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Still playing: Bills, Bucs risen from Super Bowl droughts

Mon Jan 18 2:40am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

Green Bay Packers' Jamaal Williams celebrates after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18 to advance to the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White, right, celebrates after his interception with cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)


Buffalo Bills cornerback Josh Norman, right, hugs Levi Wallace (39) after an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bills won 17-3. (AP Photo/John Munson)


Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is congratulated by Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL divisional playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers defeated the Rams 32-18 to advance to the NFC championship game. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)


In the 1990s, the Bills buffaloed their way to four successive - if not successful - Super Bowls. No other franchise has managed that.

About a decade later, the long-downtrodden Buccaneers swashbuckled to an NFL title.

Ever since, pretty much nothing for those teams. Until now.

Next weekend, Buffalo, which last got this far in the 1993 season, heads to reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City. And the Chiefs could be missing their dynamic star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who was concussed in a 22-17 victory Sunday over Cleveland.

''It's a special time to be a Buffalo Bill, '' tackle Dion Dawkins said.

Meanwhile, TB (as in Tampa Bay), led by TB (as in Tom Brady) heads to Green Bay for the NFC championship game. Yes, the same Bucs who made the postseason once, in 2007, after their 2002 league crown, and not since - until Brady and his six Super Bowl rings arrived from New England for this season. Their 30-20 win at New Orleans sent them to Lambeau Field for the NFC championship match.

''It's great for our team,'' said Brady, who further establishes how responsible he was for all those titles in New England with each victory in Tampa. ''We worked hard to get to this point. Two road playoff wins is pretty sweet.''

Which two teams will be sweetest? The teams that will head to Tampa - yes, that's where the Super Bowl will be staged on Feb. 7, and no team has played in the big game on its home field.

NFC

Tampa Bay (13-5) at Green Bay (14-3)

Both teams used key plays by their defense to win in the divisional round, and likely will need similar performances to advance. Sure, the Bucs and Pack are lauded for their offense, from their quarterbacks - Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has had perhaps the best season of his illustrious career - to strong runners Leonard Fournette and Aaron Jones, to a bevy of receivers, to solid lines. But holding down All-Pros Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams is a must for Tampa Bay. So is neutralizing Brady hooking up with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate.

''It was huge. I think the defense was the key to the game,'' Brady said after the win over the Saints. It needs to be huge once more.''

As for the conditions at Lambeau Field, well, forecasts call for temperatures in the 20s, which certainly is cold for a team from Florida, but not frigid. And remember where Brady won all those titles.

Oddly, the Packers have not won an NFC championship game at home since the 1996 season. They are four-point favorites in the earliest betting lines. If that seems low, remember who is quarterbacking the opposition.

AFC

Buffalo (14-3) at Kansas City (15-2)

So much will depend on Mahomes' condition. While journeyman backup Chad Henne did well enough after Mahomes departed Sunday in the third quarter, even making two big plays to clinch the win, the Chiefs would be severely hampered if Mahomes can't play.

Andy Reid, whose willingness to gamble and always play to win should be lauded regardless of circumstance, has designed a nearly unstoppable attack - when Mahomes is behind center. It's hard to imagine Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and the other threats being, well, as threatening without him.

Reid maintains there is something else at play in KC. Asked what impressed him most about the Chiefs holding off Cleveland, he replied:

''Probably just the intestinal fortitude of the guys pounding through, not getting down when Pat went down. That's easier said than done. Somebody asked that just about the quarterback, so just that part of it, having that trust, having earned that respect from the guys I think is big.

''But listen, nobody got down. I mean, there was nobody that was hanging their head or moping throughout the game.''

Nor will they against Buffalo, which has been the AFC's best team the last two months. The Bills are the most balanced of the four remaining contenders, and might have more confidence than anyone.

They lost at home to the Chiefs in a COVID-19 delayed game in October, 26-17. That game was played in wet weather.

The early betting line is Kansas City giving 3 1/2 points. Mahomes' condition, not the field conditions, will determined the odds. And quite possibly who goes to the Super Bowl.

Player Notes
Deshaun Watson Jan 18 1:40pm ET

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is not happy with the team after they did not include him in the search for new general manager Nick Caserio. As a result, teams have started calling the Texans to find out if Watson is available in a trade. Owner Cal McNair and the front office haven't said that they are looking to trade Watson, and Watson himself has not asked for a trade. There is plenty of speculation out there as to where Watson might land if he is traded, with the Jaguars, Jets and Dolphins as potential landing spots. The Panthers could also be another team in the mix if Watson actually becomes available. Right now it's all speculation, but it's interesting to imagine the 25-year-old dual-threat QB playing elsewhere. If Watson really wants to leave, he also has a no-trade clause, so he could dictate where he goes next. A trade could increase Watson's outlook heading into the 2021 season, but he'll likely remain a top-five fantasy QB regardless.

