Fantasy Football

Thursday Night Lineup Calls

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

Thursday Night Update 1:30 pm ET

As fantasy owners anxiously await the passing of the trade deadline, we look ahead to the first game of the Thursday night schedule. The Chargers host the heretofore horrid Chiefs in what appeared to be a hugely important AFC West game in the preseason.

Granted, we may still be talking about the Chargers as a contender had Robert Meachem hauled in that would-be touchdown pass in the third quarter of the Week 8 loss to the Browns. Instead, we’re talking about Norv Turner and the Chargers in the normal disappointed tones, and pondering replacement coaches and general managers. All the while, pundits speculate about the cause of Philip Rivers’ inconsistency (poor offensive line play, inconsistent run support and the downfield personnel are usually too low on the list).

I won’t spend the time discussing the many issues and challenges of the Chiefs. Those have been well-chronicled, and Romeo Crennel’s comments about Jamaal Charles’ workload rank among the worst post-game lines from a coach in recent memory.

I’ve already posted my full “Lineup Calls” piece for Week 8 on with a discussion about Charles, Bowe and the top options in San Diego. However, the practice notes from San Diego indicate that Rivers will likely play without two regular receivers. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal are both affected by hamstring injuries. Meachem is the more likely receiver of the pair to play. He’s got a “questionable” tag, while Royal carries a “doubtful” notation.

As a result, a former fantasy contributor is back in the mix for Turner’s offense tonight. Danario Alexander, who added value for fantasy owners as a member of the Rams early in 2011, signed with the Chargers and participated in the Week 8 loss to Cleveland. He was targeted once and did not record a catch. Alexander likely enters the starting lineup opposite Malcom Floyd. I added him to my wide receiver rankings at No. 48.

All-Name team member alumnus Seyi Arijotutu returns to his former team as well. Ajirotutu averaged 20.2 yards per catch in limited duty as a member of the Chargers in 2010. He delivered in a huge way for fantasy owners in Week 9 of that season against the Texans, producing four receptions for 111 yards with two touchdowns. He’s the ultimate “Hail Mary” option for owners desperate at wide receiver in a generous matchup (the Chiefs have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to wide receivers). I ranked Ajirotutu at No. 60.

Finally, I turn back to Ronnie Brown, who actually led the Chargers in receiving last week (seven receptions for 85 yards). Brown rates an interesting play as a Flex option. He’s been a good receiver to date (27 receptions), and I expect to see the Chargers turn to the ground game. That portends to a double-digit touch count this week.

My fingers want to type another 1,000 words about the Chiefs’ first-half woes, but I’ll stop myself. Instead, I’ll toss one other deep “Sleeper” on the radar for tonight. The Chiefs have found no consistent second receiver to date. As a result, I’m keeping an eye on the versatile Dexter McCluster. McCluster scored the Chiefs’ lone touchdown last week and finished with 69 total yards. He’d also carried the ball six times in Week 7. He’s sitting at No. 45 in my running back rankings (No. 50 WR).

Injuries and Bye weeks force you to make difficult decisions and look to distant options. Do you believe that Philip Rivers can deliver the ball to these plug-in options?

Tune in tonight to find out.

When the 2012 NFL schedule was released, this Thursday night spotlight game stood out as an important AFC West matchup. The Chiefs were a trendy pick to challenge the Peyton Manning-led Broncos for the division title, and pundits wondered if the Chargers would finally live up to expectations for Norv Turner. It’s safe to say that both teams have been incredibly disappointing.

Injuries, terrible ball control (40 combined turnovers), bewildering coaching (see the Jamaal Charles blurb below) and sub-par performances or occasional disappearing acts have conspired to temper the collective enthusiasm for this one. The fact that one or both teams participating in previous Thursday night games this year appeared sluggish doesn’t help to whip the NFL-adoring crowd into a frenzied state.

I’m here to sell you on the Week 9 kickoff in this week’s “Lineup Calls.” As Lou Reed once sang, “It takes a busload of faith to get by.” You’ll need some faith to activate players for this one. Let’s get started with the San Diego offense.

Right now, countless fantasy owners are questioning their trust in Philip Rivers. Granted, Rivers had produced three consecutive two-touchdown games prior to last week’s shutdown in soggy Cleveland. However, at no point has the San Diego offense matched expectations, and last week’s loss to the Browns was particularly troubling. Everyone’s seen the near-connection to Robert Meachem, and Rivers was fortunate to finish the game without multiple turnovers. The weather was obviously a factor, but fantasy owners obviously expected more in an advantageous matchup against the Browns.

