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FFL: Offseason | NFL: Divisional

49ers-Rams Preview


Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) celebrates as he leaves the field after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Rams returned from their bye week this month and promptly jumped into first place in the NFC West with impressive wins over conference elites Seattle and Tampa Bay.

The San Francisco 49ers stumbled through three straight injury-plagued losses to NFC contenders Seattle, Green Bay and New Orleans before their own bye last weekend. They're still without injured Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle, and they face a difficult climb back to playoff contention despite their still-generous allotment of healthy talent.

Although current form and future prospects clearly favor the Rams (7-3) when they host the Niners (4-6) on Sunday, that doesn't fill coach Sean McVay with the slightest bit of confidence.

Not after three straight losses to Kyle Shanahan and the team that succeeded the Rams as conference champions.

''It isn't like this isn't a great football team,'' McVay said of the Rams' first sub-.500 opponent in six weeks. ''They're the reigning NFC champions, a couple plays away from being Super Bowl champions. I know too much about these guys and their coaches and their players to ever take anything for granted.''

McVay's caution is well founded: Since McVay and Shanahan got their jobs in early 2017, Shanahan has won four of seven matchups, including 24-16 in Santa Clara last month that wasn't really close. The Niners racked up a whopping 291 yards in the first half against a defense that now ranks as the stingiest in the NFL, allowing 291.9 yards per game.

McVay has won 13 more regular-season games than Shanahan, who has a sub-.500 career record and just one playoff appearance. But in the games that count, his Niners regularly come up big.

''The Rams, they had our number when I first started out,'' Shanahan said of LA's three wins in the coaches' first four matchups in 2017-18. ''They're playing as good as any team in the league right now. It's going to be a huge challenge this week.''

San Francisco swept the two-game series last season with a dominating 20-7 victory in Los Angeles and a late comeback for a 34-31 win at home that eliminated the Rams from playoff contention despite their 9-7 finish. A victory Sunday would give San Francisco back-to-back season sweeps of the Rams for the first time since 2008-09.

''We were able to have success on defense going against them in the last couple outings,'' said 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, a Southern California native. ''But I know they're trying to make a statement to get after us and make sure they're starting on the right foot come Sunday.''


The Niners are coming off a much-needed bye week after being decimated by injuries. They could get some reinforcements on offense with leading rusher Raheem Mostert and No. 1 receiver Deebo Samuel both trying to return. Even the players who had been healthy needed a break.

''I feel like we needed it,'' Warner said. ''It was kind of toward that midpoint of the season and now we're just really excited to get going again. Guys are fresh. We're hungry. We want to get back to being competitive and winning ballgames. We're excited about getting back to work this week.''


Rams quarterback Jared Goff has a chance to atone for a rough 19-for-38, 198-yard performance against San Francisco. He went into the bye two weeks later with an awful four-turnover performance in Miami, but the childhood Niners fan has markedly improved his effectiveness over the past two weeks, passing for 678 yards in consecutive wins.

''We came into the year knowing every (NFC West) team got a little bit better, and every team is going to be good,'' Goff said. ''These division games are the ones you need. These guys have taken care of us three in a row now. Hopefully we can buck that trend.''


The Rams are on a short, jumbled week of preparation after not getting home from their win over Tampa Bay until Tuesday morning. They also canceled practice Friday and held their team meetings virtually after two members of the organization received COVID-19 test results that required further testing.

Los Angeles has largely avoided major injury problems in McVay's tenure, but three key players are sidelined Sunday: left tackle Andrew Whitworth, leading tackler Micah Kiser, and starting safety Taylor Rapp.

Joe Noteboom filled in solidly for Whitworth last week despite minimal NFL experience at the position, but the Niners will attempt to test him. Kiser likely will be replaced by Troy Reeder as LA's middle linebacker, but the middle level of the defense already was its weakest spot.


The Niners are getting big contributions from their two first-round draft picks. No. 14 overall Javon Kinlaw is coming off his best game with 1 1/2 sacks against New Orleans and three tackles for a loss. No. 25 pick Brandon Aiyuk has 21 catches for 281 yards and two TDs in his past three games.


Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald expressed his frustration this week with the lack of holding calls against opponents attempting to block him. The 2019 All-Pro hasn't made a tackle in two weeks, but he has 11 1/2 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 26 quarterback hits in 12 career games against the 49ers.

When Shanahan was asked if he'd seen any drop-off in Donald's play lately, the coach quickly quashed that idea: ''Absolutely not. I wish, but no, I haven't. Been waiting a long time for that. Doesn't seem like it's happening.''

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Player Notes
Cleveland Browns Jan 15 7:10am ET

The Cleveland Browns Defense was instrumental in the team's upset playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round as they scored a touchdown and forced five turnovers. They are likely to struggle to repeat that performance in a tough matchup against an explosive Kansas City Chiefs offense in the Divisional Round. Kansas City's offense only had 16 giveaways during the regular season and is led by All-World quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Cleveland will be bolstered by the return of top cornerback Denzel Ward and starting slot corner Kevin Johnson but they are still in a tough spot as 10-point road dogs against the Chiefs. The Browns defense is not a unit to target in daily fantasy contests this weekend.

