Thu Dec 19 4:30pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower speaks with reporters in the team's locker room following an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott looks at the scoreboard during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) For years the Bills have been one of three chasers in the AFC East, annually trying and failing to knock the Patriots from their decade-long run atop the division.
Buffalo enters its Week 16 matchup with New England clinging to its best hope in years of ending that dominance.
With a win (or tie) the Patriots can clinch the AFC East title for the 11th consecutive season. They can also lock up a first-round playoff bye with a win and Chiefs loss (or tie).
But if Buffalo (10-4) beats the Patriots (11-3) and wins its finale next week against the Jets, and New England also loses at Miami, the Bills would win the division for the first time since 1995.
''We certainly respect the Patriots; they've reigned over this division, by far, for a long time,'' Bills coach Sean McDermott said. ''So, to have a game like this at this point in the season, our players have worked hard for it. So, you earn everything you get in this league, and so they've earned that, but we're going to have to earn it this weekend because the Patriots, they play well, and especially down the stretch.''
New England has played particularly well against Buffalo.
The Bills haven't beaten the Patriots in five games under coach Sean McDermott and have lost the past six meetings overall.
Buffalo also has yet to beat the Patriots in Foxborough in a game that Tom Brady started and finished (0-15). Buffalo defeated New England 17-9 in the 2014 regular-season finale, but Brady only played in the first half with the Patriots having already clinched the conference's top seed.
Overall, Brady owns a 31-3 overall record against the Bills, the most wins in NFL history by a quarterback against a single opponent.
''It's a big game for both teams,'' Brady said. ''I think everybody puts a lot into it. And it's for moments like this.''
If the Patriots are ripe for a late-season letdown, this could be the year.
New England's top-ranked defense gave up a season-high 375 yards to the Bills during its 16-10 win at Buffalo in Week 4. And that was with Bills rookie and leading rusher Devin Singletary sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Quarterback Josh Allen also sat out the fourth quarter of that loss with a head injury. He has nine rushing touchdowns this season, the most among quarterbacks in 2019.
The Bills also will face Brady during a season in which he has his lowest completion rate (60.1 percent) and fewest passing TDs (21) since 2013.
In his first 29 games against the Bills, Brady went 610 of 955 for 7,316 yards (252 per game average) with 66 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. But in his past five games against Buffalo, Brady is 102 of 166 for 1,082 yards (216 per game average) with three TDs and five interceptions. His 46.2 percent completion rate in the Week 4 meeting was the eighth-worst of his career.
Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said he ''absolutely'' thought back in September that Buffalo looked like a team capable of being in this position.
''They always have a new wrinkle,'' Hightower said. ''The skill players that they have and the offensive line that they have, the way that they're built - it's built to be in this division. It's built to play us.''
MAKING A STATEMENT
Jordan Phillips, who ranks second in the NFL among defensive tackles and leads the Bills with 9 1/2 sacks, doesn't know what else Buffalo has to do to prove itself.
Having defeated the Cowboys at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, and the Steelers in prime time last weekend, Phillips was asked if the next step is winning at New England.
Phillips shrugged and said: ''If we haven't shown that we're a contender by now, then beating the Patriots isn't going to do anything.''
MR. FOURTH QUARTER
Allen has a touchdown to interception ratio of 8:0 in the fourth quarter this season, the best mark in the NFL. He is the only QB in the league with at least 50 fourth-quarter pass attempts and no INTs. Allen has also taken the Bills to a victory five times with Buffalo tied or trailing in the fourth quarter in 2019.
The Patriots' defense will be without a key part of their secondary. Cornerback Jonathan Jones was ruled out for Saturday's game with the groin injury he sustained in the Patriots' win over the Bengals. Jones has appeared in all 14 games this season, primarily filling the role of slot defender when New England uses five defensive backs. He is sixth on the team in tackles in 2019 (47).
Bills tight end Tyler Kroft has played a significant role in helping Buffalo clinch two playoff berths in three years.
His 14-yard touchdown catch sealed Buffalo's playoff-clinching 17-10 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
It was his first touchdown since scoring twice while with the Bengals in Cincinnati's 2017 season-ending 31-27 win over Baltimore. The outcome eliminated the Ravens and vaulted the Bills into the playoffs.
