Last updated: December 12th at 9:15am ET
Team Totals: Vikings 24, Chargers 21.5
On the road facing a near-full-strength Chargers defense that’s still playing hard despite its 5-8 plight, this is an imposing matchup for Minnesota’s passing game in what sets up as a relatively low-scoring affair. Just 1-of-13 quarterbacks to face Los Angeles has exceeded QB12 fantasy results, while Adam Thielen (hamstring) remains questionable, and teams facing the slow-paced Bolts are dealt a limited hand averaging a league-low 57.8 offensive plays per game. I’m projected Kirk Cousins to finish outside the top-15 fantasy passers for a third straight week. … As expected, the Vikings were able to work in Alexander Mattison (16 touches) more than usual in last Sunday’s smooth-sailing victory, building a 17-0 first-half lead and shutting out the Lions for three-plus quarters. But Dalvin Cook showed his chest injury was barely problematic with 20-plus touches for the tenth time in 13 games. As Week 15 sets up as likely to be far more competitive, we should anticipate Cook resuming full-time bellcow duties and Mattison returning to his pace-change role. This is a mildly above-par matchup; enemy backs have touched up the Bolts for a weekly average of 5.5 receptions and scored 13 all-purpose TDs in 13 games.
Although Thielen seems likely to return after resuming practicing, his risk factor is high having played just 16 snaps since Week 6 due multiple hamstring setbacks. Thielen did log 75-plus yards and/or a touchdown in six of his previous seven games before initially going down, and the Chargers have given up the NFL’s second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. I think he’s best approached as a low-floor WR3 option. … Although Stefon Diggs seems likely to attract Casey Hayward’s shadow, Thielen’s return would at least make that a bit less certain, and this is a matchup we should be willing to fade with Diggs sitting atop Josh Hermsmeyer’s Week 15 Buy Low Air Yards Model. Diggs’ ceiling is always sky high – he’s topped 90 yards six times in the Vikings’ last ten games – and elite route-running chops render Diggs capable of winning against even the NFL’s best corners. … Twelve different Vikings caught Week 14 passes from Cousins, a reminder that Minnesota’s passing-game distribution can be spread thin on a run-first team with Thielen tentatively due back to command a meaningful target share. If Thielen does play, the likes of Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, and Olabisi Johnson will be removed from fantasy playability.
Back home after last week’s energized, 45-10 road romp over Jacksonville, a 5-8 Chargers team that is still playing hard gets its chance to play spoiler against the Vikings. Unfortunately, Philip Rivers’ season-best Week 14 game is tough to chase; just 3-of-13 quarterbacks to face Minnesota have beaten QB14 fantasy results, while Rivers himself has done so in just 4-of-13 starts. Los Angeles’ wide receiver corps does draw enough favorable matchups for Rivers to stay stapled into two-QB-league lineups. … As nothing overly positive stands out about Melvin Gordon or Austin Ekeler’s Week 15 draws, they must be characterized as bet-on-talent/volume plays against the Vikings. Leading all NFL backs in yards per touch (7.1), Ekeler has demonstrated exceptional consistency with 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 12-of-13 games and is averaging a rock-solid 12.4 touches over the last five weeks despite Gordon’s resurgence. Gordon’s last five touch counts are 23 > 23 > 17 > 22 > 17, topping four yards per carry in all of them. Even against Minnesota’s stout front seven, Ekeler and Gordon are both locked-in RB2s.
Rivers’ target distribution under OC Shane Steichen: Keenan Allen 39; Hunter Henry 33; Ekeler 28; Mike Williams 22; Gordon 18; Andre Patton 5; Jalen Guyton 2. … Over its last five games alone, Minnesota’s pass-funnel defense has been blowtorched for wide receiver lines of 11/147/1 (Amari Cooper), 6/140/1 (Tyreek Hill), 5/113/0 (Courtland Sutton), 6/106/1 (Randall Cobb), 4/77/0 (Tim Patrick), 4/76/1 (Michael Gallup), 6/75/0 (D.K. Metcalf), 2/65/1 (David Moore), 7/63/0 (Sammy Watkins), and 6/58/1 (Kenny Golladay). Allen is a surefire WR1 play and Williams an upside WR3 after finally busting his season-long scoring slump on last week’s 44-yard end-zone jump ball against Jaguars CB Tre Herndon. … Although the Vikings have allowed just one tight end touchdown all year, only four teams have allowed more catches to the position (79), and only nine more yards (729). This is a better matchup for Henry than it may seem. On the year, only six tight ends are averaging more PPR points per game than Henry.
Score Prediction: Chargers 23, Vikings 21