Chicago @ San Diego
Even in a battle of two-win teams, Bears-Chargers has exciting scoring potential with a 49.5-point Vegas total, second highest of Week 9. Host San Diego is a four-point favorite with a team total of nearly 27. ... Losing Keenan Allen (kidney) for the season certainly stings, but Philip Rivers' weapons remain strong and the Chargers' best means of moving the ball won't change. Unable to open lanes for Melvin Gordon due to a long list of offensive line injuries, San Diego is a devout pass-first team facing a Bears squad that ranks 24th in pass-defense DVOA and 28th in sacks (12) while permitting a 16:4 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy quarterbacks. Rivers has topped 300 yards in five straight games with multiple touchdowns in all but one week this year. ... Gordon looked totally unusable in fantasy leagues entering Week 8, but his owners should be encouraged by Gordon's usage in a tough matchup at Baltimore. Gordon paced San Diego's backfield in snap rate (51%) and touches (23), while the Bolts lost Branden Oliver to a year-ending toe injury. Now back home where his team is favored and facing a Bears team yielding 4.49 YPC to running backs, Gordon is an underrated RB2 play. ... Danny Woodhead also stands to benefit from Oliver's loss, seeing a few more touches per game in what will move from a three-way backfield into a two-man ordeal. Last week's box score was disappointing, but Woodhead has still scored double-digit PPR points in 6-of-8 games and is a solid flex option.
Averaging 12 targets per game in the first seven weeks, Allen's loss creates a huge void in San Diego's high-volume passing game. The top beneficiary figures to be Stevie Johnson, who should become Rivers' first read on far more plays while soaking up short and intermediate looks Allen leaves behind. Primarily a slot receiver, Stevie will run most of his Week 9 routes at torchable Bears slot CB Sherrick McManis, who carries PFF's No. 101 coverage grade among 101 qualified corners over the last month. McManis was benched last week for UDFA Bryce Callahan, who promptly suffered a concussion against the Vikings. ... When Allen missed Weeks 16-17 with a broken collarbone last season, Dontrelle Inman took over as the Chargers' X receiver en route to snap rates of 65% and 85%, target totals of 8 and 9, and stat lines of 7-79 and 5-79. Especially for fantasy owners in bye-week binds, Inman is worth a look as a plug-and-play WR3/flex. ... Antonio Gates went 7-92-2 (9 targets) and 4-67 (6 targets) in Allen's 2014 missed games. Back from his MCL injury, Gates gets an extra day to rest his knee ahead of Monday night and should be locked into lineups as a top-five TE1. ... Although Malcom Floyd is coming off his best game of the season (4-92-2), he is the Bolts pass catcher whose role is least likely to change with Allen's loss. A low-volume, one-trick vertical stretcher, Floyd posted receiving numbers of 4-50-1 and 3-29-0 in Allen's missed games last year. Floyd is still likely to see 1-2 more targets per game, and a plum draw with the Bears' leaky pass defense makes him a passable WR3. ... Ladarius Green left last week's loss to Baltimore with a first-quarter ankle injury and did not return. Green's availability is in doubt. With Allen sidelined in Weeks 16-17 last year, Green's snap rates were 6% and 10% as the Chargers played Eddie Royal and Inman instead of two-tight end sets.
The Bears trek to Qualcomm as four-point dogs with a team total just under 23. ... This game's shootout potential bodes well for the outlook of Jay Cutler, on whom more responsibility is likely to fall with the expected multi-week loss of Matt Forte (MCL). Quietly playing rock-solid football this season, Cutler has a career-low 1.9% interception rate among 207 pass attempts, and another career low in touchdown rate (3.9%) that is primed for positive regression with Alshon Jeffery back rolling at full health. Although the Chargers' run-defense struggles are more often discussed, San Diego is also vulnerable in the air, ranking 25th in pass-defense DVOA and 19th in sacks (15) with a 102.5 passer rating against, the NFL's sixth worst clip. The Bolts are tentatively expected to get back FS Eric Weddle (groin) on Monday night, but he is officially a game-time decision and seems unlikely to be at full health. ... Rookie Jeremy Langford will take over as the Bears' feature back in Forte's absence. A fourth-round pick out of Michigan State, 6-foot, 208-pound Langford ran 4.42 at the Combine and played 26-of-26 snaps after Forte exited last week's loss to the Vikings. Now facing a Chargers defense permitting 5.17 yards per carry to opposing running backs, Langford is an immediate fantasy RB2. Trusted by the Bears' coaching staff at the goal line, Langford already has a pair of one-yard touchdown runs this season.
Cutler's target distribution in Jeffery's three games played: Alshon 37; Martellus Bennett 23; Forte 17; Eddie Royal 15; Marquess Wilson 9; Langford 3. ... Jeffery's target totals are 11, 11, and 16 in his three appearances. He stands 6-foot-3, 216 to Chargers RCB Jason Verrett's 5'9/189 and LCB Brandon Flowers' 5'10/189. Still underpriced on DFS sites, Jeffery is a high-end WR1 play whenever he's healthy. Jeffery has been targeted on 35% of Cutler's passes over the Bears' last two games. For perspective, Julio Jones leads the NFL in target rate at 33%. ... Bennett's usage and production have been uneven with Jeffery healthy, drawing target counts of 7, 11, and 5 with stat lines of 5-55-1, 6-59-0, and 3-32-0. Martellus could still see a slight boost in volume near the line of scrimmage with Royal (knee) seeming unlikely to play. The Chargers are allowing the 11th most fantasy points to tight ends. ... Royal left last week's loss to Minnesota in the second quarter and did not return, which isn't a good sign for his prospects. If Royal can't go, the Bears will turn to Wilson at No. 2 receiver. As Jeffery is likely to primarily face Verrett, Wilson would have a positive matchup against Flowers, who's been the weakest link in San Diego's secondary. Wilson is worth a look as a dart-throw WR3.
Score Prediction: Chargers 27, Bears 23