San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan smiles while speaking during a news conference Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers are scheduled to host the Green Bay Packers in NFL football's NFC championship game Sunday. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. The 49ers are scheduled to host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa talks to reporters before their NFL football practice in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. The 49ers will host the Green Bay Packers for the NFC Championship on Sunday. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers celebrates as he walks off the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 28-23 to advance to the NFC Championship. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams runs to the endzone for his touchdown catch during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur celebrates a touchdown with Aaron Rodgers during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur calls a play during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) celebrates after the 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 in an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) catches a touchdown pass in front of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The San Francisco 49ers are one win away from accomplishing a turnaround that's been done only once before in the Super Bowl era.
With a victory in the NFC championship game at home on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Niners will become the second team in NFL history to make the Super Bowl a year after losing at least 12 games.
Only the St. Louis Rams have done it, going from 4-12 in 1998 to Super Bowl champs one year later thanks in part of an injury to Trent Green that cleared the way for Kurt Warner to take over at quarterback.
The 49ers (14-3) also can credit an injury to their quarterback for part of their turnaround; the team went only 4-12 last season after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
The silver lining to that injury was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, which led to the addition of defensive end Nick Bosa, who helped transform the defense into one of the league's best.
''Things have a way of working out,'' Garoppolo said. ''I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL and everything, and yeah, we got Bosa out of it. That's a pretty good trade-off, I guess. Things have a way of working out, I guess. This ride is crazy. You've just got to roll with the punches.''
The Packers (14-3) have also had an impressive turnaround after slumping to a 6-9-1 record last season that led to the firing of longtime coach Mike McCarthy.
Matt LaFleur came in and tinkered with the offense, and general manager Brian Gutekunst brought in key additions such as pass-rushing duo Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith, who combined for 25 1/2 sacks on the season.
There have also been some lower-profile pickups such as Tyler Ervin, Jared Veldheer and Marcedes Lewis that have helped.
''I think he's done a great job. I think he deserves a lot of credit, him and his staff,'' quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Gutekunst. ''There's been a lot of great pickups, but I think I said this at my locker a few weeks ago, the big-name ones have been fantastic, but it's kind of the other ones that have been the glue pieces, I feel like.''
These teams played earlier this season in Week 12 in what turned out to be a lopsided game. Rodgers lost a fumble on Green Bay's first possession, setting up a 2-yard TD drive that gave San Francisco the lead. The Niners then broke it open with long TD passes to Deebo Samuel late in the second quarter and George Kittle in the third quarter for a 37-8 win. Rodgers had the worst day of his career, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt and getting sacked five times.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has a message for anyone on his team feeling overconfident.
''Don't be that stupid because that's not real,'' he said. ''This is about Sunday's game. I can give a thousand stories of things like that, playing games in my history I've been a part of.''
There have been 23 times in the Super Bowl era, excluding one replacement player game in 1987, that a team lost a regular-season game by at least 28 points to a team it met again in the playoffs. In nine of those cases, the team that got blown out earlier in the season came back to win in the playoffs.
Rodgers and star receiver Davante Adams both hail from Northern California, with Rodgers growing up in Chico and Adams in Palo Alto, which is near Santa Clara. Both played college ball in the state, Rodgers going to Cal and Adams to Fresno State. But neither ended up with the 49ers, who famously passed on Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft for Alex Smith.
''I usually dreamed about playing for the 49ers as a kid, but obviously that thing passed a long time ago,'' Rodgers said when asked if he envisioned playing the Niners in the playoffs.
These two franchises that have combined for nine Super Bowl titles have a rich history when it comes to the playoffs. This will be their eighth meeting in the past 25 postseasons, three more than any other rivalry. In fact, the only other matchup to occur more often is Cowboys-Rams, which happened nine times. Green Bay has a 4-3 edge but the 49ers won the last two meetings following the 2012 and '13 seasons.
''We've had a lot of games and had some big games in the playoffs,'' 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. ''Seem to find each other all the time during the regular season, as well. A team that we are familiar with and we've had a lot of great battles with throughout the years.''
CARRY THE ROCK
Tevin Coleman got the starting nod at halfback for the 49ers the last nine weeks of the regular season even though he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and 23.6 yards per game. But Coleman justified that confidence in last week's playoff opener against Minnesota when he ran 22 times for 105 yards in a 27-10 win.
''Tevin's ran hard for us all year,'' Shanahan said. ''I know he had much better results yesterday, or Saturday. I think a lot of it had to do with the opportunities he got. He got more opportunities. He was running real hard.''
ON THE CORNER
The one weakness on the 49ers defense of late has been cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been picked on repeatedly as teams avoid Richard Sherman. Witherspoon has allowed all five TD passes given up by San Francisco the past three games and was benched for Emmanuel Moseley in the first quarter last week after getting beaten for a 41-yard TD by Stefon Diggs. Shanahan hasn't said what his plan is for this week, but it seems likely Moseley will get the nod after faring well in nine games as a starter earlier this season when Witherspoon was hurt.
