) get a chance to reply when the Bears (4-5) visit the Coliseum on Sunday night in a game that could wreck the loser’s realistic playoff hopes.
That loss on a chilly, biting night last December still stings for McVay and Goff, who threw a career-high four interceptions while the Rams were held without a touchdown for the first time in McVay’s tenure.
“They were a great defense, period,” McVay said. “They still are a great defense, but they did do some different things schematically that - I don’t run away from the fact that I didn’t handle that night well at all.”
Los Angeles was 11-1 and cruising through a season that would bend with a Super Bowl trip, but Vic Fangio’s defense reduced McVay’s offense to a wan shadow of its usual self. Todd Gurley produced only 28 yards rushing, Goff went 20 of 44 for 180 yards, and the Rams managed only 214 yards - less than half of their season average.
Fangio largely did it with a deceptively simple 6-1 alignment: Six defenders right at the line of scrimmage, with one linebacker just behind them looking to snuff out the run game. When Gurley couldn’t move the ball on the ground against that setup, the Rams’ play-action strategies were largely useless - and then Goff made mistakes.
“All of these teams, at some point, you hit some patches where you have to figure some things out and re-adjust and all that,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of the Rams’ struggles in Chicago last season. “We’re going through that right now offensively.”
Other teams copied the Bears’ strategy, and New England played its version to perfection while holding the Rams to three points in the Super Bowl. But with Gurley still largely ineffective this season, opponents haven’t even needed the strategy to beat the Rams lately.
“I wouldn’t say what they did has shown up a lot,” Goff said, recalling the Bears’ setup. “It’s something that teams have tried, and we’ve beat it at times, and we haven’t at times. It’s definitely part of a scheme that people have played not only to us, but across the league. Nothing too crazy. Pretty simple. We’ll be ready if they do it again.”
Chuck Pagano runs the Bears’ defense now, and it has scarcely lost a step statistically despite Chicago’s overall struggles.
The Rams’ offense is a shadow of its former self, sitting in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories and coming off an inept performance at Pittsburgh in which it scored only three of Los Angeles’ 12 points.
The Bears’ biggest concern this time around likely should be Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defense, which has been on a roll since the week before it acquired shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville.
“Really good defense,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. “I think it starts up front for them. They’ve got obviously really talented players in Donald, and they do a lot of stuff up front with twists and getting pressure. Last year, they kind of zoned us out and tried to keep everything in front and take away our big plays.”
Here are more things to know about the prime-time showdown between 2018 division winners:
Allen Robinson figures he’s in for a physical confrontation and plenty of trash talk from Ramsey.
The Bears’ leading receiver and Rams’ brash star cornerback figure to be matched against each other just like old times, when they would go at it in practice as teammates in Jacksonville for two seasons. Robinson was three years into his career when the Jaguars drafted Ramsey with the No. 5 overall pick in 2016, and the rookie went at him right away.
“It’s gonna be physical, it’s gonna be competitive, it’s gonna be fun,” Robinson said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Robinson signed with Chicago last year, while Ramsey forced a trade to Los Angeles last month. But during their time together, Robinson heard plenty from him.
“I talk, he talks, so it’ll be fun,” Robinson said.
Khalil Mack will be lining up against a Rams offensive line with four of the five starters in unfamiliar positions. Los Angeles lost center Brian Allen and right tackle Rob Havenstein to injuries last week, so guard Austin Blythe moves to center and untested youngsters David Edwards, Austin Corbett and Bobby Evans likely join the starting lineup. The Rams’ line struggled against Pittsburgh even before the injuries, so McVay is scheming to help his profoundly inexperienced unit - but Mack still could be in for a feast.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The Bears got the win they needed last week against Detroit, ending a four-game skid with Trubisky throwing three TD passes to match his season high. But the defending NFC North champions still have plenty of room to improve. Though they scored on three consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters, the offense went long stretches without moving the ball.
The defense held Detroit to 98 yards rushing on 27 attempts, but the Bears lost linebacker Danny Trevathan to a left elbow injury, and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is on injured reserve with an elbow injury, leaving Chicago without two disruptive players inside against Los Angeles.
McVay is still disappointed after leading receiver Cooper Kupp was held without a catch last week. The Steelers felt free to double-team Kupp more frequently with Brandin Cooks sidelined by a concussion, and Cooks is out again this week. Goff and McVay both believe their offense needs the ball in Kupp’s hands to reach its potential.
Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa will be looking to get back on track when the Chargers visit the Jaguars on Sunday this week. Bosa, who has 8.5 sacks on the season, has been held without one in over a month. This week, he'll face rookie Gardner Minshew, newly appointed starter for the Jaguars after Nick Foles fell flat over the last couple games. Minshew is much more agile and improvisational than Foles, but he's also raw and hopefully someone that Bosa can catch making a mistake or two. The Chargers Defense has been up and down recently, but a strong showing against a fellow disappointing team could help right the ship for the last few games of the season.