From RotoBaller

Kyle Shanahan Jan 18 1:40pm ET

The San Francisco 49ers are officially promoting run-game coordinator Mike McDaniel to offensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans to defensive coordinator, according to a source. McDaniel will replace Mike LaFleur, while Ryans will be replacing Robert Saleh, who has become the New York Jets head coach. Saleh took LaFleur and offensive line coach John Benton with him to New York. The 37-year-old McDaniel has been part of head coach Kyle Shanahan's staff at every stop since he joined Washington in 2011. Ryans was a former NFL linebacker and has risen through the ranks since joining Shanahan's staff in 2017 as a quality control coach. Chris Foerster will replace Benton as offensive line coach, while former Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello will return as quarterbacks coach.

From RotoBaller

Michael Brockers Jan 18 1:20pm ET

The Los Angeles Chargers hired Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley as their next head coach on Sunday, according to sources. The 38-year-old spent just one year with the Rams after leading the league's No. 1 defense in scoring, total defense and pass defense in the 2020 regular season. Rams defenders had career-best seasons in sacks under Staley, including Leonard Floyd (10.5), Morgan Cox (six) and Troy Reeder (three), with Michael Brockers recording the second-most sacks in his career. Staley spent three seasons as the linebackers coach in Denver and Chicago before joining the Rams as their defensive coordinator. Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell could follow Staley to the Bolts in the same role, but Rams head coach Sean McVay would have to let O'Connell out of his contract.

From RotoBaller

Antonio Brown Jan 18 12:50pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) is undergoing an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of a knee injury he suffered during Sunday's playoff victory. Brown suffered the ailment sometime in the first half and was seen on the sidelines, though he was never officially ruled out of the game. Provided there is no structural damage to the knee, Brown's activity levels in this week's practice will be worth watching ahead of an NFC Championship clash with the Packers. If he's unable to play, fellow wideouts Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller would be in line to see more work in the passing game.

From RotoBaller

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jan 17 11:40pm ET

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense put together a strong performance in a 30-20 playoff win over the New Orleans Saints. Tampa Bay allowed 20 points and failed to register a sack, though they generated four turnovers. The secondary delivered a strong performance on tape, surrendering just 190 passing yards and picking off Drew Brees three times. Linebacker Devin White, a rising star, was arguably the player of the game, as he was all over the field with 11 tackles and an interception, which he returned for 28 yards. Tampa Bay will travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC title game. They hammered Rodgers and the Green Bay offense for four sacks and two interceptions in a 38-10 regular season drubbing.

From RotoBaller

Rob Gronkowski Jan 17 11:30pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski caught one of five targets for 14 receiving yards in a 30-20 win over New Orleans. Gronkowski had yet another quiet outing as a pass-catcher, though he was far more involved in the gameplan this time. Tom Brady looked his way in the red zone, so the usage was pretty promising for fantasy purposes. The problem is, Gronkowski has been out-produced by fellow tight end Cameron Brate, who has 130 yards over the last two games. Still, Gronkowski should remain a part of the offense next week against the Packers, who surrendered a 5-78-1 line to him in their regular-season meeting.

From RotoBaller

Cameron Brate Jan 17 11:20pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate led the team in receiving yards in a playoff win over the Saints. Brate hauled in four of five targets for 50 receiving yards, as he once again showed some good chemistry with Tom Brady down the field. The veteran tight end has produced eight catches for 130 yards in two playoff games, while fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski has just one reception. Clearly, Brady will continue to look Gronkowski's way in the red zone, though Brate has carved out a role for himself as a pass-catcher between the 20s. He'll get ready to take on the Packers at Lambeau Field next week with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

From RotoBaller

Antonio Brown Jan 17 11:10pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown caught just one pass for 10 receiving yards in Sunday's 30-20 divisional-round win over New Orleans. Brown was held in check for much of the game, though it should be noted that he was tending to a knee issue. It occurred sometime in the first half, with Brown requiring some attention from the team trainer- though the team didn't offer much more information on his status. This game snapped a streak of four straight contests with a touchdown reception for Brown, whose practice reps will be worth monitoring ahead of a huge title game clash with Green Bay.

From RotoBaller

Chris Godwin Jan 17 11:00pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin hauled in four of seven targets for 34 receiving yards in Sunday's victory over New Orleans. Godwin did lead the team in targets, though it could have been a far more productive day had he hauled in a long pass from Tom Brady in the end zone. The drops have certainly been an issue for the fourth-year pro- he has six in two playoff games- though he remains one of Brady's favorite pass-catchers on the roster. Godwin has seen at least six targets in 12 of 14 games, a role that makes him enticing to turn to for fantasy purposes. He'll look to be more productive with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line next week against Green Bay.

From RotoBaller

Mike Evans Jan 17 10:50pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught one of three targets for a three-yard touchdown in a 30-20 win over the Saints. Evans was held in check for most of the day by Saints' corner Marshon Lattimore- though he was able to beat him in the end zone for a score. That's his 14th touchdown of the year, including the regular season and playoffs, as he continues to be one of Tom Brady's favorite red-zone targets. Evans will look to be more of a factor between the 20s in an NFC Championship game matchup against the Packers.

