Fri Jan 22 12:26pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes walks on the sideline during the second half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Not to brag - well, yes, to BRAG - Pro Picks was perfect straight up last weekend, selecting all four winners in the NFL's divisional round.
The problem with conference championship weekend is simple: We are torn. Any of the four not only can get to the Super Bowl, but win it.
Some might want to evaluate the remaining teams by quarterback pedigree, from Tom Brady to Aaron Rodgers to Patrick Mahomes to Josh Allen. Others will examine the coaches: Andy Reid, Sean McDermott, Bruce Arians and Matt LaFleur.
Still others pore through stats.
And then there's the old Ouija board.
We're a bit more scientific. But only a bit.
TAMPA BAY (plus 3 1/2) at GREEN BAY
Such a delicious menu. Starting with Brady and Rodgers, naturally. Rodgers and Brady have never faced off in the postseason.
Super Bowls for much of the last two decades have been about Brady. He proved his greatness in taking New England to nine of them, winning six. He's recertifying that in his first season with the Buccaneers (13-5).
As a reminder, Brady holds postseason records for starts (43), victories (32), completions (1,065), passing yards (11,968), passing touchdowns (77). Only Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Craig Morton led two separate franchises into the Super Bowl.
This is the best array of offensive talent with Brady since he had Randy Moss in the record-setting 2007 season. And while Tampa Bay's defense isn't overpowering, it's the most solid of the four units still playing, particularly at linebacker.
Rodgers is in the midst of perhaps his best season, and he has already won two NFL MVP awards as well as the 2010 league title. His work with favorite receiver and fellow All-Pro Davante Adams has been exemplary, catapulting Green Bay to a second straight 13-3 mark.
''A lot of people didn't think we'd be back here after last season,'' Rodgers said. ''We got a lot of interesting comments last year about us being the worst 13-3 team that people had seen. Not the same type of comments this year.''
Nope. The Packers are steady enough on defense, though they can be vulnerable against the run. They play such precise football, yet with imagination, a difficult blend.
It's going to be cold but probably not frigid at Lambeau Field, not that Brady and Rob Gronkowski will be uncomfortable. And the Bucs have won a franchise-record seven consecutive road games, including playoff wins at Washington and New Orleans.
Will they head back to Tampa to appear in a Super Bowl at their home stadium, an NFL first?
They could, but ...
PACKERS 30, BUCCANEERS 27
And in the AFC:
BUFFALO (plus 3 1/2) at KANSAS CITY
As the reigning champions seek to become the first to repeat since Brady and the Patriots for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, they have to be at least a bit concerned that Mahomes left last week's victory with a concussion. The Chiefs aren't going to advance with Chad Henne at the helm.
Of course, Mahomes could be fine and as magical as usual. He has all the targets he needs in unanimous All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, another All-Pro in WR Tyreek Hill, and company. Kansas City's defense, led by yet another All-Pro in safety Tyrann Mathieu, gets overlooked for how improved it is.
The Chiefs are at home, will have some 17,000 very loud fans on hand, and carry the confidence and swagger from what they achieved last season.
And here comes Buffalo, which has been the AFC's best team the last two months. There is a solid balance between offense and defense on a roster that has matured impressively. The Allen to league receptions leader Stefon Diggs connection is as good as Rodgers to Adams. Allen is more of a threat to run for big plays than Mahomes - though not by much if Mahomes is healthy - and also has a deep receiving corps.
Where Buffalo must show its skill most is in pass coverage. Cornerback Tre'Davious White is superb, and the rest of the relatively unnoticed secondary is very capable. Look for plenty of big plays in this one.
We swear that Bills Mafia is not pressuring us. Yet ...
BILLS 30, CHIEFS 27
Interview with a Champ
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) has been ruled out for the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Brown's knee injury that he suffered in the divisional round win over the Saints wasn't deemed serious- though he was unable to take the practice field on Wednesday and Thursday. While head coach Bruce Arians said that his star wideout wouldn't need to practice to play, he also noted this morning that the knee would swell from the team's flight to Green Bay, so playing him wouldn't make much sense. Fellow wideouts Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller will take on a larger role in the offense. Miller makes for a potential value DFS play, as he and Tom Brady showcased the ability to make big plays down the field earlier this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday. McDonald was a second-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He spent four years with the Niners before being traded to Pittsburgh shortly before the 2017 season. McDonald played in 101 career games (77 starts) and finished with 181 catches for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his four years with the Steelers, McDonald reeled in 117 passes for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns in 53 games (47 starts). His best season came in 2018, when he caught 50 passes for 610 yards (12.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. The 30-year-old dealt with his fair share of injuries in eight seasons. His retirement will save the team $5.2 million in salary cap space heading into the 2021 season.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' (foot, shoulder) wife Brittany revealed that the 42-year-old signal-caller was playing through a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot. "He's as courageous and as tough a player as I've ever been around," head coach Sean Payton said, via The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Brees' injuries likely played a part in his struggles pushing the ball downfield, and he threw three interceptions in what will be the final game of his storied career in the Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. He has yet to make his retirement official, but it's expected to come eventually, especially after playing through other injuries that we didn't know about. If this is the end, Brees will go down in NFL history as one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams led the NFL with 23 red zone receptions and 14 red zone touchdowns in 2020, and his 46 red zone touchdowns since 2016 are 17 more than any other player.
