- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
While I was answering questions in my Wednesday afternoon chat session this week, the news came out that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel had missed practice. I wasn't aware of any injury at the time, so I cautioned fantasy owners not to overrate the news. It's December, and from what I gather, just about every NFL player is hurting somewhere by now, so missing a Week 14 practice is no red flag.
Of course, going under the knife to have your appendix removed is a different story, one we found out about later Wednesday. Now that's a bigger deal.
It shouldn't affect Cassel long-term in any way, but it surely brings his Week 14 availability into question. As one of fantasy's hotter quarterbacks over the past two months, Cassel has climbed into the top 10 among quarterbacks, at ninth overall. He has thrown 23 touchdown passes this season against only four interceptions, with three of those picks coming in the first three weeks of the season. Whether you credit Cassel, the Chiefs' awesome rushing offense or fantasy's top wide receiver in Dwayne Bowe, Cassel has become a valuable fantasy asset.
Keep up with the news obviously, as Cassel has been given a 50-50 shot to suit up for Sunday's game at San Diego, but let's just say I'd make other provisions immediately. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on television, but if Cassel was my top fantasy quarterback, I'd make sure I had another strong option today, not Sunday morning. It seems a reach that Cassel will play, meaning Brodie Croyle gets thrust into an interesting spot. I can't make much of a case for fantasy owners to trust Croyle, a career 57.7 percent passer with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in 16 games (nine starts), but at the same time, I don't think his presence destroys the value of Bowe or running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.
No, we cannot expect Croyle to perform at a similar level to Cassel, so don't get cute and start Croyle on your fantasy team. But I generally don't buy into the notion that an opposing defense can simply flood the box and turn a thriving running game into mush just because the quarterback can't play well. Sometimes this is the case, as we've seen with Tennessee Titans underachiever (lately, at least) Chris Johnson. The team's quarterback play, among other things, has been a problem. But then look at the Carolina Panthers; Mike Goodson accomplished what DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could not, and now Stewart is looking promising again. With the Chiefs, Bowe is so darned good and productive, save for his odd Week 13 goose egg, I think he'll remain darned good and productive against a Chargers defense that was lit up at home by the Oakland Raiders this past week.
Cassel is 14th in the Week 14 quarterback rankings, which were obviously posted before the appendectomy news. I'm somewhat responsible for that rank being as poor as it is, having placed Cassel 21st. I viewed the matchup as more fruitful for Charles and Jones than I did the passing game, and I don't want to deviate from that now. Charles is averaging 6.2 yards per carry; only three running backs with more than 180 carries in a season have ever topped 6 yards per carry. He was held to 92 rushing yards and a touchdown (15 fantasy points) in Week 1 against the Chargers, but I wouldn't read much into that. For one, Cassel barely threw at all that night (68 passing yards, one touchdown).
The drop from Cassel to Croyle isn't the issue, it's San Diego's ability to control the line of scrimmage. The Chargers are the best team in the league at keeping opposing fantasy quarterbacks in check, with an average of 9.8 fantasy points per game. When it comes to running backs, the Chargers are 17th, fresh off the Raiders torching them for 197 yards on 43 carries, two touchdowns and 35 fantasy points. Prior to Week 13, Raiders backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush had been struggling. Not anymore!
Ultimately, I trust the studs in the fantasy playoffs, and I feel Bowe can make a few big plays no matter the quarterback. He's fantasy's top wide receiver for the season, on an amazing run until Week 13. This wasn't a spectacular matchup for him to start with, which is why I have him at No. 5 among wide receivers for the week. I plan to drop him down just a bit based on the news, but he's still a top 10 guy, capable of making a big play at any time with anyone slingin' the ball. The running backs were going to be fine, and that hasn't changed.
Eric Karabell offers his take on the Kansas City Chiefs' offense following Matt Cassel's appendectomy Wednesday.