It just so happened that Kroft ran a similar route Sunday to the one the offseason free agent did in his first practice with Buffalo in May, when he broke his foot. The injury forced Kroft to miss the entire offseason.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense put together a strong performance in a 30-20 playoff win over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay allowed 20 points and failed to register a sack, though they generated four turnovers. The secondary delivered a strong performance on tape, surrendering just 190 passing yards and picking off Drew Brees three times. Linebacker Devin White, a rising star, was arguably the player of the game, as he was all over the field with 11 tackles and an interception, which he returned for 28 yards. Tampa Bay will travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC title game. They hammered Rodgers and the Green Bay offense for four sacks and two interceptions in a 38-10 regular season drubbing.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski caught one of five targets for 14 receiving yards in a 30-20 win over New Orleans. Gronkowski had yet another quiet outing as a pass-catcher, though he was far more involved in the gameplan this time. Tom Brady looked his way in the red zone, so the usage was pretty promising for fantasy purposes. The problem is, Gronkowski has been out-produced by fellow tight end Cameron Brate, who has 130 yards over the last two games. Still, Gronkowski should remain a part of the offense next week against the Packers, who surrendered a 5-78-1 line to him in their regular-season meeting.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate led the team in receiving yards in a playoff win over the Saints. Brate hauled in four of five targets for 50 receiving yards, as he once again showed some good chemistry with Tom Brady down the field. The veteran tight end has produced eight catches for 130 yards in two playoff games, while fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski has just one reception. Clearly, Brady will continue to look Gronkowski's way in the red zone, though Brate has carved out a role for himself as a pass-catcher between the 20s. He'll get ready to take on the Packers at Lambeau Field next week with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown caught just one pass for 10 receiving yards in Sunday's 30-20 divisional-round win over New Orleans. Brown was held in check for much of the game, though it should be noted that he was tending to a knee issue. It occurred sometime in the first half, with Brown requiring some attention from the team trainer- though the team didn't offer much more information on his status. This game snapped a streak of four straight contests with a touchdown reception for Brown, whose practice reps will be worth monitoring ahead of a huge title game clash with Green Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin hauled in four of seven targets for 34 receiving yards in Sunday's victory over New Orleans. Godwin did lead the team in targets, though it could have been a far more productive day had he hauled in a long pass from Tom Brady in the end zone. The drops have certainly been an issue for the fourth-year pro- he has six in two playoff games- though he remains one of Brady's favorite pass-catchers on the roster. Godwin has seen at least six targets in 12 of 14 games, a role that makes him enticing to turn to for fantasy purposes. He'll look to be more productive with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line next week against Green Bay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught one of three targets for a three-yard touchdown in a 30-20 win over the Saints. Evans was held in check for most of the day by Saints' corner Marshon Lattimore- though he was able to beat him in the end zone for a score. That's his 14th touchdown of the year, including the regular season and playoffs, as he continues to be one of Tom Brady's favorite red-zone targets. Evans will look to be more of a factor between the 20s in an NFC Championship game matchup against the Packers.
New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook finished with five receptions for 28 yards on seven targets in Sunday's loss to Tampa. The tight end also lost a crucial fumble which swayed the outcome of the game. Cook finishes 2020 with 37 receptions for 504 yards and seven touchdowns. The tight end will be a free agent this offseason and will turn 34 in a few months. His fantasy value remains low heading into 2021 considering his age and the uncertainty about the size of his role on a potentially new team next season.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith grabbed three receptions for 85 yards and two scores on three targets in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Tampa. Smith paced the team in yards and had a fantastic showing in the team's last game of the season. The WR finished 2020 with 34 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. Because of his inconsistency and smaller role on this offense, Smith should be considered a deeper-league flex at best heading into 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II carried the ball 13 times for 62 rushing yards in a playoff victory over New Orleans. Jones averaged 4.8 yards per carry and showed some good burst in his first game back from a quad injury. He ripped off a long run that was called back due to a holding penalty and appeared to grimace after the play, though he was never taken out. Jones was out-touched by Fournette 22-13, though he may eat into those carries a bit if he can put in a full practice ahead of next week's NFC title game against Green Bay.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas finished with zero yards on four targets in Sunday's divisional-round loss to the Buccaneers. After a terrific wild-card showing last week with five receptions for 73 yards and a score on seven targets, Thomas fell flat this week. Despite an injury-ridden season, the WR is clearly the top receiving option on the team heading into 2021 and remains a WR1 despite the potential change at QB.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette was the engine of his team's offense in a 30-20 divisional-round win over the Saints. Fournette turned 22 touches into 107 scrimmage yards, adding a touchdown to yet another solid outing. With Tom Brady struggling a bit, the 25-year-old came up with some timely runs and receptions, none bigger than a six-yard touchdown catch that tied the game late in the third quarter. Fournette has topped 20 touches and 100 yards in each of his last two games- he should remain a focal point of the offense when the Buccaneers travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers next week.