Sat Jan 16 2:34am ET
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) Robert Saleh has made history that extends far beyond any football field.
The New York Jets' new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the country, celebrating the first known Muslim American to hold that position in the NFL.
That's a source of great pride for a group that has been generally underrepresented in the league's on-field leadership roles.
''It's something that shows the growing diversity of our nation, the inclusion we're trying to achieve at all levels of our society,'' said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. ''And I think it's a very positive sign.''
The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States per capita.
''I think he's just a trailblazer for a lot of coaches who are Muslim, to let them know that they do have a chance to be a head coach,'' said Lions offensive lineman Oday Aboushi, a practicing Muslim who has played in the NFL for eight seasons - including his first two with the Jets.
''He shows them you do have a chance to be a defensive coordinator, you do have a chance to grow up and have a job at the professional level,'' Aboushi added. ''As long as you're professional and you're passionate about it like he is, I think a lot of people will look to him as a trailblazer, as far as everyone feeling like they could do it themselves and it's an attainable dream.''
After Saleh's college playing career as a tight end at Northern Michigan ended, he got his start in coaching by working as an assistant at Michigan State, Central Michigan and Georgia before being hired as a defensive intern by the Houston Texans in 2005.
Then came stints with Seattle and Jacksonville before Saleh became San Francisco's defensive coordinator in 2017, helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl last year with his No. 2-ranked unit. He was a popular candidate among the seven teams looking for a new coach this offseason, and quickly emerged as the favorite for the Jets job.
Saleh, known for his energy on the sideline and being well-liked by players, impressed the Jets during his first remote interview. He was flown in a few days later for an in-person meeting with Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas at the team's facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
After a two-day visit, Saleh left to meet with Philadelphia for its coaching vacancy - but the Jets knew they found their new coach. The team announced Thursday night the sides reached an agreement in principle.
''As a pioneer in the sports world, Saleh will serve as an inspiration to many young American Muslims,'' Selaedin Maksut, the executive director of CAIR's New Jersey chapter, said in email to The Associated Press. ''In addition to the positive impact that he'll have on Muslims, Saleh's presence in the field and on the screen will remind the rest of America that Muslims are a part of the fabric of this nation and proudly contribute to society. It's a step toward tearing down walls and building bridges.
''Welcome to Jersey, brother!''
Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of CAIR's New York chapter, congratulated the Jets and Saleh for what he called a ''historic hiring in the National Football League.'' He's optimistic it's a sign of increasing inclusion and recognition of the Muslim community.
''For all the Muslim youth who may be told they don't belong or can't do something because of how they pray, we hope that when they see Mr. Saleh on national television, they will say to themselves that anything is possible and will reach for the stars,'' Mohamed said in an email to the AP. ''We hope Mr. Saleh's hiring opens the door for other American Muslims in sports.''
Saleh is believed to be the third Arab American to become a head coach in the NFL. He follows Abe Gibron, who led Chicago from 1972-74, and Rich Kotite, who coached the Eagles (1991-94) and Jets (1995-96) - both of whom also had Lebanese roots.
Saleh is also just the fourth active NFL head coach who is a minority, joining Miami's Brian Flores, Washington's Ron Rivera and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin.
''Robert Saleh has made history on the field and off,'' New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday night. ''Now he's knocking down barriers in our own backyard. Congrats, Coach!''
While Saleh's focus will be on restoring the Jets to respectability and not necessarily being an inspiration, he has provided a path for others to someday follow.
''Any person in a new job, their first goal is going to be performance in their job,'' Hooper said. ''But I think a secondary consideration might be being an example to Muslim and Arab American youth around the country, that this kind of inclusion and respect for diversity is possible.
''But I don't think he got the job because of his ethnic or religious background. He got this job because he's good at what he does.''
Interview with a Champ
Washington Football Team impending free-agent DE Ryan Kerrigan said there has not been any contract talks between him and Washington at this point.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray (quadriceps) and quarterback Taysom Hill (knee) were both listed as questionable for the Divisional Round matchup against the Buccaneers on Sunday after getting in limited practices on Friday. The fact that they both practiced on Friday is good news for their chances of suiting up for the third meeting this year against the Bucs. If Murray, 31, cannot play, Alvin Kamara would have even more fantasy upside and would likely see more red-zone work against a stingy Buccaneers defensive front. Dwayne Washington and Ty Montgomery would help back up Kamara. Hill would likely only see a handful of snaps as a Swiss Army Knife on Sunday if he plays, making him avoidable in most fantasy lineups if he's active.
