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FFL: Offseason | NFL: Divisional

Browns Pro Bowl guard Bitiono back for playoffs after COVID

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.

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Player Notes
Dawson Knox Jan 15 1:00pm ET

Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox has picked it up during the second half of the season. Since Week 12, Knox has hauled in four touchdowns, including one against the Indianapolis Colts last week. Sadly, the Bills have so many weapons on offense that Knox doesn't see a significant amount of targets. It's tough to believe he'll be able to do much damage against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. He'll be a low-cost option, but doesn't have much upside heading into this matchup.

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Cole Beasley Jan 15 12:50pm ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (knee) was limited during Thursday's practice, but will suit up against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. The veteran slot receiver has found a perfect home in Buffalo. He hauled in seven receptions for 57 yards in the win over the Indianapolis Colts last week. Slot receivers have been fairly decent against the Ravens secondary this season. Beasley makes for an intriguing fantasy option for this weekend's slate.

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Gabriel Davis Jan 15 12:50pm ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis has surprisingly pushed his way into a significant role in this offense. Davis didn't make much of an impact during the first half of the season, but has been a solid contributor since then. He hauled in four receptions for 85 yards in the playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Obviously, Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley are ahead of him on the depth chart. However, the Bills continue to find ways to get Davis involved. He could make for a low-cost DFS option against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend.

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John Brown Jan 15 12:50pm ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown was a ghost against the Indianapolis Colts last week. He failed to haul in any of his four targets in the win over Indy. At this point, Gabriel Davis is looking like he surpassed Brown on the depth chart. Brown looked solid during their regular season finale, but the Bills have too many options on offense. It's unlikely that Brown does anything significant against the Baltimore Ravens secondary this weekend.

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Devin Singletary Jan 15 12:40pm ET

Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary has seen limited fantasy value throughout most of the regular season because of the timeshare in the backfield. However, running back Zack Moss (leg) won't be suiting up for the playoff matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Singletary will get an increased workload, but the Ravens aren't exactly an easy team to run against right now. Sometimes in the regular season, Singletary saw touches in the mid-teens and still didn't have much value. Expect that to be a similar result versus the Ravens this weekend.

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Stefon Diggs Jan 15 12:40pm ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (oblique) has been putting up video-game numbers for the majority of the season. He hauled in six receptions for 128 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Indianapolis Colts last week in the wild-card round. Diggs was a little banged up heading into this week but has been removed from the injury report. It sounds like he'll be healthy enough to suit up against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round. This is obviously a tough matchup, but Diggs continues to exceed expectations, so he'll remain an elite fantasy option for this weekend.

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Josh Allen Jan 15 12:30pm ET

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen looked seemingly unstoppable versus the Indianapolis Colts last week. He threw for 324 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards and another score. Allen has put himself into the MVP conversation and should remain a strong fantasy option against the Baltimore Ravens. The young dual-threat quarterback has shown no signs of slowing down, so continue believing in him.

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Kansas City Chiefs Jan 15 11:50am ET

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.

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Baker Mayfield Jan 15 11:40am ET

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.

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Buffalo Bills Jan 15 11:40am ET

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.

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Raheem Morris Jan 15 11:30am ET

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.

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Sam Darnold Jan 15 11:20am ET

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.

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Matt Rhule Jan 15 11:10am ET

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.

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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.

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Austin Hooper Jan 15 7:00am ET

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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.

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Kareem Hunt Jan 15 6:40am ET

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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.

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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.

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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.

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