Kickoff: Sunday, January 1st, 4:25 PM ET
Location: SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles
Betting Odds: LAC -6.5, 41 total via PFF.com
Writer: Adam Sloate (@MrAdster99 on Twitter)
Los Angeles Rams
Baker Mayfield (QB2)
It’s difficult to say if Baker is “for real” at this point in the season. Of the three teams he has played as a member of the Rams, just one of them has been a serious playoff contender, and he struggled mightily in that game: (@GB) 12/21, 111 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 6.54 FPTS. The Chargers are no slouch defensively, ranking 21st in fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. They’ve also punished opposing QBs at an above-average rate, ranking in the top 10 in sacks and adjusted sack rate (a measure of sacks adjusted for down, distance, and opponent), and Mayfield likes to hold onto the ball more than your average QB, ranking 16th in times sacked despite missing 6 weeks this season. Assuming the Chargers play at full speed and strength — doubtful, since they have clinched a playoff berth and have no chance of catching the Chiefs for the AFC West title — Mayfield is going to be running from pressure quite often.
Despite the unfavorable matchup, Mayfield should be able to toss a couple of touchdown passes and recoup enough value to be worth his QB2 label. He’s playing in the game equivalent of “garbage time,” since the Chargers don’t have a lot to play for and the Rams are missing most of their talented players on both offense and defense. He’s a very risky QB2, since the matchup isn’t particularly favorable for the Rams, but given his past few weeks with the Rams, he’s not a bad dart throw.
Cam Akers (RB2)
Speaking of revivals from the dead, Cam Akers has suddenly become a viable RB2 option, with the potential to reach RB1 status with the right matchup. Akers has hit 9+ fantasy points in 4 straight matchups, and has reached double digits in 3 of his last 4 appearances. He’s also not seeing significant competition for carries from Kyren Williams or Malcolm Brown, so when the Rams have the time and opportunity to run, you can almost always assume it’s going to be handed off to Akers, which is great for fantasy investors looking for a reliable RB workload.
Additionally, the Chargers are a very favorable fantasy matchup because they cannot stop the run, ranking 8th in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs. And, with the Rams playing like they have some fight left in them and the Chargers having little to play for, Akers should have a pretty favorable game script. Hopefully, Akers can pick up a touchdown or two to go with his rushing yardage to really make this play worth it.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Tyler Higbee (fringe TE1)
There’s only one pass catcher possibly worth starting in this receiving corps, and it’s the one name you might recognize from when the Rams had hope in their season, Tyler Higbee. Higbee gained the inside track to becoming Mayfield’s #1 target, catching both of Baker’s passing TDs. He also totaled a TD against the Packers in Week 15. He’s tacked on 16 targets and 13 receptions over his past 2 games with Mayfield under center, which is solid enough for a dart throw TE.
Just keep in mind that there’s not enough of a sample size or pedigree to call Higbee a true TE1 yet. Higbee’s fantasy game log is especially filled with some really solid highs and some really ugly lows, and Mayfield’s tenure with the Rams is so short that there aren’t many meaningful conclusions to draw yet. Higbee’s “explosion” last week was the most targets he’d seen since Week 4 against San Francisco, and he tripled his TD total for the season with those 2 TD catches last week. At this point, if you need a TE who can go off in any given week, Higbee’s a pretty solid option, but he’s not going to be a plug-and-play TE for me.
Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert (QB1)
I am slightly concerned with Herbert’s workload for this week, now that the Chargers have clinched a playoff berth. It shouldn’t be a big enough concern to warrant benching him at this point. Fire him up.
Austin Ekeler (RB1), Joshua Kelley (Sit)
Start the #1 PPR RB? Okay!
As Erik Smith so eloquently put it last week, Kelley is a high-end handcuff for Ekeler for the remainder of the fantasy playoffs. I don’t foresee Kelley being start-worthy this week, but he’s certainly worth picking up if your championship stretches into Week 18. Ekeler probably won’t play too much in Week 18, since the Chargers have grander aspirations than winning a meaningless game against Denver, so Kelley could put up some strong fantasy numbers. Keep an eye on Kelley’s workload this week, especially if the Chargers have this one put away early.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Keenan Allen (WR2), Mike Williams (WR3), Gerald Everett (TE2)
With the Chargers’ receiving corps finally healthy, the workload has mostly been funneled through Allen and Ekeler, with enough work going to Mike Williams to make him fantasy-relevant. Everett has slipped the last few weeks, as has Joshua Palmer. That could change a little bit this week, thanks to the presence of elite CB Jalen Ramsey. PFF projects Williams to face approximately half of his snaps against Ramsey, so he should be downgraded a bit due to the unfavorable matchup. Keenan Allen, who lines up more often towards the middle of the formation, as opposed to the outside where Ramsey sits, is projected to face CB Cobie Durant more often than any other CB. While Durant has been solid in limited work this season, he’s not enough of a threat that Allen should be downgraded significantly or benched in fantasy lineups. The Rams also allow the 11th-most fantasy points to WRs this season, so the presence/threat of Ramsey shouldn’t be enough for investors to give up on Allen or Williams at this point.
Perhaps with Williams facing tough coverage in Ramsey, Everett might be in line for a bit of a bump in fantasy points, but I wouldn’t recommend chasing those extra points. Everett is especially difficult to measure because he’s been solid up until Week 16 against the Colts. Everett was regularly putting up 7+ fantasy points, never falling below 7.8 PPR FPTS since Week 11, but last week, Everett saw 0 targets and 0 receptions for a big ol’ goose egg. Everett’s dud can be partially excused because the Chargers put up a dud of an offensive performance across the board in Week 16, committing brain fart after brain fart on offense, which kept the Colts in the game.
Thankfully for fantasy investors reading this portion of the article, Everett’s dud wasn’t enough to keep you out of the fantasy championship, and I think it’s worth going back to the Everett fantasy well because he’s been so reliable this season. While his production is pretty unexciting, topping out at a whopping 17.1 fantasy points back in Week 4, Everett will likely return to putting up TE2-ish numbers. Start him and hope Herbert needs his TE safety blanket a little more than usual.