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (back) and offensive guard D.J. Fluker (knee) were both listed as questionable for the Divisional Round game against the Bills on Saturday night. Peters and Fluker were both limited in practice on Thursday, so they have a chance to be active against Buffalo. Peters also missed several games near the end of the regular season with a calf injury. We expect him to play through the pain in a very tough matchup with a Bills offense that can put up points with the best of them. Most DFS gamers will be avoiding Baltimore's stout defense this weekend, but they could surprise folks on Saturday night, especially if there is snow on the field.
New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring) has been ruled out against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Sunday's Divisional Round matchup, the third between the two clubs this season. Robinson missed practice all week. New Orleans still has a solid defense overall on the edges of the secondary with Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore locking things down, but Robinson's absence will be felt at nickelback. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will be tasked with slowing down Tampa wideout Chris Godwin this weekend. The Saints Defense will still be a strong fantasy unit on Sunday, but only if they can get some pressure on future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. In two games against the Saints in the regular season, Godwin had nine catches (13 targets) for 120 yards.
The NFL rescinded Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Josh Gordon's conditional reinstatement on Friday and left him banned from the league indefinitely. Gordon was added to the team's active roster three weeks ago and was set to return to the field when he had a setback in his battle with substance abuse that broke the terms of his conditional reinstatement. He missed the entire 2020 campaign after being suspended in December of 2019. This year was the third time he's missed an entire season since entering the league in 2012. The 29-year-old has been suspended by the NFL six times and has 247 career catches while making the All-Pro team in 2013 with Cleveland. What a shame. Gordon has so much talent and is still on the right side of 30 years old, but he may never get another chance in the NFL due to his latest setback.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (knee) is listed as questionable for the Divisional Round against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. Kupp missed practice all week, so fantasy managers should certainly be way of quarterback Jared Goff's top target if he's active this weekend. Kupp's injury wasn't deemed serious last weekend when he left late in the wild-card win over the Seahawks, but it could very well limit him if he suits up against Green Bay. Wide receivers Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds and rookie Van Jefferson could see more targets if Kupp has his snaps limited, but all of LA's pass-catchers should be knocked down a peg with Goff fighting through a surgically repaired right thumb.
The Atlanta Falcons hired Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as their new head coach on Friday, according to sources. Smith was the team's top choice all along, so they get their man. The 38-year-old was one of seven coaching candidates for Atlanta after the team fired Dan Quinn on Oct. 11. Smith is expected to pair with New Orleans Saints assistant general manager/vice president of player personnel, who is expect to be Atlanta's next GM. Smith spent the last 10 seasons with the Titans but stood out the last two years as the team's offensive coordinator, helping the Titans reach the playoffs the last two seasons. Tennessee was the only team in the NFL that ranked in the top five in rushing yards per game (153.5) and passer rating (107) since 2019. He'll try to help an Atlanta team that went 4-12 in 2020 and that hasn't made the playoffs the last three years. Smith should be a good fit if quarterback Matt Ryan and veteran receiver Julio Jones stick around.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense is a solid option ahead of a huge playoff matchup with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. At one point, Tampa Bay looked like the best defense in the league, but they've since fallen on hard times. Despite this, the Buccaneers still possess talent at all three levels of the defense. Tampa Bay can stop the run and rush the passer, a combination that could lead to turnovers committed by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Bucs will need to find their defensive mojo if they want to advance- it's worth betting on for DFS purposes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (hip, quad) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 15, but no longer appears on the injury report for the NFC Divisional Round game versus the New Orleans Saints.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin has a favorable matchup in Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, but the former did not do anything of significance in the first two meetings of the season against the Saints. To his credit, however, he has scored in four straight games and is in the midst of his best three-game stretch of the season.
