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.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes exited Sunday's contest versus Cleveland after coming up wobbly following a scramble during the third quarter. Mahomes needed to be helped to the sidelines before entering the medical tent, but he was able to run to the locker room. Chad Henne took over to complete the drive, which ended with a Chiefs field goal. Mahomes is likely to be tested for a concussion, but he was also dealing with a left big toe ailment that limited his mobility earlier in the game. Check back for the latest updates on Mahomes as they become available.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (quad/finger) has been given the thumbs up to take the field for Sunday's game versus New Orleans, marking his return following a one-game absence. Leonard Fournette served as Tampa's top back during the Wild Card round, but he is likely to see a decreased role with Jones cleared to suit up. Despite being banged up late in the season, Jones came just 22 rushing yards shy of 1,000 on the season, adding seven rushing scores, including one in each of his last two appearances. The Saints Defense has been among the game's elite this year, but for those fantasy managers who are committed to rostering a Bucs running back, Jones is the more coveted option.
Cleveland Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) played all of one snap in Sunday's game versus Kansas City before departing due to an ankle injury. At halftime, the team announced that Willis would not return to action. The Browns have moved Blake Hance -- who was signed off of the Jets' practice squad just over a week ago -- over to LT to fill the gap for Wills. Cleveland used the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Wills, who started 15 games as Baker Mayfield's blindside blocker this season. The next opportunity that Wills will have to suit up would be in the AFC Championship Game if the Browns can advance with a second half comeback over the Chiefs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars brought in recent Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris for a head-coaching interview earlier this off-season before deciding to hire long-time college coach Urban Meyer to fill that role. Now? Meyer has reached out to Morris to potentially become his defensive coordinator, a role that he had filled for Atlanta prior to being elevated. Morris has had extensive NFL experience, albeit primarily as a defensive backs coach. Should he take the role overseeing the Jaguars Defense, he'd face an uphill task to correct a group that allowed the second-most points (30.8) and total yards (417.7) per game during the 2020 regular season. Morris is set to head to Florida in the coming days, so check back for the latest updates as they become available.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has faced turmoil from all sides as it comes to his role as the team's starting QB in the past 12 months, and that shows no signs of slowing as 2021 kicks off. But it appears that new head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur see their signal caller as having "untapped potential," after watching extensive tape. Darnold has primarily had to battle the possibility of New York drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 overall selection in the upcoming NFL Draft, but with Texans QB Deshaun Watson now reportedly available in a deal, Darnold may have a new wrinkle in his path to remaining the starter for the Jets. It's well within the realm that New York tabs Darnold under center in less than eight months time when the new year begins, as a full off-season with LaFleur may be just the ticket his future needs.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (hamstring), middle linebacker B.J. Goodson (shoulder), and right tackle Jack Conklin (knee/hamstring) have all been given the thumbs up to take the field Sunday versus Kansas City with a shot at the AFC Championship on the line. The trio had all picked up questionable tags earlier in the week but will get their opportunity to suit up. Goodson made a season-high 10 tackles last week versus the Steelers despite playing fewer than 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps for the first time all year. Njoku made just one catch (and received one target) during his time on the field, making him a non-entity in DFS contests for the Divisional Round.
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox did his job, but didn't have a huge impact during Saturday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. He hauled in both of his targets for 18 yards in the win. Knox has played well in the second half of the season, but the Bills are just too stacked on offense. The rookie tight end is basically the No. 4 or No. 5 option on this offense. It's unlikely that he has much value heading into the next round.
The Detroit Lions are set to usher in their next head coach, Dan Campbell, following the New Orleans Saints' elimination from the 2020 postseason. Campbell currently serves as the Saints' assistant head coach and tight ends coach, a gig that he has reprised since 2016. A former member of the Lions, who was on the infamous 0-16 team in 2008, Campbell has head coaching experience from a '15 stint with the Dolphins where he went 5-7 as the interim HC. Arguably the biggest decision on Campbell and his staff's slate will be whether or not quarterback Matthew Stafford is back under center in '21. Having drawn rave reviews from media prognosticators for the staff that he could assemble, check back once Campbell begins to fill out coordinator gigs.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis (leg) didn't make much of an impact during Saturday's win over the Baltimore Ravens. He failed to haul in any of his four targets during this contest. To be fair, Davis landed awkwardly on his leg and it seemed to bother him the rest of the game. It's worth keeping an eye on his status going forward. However, he should bounce back next week, assuming he's healthy.