From RotoBaller

Jared Cook Jan 17 10:50pm ET

New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook finished with five receptions for 28 yards on seven targets in Sunday's loss to Tampa. The tight end also lost a crucial fumble which swayed the outcome of the game. Cook finishes 2020 with 37 receptions for 504 yards and seven touchdowns. The tight end will be a free agent this offseason and will turn 34 in a few months. His fantasy value remains low heading into 2021 considering his age and the uncertainty about the size of his role on a potentially new team next season.

From RotoBaller

Tre'Quan Smith Jan 17 10:40pm ET

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith grabbed three receptions for 85 yards and two scores on three targets in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Tampa. Smith paced the team in yards and had a fantastic showing in the team's last game of the season. The WR finished 2020 with 34 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games. Because of his inconsistency and smaller role on this offense, Smith should be considered a deeper-league flex at best heading into 2021.

From RotoBaller

Ronald Jones II Jan 17 10:40pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II carried the ball 13 times for 62 rushing yards in a playoff victory over New Orleans. Jones averaged 4.8 yards per carry and showed some good burst in his first game back from a quad injury. He ripped off a long run that was called back due to a holding penalty and appeared to grimace after the play, though he was never taken out. Jones was out-touched by Fournette 22-13, though he may eat into those carries a bit if he can put in a full practice ahead of next week's NFC title game against Green Bay.

From RotoBaller

Michael Thomas Jan 17 10:30pm ET

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas finished with zero yards on four targets in Sunday's divisional-round loss to the Buccaneers. After a terrific wild-card showing last week with five receptions for 73 yards and a score on seven targets, Thomas fell flat this week. Despite an injury-ridden season, the WR is clearly the top receiving option on the team heading into 2021 and remains a WR1 despite the potential change at QB.

From RotoBaller

Leonard Fournette Jan 17 10:30pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette was the engine of his team's offense in a 30-20 divisional-round win over the Saints. Fournette turned 22 touches into 107 scrimmage yards, adding a touchdown to yet another solid outing. With Tom Brady struggling a bit, the 25-year-old came up with some timely runs and receptions, none bigger than a six-yard touchdown catch that tied the game late in the third quarter. Fournette has topped 20 touches and 100 yards in each of his last two games- he should remain a focal point of the offense when the Buccaneers travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers next week.

From RotoBaller

Emmanuel Sanders Jan 17 10:30pm ET

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders hauled in six receptions for 48 yards on nine targets in Sunday's loss to Tampa. Sanders bounced back from a poor wild-card showing last week in which he only mustered two receptions for three yards. Nevertheless, this week and last week's performance summarize just how inconsistent the WR's 2020 season was. Sanders should be considered as only a WR3/flex option heading into 2021 drafts.

From RotoBaller

Tom Brady Jan 17 10:20pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completed 18 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, adding a rushing score in a 30-20 win over the Saints. Brady struggled to move the ball for much of the game but came up with big plays when they were needed. He fired touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette, then scored on a quarterback sneak to give his team the lead for good in the fourth. Brady has thrown for 580 yards and scored five total touchdowns in his past two playoff games, both against top-five pass defenses from the regular season. He'll get ready to travel to Lambeau Field for an epic clash in the NFC Championship against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

From RotoBaller

Alvin Kamara Jan 17 10:20pm ET

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara finished with 18 carries for 85 yards and three receptions for 20 yards on six targets in Sunday's loss to the Bucs. Kamara still managed to be effective despite the Saints' offense not being able to get going during the game. The RB finished the season with a career-high 932 rush yards and 16 rush touchdowns. As a focal point of this offense, he remains a solid RB1 heading into 2021 drafts.

From RotoBaller

Drew Brees Jan 17 10:10pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees finished with 134 yards, one touchdown, and three picks in Sunday's divisional-round loss to Tampa. Brees had a tough time producing in this loss which ultimately ended the Saints' season. Earlier today, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported Sunday could very well be Brees' last game in the NFL and the QB would retire as one of the most accomplished players in league history.

From RotoBaller

Cleveland Browns Jan 17 7:50pm ET

The Cleveland Browns Defense played well in a 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Cleveland picked up one sack and forced one turnover in the loss. The Chiefs' offense would have turned in a much better game but they lost quarterback Patrick Mahomes to a concussion early in the third quarter. Top Cleveland defender Myles Garrett played through an oblique injury to log the team's only sack of the afternoon while safety Karl Joseph picked off a Chad Henne pass in the fourth quarter. Cleveland's defense was a team weakness during the 2020 season, so expect the front office to dedicate a significant portion of their offseason resources to augmenting the unit. They could be one of the most-improved fantasy defenses heading into the 2021 campaign.

From RotoBaller