This time of year, when weather becomes a factor, a productive rushing attack can be the difference between winning and losing in the NFL. This week's slate features a handful of games with significant mismatches in the ground game, including in a pair AFC West divisional showdowns. Let's get started.
Denver Broncos (-4) at San Diego Chargers
Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson vs. Chargers Rush Defense
Weather doesn't figure to be an issue in this one, but this is still a huge advantage for the Broncos. A benefit of Brock Osweiler replacing Peyton Manning under center has been the marked improvement of the Denver running game. This is a direct result of Osweiler having a stronger arm than Manning at this point. With Manning at the controls, defenses were able to stack the line of scrimmage because there was no threat of the deep ball. That is no longer the case. Osweiler has been able to stretch defenses with his arm, which has helped provide ample running room for Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson the past three weeks. On Sunday, they face a Chargers team that ranks 26th in the NFL in rush defense, having allowed 123.7 yards allowed per game.
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Kansas City Chiefs (-3) at Oakland Raiders
Spencer Ware vs. Raiders Rush Defense
Spencer Ware has been a revelation since taking over as the Chiefs featured back last month. The LSU product has rushed for a combined 220 yards on just 30 carries with three touchdowns the past two weeks, which has helped provide Kansas City with the NFL's sixth-best rushing attack at 124.3 yards per game.
This week Kansas City faces the 18th-ranked rushing defense in the league in the Raiders. Oakland managed to keep dreadful Tennessee in check last week, but in the last month the Raiders have been gouged for 263 rushing yards by the Vikings and 195 rushing yards by the Steelers.
The Chiefs have found the winning formula after being left for dead following their 1-5 start, and on offense it all starts with Ware.
New York Jets (-2) at New York Giants
Jets Rush Defense vs. Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen
The latest battle for New York pits the NFL's top-ranked run defense against one of the league's worst rushing attacks. The Jets have allowed just 84.4 yards per game on the ground this season, which is easily the fewest in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Giants rank 28th in rushing with just 89.4 yards per game. Jennings and Vereen have a combined one rushing touchdown on the season, which was by Vereen way back in Week 1. That is some pitiful production.
Given this matchup, Eli Manning figures to be flinging it early and often on Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals (-9.5) at Cleveland Browns
Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill vs. Cleveland Rush Defense
The Bengals feature the ninth-best rushing attack in the league thanks to the complementary pairing of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Bernard has averaged 5.1 yards per carry while racking up 581 yards on the year, and Hill has done most of the short-yardage work with seven touchdowns and 490 yards. As a team, Cincinnati has averaged 116 rushing yards per game and this week face the NFL's second-worst rush defense.
The Browns have allowed an average of 135.6 rushing yards per game this season. Opponents have surpassed 100-yards rushing in all but two games and have rushed for more than 150 yards on six different occasions. The Browns are an absolute mess in most areas, but other than quarterback this could be its biggest weakness.
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings (Pick)
Thomas Rawls and Russell Wilson vs. Vikings Rush Defense
Even being without top running back Marshawn Lynch for several weeks now, the Seahawks boast the NFL's second-best rushing attack with 144.2 yards per game. Rawls stepped right in following the Lynch injury and churned out 209 rushing yards with a touchdown against the 49ers two weeks ago.
Now Seattle faces a Minnesota team that has struggled to stop the run this season. The Vikings have allowed 110.6 yards per game and rank 20th in the NFL in rush defense. Seattle has been throwing the ball more of late, but expect plenty of read-option between Wilson and Rawls given this advantageous matchup.
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