There are plenty of close ties between the coaching staffs based on past history together. But none is as strong as the one between Matt LaFleur and his younger brother Mike, who is passing game coordinator in San Francisco. When the teams played in the regular season, Matt's family came out early and spent the weekend with Mike's family. That won't be the case this time.
''I think there's a little different vibe, so I'll just leave it at that,'' Matt LaFleur said. ''I haven't really talked to him much at all and it will probably be that way for the remainder of the week.''
Interview with a Champ
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady gets a tough matchup against the Saints in the divisional round on Sunday. Brady is coming off of a 381-yard, two-touchdown performance against the league's second-best pass defense last week- and gets another top-five unit in New Orleans this weekend. The veteran signal-caller tossed five interceptions in two regular-season losses against the Saints, though the Buccaneers' offense is more dangerous lately- having scored 30-plus points in each of their last four games. Brady will be motivated to prove that the regular-season losses were flukes and may have to use his arm to do so. He's a good fantasy option in what could be a very competitive game.
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is the subject of a police investigation in Parker, Colorado, although police haven't specified why they are investigating the former Super Bowl MVP. Miller missed the entire 2020 season after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in practice just days before the season opener. The 31-year-old was suspended for six games in 2013 for violating the league's substance-abuse policy and also had an arrest warrant issued that same summer after a failure to appear in court after multiple traffic violations. The Broncos face a decision on the pass-rusher, as he is heading into the final year of his six-year, $114.5 million deal he signed in 2016. If they release Miller, the team would face a dead-money charge of $4.125 million against the salary cap for 2021.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) missed practice all week and will not play in the Divisional Round against the Browns on Sunday. Watkins suffered a calf injury in Week 16 and was held out of the Week 17 regular season finale, but two weeks of rest wasn't enough to allow him to play in the Chiefs first playoff game this year. With the 27-year-old inactive, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman have a better chance of exploding for a big play against Cleveland's shaky secondary this weekend. While both pass-catchers should see increased targets, they are both still boom/bust fantasy options in an offense with plenty of other weapons. If KC advances past the Browns, Watkins won't be guaranteed to be available for the AFC Championship game.
Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle, hip) missed practice on Thursday and Friday and is questionable to play against the Browns in the Divisional Round on Sunday. Tight end Deon Yelder (groin) and cornerback Rashad Fenton (ankle, foot) are also questionable. It's disappointing for Edwards-Helaire after he was limited in practice back on Wednesday. It's looking like the promising rookie will be a game-time decision on Sunday, and even if he's active, he could split more of the workload with veteran Le'Veon Bell against Cleveland. Another one to worry about is Darrel Williams, who looked more explosive than Bell when CEH was out in Week 16. The bottom line is that Edwards-Helaire is shaping up to be one to avoid for fantasy lineups in the Divisional Round.
Cleveland Browns tight ends David Njoku (hamstring) and Stephen Carlson (groin), offensive tackle Jack Conklin (hamstring, knee) and linebacker B.J. Goodson (shoulder) are questionable for the Divisional Round against the Chiefs on Sunday. Carlson was the only one of the four who was not able to practice on Friday, so the other three should have a good chance of being available against Kansas City. Njoku caught his only target for just seven yards in the wild-card upset over the division-rival Steelers and will continue to take a back seat to Austin Hooper if he's active for the Divisional Round. Njoku has played second fiddle all season, catching only 19 passes (29 targets) for 213 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games (five starts). You can ignore him for fantasy lineups.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (calf) did not practice again Friday, Jan. 15, and will be be ruled out for Sunday's divisional playoff matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
Fantasy Spin: This will be the seventh game Watkins will miss this season, meaning more targets for WRs Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle likely are in store.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that running back Ronald Jones II (calf, finger) was feeling better on Friday, but he will be a game-time decision against the Saints in the Divisional Round on Sunday. Leonard Fournette will start the game. Jones was limited in practice on Thursday after not playing in the wild-card win over Washington. It sounds like Jones has a chance to see some action against New Orleans, but he won't start and will be an extremely risky fantasy selection in the Divisional Round. Fournette saw the lion's share of backfield work last weekend and had a season-high 19 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown on the ground, adding four catches for 39 yards. He'll have a much tougher go of it this weekend, though, against a Saints Defense that allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to RBs in 2020.
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox has picked it up during the second half of the season. Since Week 12, Knox has hauled in four touchdowns, including one against the Indianapolis Colts last week. Sadly, the Bills have so many weapons on offense that Knox doesn't see a significant amount of targets. It's tough to believe he'll be able to do much damage against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. He'll be a low-cost option, but doesn't have much upside heading into this matchup.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (quadriceps) is expected be a game-time decision Sunday, Jan. 17, for the divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.
