Good news: You drafted Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles in the first round of your fantasy football draft. On your roster is a player who gained an astounding 6.4 yards per carry last season and 91.6 yards per game on the ground. Even better, the team wants to give him the ball more in 2011, especially near the goal line, meaning his eight total TDs from last year (five rushing, three receiving) could go up.
There is, however, one small issue with your selection. When you need him most, during the time the fantasy regular season is coming down to the wire and the playoffs are kicking into high gear, Charles could be nearly invisible. Not because he can't be counted on to stay healthy or because head coach Todd Haley will be punishing his star runner. But because Kansas City has one of the toughest stretches in their schedule of any team in the NFL, right when fantasy leagues are decided.
Starting in Week 11, the Chiefs face five consecutive opponents that all rank in the top seven of Pro Football Weekly's team fantasy defense rankings. This includes all four participants from the AFC and NFC championship games last season, plus the team that had the best regular-season record in the NFL in 2010. All five clubs are strong against the run and will make it their game plan to slow down Charles, and in the process, derail your fantasy team.
The stretch begins on Monday, Nov. 21 in New England. The Patriots allowed 108 rushing yards per game last season, but counting on a big performance vs. a Bill Belichick team in prime time is a risky proposition. The Pats' head coach is known for taking away what an opponent does best, which for the Chiefs would be the run game, and forcing the weak parts of an offense to beat his team. Charles doesn't have much experience in night games and has faced the Patriots only once in his career.
After New England, the Chiefs have the unenviable task of facing the top three defenses in terms of stopping the run from 2010 in consecutive order from Weeks 12-14. First the Steelers, then the Bears, followed by the Jets. While the game vs. Pittsburgh will be at Arrowhead Stadium, Charles is then going to have to go on the road — in December — to Chicago and the Meadowlands. The three opponents have some similarities, in that they are all built around speed and toughness at the LB position. If Charles is going to gain yards and score touchdowns vs. units led by James Harrison, Brian Urlacher and David Harris, in what could be adverse weather conditions, he's going to have to earn them.
Finally, the stretch comes to a close on Dec. 18, when Kansas City hosts the defending Super Bowl-champion Packers. Compared to the other four, Green Bay's run defense was awful, as it ranked 18th in the NFL, allowing 114.9 rushing yards per game. Yet with all the talent in that lineup, from NT B.J. Raji to OLB Clay Matthews to CB Charles Woodson, the numbers fail to indicate how tough a game it will be for Charles. Those with Charles on their fantasy team also won't like hearing that the Pack allowed only six rushing touchdowns last season, third fewest in the NFL.
After that, however, there's some good news: In Weeks 16 and 17, Charles and the Chiefs play the Raiders and Broncos, two run defenses that ranked among the league's worst in 2010. So, assuming you survived the previous five weeks, the fantasy title could be yours for the taking.
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