Fri Jan 15 11:51am ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns offensive guard Joel Bitonio (75) blocks in the third quarter an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland, in this Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, file photo. Browns Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio will be activated from the COVID-19 list Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, after missing last weeks playoff win over Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/David Richard, File)
CLEVELAND (AP) Joel Bitonio's long playoff wait with the Browns is over.
The Pro Bowl left guard has was activated from the COVID-19 list Friday after missing last week's wild-card win over Pittsburgh.
Cleveland's longest tenured player, Bitonio had to isolate at home and missed his first career postseason game - and the Browns' first since the 2002 season. It was a devastating development for Bitiono, who had endured so much losing with the Browns before this turnaround season.
But he'll get his long-awaited chance to play in the postseason this week. The Browns, who stunned the Steelers in the wild-card round, face the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in the AFC divisional round.
Bitonio was one of several Browns players and coaches to be sidelined over the past three weeks with the coronavirus.
Bitonio's return is a huge boost for Cleveland's solid offensive line, which has had to adjust numerous times over the past few weeks because of injuries and COVID-19.
Last week, Michael Dunn, who barely played all season, started in Bitonio's spot and played exceptionally before suffering a season-ending calf injury. He was replaced by Blake Hance, who had just been signed off the New York Jets' practice squad and first met Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield in the locker room before the game at Heinz Field.
Another worry this week for the Browns is All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin. He's missed the past two days of practice with a hamstring injury sustained early in the win over Pittsburgh.
The Browns have slowly been getting key pieces back this week.
On Wednesday, coach Kevin Stefanski returned in person to the team after also missing last week's game with COVID-19. He prepared the team virtually for the Steelers but then watched the win over the Steelers from his basement at home.
Top cornerback Denzel Ward and cornerback Kevin Johnson both were activated from the COVID-19 list, and they're needed more than ever against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his arsenal of offensive threats.
Interview with a Champ
The Kansas City Chiefs Defense finished the 2020 regular season ranked 21st against the run, allowing 122.1 rushing yards per game. The Browns, led by running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, averaged 148.4 yards per game. Chubb had his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season and another Pro Bowl selection, averaging a career-high 5.6 yards per carry and a team-high 12 rushing scores. Hunt had 2,150 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, adding 833 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 25 games with the Chiefs before moving to Cleveland. The two-headed Browns rushing monster can get it done on the ground and through the air, so the Chiefs defense will have their work cut out for them. Despite the threat, Kansas City's D will be one of the more popular DFS targets in the Divisional Round.
The Cleveland Browns activated offensive guard Joel Bitonio from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday. Bitonio should be active for the team's Divisional Round game against the Chiefs on Sunday after he sat out of the wild-card upset win over the division-rival Steelers last weekend. A Pro Bowler each of the last three seasons, Bitonio's return to Cleveland's strong offensive line is a huge upgrade for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and quarterback Baker Mayfield as they try to pull off the unthinkable and upset the defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs. Bitonio's return will be even more important if offensive tackle Jack Conklin cannot play after aggravating an injury last week against Pittsburgh. The 29-year-old Bitonio has been with the Browns since 2014 and will be playing in his first career postseason game this Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills Defense is confident that they can contain Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Divisional Round matchup on Saturday night. Buffalo held Jackson to only 40 rushing yards on 11 carries last year. "We're pretty confident in being able to contain him," said linebacker Matt Milano. The Bills defense held opponents to just under 19 points a game in the final five games of the season, too, so they're coming in confident. Jackson threw for just 145 yards in his meeting against the Bills in 2019, but three of his 16 completions went for touchdowns through the air. Buffalo's defense has stiffened late in the season, but they'll face a very tough task this weekend, and fantasy managers should temper expectations in DFS.
The Atlanta Falcons have made an offer to Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith to become their next head coach, according to sources. Smith has been the offensive coordinator for the Titans for the last two seasons. Tennessee ranked No. 3 in the league in total yards per game (396.4) and No. 2 overall in rushing yards per game (168.1) in 2020, and they were also fourth in scoring with 30.7 points per game. Smith has held a number of positions with the Titans since 2011, including tight ends coach, offensive line assistant, offensive quality control coach and defensive quality control coach. The Falcons have also interviewed Raheem Morris, Eric Bienemy, Joe Brady, Nathaniel Hackett and Todd Bowles for their head-coaching vacancy.
The New York Jets hired former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their next head coach on Thursday night, according to league sources. The two sides have reached an agreement on a five-year deal. 49ers passing-game coordinator Mike LaFleur is expected to be the first member of Saleh's staff and serve as the offensive coordinator. Saleh has been a highly sought-after head-coach candidate the last two seasons and also interviewed with the Falcons, Lions, Jaguars, Eagles and Chargers for their head-coach vacancies. He was the guiding force behind the Niners transformation on D in the last four seasons. San Fran finished second in yards allowed per game en route to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2019 regular season. Saleh inherits a Jets team that went 2-14 in 2020 and a defense that allowed 28.6 points per game, the third-most in franchise history. The Jets hold the No. 2 and 23 picks in this year's draft and must decide if quarterback Sam Darnold is their future under center.
The Carolina Panthers officially reached an agreement on a five-year deal with former Seattle Seahawks vice president Scott Fitterer on Thursday night to become their next general manager. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.