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.
The New York Jets Defense has a good matchup on paper in Week 14. However, fantasy owners may want to think twice before starting this unit in the playoffs. The Dolphins have been a punch line most of this season but have actually won three of their last five games, scoring 20-plus points in four of those games. The Miami offense has looked good led by former Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick who said he's feeling confident after hanging 37 points on the Eagles last week. The Jets defense was picked apart by Bengals QB Andy Dalton last week and now will likely be without stud safety Jamal Adams (ankle). The Jets could be used as a low-end starter, but other streaming defenses are likely to outperform Gang Green this week.
New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was limited in Wednesday's practice with a hamstring injury. This is nothing new for the veteran wide receiver who has been limited in most practices this season, but hasn't missed any game action since September. Thomas will be active and play for the Jets this Sunday, but fantasy owners don't need to follow suit. Thomas has just one game in his last six with more than five targets and hasn't done much with the limited work he's getting. Starting QB Sam Darnold has been throwing more to Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder in recent weeks with Thomas fading to fantasy obscurity, even in a good matchup with Miami.
The Falcons Defense showed some glimpses of hope in Week 10 and Week 11, completely shutting down the Saints and Panthers. However, the past two weeks, they've struggled mightily and have allowed a total of 61 points. This week, the Falcons have their second meeting against the Panthers. While Kyle Allen could turn the ball over a few times and provide ample sack opportunities, the Panthers should still put a good amount of points on the board. The Falcons defense could be worth considering if you're in a pinch, but you're probably best off going in a different direction this week.
Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo has earned at least three field goal attempts in each of his four games with the Falcons. He's hit 12-of-14 attempts on the year. This week, the Falcons face the Panthers in a game that should feature a good amount of scoring. Expect Koo to have the opportunity to hit two or three field goals in the game with some extra-points as well, making him a strong starting kicker option this week.
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill saw his workload heavily diminished upon the return of Devonta Freeman in Week 13. This week should be a similar story as the team faces the Panthers. Hill should see only around six or seven touches at best in the game, giving him little hope of a solid fantasy day. He can be left on waivers in all leagues at this point.
Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison didn't see a single touch in Week 13. The team featured Devonta Freeman heavily in the game, with Brian Hill as his backup. Ollison scored touchdowns in back-to-back games while Freeman was out in Week 11 and Week 12, but now appears to be relegated to benchwarmer status. He can be dropped or left on waivers in all leagues at this point.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage (ribs) was a limited practice participant on Wednesday. He wasn't alone. Julio Jones (shoulder), Calvin Ridley (toe) and Austin Hooper (knee) were all limited as well. Assuming Gage is able to play in Week 14, his upside varies greatly depending on which of the other three hobbled Falcons pass-catchers are good to go. If Jones, Ridley and Hooper all suit up, Gage is tough to trust in any format. If one of them sits, Gage is a decent PPR play. If two or more sit, Gage is worth starting in all formats. Gage has 13 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown over his past two games.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder has disappointed fantasy owners two weeks in a row totaling just four catches for 26 yards in both games combined. Seeing numbers like that can make it hard to trust the fifth-year receiver, but based on his target volume and matchup fantasy owners should turn back to Crowder in Week 14. Crowder has 18 more targets than any other Jet on the season and has done all of his damage this year when QB Sam Darnold has been healthy. Darnold looks Crowder's way often and even with just two catches last week Crowder was targeted nine times. Crowder will be a low-end WR2 vs a very beatable Miami secondary.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman saw a heavy workload in Week 13, following a two-game absence. He had a total of 21 touches in Week 13, including four receptions. He should be similarly featured this week as the team takes on the Panthers. Freeman has greatly struggled from an efficiency standpoint this year, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry on the season. However, his workload has somewhat made up for his struggles and he's performed as an RB2 most of the year. Start him as an RB2 this week and look for him to gain around 80 yards on the day with a solid chance to score a touchdown.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson has been disappointing for most of 2019, but appears to be heating up as the weather cools down in the Big Apple. Despite the Jets offense looking lost for most of their Week 13 loss to the Bengals, Anderson was able to make seven catches for 101 yards as one of the few bright spots for New York. Even before that game, Anderson had scored a touchdown in the previous two games as it seems he's finally being treated as the number one receiving option by this first-year coaching staff. Miami gives up the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and Anderson is coming off a 10-target game. Expect the Jets to take a few deep shots to him in this one making him a high-ceiling WR3.