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.
Interview with a Champ
Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields announced on Twitter his intentions to forego his remaining eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL draft. He is considered one of the nation's top prospects after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game, where they fell to Alabama. Fields beat Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the semifinals by throwing six touchdowns despite suffering a hip pointer in the game. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder was 20-2 in his time as the Ohio State starter while completing 68.4 percent of his passes and a 63:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his two seasons with the Buckeyes. Fields also ran for 867 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns. Lawrence is projected to go to the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but the Jets could snag Fields with the No. 2 pick this April.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff's recent inconsistent play has left his status as the starting quarterback for the 2021 season in the air and may lead the team to bring in someone who can push him, according to comments made by the NFL Network's Steve Wyche. 'The people I've spoken to said basically at this moment the relationship with Goff and (head coach Sean) McVay: not great. They need marriage counseling is what one person said to me. I think this is something that they're going to be able to work through, but there's got to be some healing and that's not just with Jared Goff's injured thumb,' Wyche said.
Fantasy Spin: Goff was very good in McVay's first two seasons (2017 and 2018), but it would seem that once opponents figured out how to slow down Todd Gurley late during the second half of the 2018 campaign, Goff started to get exposed. It's also possible that the defections of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks have given defenses less to worry about vertically or that he is feeling the pressure of playing under his four-year, $134 million contract that he signed in September of 2019. Whatever the reason(s), fantasy owners should expect him to compete for his job in camp this summer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon, DB Javon Hagan and OG Ted Larsen were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers DT Brian Price and DB KeiVarae Russell were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Los Angeles Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, Chicago Bears safeties coach Sean Desai and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris are most likely candidates to replace Brandon Staley as the Rams' defensive coordinator, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Rodrigue is reporting a decision to fill the vacancy could happen as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 19.
New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
New York Giants CB James Bradberry has forced a league-high 42 incompletions since 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) will return to practice this week, and the team hopes he will be available for the NFC Championship game.
Dallas Cowboys DE Tyrone Crawford (foot) underwent surgery last week and showed his right foot in a cast after the surgery.
Denver Broncos impending free-agent S Justin Simmons is a player that head coach Vic Fangio wants to return next season.
The Baltimore Ravens will release veteran running back Mark Ingram II on Tuesday, according to league sources. The move will save the Ravens $5 million against the 2021 salary cap and will allow Ingram to get an early jump on free agency. Ingram was a healthy scratch in five of the team's final six games to close out the season, but he insists that he's healthy and has plenty to offer a team in 2021. The 31-year-old was a first-round pick out of Alabama back in 2011, but he's unlikely to be anything more than a backup if he lands with another team on the open market this offseason. J.K. Dobbins took over as Baltimore's lead back in the second half of the 2020 season, and Gus Edwards should continue spelling him next season. Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowler, had 72 carries for 299 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns in 11 games (nine starts) in his second year in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens RB Mark Ingram has been informed that he will be released Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Ingram may not be able to find a starting job this offseason but can be part of a running back committee for a team. Fantasy players can monitor the situation because Ingram can have fantasy value depending on his situation.
Free-agent CB Davontae Harris (Ravens) may re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.
The Baltimore Ravens waived quarterback Robert Griffin III, defensive back Davontae Harris, wide receiver De'Anthony Harris and defensive back Tramon Williams on Monday. Griffin played in four games in his third season with the Ravens and made a start in place of Lamar Jackson after he contracted COVID-19 in the Week 12 loss to the Steelers. RG3 went just 7-for-12 for 33 yards and an interception in that start, also running the ball seven times for an additional 20 yards. The No. 2 overall pick might've played in his last NFL game, but he could also return to the Ravens if he goes unclaimed on waiver. The 30-year-old started just two games in three years for Baltimore and declined after he was named a Pro Bowler in his rookie season with Washington.
Seattle Seahawks practice squad LB Ray-Ray Armstrong, OG Alex Boone, RB Alex Collins, RB Bo Scarbrough and TE Stephen Sullivan had their contracts expire Monday, Jan. 18.
Chicago Bears practice squad LB Devante Bond, QB Tyler Bray, OG Eric Kush, CB Sojourn Shelton, LB Manti Te'o and RB Spencer Ware had their contracts expire Monday, Jan. 18.
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Joe Haden was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 on Monday, Jan. 18.
Baltimore Ravens QB Robert Griffin III, DB Davontae Harris, WR De'Anthony Thomas and CB Tramon Williams were waived Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said that the team will be careful with rookie running back A.J. Dillon (undisclosed), but he is hopeful that Dillon can play on Sunday against the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game. Dillon left the fourth quarter of the win over the Rams in the Divisional Round on Saturday with an undisclosed injury. The 22-year-old ran the ball six times for 27 yards in the win over the Rams. Keep a close eye on his practice status throughout the week. If he's inactive against Tampa Bay, Jamaal Williams would be a much more attractive DFS sleeper behind Aaron Jones. Dillon dealt with injury and was on the COVID-19 list in his rookie season, but he could have a substantial role in Green Bay's backfield in 2021 if Jones leaves in free agency.