By Chris Molina
The Los Angeles Chargers are taking on the Los Angeles Rams in the “Battle for Los Angeles.” I caution everyone before you start the Chargers’ quarterback, Phillip Rivers. The Rams defense — currently DST7 in Club Fantasy — is a defense to avoid playing your starters against all year, especially opposing quarterbacks. I own Rivers in like five leagues, but I refuse to start him in any of them. Instead, I will be streaming the best possible matchup. If you have Rivers, I suggest you all do the same. “What about Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen,” you say? Start them and grit your teeth. You did not draft them in the first three rounds of your draft just to bench them. The probable volume for each might make the fantasy week acceptable. However, you do not want to turn your fantasy football weekend into a nightmare. This is my official “proceed with caution” about Mr. Phillip Rivers (and every subsequent QB who faces the Rams).
The Rams allowed the Raiders to score a rushing touchdown on the very first drive of the season. Since then, the Rams have only yielded two measly field goals in 7+ quarters. They have as many turnovers forced as they do points allowed. Their defense — which is allowing 6.5 points per week — is the #1 scoring defense by a whopping 7 points! DISCLAIMER: In their first two games, they have played the Oakland Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals. Those teams are a combined 0-4. The Cardinals have been especially terrible with a brutally awful offense that currently ranks as 32nd “best” in both yards (350 total yards) and scoring offense (6 total points). That’s your classic conundrum though, being that both teams have had to go against the Rams, and not someone like the Bills. Take what I said above as you will.
However, that Rams secondary has matched up with three household names — Larry Fitzgerald (WR52), Amari Cooper (WR41), and Jordy Nelson (WR82). You probably drafted Fitzgerald and Amari Cooper between rounds three and six of your fantasy drafts, and you expect them to produce. They basically ghosted us against the likes of Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Lamarcus Joyner. Skeptical? Let’s compare Fitzgerald’s and Cooper’s week against the Rams and the week not against the Rams. In week 1 against the Rams, Amari Cooper had 1 catch for 9 yards on 3 targets. Ouch. In week 2 against the Broncos, Cooper proceeded to torch Denver by catching all 10 targets for 116 yards. See the difference? Let’s look at Fitz. Week 1, he played the number two scoring defense in the league (Washington; 13.5 pa). Against Josh Norman and company, he went for 7 catches for 76 yards in a loss. Respectable numbers considering the Cardinals put up a whopping 6 points. Fitzgerald only managed 3 catches for 28 yards against the Rams. Therefore, Cooper and Fitzgerald combined for 17 catches on 20 targets (85%) and 192 yards in their non-Rams matchup. Against the Rams, they combined for 4 catches on 8 targets (50%) for only 37 yards. Uh oh.
This does not even take into account that the Rams defensive-line is starting to gel too. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and former All-Pro Ndamukong Suh are a scary combination to go against if you’re Rivers. This defensive line only has 4 sacks so far, but the line has created 9 accepted offensive holding calls against the opposing offensive line. Opponents just can’t guard them. This is especially impressive considering they’ve rushed 4 guys and dropped 7 in coverage more often than not. Compare those 9 accepted penalties to the most holding penalties by an offense (9 to 6). Marshawn Lynch (RB19) and David Johnson (RB27) had to combine numbers to cross the century mark against this defensive line. If you cannot run and you cannot pass to your receivers, then what do you do? The Rams only weakness was a monster game by Jared Cook (TE1). Virgil Green (TE22) and Antonio Gates (TE42) will not be able provide that same type of production.
The Chargers offense has been great so far this year. Phillip Rivers is QB4 in Club Fantasy leagues, and has thrown for six touchdowns through two games. They coasted in the second half against Buffalo last week, or it would have been more. He’s been my guy the first two weeks (along with Mahomes), and will be starting for me from week 4 through week 16. Not this week though. A disclaimer on the two teams the Chargers have faced to date: they have really atrocious defenses. Kansas City ranks 29th in scoring defense and 32nd in total defense this year (32.5 PA per game; 1016 yards given up). The Bills rank 32nd in scoring defense (39.0 PA per game). Interpret those stats however you want. The Rams are giving up 6.5 a game though, and Rivers faces his arch-nemesis this week. The last six times that Marcus Peters has faced Rivers, Peters has four interceptions. Adding insult to injury, Peters’ teams are 6-0 in those games.
Will the Rams defense give up a couple of touchdowns to this well-oiled Chargers offense? Probably. The volume will also be there as I would imagine the Chargers without Bosa will be trailing for most of this game. That’s why you start Allen (WR17) and Gordon (RB2). That and your First/Second round picks are matchup proof. It’s okay to bench Rivers though. He will probably pass for the first touchdown allowed by this Rams defense in 2018, but I would feel better about him if the Chargers had a viable weapon at the tight end position. Sadly, they don’t. If you don’t want to roster another QB this week, or if you don’t like the match ups from the QBs on the waiver wire, then fine. Just know, I warned you. You should also hope that Rivers hits his ceiling this week of 250 yards passing (against a team giving up 191 passing yards a game and no passing touchdowns). The most passing touchdowns I will give Rivers is a potential of two. Kirk Cousins owners should pay attention, unless they want to turn their Thursday Night Fantasy into a nightmare as well.