The Philadelphia Eagles have added two new candidates to their list for potential head coach, as Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was brought in for an interview Sunday, while a request has been made to speak with Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. McDaniels has been through the rigor of interviewing for multiple franchises' head coach gigs since returning as New England's OC back in 2012. With Bieniemy also on the Eagles' list, it would appear that a move of officially having a new HC is at least a few days off. One of the biggest factors is likely how prospective coaches would handle the Carson Wentz/Jalen Hurts situation at QB, as the Philadelphia brass appears to be leaning toward keeping Wentz in the mix come '21.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (knee) was surprisingly unable to make an impact against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. Beasley failed to haul in either of his two targets in the win over Baltimore. To be fair, Beasley was matched up with elite defensive back Marlon Humphrey for a majority of the game. Possibly, Beasley wasn't at 100 percent because of his nagging knee issue. Expect Beasley to bounce back during the next round of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski returned from retirement to join long-time teammate Tom Brady for the 2020 year. With Brady not planning on hanging up his cleats anytime soon, it appears that Gronkowski wants to continue his career as well, saying that he could see himself in the mix again next season, helping to push the team toward success. During the regular season, Gronkowski compiled 623 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, having made himself into a consistent TE fantasy commodity. Considering his All-Pro pedigree and the fact that would play the '21 season as a 32-year-old, Gronkowski can be relied upon to be in the mix in season-long formats of all sizes next year.
The Houston Texans are meeting with Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier on Sunday as the team continues it's search for its next head coach. Frazier advanced to the AFC Championship Game on Saturday, with his defense holding Lamar Jackson and the Ravens without a touchdown. Frazier's only prior head coaching gig came with the Vikings from 2010-13, where he led the team to one playoff appearance and a combined 21-32-1 regular-season record. The decision to hire a defensive-minded coach would be a pivot from where many have expected Houston to focus with quarterback Deshaun Watson apparently being consulted in the decision-making process. Stay tuned for updates on the organization's decision in the coming days.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs has been basically impossible to stop over the second half of the season. He seemingly had no issues versus the Baltimore Ravens during their playoff matchup on Saturday. Diggs hauled in eight of his 11 targets for 106 yards and one touchdown in the win. It doesn't seem that any defense has an answer for Diggs right now. He'll continue to be a must-have DFS option throughout the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown was held catchless during the playoff matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. However, Brown was on a mission to prove that it was a fluke performance. On Saturday, Brown hauled in eight of his 11 targets for 62 yards in the victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Brown has played well when healthy this season, but getting him healthy and on the field has been an issue. He'll be a decent DFS option heading into the next round.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was able to get the job done during Saturday's playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He completed 23 of 37 passing attempts for 206 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions in the win. Allen also rushed seven times for three yards on the ground. Baltimore did a solid job of stopping the deep ball, but Allen still found a way to get the job done. The MVP candidate will remain a top tier DFS choice for the next round of the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary had trouble finding any room to run against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday. He rushed seven times for 25 yards in the win over Baltimore. The Bills basically abandoned the running game until late in the fourth quarter. Zack Moss (leg) is expected to be sidelined for their next matchup, but it won't make much of a difference. Singletary will be a low-end streaming option going forward.
After not playing last week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (quad/finger) went through a walk-through on Saturday and as a good chance to play in Sunday's NFC Divisional Round contest against the New Orleans Saints. Jones would split carries with Leonard Fournette, limiting the fantasy upside for both backs in a game where the Bucs are already facing a tough defensive matchup. Both players would still be playable in DFS, but would see their ceilings drop.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (knee) and running back Latavius Murray (quad) are both unlikely to play Sunday night against Tampa Bay. That's good news for Saints running back Alvin Kamara, as Hill is always a threat to vulture a rushing touchdown, and Murray's replacement -- either Dwayne Washington or Ty Montgomery -- won't siphon off as much work from Kamara. This is still a tough matchup, but Kamara is worth his DFS salary.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle/hip) won't play on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Round, though he's expected to be available next week for the AFC Championship Game. Expect to see heavy doses of Le'Veon Bell, with some Darrel Williams or perhaps Darwin Thompson sprinkled in. The latter two are interesting DFS punt plays, but Bell's the real guy to target here, as he's being priced on DFS sites like a No. 2 back.