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (shoulder) missed his first game of the year in Week 13 and is currently questionable for Week 14. He was a limited practice participant on Wednesday. If he can practice in full before Sunday's game against the Panthers, he should be good to go. Jones has had a somewhat underwhelming year, by his lofty standards. He hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3 and he has just two 100-yard games since Week 3. However, he's still regularly seen around eight or more targets throughout the year. Expect him to catch around six passes for 80 or more yards in Week 14 if he's active.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (toe) was a limited practice participant on Wednesday. He's currently questionable for Week 14 against the Panthers, but there doesn't seem to be much indication that he's at risk to miss the game. Ridley is riding a three-game hot streak. He has 22 receptions for over 300 yards and two touchdowns over his past three games. Julio Jones (shoulder) missed the team's last game and appears trending towards playing in Week 14. If Jones is active, Ridley's upside takes a small hit, but he's a strong WR2 play in all formats regardless.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a solid bounce-back performance in Week 13, throwing for 312 yards and two touchdowns. This week, Ryan and the Falcons face the Panthers. The Falcons are riddled with injuries on offense, but signs seem to be pointing towards a return for Julio Jones (shoulder) and Austin Hooper (knee) this week. The Falcons have struggled so much to run the ball this year that Ryan is regularly forced to throw a lot of passes. Expect him to top 300 yards and throw for multiple touchdowns in Week 14.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (knee) was a limited practice participant on Wednesday and could be slated to make his return in Week 14 against the Panthers. Hooper was having a monster season before the injury sidelined him. He earned at least five targets in each of the nine games he played this year and he has six touchdowns on the year. Keep an eye on his status the next few days, but if he's active for the game, he's a must-start.
The Bills Defense did a solid job holding a strong Cowboys offense to just 15 points in Week 13, but this week, they face an even tougher opponent, the Ravens. The Ravens are averaging over 33 points per game on the year and about 420 yards from scrimmage per game. The Bills defense has been exceptional all year and even though this week doesn't figure to be one of their stronger showings, they should still be able to make it out with an adequate fantasy day. They're a low-end starting option this week.
New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell has had a rough first year in green and white averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and scoring just four total touchdowns through 13 games. Despite the rough season, a juicy matchup with a porous Dolphins run defense should have Bell in fantasy lineups once again this week. Miami gives up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs and the Jets should focus on giving Bell the ball. Last week the Jets only gave Bell 10 carries against a bad Bengals run defense and were rightfully panned in the New York media for their game plan vs Cincinnati. Expect the coaching staff to learn from their mistake and feed Bell 20-plus touches this weekend putting Bell in the low-end RB1 conversation based on volume and matchup.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had a miserable game in Cincinnati last Sunday, but will be in the streaming quarterback mix again in Week 14 with a home date against Miami. Darnold was roughed up by the Bengals taking several big hits and was seen limping during the last drive, but he practiced in full on Wednesday and will be good to go Sunday. The Jets offense looked lost last week but before that they scored 34 points in three straight games with Darnold looking much better than he did in his first few games back from illness. Darnold isn't the sexiest option to start in the fantasy playoffs, but he's been playing much better, he only has two turnovers in his last five games, and the Dolphins give up the third-most points to opposing QBs on the season.
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox has had a steady role in the offense over the past month, but his usage isn't high enough to inspire confidence for fantasy owners. He has five catches on six targets in his past two games, but has only managed to gain 28 yards total in those two games. The team's passing offense has relied heavily on John Brown and Cole Beasley this year. Knox has shown promising flashes and could be a decent sleeper to target next year, but he can remain on waivers for now.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown is coming off of his worst game of the season. He caught just three passes for 26 yards in Week 13, only the second time he'd been held under 50 receiving yards in a game on the season. This week, the Bills face a tough Ravens Defense and they'll likely need to rely on Brown, one of their top playmakers, in order to stay in the game. Expect Brown to see around seven targets in the game, giving him a good chance for four or five catches and a few big plays. He's a WR2 this week.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley has been on a roll lately. He's topped 70 receiving yards in three of his past four games and has scored touchdowns in two straight. He's earned more targets than the team's No. 1 receiver John Brown each of the past two weeks. This week, the Bills face a tough Ravens Defense and quarterback Josh Allen may need to rely on Beasley as his short-yardage safety net once again. Expect Beasley to see around seven or eight targets in the game, making him a solid WR3 or flex play in PPR leagues. In non-PPR, he's a bit risky, but could still be considered a low-end WR3 or flex.