Cleveland Browns DB Tedric Thompson was waived Friday, Jan. 15.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski had a catch-less game last week against Washington but could bounce back in Sunday's matchup with the Saints. Gronkowski wasn't a big part of the gameplan last week- at least as a receiver- though that could change against the Saints. The veteran tight end has risen to the occasion in big games this year- 6-106-0 against the Chiefs and 5-78-1 against the Packers- and this would be the biggest stage yet this season. The Tom Brady-Gronkowski connection failed fantasy managers last week, but it's worth going back to be more time.
New Orleans Saints TE Jared Cook (back) was upgraded to a full practice Friday, Jan. 15, and no longer appears on the injury report for the NFC Divisional Round game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fantasy Spin: Cook has established a solid floor over the last three games with Drew Brees getting more comfortable following his return from injury, finishing with either three or four catches and at least 40 yards each time. The 33-year-old posted 5-80-0 (Week 1) and 2-30-0 (Week 9) against the Buccaneers earlier this season, inspiring some confidence as a mid-priced DFS play at tight end this weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited in practice all week but removed from the injury report for the NFC Divisional Round game versus the New Orleans Saints.
Fantasy Spin: Evans enters this contest after erupting for 119 yards against the Washington Football Team last weekend, but his history with Marshon Lattimore seems to bring out the best in the Saints' top corner. No Tampa Bay receiver should be fully faded from this week's DFS slate given how well the offense is playing of late, but Evans should be considered the most likely to disappoint.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown possesses upside for fantasy purposes in a playoff matchup with the Saints. Brown had only just signed with the team when he took part in his team's blowout loss to the Saints. Since then, he has rounded into form, with five touchdowns in his last four contests, including two games with at least 90 yards receiving. Brown is looking more and more like the dynamic playmaker who made a name for himself in Pittsburgh- and he could be a real x-factor in this game. He's probably a bit riskier than his two fellow wideouts, though he has the most upside against New Orleans' tough defense.
New Orleans Saints QB Taysom Hill (knee) was upgraded to a limited practice Friday, Jan. 15, and is listed as questionable for the NFC Divisional Round game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fantasy Spin: Hill hasn't missed a game over the last three seasons, so the odds are that he'll be able to play this weekend. The versatile 30-year-old typically plays about 20 offensive snaps per game when Drew Brees is healthy and has scored 13 total touchdowns this season as a passer, rusher or receiver. Hill doesn't possess a lot of fantasy value in playoff leagues, but he could be considered a low-end QB1 in 2021 should Brees opt to retire at the end of this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (hip, quad) has no injury designation and will be out there for the divisional round battle against the Saints. Godwin is rolling right now, as he has averaged 9.3 targets per game over his last three contests, having produced at least 79 yards and a touchdown in each of them. Fellow wideout Mike Evans will have to deal with Saints' corner Marshon Lattimore, who could potentially take him out of the game. Godwin would likely see more targets if that happens, though he makes for a good DFS play- despite the Saints' fifth-ranked pass defense.
New Orleans Saints RB Latavius Murray (quad) was upgraded to a limited practice Friday, Jan. 15, and is listed as questionable for the NFC Divisional Round game versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Fantasy Spin: It's encouraging for his prospects to play that he was able to get in a limited session Friday after missing the first two practices of the week, but he was unlikely to play much of a role in this game anyway with the Buccaneers being so stout against the run. His potential absence would likely lock Alvin Kamara in for 20 touches and could make Ty Montgomery worthy of a punt play in DFS.
Seattle Seahawks WR Josh Gordon had his conditional reinstatement rescinded yet again and was given an indefinite suspension by the league Friday, Jan. 15.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans takes on the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. Evans comes into the contest having exceeded 100 receiving yards in three of his last four games, with two touchdowns scored. However, he'll be in for a tough test against New Orleans' cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who has yet to allow a catch to Evans in coverage this year. The big-bodied wideout is talented enough to beat any corner, but this seems to be a tough matchup for him in his career. If you turn to Evans in DFS this week, you're probably just hoping he finds the end zone a couple of times.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip) practiced in full all week and was left off the injury report for the AFC Divisional Round game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Fantasy Spin: Landry should be expected to get a full complement of snaps in what should be a high-scoring game. As a player who should be considered a lock for seven or eight targets, he's a solid mid-priced receiver option in DFS with significant upside.