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders hauled in six receptions for 48 yards on nine targets in Sunday's loss to Tampa. Sanders bounced back from a poor wild-card showing last week in which he only mustered two receptions for three yards. Nevertheless, this week and last week's performance summarize just how inconsistent the WR's 2020 season was. Sanders should be considered as only a WR3/flex option heading into 2021 drafts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, adding a rushing score in a 30-20 win over the Saints. Brady struggled to move the ball for much of the game but came up with big plays when they were needed. He fired touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette, then scored on a quarterback sneak to give his team the lead for good in the fourth. Brady has thrown for 580 yards and scored five total touchdowns in his past two playoff games, both against top-five pass defenses from the regular season. He'll get ready to travel to Lambeau Field for an epic clash in the NFC Championship against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara finished with 18 carries for 85 yards and three receptions for 20 yards on six targets in Sunday's loss to the Bucs. Kamara still managed to be effective despite the Saints' offense not being able to get going during the game. The RB finished the season with a career-high 932 rush yards and 16 rush touchdowns. As a focal point of this offense, he remains a solid RB1 heading into 2021 drafts.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished with 134 yards, one touchdown, and three picks in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Tampa. Brees had a tough time producing in this loss which ultimately ended the Saints' season. Earlier today, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported Sunday could very well be Brees' last game in the NFL and the QB would retire as one of the most accomplished players in league history.
The Cleveland Browns Defense played well in a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Cleveland picked up one sack and forced one turnover in the loss. The Chiefs' offense would have turned in a much better game but they lost quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a concussion early in the third quarter. Top Cleveland defender Myles Garrett played through an oblique injury to log the team's only sack of the afternoon while safety Karl Joseph picked off a Chad Henne pass in the fourth quarter. Cleveland's defense was a team weakness during the 2020 season, so expect the front office to dedicate a significant portion of their offseason resources to augmenting the unit. They could be one of the most-improved fantasy defenses heading into the 2021 campaign.
Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper was overshadowed by teammate David Njoku in their team's 22-17 Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Hooper wound up catching just two of three targets for 13 yards, although one of his catches was a clutch diving grab to convert a fourth down. Many DFS gamers were eager to plug Hooper into lineups to take advantage of a plus matchup against the Chiefs, but instead it was forgotten man David Njoku who came up big. Njoku caught four of five targets for 59 yards to finish second on the Browns in receiving. Hooper was a big free-agent signing by the Browns last offseason but he wound up as a bust on his new team. He should be treated as a low-upside TE2 in fantasy for the 2021 season as Cleveland doesn't pass frequently enough to support him. Njoku has a $6 million cap hit in 2021 and spent much of the past season angling for a trade out of Cleveland. He could very well be in a different uniform in 2021.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce scored a touchdown versus the Cleveland Browns in an AFC Divisional Round victory on Sunday. Kelce also caught eight of his 11 targets for 109 yards on the afternoon. Kelce had one of the most dominant seasons every for a tight end this season and that has carried over the playoffs. Kelce will be a TE1 option every week, but managers may want to double check that quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) is playing before going with Kelce in a tough matchup versus the Buffalo Bills next weekend for the AFC Championship.
According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees plans to retire after the season ends. With the Saints are getting ready to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Sunday night, Glazer tweeted, "Today will be Drew Brees' last game in the Superdome" earlier in the day. If the Saints lose to Tampa Bay, it will close the book on a Hall of Fame career for Brees. If the Saints win, they will head to Green Bay to take on the Packers for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. With Brees out of the picture in 2021, there's a chance that the Saints to turn to Taysom Hill as the team's starting quarterback but they could bring in a veteran as several quality signal-callers will be available this offseason, either through free-agency or via trade. Either way, it will be the end of an era for the Saints and the NFL as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in league history hangs them up.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins led his team in receiving in a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. Higgins caught five of seven targets for 88 yards but he will instead be remembered for the play he didn't make. Higgins appeared on his way to a touchdown near the end of the second quarter but wound up fumbling the ball through the Kansas City end zone, resulting in the Chiefs offense getting the ball at the 20-yard line. It was a tough play as he appeared to take a helmet-to-helmet hit but all Browns fans will remember is that he didn't score what would have been the game-deciding touchdown. Higgins is now an unrestricted free-agent and could be playing for a different team next season, also Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski appeared to be a fan of Higgins during his first year at the helm. If he stays with the Browns, the return of Odell Beckham Jr. would push Higgins back to the No. 3 WR role in Cleveland.