Fantasy Spin: Jones was active but didn't play in the wild-card win over Washington last week, and it's certainly going to be tough to trust him if he's active this time around as Leonard Fournette already has been declared the starter Sunday in New Orleans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette is expected to start in the team's divisional-round playoff game Sunday, Jan. 17, against the New Orleans Saints, head coach Bruce Arians said Friday.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette got the start in the wild-card round against Washington and had a season-high 132 total yards and a touchdown on 23 touches. The matchup is much tougher this week against the Saints, but Fournette figures to see plenty of work again with fellow RB Ronald Jones iffy with a quadriceps injury.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (knee) was limited during Thursday's practice, but will suit up against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. The veteran slot receiver has found a perfect home in Buffalo. He hauled in seven receptions for 57 yards in the win over the Indianapolis Colts last week. Slot receivers have been fairly decent against the Ravens secondary this season. Beasley makes for an intriguing fantasy option for this weekend's slate.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis has surprisingly pushed his way into a significant role in this offense. Davis didn't make much of an impact during the first half of the season, but has been a solid contributor since then. He hauled in four receptions for 85 yards in the playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously, Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley are ahead of him on the depth chart. However, the Bills continue to find ways to get Davis involved. He could make for a low-cost DFS option against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown was a ghost against the Indianapolis Colts last week. He failed to haul in any of his four targets in the win over Indy. At this point, Gabriel Davis is looking like he surpassed Brown on the depth chart. Brown looked solid during their regular season finale, but the Bills have too many options on offense. It's unlikely that Brown does anything significant against the Baltimore Ravens secondary this weekend.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary has seen limited fantasy value throughout most of the regular season because of the timeshare in the backfield. However, running back Zack Moss (leg) won't be suiting up for the playoff matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Singletary will get an increased workload, but the Ravens aren't exactly an easy team to run against right now. Sometimes in the regular season, Singletary saw touches in the mid-teens and still didn't have much value. Expect that to be a similar result versus the Ravens this weekend.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (oblique) has been putting up video-game numbers for the majority of the season. He hauled in six receptions for 128 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Indianapolis Colts last week in the wild-card round. Diggs was a little banged up heading into this week but has been removed from the injury report. It sounds like he'll be healthy enough to suit up against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round. This is obviously a tough matchup, but Diggs continues to exceed expectations, so he'll remain an elite fantasy option for this weekend.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen looked seemingly unstoppable versus the Indianapolis Colts last week. He threw for 324 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards and another score. Allen has put himself into the MVP conversation and should remain a strong fantasy option against the Baltimore Ravens. The young dual-threat quarterback has shown no signs of slowing down, so continue believing in him.
The Kansas City Chiefs Defense finished the 2020 regular season ranked 21st against the run, allowing 122.1 rushing yards per game. The Browns, led by running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, averaged 148.4 yards per game. Chubb had his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season and another Pro Bowl selection, averaging a career-high 5.6 yards per carry and a team-high 12 rushing scores. Hunt had 2,150 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, adding 833 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 25 games with the Chiefs before moving to Cleveland. The two-headed Browns rushing monster can get it done on the ground and through the air, so the Chiefs defense will have their work cut out for them. Despite the threat, Kansas City's D will be one of the more popular DFS targets in the Divisional Round.
The Cleveland Browns activated offensive guard Joel Bitonio from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday. Bitonio should be active for the team's Divisional Round game against the Chiefs on Sunday after he sat out of the wild-card upset win over the division-rival Steelers last weekend. A Pro Bowler each of the last three seasons, Bitonio's return to Cleveland's strong offensive line is a huge upgrade for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and quarterback Baker Mayfield as they try to pull off the unthinkable and upset the defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs. Bitonio's return will be even more important if offensive tackle Jack Conklin cannot play after aggravating an injury last week against Pittsburgh. The 29-year-old Bitonio has been with the Browns since 2014 and will be playing in his first career postseason game this Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills Defense is confident that they can contain Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Divisional Round matchup on Saturday night. Buffalo held Jackson to only 40 rushing yards on 11 carries last year. "We're pretty confident in being able to contain him," said linebacker Matt Milano. The Bills defense held opponents to just under 19 points a game in the final five games of the season, too, so they're coming in confident. Jackson threw for just 145 yards in his meeting against the Bills in 2019, but three of his 16 completions went for touchdowns through the air. Buffalo's defense has stiffened late in the season, but they'll face a very tough task this weekend, and fantasy managers should temper expectations in DFS.
The New York Jets hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their next head coach on Thursday night, according to league sources. The two sides have reached an agreement on a five-year deal. 49ers passing-game coordinator Mike LaFleur is expected to be the first member of Saleh's staff and serve as the offensive coordinator. Saleh has been a highly sought-after head-coach candidate the last two seasons and also interviewed with the Falcons, Lions, Jaguars, Eagles and Chargers for their head-coach vacancies. He was the guiding force behind the Niners transformation on D in the last four seasons. San Fran finished second in yards allowed per game en route to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2019 regular season. Saleh inherits a Jets team that went 2-14 in 2020 and a defense that allowed 28.6 points per game, the third-most in franchise history. The Jets hold the No. 2 and 23 picks in this year's draft and must decide if quarterback Sam Darnold is their future under center.