Los Angeles Chargers kicker Michael Badgley was booming balls a mile up in the sky last week, but he'll be back down near sea level this go around. Badgley missed a 55-yarder in Denver last week, and he'll be just 16 feet above sea level in Week 14 when he is kicking in Jacksonville. Badgley is a far cry from where he was last season, making just 76% of his kicks this year as compared to the 93.8% he knocked through in 2018. Also, while he was perfect in kicks less than 50 yards in length last year, he's missed two such kicks this season. Badgley isn't a terrible kicker, especially compared to some in LA's history, but he certainly hasn't lived up to his billing.
The Cleveland Browns activated tight end David Njoku from injured reserve on Saturday. Njoku fractured his wrist during Week 2 against the New York Jets and has spent most of the season on the sidelines. Njoku is not expected to be limited on Sunday, which will push Demetrius Harris, Stephen Carlson, and Ricky Seals-Jones back to reserve roles. Njoku's next two weeks set up perfectly in fantasy as he will face two teams that struggle to contain tight ends in Cincinnati and the Arizona Cardinals. Njoku's return is an instant boost to Baker Mayfield's stock as the team has been missing a red-zone presence this season.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry will have his work cut out for him in Week 14. Henry will be facing off against a Jacksonville defense that has been one of the stingiest in the land versus opposing tight ends. Jacksonville's held opposing tight ends to zero touchdowns in the last four weeks, and they're top-10 in limiting the production of opposing tight ends this season. Henry had been on a hot streak until last week when he got shut down by Denver, so he could use a bounce back. Unfortunately, the Jaguars' difficult defense makes a big week unlikely, though most owners won't be able to pass up the tantalizing possibilities of a big week from the young TE.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is making up for lost time by racking up touchdowns in two straight games. Now, he'll face another stout defensive backfield that is tied for the fourth-fewest receiving touchdowns this season. Jacksonville has allowed quite a few yards to wideouts, but they've been able to keep them out of the end zone. Allen has done a good job of hauling in passes sent his way this year, but he's still pulling himself out of the doldrums where he struggled to get meaningful yardage in the middle of the year. He's been on a roll the last few weeks though, and he should find a way to continue that momentum this week. Expect solid numbers for the fantasy playoffs.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams went huge last week against the Denver Broncos, and he'll be looking to continue building on his progress. Williams racked up 117 yards as he was the go-to receiver for deep passes, giving him a new career-high. He'll now turn his sights on the Jaguars, a less dominant secondary than that of the Broncos. However, in this case, them being less dominant may actually cut into Williams' production instead of helping it. One of the natural ways Denver's stingy secondary helped Williams is that Philip Rivers wanted to avoid Chris Harris Jr, who shadowed Keenan Allen all day. Jacksonville's secondary isn't so top-heavy, so Williams may not see as much work and Allen may see more. Williams has shown he can be a superstar though, so Rivers should still find him for a big play or two no matter what,
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has been on a roll recently, and that train shouldn't slow down on Sunday against Jacksonville. Gordon has posted 90 or more yards from scrimmage in four straight games, and he's about to face one of the worst rushing defenses in the entire league. The Jaguars have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards and second-most rushing touchdowns in the NFL, and Gordon has returned to his full form. Expect Gordon to be a linchpin in the Chargers offense this week, and he could be one of the highest-performing players across the league.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler has once again proven that he can still be a productive fantasy weapon even when Melvin Gordon is fully healthy and performing, and he should continue some of that production this week against a Jacksonville defense that is extremely susceptible to running backs. Ekeler has touched the ball 34 times in the last three games, and he's racked up 247 yards on those touches, averaging 7.27 yards per touch. He's also scored a pair of touchdowns, and fantasy owners should look for him to be attacking the end zone once again this week. Since Ekeler is officially a backup, there's always the possibility of a dud if the coaching staff decides to push the ball elsewhere, but his recent production more than warrants continued use.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark has seen his role in the Jaguars offense fade some lately, but with rookie Gardner Minshew back at quarterback, Chark's in a good spot to get back to the level he was at early in the season. Chark averages more yards per reception with Minshew at quarterback and caught five touchdowns from the first-year passer. This week's meeting with the Chargers isn't a great one for Jacksonville's passing game, but if you're going to trust one of these receivers, it should be Chark.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley has been incredibly consistent over the past three games, so if you need a fantasy wide receiver who'll catch four passes for 50 yards, Conley's the guy for you. He doesn't have tremendous upside and has just two touchdown receptions on the year, but his current role with the Jaguars does give him a solid floor. Sometimes, that's what you need.
