This weeks match up between the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers should be a hard fought battle. The opening NFL odds have the Ravens favored by 2.5 points. Both teams really need to win this week due to the playoff race within each teams respective division and AFC Wild Card race. The Chargers need the win just to stay alive with the hope of making the playoffs and the Super Bowl, so they may pull out all stops for a victory.
The Chargers have been struggling mightily as of late, and it is important for them to win this game not because of the playoffs, but rather saving the jobs of the people that run the team. They finally have a healthy set of receiving options after spending most the year with players hurt. Quarterback Phillip Rivers is always excellent in December and have often made a late run for the AFC West title.
The Ravens will also really want to win this week because they are in the lead in the AFC North, even though they are tied with the Steelers with a record of 10-3. They have beaten the Steelers twice and thus own the tiebreaker, but they need to win to keep pace. The Ravens have a much better Defense in this match up, and could possibly be the difference maker in the game.
Allpro Linebacker Ray Lewis may be healthy enough to return after missing the last few games due to injury. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has really yet to prove he is trustworthy to win big games when necessary so you can expect Baltimore to lean heavily on running back Ray Rice. From a fantasy perspective I like Ray Rice the best in this game. The second best starter would probably be Baltimore's defense especially since Rivers has been unusually careless with the football this year. Gates is a fine starter who faces a tough match up and Rivers cannot be started without at least a little trepidation.
If you have a good backup with a better match up you probably should consider sitting Rivers this week for you fantasy football fans. The same could be said of WR Vincent Jackson, but only if you have a quality replacement. I would certainly look for a better RB than Ryan Matthews against a stout Ravens run defense. Any week is a question mark when considering starting Joe Flacco or any of his receivers for that matter. Be content with Flacco as a game manager in this situation, as he has proven time and time again that avoiding mistakes will allow the Ravens normally dominant defense to take charge. Terrell Suggs is coming off the AFC player of the week awards, but that doesn't really matter in any TD heavy or PPR 6 leagues. As mentioned before, the focus should be Ray Rice. Similar to Michael Turner but much better reception-wise, Rice is always a good bet on an offense dominated by careful planning and execution. Both teams are missing a potent wide receiving threat, so in general this game should be avoided. It's kind of hard to tell how well this game will go, but it is of note that both the kickers in this game are middling at best, and both red zone offenses are a little on the weak side. All in all, I expect this, sadly to be a boring game from an offensive standpoint. Still, the Ravens have breakout potential for turnovers and a pick 6 or forced fumble is always in play.
Philip Rivers could also have a game where he plays like a Madden 12 player with cheat code: 4 touchdowns, no INTs and a perfect quarterback rating. Rivers is not totally to blame with the loss of Darren Sproles to the burgeoning Saints, as he has limited offensive weapons. But great quarterbacks often need to make plays with their feet if nothings available, and Rivers is far past his prime in that arena.