Dec 14, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) runs the ball as San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle (32) defends during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Anytime Peyton Manning takes the field, football fans pretty much expect that he’ll take control of the game and post better statistics than anyone else in the game. When the Denver Broncos visit the Cincinnati Bengals for a Monday Night Football tilt in Week 16, though, Manning may have to take a backseat to one of his unheralded teammate. Indeed, when you look at what’s been going on with both of these teams, it’s Broncos’ running back C.J. Anderson, and not Manning, who jumps out as the one guy most likely big-game candidate.
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While Manning has had a great season by any standard, something has changed for him since mid-season, when he was regularly uncorking 40+ pass attempts for more than 300 yards per game and was on pace to approach the yardage and touchdown records that he set in 2013. Starting in Week 12, though, Manning has completed 28, 17, 14 and 14 passes, and the general consensus is that his already-fading arm strength has taken another hit. His rate numbers still look good — aside from two interceptions allowed to the Buffalo Bills — but the volume of production has dropped steeply enough that you can’t count on him lighting up the 11th-ranked Bengals pass defense at this point.
Anderson, on the other hand, has quietly flashed the kind of superstar potential that could leave the Bengals eating dust for four quarters. Though the second-year back out of California has run for “just” 679 yards in 2014, that total has been racked up in only five starts and spot duty in eight other games.
Granted, Anderson’s production in the last two games, against the pretty decent run defenses of the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, has been anemic at less than three yards per carry, but before that, he racked up 167 yards against the Miami Dolphins and 168 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in successive weeks.
Those may be the quietest 160-yard rushing games you’ve never heard about in your life, but there will be nothing quiet about the Broncos and the Bengals on a Monday night with playoff implications on the line.
Against a really bad Bengals run defense that has not been able to settle into a solid linebacker rotation all season long, Anderson could easily return to his high-flying ways. If he gets it going early, the Broncos could roll, and 200 yards on the ground is not out of the question.
If you’re looking for a Bengal with big-number potential on Monday, then receiver A.J. Green is probably your guy. The 26-year-old has battled injuries to post solid numbers amid some spectacular outbursts, including a 224 yard effort in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14.
The general trend for this late-season contest between title hopefuls will be towards big offensive numbers, so any number of players might provide solid fantasy value. Based on the on-paper match-ups, though, Anderson and Green seem like the safest bets.