From RotoBaller

Austin Hooper Jan 15 7:00am ET

Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper found the end zone in his team's playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and it could have been a bigger game for him but he dropped a second touchdown in the end zone. Hooper sets up as an excellent DFS play against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Kansas City struggled to defend the tight end position during the regular season, allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game. Hooper has emerged as a main piece of the Cleveland passing attack over the final portion of the season and should be heavily involved in a game where Cleveland is installed as 10-point road underdogs. If you can't find the necessary space to fit top tight end Travis Kelce into those daily fantasy lineups, Hooper is an excellent, money-saving pivot.

From RotoBaller

Jarvis Landry Jan 15 6:50am ET

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry made several clutch catches and scored a touchdown for his team in their Wild-Card round win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Landry will look to keep it going in the Divisional Round against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Kansas City represents a tough matchup for Landry as they allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position during the regular season. That being said, Landry should still get several chances to do damage in a game where the Browns project to throw frequently. Treat him as a solid WR2 for DFS contests, especially in cash games.

From RotoBaller

Kareem Hunt Jan 15 6:40am ET

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to help power his team to an upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL playoffs. He will look for an encore against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Kansas City struggled to stop the run during the regular season, ranking 31st in run-defense DVOA. The Chiefs are set as 10-point home favorites, so Hunt could be called upon in the passing game, especially if Cleveland falls behind. Treat Hunt as a quality second running back in playoff DFS contests this weekend.

From RotoBaller

Nick Chubb Jan 15 6:30am ET

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb draws a favorable matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. Chubb came up big against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week and will look to continue that success this Sunday. The Chiefs struggled to contain the run during the regular season, ranking 31st in run-defense DVOA and allowing the 11th-most fantasy points per game to the running back position. The only concern here is that the Browns are 10-point underdogs and Chubb faces negative game script, but Cleveland's offense has proven to be proficient enough that they could keep this game closer than Vegas expects. If that happens, expect Chubb to play a major role in helping Cleveland keep up with the explosive Chiefs on the scoreboard. Chubb is an excellent anchor running back for DFS lineups this weekend.

From RotoBaller

Baker Mayfield Jan 15 6:20am ET

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield engineered an upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round of the playoffs last weekend. He now travels to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in the Divisional Round. Mayfield played very well against a tough Pittsburgh defense last week and should find it easier to move the ball against a less fearsome Kansas City defense on Sunday. The Chiefs allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks during the regular season and ranked 16th in pass-defense DVOA. The Browns are 10-point road underdogs so they could be forced to throw more often than usual. Mayfield is an excellent value option in DFS contests this weekend.

From RotoBaller

Matt Rhule Jan 14 4:40pm ET

The Carolina Panthers are expected to hire Seattle Seahawks vice president of football operations Scott Fitterer as their new general manager, according to sources. Fitterer was a late addition to the interview process but made a quick impression on the Carolina decision-makers. He was one of 15 candidates to interview for the position when the team fired veteran Marty Hurney on Dec. 21. The other finalists for the job included Tennessee's Monti Ossenfort, San Francisco's Adam Peters and Kansas City's Ryan Poles. Fitterer had been with Seattle since 2001 and worked alongside Seattle GM John Schneider since 2010. He'll be paired with second-year head coach Matt Rhule with the team coming off a 5-11 season with the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft. Locating a franchise quarterback will be priority No. 1.

From RotoBaller

Melvin Gordon Jan 14 4:30pm ET

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III pleaded not guilty in his DUI case on Thursday. His next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 24, with a potential jury trial on April 8 if the case isn't resolved before then. Gordon could still face league discipline in 2021 after being arrested on Oct. 3 in downtown Denver and charged with driving under the influence. Safety Kareem Jackson was suspended for the final two games of the 2019 season after a DUI charge. Gordon led the Broncos in carries (215), rushing yards (986) and rushing touchdowns (nine) in his first season in Denver while sharing the backfield with Phillip Lindsay for much of the year. There's a possibility that new general manager George Paton could move on from Gordon if he's suspended, but he should be a midrange RB2 if he sticks around for another season in Denver.

From RotoBaller

Philip Rivers Jan 14 4:00pm ET

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard thinks that impending free-agent quarterback Philip Rivers can still play in the NFL, but the team must decide if bringing the 39-year-old back for another season is the right course for the franchise. If Rivers does decide to come back for another year, he only wants to play for the Colts. Head coach Frank Reich also recently said that he thinks Rivers can continue his career and would love to have him back in 2021. Rivers rebounded from a rough season in his final year with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen if the Colts want an upgrade. The eight-time Pro Bowler threw for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2020 and would merely be a middling QB2 in a run-first offense if he were to return for an 18th NFL season in 2021.

