New York Giants kicker Graham Gano (5) reacts after making a field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
New York Giants head coach Joe Judge, center, watches his team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Philadelphia Eagles' Duke Riley (50) and Rodney McLeod (23) tackle New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Despite losing their first five games and starting 3-7, the New York Giants find themselves in a surprising playoff derby in the NFC East.
The Giants are in the thick of it and have already beaten divisional rivals Washington (4-7) twice, and split games with Philadelphia (3-6-1).
Now they go on the road to face Cincinnati (2-7-1) on Sunday and are in position to take advantage of the Bengals' recent misfortune. Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's loss to Washington, and the Bengals are expected to start either practice-squad QB Brandon Allen or Ryan Finley, who seemed overwhelmed when he had to enter the game suddenly after the team's franchise QB was carted off.
Before a bye week, the Giants beat the Eagles 27-7 after they squeaked by Washington 23-20. With six games to play, they're trying not to think about the possibility of the playoffs - yet.
''It's kind of hard for us to look that far ahead,'' defensive end Leonard Williams acknowledged ''If we do something like that, we might mess around and overlook a team.''
The Giants realize it's unusual for a team to start the way they did and not be dwelling in the divisional basement, playing out the games with eye on next season - like the Bengals.
''It's a unique opportunity for us,'' New York tight end Evan Engram said. ''Yeah, it's a lot of meaningful football for us. We're heading into it with the right mindset, getting ready for it.''
The renewed energy and hope generated by Burrow's exciting play in Cincinnati was extinguished when he was sandwiched between two Washington defenders after throwing a pass Sunday. His left knee was bent in an unnatural direction. It's not an overstatement to say the team was in shock.
''We don't have any time to hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves,'' Bengals second-year coach Zac Taylor said.
CHANGING IT UP
This will be the Giants' first game with Dave DeGuglielmo in charge of the offensive line. Before the bye week, coach Joe Judge fired O-line assistant Marc Colombo. Judge wanted to hire DeGuglielmo as a consultant, and Colombo objected a little too much.
After a slow start, the young line has been performing well, particularly in establishing the running game. New York has gained at least 100 yards rushing in six of the last seven games.
Cincinnati's offense was forced to become even more one-dimensional after featured back Joe Mixon went out with a foot injury suffered in Week 6 against the Colts. His backup is the sturdy Giovani Bernard, known more for his reliable blocking and pass catching. He is questionable after dealing with a concussion.
Between Bernard and Samaje Perine, the Bengals managed just 37 yards on 14 carries last week.
Giants kicker Graham Gano tested positive for COVID-19 after the Philadelphia game on Nov. 15. There is a chance he will be back Sunday. Gano, who has made 20 straight field goal attempts, has been isolating in a hotel room. He recently released a video showing him kicking into a net in his room.
If Gano cannot play, the Giants probably will use Ryan Santoso. He was added to roster recently from the practice squad.
Neither Finley nor Allen has distinguished himself thus far in the NFL. Allen started three games for Denver last year and has been the Bengals' practice squad quarterback this season. Finley, who has been Burrow's backup, was unremarkable in three games last year when Andy Dalton was benched. Coming in after Burrow was injured last week, Finley was 3 for 10 for 30 yards and tossed an interception.
Interview with a Champ
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are officially activating defensive tackle Vita Vea (leg) from Injured Reserve on Friday, and he will be eligible to play in the NFC Championship game against the Packers on Sunday, according to a source. Vea has been out of action since fracturing his leg in Week 5, but he'll be in the trenches for Tampa's strong defensive front in an effort to slow down quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. Rakeem Nunez-Roches has been holding down the fort at defensive tackle with Vea out this year. We wouldn't be surprised if Vea is limited in how many snaps he can play in his first game back, though, so don't be surprised if Nunez-Roches continues to play a big role. Either way, it's a slight upgrade for a Buccaneers Defense that has a tall task ahead of them at Lambeau Field.
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.