Fantasy Spin: Adams led the NFL with 18 receiving touchdowns, tied for second with 115 receptions and finished in a tie for fifth in receiving yards. His status as the unquestioned go-to target for Aaron Rodgers should continue to make him one of the safest fantasy options at any position for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry led all running backs with 75 forced missed tackles this season, and his 1,490 rushing yards after contact were the most in the league.
Fantasy Spin: Henry has been a fantasy monster since Ryan Tannehill took over as the Tennessee quarterback. His massive workload will likely take a toll at some point, but there is no reason he shouldn't deliver another RB1 campaign in 2021.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with 1,242 yards on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield during the 2020 season.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers also led the league in touchdown passes in a season that could net him MVP honors for the third time and a second Super Bowl ring. After seeing his numbers dip a bit the last couple of years, he is back in the mix of top-five fantasy options at the quarterback position heading into next season.
Things are trending in the right direction for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) to play in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. Mahomes was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday and took the majority of the snaps on offense, a good sign that he didn't suffer a setback after practicing on Wednesday. The hope is that he's a full participant in practice on Friday, which means he'd likely be on his way toward being cleared from the league's protocol before Sunday. The 25-year-old former MVP will be a tad more risky at his elevated DFS price against Buffalo coming off a head injury that knocked him out of the Divisional Round game against the Browns, but Mahomes should put up numbers in what could be a high-scoring affair this weekend as long as he doesn't suffer another head injury.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to hire Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator, according to sources. Several teams were trying to hire Bevell after he finished the 2020 season as the Detroit Lions interim head coach. The 51-year-old was the offensive coordinator in Detroit the last two years, with the team averaging 22.5 points per game and 348.5 total yards per game in his two seasons at the helm. Bevell became the Seahawks offensive coordinator in 2011, 11 seasons after breaking into the NFL as an assistant quarterbacks coach with Green Bay. He made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013-14 and won one championship. His biggest task will be working with a likely rookie quarterback -- expected to be Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft -- to mold Jacksonville's offense to the young signal-caller's strengths.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin should be ready for the NFC Championship game as long as he does not suffer a setback. He will see plenty of targets against the Green Bay Packers and can be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Evans continues to be one of the main options in the passing game when healthy and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues if active.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (finger, quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Jones shared playing time with Leonard Fournette in the last game but may see a few more touches this week. He can be a starting option in most fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Williams received 12 carries in the Divisional Round playoff game and probably will receive a similar workload against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He can be a possible flex option in some leagues but is not a must-start option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) participated in practice Thursday, Jan. 21, and 'looked fit and didn't appear to be having any challenges getting in and out of stance.' according to ESPN's Jenna Laine. 'Vita moved around pretty good today when it was full speed,' head coach Bruce Arians said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, Jan. 21, and is expected to be a game-time decision for the NFC Championship game versus the Green Bay Packers, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: As Arians told reporters, Brown is "veteran enough" to handle his business Sunday without getting in any practice this week if it comes to that. Either way, a limited Brown is enough of a reason to back off of him in all fantasy formats, especially because the Buccaneers are deep at receiver. Scott Miller and Tyler Johnson would likely split snaps if he is unable to go.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is poised for a great showing against the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Godwin has 19 targets in the Buccaneers' two playoff games, a mark that leads the team. He could be in line to receive more work than usual, as Mike Evans will likely have to deal with star corner Jaire Alexander and Antonio Brown (knee) is a game-time decision. The drops have been an issue for Godwin in the postseason, but Tom Brady's trust in him hasn't wavered. He won't be as pricey as Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams, but he could provide similar production, making him a great DFS value play this week.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (knee) was added to the injury report and limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: There has been no indication as of yet from Buffalo's beat writers that Beasley had a setback Thursday, but his name was a curious omission from the injury report on Wednesday considering he is far from 100 percent. Friday's practice report will be telling in terms of what fantasy owners and DFS players should expect, but the likely absence of rookie Gabriel Davis may help Beasley bounce back from his bagel against the Baltimore Ravens in a big way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans will likely face off with Packers' star corner Jaire Alexander in the NFC title game. This is fresh off of being held to one catch by Marshon Lattimore- though his lone reception was a touchdown. Evans and Alexander went toe-to-toe in Week 6, with Alexander following him on 76 percent of the routes, holding him to zero catches, per Pro Football Focus. Evans is talented enough to beat any corner, but this is legitimately a matchup to fear. He should be faded in DFS tournaments this weekend.
Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs (oblique) was limited in practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Diggs began last week the same way before practicing in full Friday and posting an 8-106-1 line on the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round. There's been no indication the stud receiver has had a setback since he first landed on the injury report days before the first playoff game, so he should be expected to perform at his usual elite level against the Kansas City Chiefs even though they were among the best during the regular season in limiting wide receiver production.
Seattle Seahawks DE Jonathan Bullard was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday, Jan. 21.