From RotoBaller

John Wolford Jan 14 3:10pm ET

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay has ruled quarterback John Wolford (neck) out for the Divisional Round game against the Packers on Saturday. Wolford hasn't practiced this week after suffering a stinger in the wild-card game against the Seahawks and having to be taken to the hospital. Jared Goff (thumb) will make the start against Green Bay, with Blake Bortles backing him up. Goff didn't start last weekend after having surgery to fix a broken and dislocated thumb that he suffered in Week 16. The Rams didn't ask too much of him, as he went just 9-for-19 for 155 yards and a touchdown after he replaced Wolford in the first quarter. Goff has been practicing in full this week but is unlikely to be 100 percent against a Packers Defense that allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to QBs during the regular season. Goff will be the shakiest fantasy signal-caller this weekend.

From RotoBaller

Melvin Gordon Jan 14 3:03pm ET

Denver Broncos RB Melvin Gordon's attorneys on Thursday, Jan. 14, in virtual court entered a not guilty plea to a DUI charge last Oct. 14 in Denver. Gordon's next hearing is a disposition on Feb 24.

Fantasy Spin: Something to keep an eye on this offseason as Gordon could wind up opening the 2021 season on a league-issued suspension, depending on how things play out.

From TheHuddle

Jared Goff Jan 14 3:03pm ET

Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff (thumb) will start Saturday, Jan. 16, in the divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Rams head coach Sean McVay said Thursday. Blake Bortles will serve as the backup.

Fantasy Spin: Goff came in early for injured starter John Wolford (neck) in last Saturday's wild-card win over the Seahawks, but completed only 9-of-19 passes for 155 yards and a TD while playing with his surgically repaired thumb.

From TheHuddle

Marlon Mack Jan 14 2:03pm ET

Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack (Achilles) 'deserves a good contract,' Colts general manager Chris Ballard said Thursday, Jan. 14, but added that he doesn't know if the team will be in position to offer the pending free agent one this offseason.

Fantasy Spin: The Colts certainly aren't in need after second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor's late-season emergence, leaving Mack in tough spot as a free agent running back coming off a season-ending Achilles injury. The clock, though, is on Mack's side as he'll only turn 25 in March.

From TheHuddle

Philip Rivers Jan 14 1:33pm ET

Indianapolis Colts QB Philip Rivers met with the general manager Chris Ballard for an hour earlier this week, Ballard said Thursday, Jan. 14, as Rivers heads into the offseason pondering his future. 'Do I think Philip can still play? Absolutely,' Ballard said. 'He's going to take some time, and we're going to take some time. We'll meet again in about a month.'

Fantasy Spin: Rivers will turn 40 before the end of next season, but can still sling it as evidenced by his eight straight seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards and 23 TD tosses. Fantasy-wise, though, he's now at the low end of the QB2 scale after residing in the high-end QB2/low-end QB1 range.

From TheHuddle

David Njoku Jan 14 1:13pm ET

Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku (hamstring) won't practice Thursday, Jan. 14, but is making progress, head coach Kevin Stefanski said.

Fantasy Spin: Njoku caught his only target for seven yards Sunday in the Browns' wild-card win over the Steelers, but only played 21 offensive snaps (31 percent). It sounds like Njoku has a chance to ramp things up in time to play this Sunday in Kansas City, but Austin Hooper (7 catches for 46 yards and a TD) is the Cleveland tight end to be trusted.

From TheHuddle

Jaylon Smith Jan 14 1:03pm ET

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith (wrist) on Thursday, Jan. 14, underwent surgery on his left wrist.

From TheHuddle

Jaylon Smith Jan 14 12:10pm ET

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith (wrist) will undergo left wrist surgery on Thursday, according to multiple sources. Smith led the team with 154 tackles and didn't miss a single game in 2020, but he was on the injury report in Week 16 with a wrist injury. He should be ready for the beginning of the offseason program. Smith is scheduled to make a base salary of $7.2 million next season, which becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the new league year, and he carries a $9.8 million cap figure. Because of that, there are some questions about his future with the team. The 25-year-old is signed through the 2025 season and has posted at least 120 tackles in three of his four seasons. He has 498 career tackles and nine sacks in 64 career games and should be considered a top-10 fantasy linebacker in IDP leagues.

From RotoBaller

Ronald Jones II Jan 14 12:03pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (quadriceps, thumb) was spotted at practice Thursday, Jan. 14. He was wearing a brace on his surgically repaired thumb.

Fantasy Spin: It's unknown whether he was a full-go, but if he returns this weekend, he'll be an RB2 option. It would also move Leonard Fournette to the flex area.

From TheHuddle

Ben Roethlisberger Jan 14 11:50am ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to part ways with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, according to a source. Fichtner's contract was due to expire at the start of the new league year, so the club will not renew his deal. He joined the Steelers in 2007, head coach Mike Tomlin's first year with the team. Offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley also won't have their contracts renewed. Fichtner started as the team's wide receivers coach, a title he held for three seasons before moving to quarterbacks coach and working with Ben Roethlisberger. He was in that role for eight seasons before becoming offensive coordinator in 2018. Big Ben threw for 5,129 yards in 2018, but he was hurt all of last year and declined throughout the year in 2020.

From RotoBaller

Bill Callahan Jan 14 2:23am ET

Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan cleared the NFL's COVID-19 protocols and returned to the team on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

From TheHuddle