The Minnesota Vikings Defense is one of the top plays at the position in Week 14. They will square off with undrafted rookie quarterback David Blough and the Detroit Lions at home in an important divisional battle. Blough played well in a narrow loss to the Bears in his debut in Week 13, but he did throw an interception and took two sacks in the game. The Vikings average 2.8 sacks per game and have a chance to get after the rookie with the Lions offensive line struggling. The Vikings secondary has been atrocious lately and the Lions have some deep-threat weapons, but it's safe to count on Mike Zimmer's defense to rebound at home after last week's brutal effort against the Seattle Seahawks. Start them with confidence in Week 14 as they have a great chance at picking up sacks and turnovers for your fantasy squad.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is a WR2 with a wide range of outcomes in Week 14. It's been up-and-down for Diggs since Adam Thielen (hamstring) has been out as he has registered three monster fantasy outputs while also mixing in three very modest efforts. Detroit has struggled to defend the pass this year as they rank 26th in pass DVOA and are in the bottom-five in fantasy points allowed to the position. Though Diggs will likely see a lot of Darius Slay in coverage, the Vikings will find ways to scheme him open as their top receiving option. It should be noted that the passing game volume could take a slight hit with the Vikings favored by 13 points at home. Keep Diggs locked in as a solid WR2 with elite upside and a lower floor than most receivers in his range.
Don't let his touchdown reception last week fool you; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook has had limited upside all season and while he's unlikely to bottom out like he did in Gardner Minshew's first game as quarterback for the Jags, he's not a great option in Minshew's return to the starting role. Westbrook's targets and yardage have been smaller than most expected coming into this season, which makes it difficult to trust him, especially in shallower leagues.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette should be in line for a solid performance in Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers allow the ninth-most PPR points to opposing running backs, and while in years past that PPR part of the equation wouldn't mean much to Fournette, he's been targeted 23 times in the passing game over the last two weeks. He's going to get a lot of touches on Sunday, and the Chargers are a team that he can exploit. Feel confident using Fournette as an RB1.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Olabisi Johnson remains in the mix as the Vikings No. 2 receiver with Adam Thielen (hamstring) out. Johnson had been playing at least 70% of snaps every week Thielen has missed, but he put up a 56% snap count in Week 13 as Laquon Treadwell carved out an increased role. Johnson finished with one catch for one yard in a loss to the Seahawks. "Bisi" has a much better chance to produce this week as the Lions Defense has gotten torched all season and shutdown corner Darius Slay will likely stick with Stefon Diggs all game long. As a reminder, Johnson is one game removed from catching six of nine targets for 35 yards in a comeback win over the Broncos in Week 11. There could be some volume concerns this week with the Vikings favored by 13 points, but Johnson is the Vikings backup receiver to take a chance on if you're in desperate need.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had his best game in a month last week when he completed 69% of his passes, but the Chargers still found a way to lose at the last second. This week, he'll face a porous Jacksonville defense that has been sliding recently. Though mediocre for the season, the Jaguars have fallen apart recently, allowing 26 or more points in four straight games. They've been ripped by opposing quarterbacks, allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in the last month. With LA desperately looking to nail down a win after so many close losses, expect Rivers to have the opportunity for a big game.
The New York Giants ruled out both tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) for Monday night. That means Kaden Smith will get another start. He could be put into DFS Showdown slates, but he's not a recommended option in season-long playoffs given the Giants' full complement of healthy wide receivers.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones will miss Monday night's game with an ankle injury. As has been expected all week, Eli Manning will get the start and becomes a low-end QB2 option in season-long leagues. This improves Saquon Barkley's value a little since Manning dumps off to running backs more than he runs, but it doesn't do much to the value of the Giants' wide receivers. Perhaps a slight bump down for Golden Tate since the two have never played together.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will likely see extended playing time again this week in the absence of top wideout Adam Thielen (hamstring). Treadwell caught one of his two targets for a wide-open 58-yard score last week, but he should not be considered as a starting option in Week 14. The fourth-year wideout has seen one or zero targets in five of his seven games played - that fact alone should have you looking elsewhere for desperation streaming options. He'll compete with Olabisi Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, and Dalvin Cook for (likely) limited targets behind Stefon Diggs this week. If you must have a backup receiver from this game, look to Johnson with his higher snap count and target-share.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew is the starter again, but his first start since reclaiming that role comes in a bad situation. The Jags play the Chargers, who've allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing passers this season. The safest bet for you in a season-long fantasy league is to do what you can to avoid playing Minshew this week, though he's not the worst option in a two-quarterback league. He threw for 147 yards and a touchdown in one half of play against Tampa.