On paper, it’s a glorious matchup for Rivers this Thursday. The Chiefs have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Opponents have completed 15 touchdown passes against five interceptions, and the Chiefs are tied for 21st in sacks (13). Rivers was efficient in the Week 4 matchup in Kansas City, completing 18-of-23 attempts for 209 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. I have him ranked as a back-end QB1 this week, though I offer a tepid recommendation. Might he break through like Matthew Stafford did against the Seahawks in Week 8?

Fantasy owners anticipated an encore of Antonio Gates’ fantastic Week 6 performance (two touchdowns against Denver) coming out of the Bye week, but he was virtually erased from the box score by the Browns. Gates registered just two receptions for 14 yards on four targets.

Given his struggles to date, Gates hardly represents a dominant option this week. He’s produced 22 receiving yards or fewer in three of his past five starts. Still, Gates did lead all San Diego receivers with three receptions for 59 yards in the first meeting against the Chiefs. Kansas City has been strong against opposing tight ends, surrendering the 10th-fewest points to date. Gates’ stock is plummeting following an offseason filled with optimism, but he still rates a TE1 play.

The aforementioned Robert Meachem is a no-go for fantasy owners. He’s caught three or more passes in just three games, and has produced more than 43 receiving yards once (67 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints). Meachem also likely draws a tough one-on-one matchup against Brandon Flowers.

Malcom Floyd is a better option, though he’s hardly been a dominance fantasy force of late. Floyd has finished four of his past five games, including the Week 4 game against Kansas City, with 60 or fewer receiving yards. As mentioned in the Rivers blurb above, opposing passing games have had great success against the Chiefs. Kansas City has surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers. I’m going bold this week, pushing Floyd into a lofty back-end WR2 slot (22nd).

Ryan Mathews represents a fantastic option this week as well. He registered 82 total yards on 16 touches while working in tandem with Jackie Battle. Remember that Mathews had just returned to action following an injury-marred preseason to warrant the workload split. His workload has since increased markedly in recent weeks (46 carries in the past two weeks), though his fumbling issues persist.

Mathews appears as a top-10 option in this week’s rankings. The Chiefs have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to running backs (166.7 total yards per game) and were run over by Darren McFadden on Sunday. I don’t see the heretofore terrible Kansas City defense rising up to slow Mathews on the short week.

Can you tell that I was filibustering to hold off on discussing the Kansas City offense?

I’m still in complete and utter shock that the Chiefs failed to give Jamaal Charles more than eight touches against the Raiders. Of course, Romeo Crennel’s post-game comments regarding Charles’ workload, or lack thereof, should have been accompanied by a giant hook, a gong or walk-off music.

I digress. The Chiefs will not make the same play-calling mistakes against the Chargers. Charles’ effort in Week 4 was muted by two lost fumbles that helped dig a very large hole in the home loss. Charles registered 111 total yards with two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving). I expect him to bounce back in a big way against the middling San Diego run defense.

As for the Kansas City passing game, you’re obviously looking squarely at No. 82 and the ability of Matt Cassel to get him the ball. Cassel has potential as a sneaky mid-QB2 this week against the scuffling San Diego pass defense. He passed for 251 yards (24-of-52) with two touchdowns and three interceptions in Week 4.

Fantasy owners celebrated Dwayne Bowe’s 46-yard reception against the Raiders in Week 8. Alas, he generated only 65 receiving yards on three receptions and failed to deliver points late in the blowout loss. Owners are rightly cautious when considering Bowe for anything more than a WR3 slot right now. In fact, I’ve actually seen him dropped altogether because of the inconsistency at quarterback. Bowe has topped 65 receiving yards in only three of his seven starts, one of which came against the Chargers when he logged 108 yards on seven receptions with a touchdown. As a result, I’m anticipating a strong encore against this San Diego pass defense that has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers. I have Bowe entrenched as a mid-WR2 this week.

- I’ll assume that no trade is consummated for Bowe’s services prior to Thursday’s deadline.

Finally, let’s toss up the kicker and team defense positions.

You can add Nick Novak to your lineup as a Bye week replacement for Stephen Gostkowski or “Legatron,” Greg Zuerlein. The Chiefs have surrendered the fifth-most points to kickers.

Conversely, the Chargers have allowed the fewest fantasy points to kickers. Ryan Succop takes a seat.

The Chargers have generated 13 turnovers this season, and you remember that they generated a handful of turnovers against the Chiefs in Week 4. Kansas City leads the NFL with 25 giveaways.

Enjoy the game. I have no doubt that the post-game press conferences will be thrilling, the stuff of light beer commercials in the future.

Tagged: Browns, Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, Ronnie Brown, Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe, Robert Meachem, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Mathews

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