Fri Jan 22 3:38pm ET
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
Not even the loss of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari can slow a Green Bay Packers offensive line that has withstood adversity all season.
Green Bay lost two of its original five starters to season-ending knee injuries, with right guard Lane Taylor going down in the opener. The Packers were missing All-Pro center Corey Linsley for three games last month. Now they're continuing their Super Bowl chase without Bakhtiari.
Yet the line hasn't missed a beat while helping make the Packers the NFL's highest-scoring team.
''Our attitude in the O-line room is just, `Next man up, step up, everybody's got to prepare like they're starting,' because if you get thrown in in the middle of the game and you don't know what you're doing, you're going to get exposed,'' Linsley said. ''And they're going to keep coming at you. And that's kind of how it works.''
That approach has been most evident since Bakhtiari suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Dec. 31 practice.
In Green Bay's first game without Bakhtiari, the Packers scored touchdowns on their first three drives and gave up just one sack to win 35-16 at Chicago. They followed that by scoring on their first five possessions and allowing no sacks in a 32-18 divisional playoff triumph over the Los Angeles Rams, whose 53 regular-season sacks ranked second in the NFL.
After the Packers beat the Rams, All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers called his offensive linemen ''the stars of the game.''
''I don't know if I got touched hardly at all the entire night, other than scrambling outside the pocket,'' Rodgers said. ''That was a fantastic performance by them. They dominated the line of scrimmage.''
The Packers replaced Bakhtiari by moving Billy Turner from right tackle to left tackle while having Rick Wagner fill Turner's old spot. It's the same plan the Packers used when Bakhtiari missed three games earlier this season with broken ribs.
''You never want to see anybody go down, especially a player of (Bakhtiari's) caliber,'' Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. ''But we are pretty fortunate that we have a lot of depth at that position, and the guys that have been asked to step in have done a hell of a job.''
Switching positions is nothing new for Turner. He has made six starts at right tackle and four each at left tackle and right guard this season.
''It's one of those things that I've become accustomed to,'' Turner said last week. ''And don't get me wrong, it's not easy by any means. It's not like it's something that I prefer. But at the end of the day, if that's what is necessary to help this team win games, that's what I'm going to do every single time.''
Green Bay's current starting five on the line also includes Pro Bowl selection Elgton Jenkins at left guard, Linsley at center and Lucas Patrick at right guard.
This line faces one of its toughest tests of the season Sunday when the top-seeded Packers (14-3) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) in the NFC championship game.
Green Bay allowed five sacks in a 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay back on Oct. 18. The Packers rushed for 94 yards as a team that day, but Aaron Jones was limited to 15 yards on 10 carries.
Tampa Bay tied for fourth among all NFL teams in sacks (48) and ranked second in pressures per game (10.9) during the regular season. The Bucs' defense should get a boost Sunday from the return of nose tackle Vita Vea, who hasn't played since breaking his ankle Oct. 8 but has been activated from injured reserve.
The Bucs realize the success they had against Green Bay during the regular season doesn't guarantee anything Sunday.
''It's going to be a different ballgame,'' Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. ''A lot is at stake right here, so we've definitely got to forget about what happened that game the last time we played them and focus on the right now.''
That performance against Tampa Bay was out of character for a Green Bay offensive line that otherwise has stood tall against virtually every challenge.
The Packers have allowed no more than one sack in 14 of their 17 games. After overcoming injury upon injury, these linemen want to make amends for one of their poorest performances of the season.
''The professionalism in the room is great,'' offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. ''These guys, they're all about one thing and that's winning. How can we help this team win?''
Buffalo Bills wide receivers Stefon Diggs (oblique) and Cole Beasley (knee) will not have injury designations heading into Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Chiefs. Kicker Tyler Bass (hand) is also off the final injury report after practicing in full all week. Diggs has been fighting through an oblique injury late in the season, but it hasn't slowed him down one bit, as the 27-year-old All-Pro has 14 catches on 20 targets for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the two playoff games against the Colts and Ravens. Diggs led the league in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) during the regular season and is worth the high DFS price against KC. Beasley likely won't be 100 percent the rest of the way, but he'll remain a trustworthy third-down weapon for Josh Allen. Beasley could be even more attractive on Sunday if rookie Gabriel Davis (ankle) is limited or inactive.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) said that he has been cleared from the league's concussion protocol, which makes him good to go for the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. He was on the practice field on Friday, and head coach Andy Reid said that Mahomes took all of the snaps in Wednesday's practice and most of them on Thursday. The All-Pro signal-caller didn't actually suffer a blow to the head when he was forced to leave the Divisional Round against the Browns, so it was expected all along that he'd be available this weekend. The 25-year-old might be a tad bit more risky given his high DFS price against Buffalo, but Mahomes should be all systems go and has as much upside as any QB this weekend among Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Josh Allen.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are officially activating defensive tackle Vita Vea (leg) from Injured Reserve on Friday, and he will be eligible to play in the NFC Championship game against the Packers on Sunday, according to a source. Vea has been out of action since fracturing his leg in Week 5, but he'll be in the trenches for Tampa's strong defensive front in an effort to slow down quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. Rakeem Nunez-Roches has been holding down the fort at defensive tackle with Vea out this year. We wouldn't be surprised if Vea is limited in how many snaps he can play in his first game back, though, so don't be surprised if Nunez-Roches continues to play a big role. Either way, it's a slight upgrade for a Buccaneers Defense that has a tall task ahead of them at Lambeau Field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) has been ruled out for the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Brown's knee injury that he suffered in the divisional round win over the Saints wasn't deemed serious- though he was unable to take the practice field on Wednesday and Thursday. While head coach Bruce Arians said that his star wideout wouldn't need to practice to play, he also noted this morning that the knee would swell from the team's flight to Green Bay, so playing him wouldn't make much sense. Fellow wideouts Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller will take on a larger role in the offense. Miller makes for a potential value DFS play, as he and Tom Brady showcased the ability to make big plays down the field earlier this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday. McDonald was a second-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He spent four years with the Niners before being traded to Pittsburgh shortly before the 2017 season. McDonald played in 101 career games (77 starts) and finished with 181 catches for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his four years with the Steelers, McDonald reeled in 117 passes for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns in 53 games (47 starts). His best season came in 2018, when he caught 50 passes for 610 yards (12.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. The 30-year-old dealt with his fair share of injuries in eight seasons. His retirement will save the team $5.2 million in salary cap space heading into the 2021 season.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' (foot, shoulder) wife Brittany revealed that the 42-year-old signal-caller was playing through a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot. "He's as courageous and as tough a player as I've ever been around," head coach Sean Payton said, via The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Brees' injuries likely played a part in his struggles pushing the ball downfield, and he threw three interceptions in what will be the final game of his storied career in the Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. He has yet to make his retirement official, but it's expected to come eventually, especially after playing through other injuries that we didn't know about. If this is the end, Brees will go down in NFL history as one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams led the NFL with 23 red zone receptions and 14 red zone touchdowns in 2020, and his 46 red zone touchdowns since 2016 are 17 more than any other player.
Fantasy Spin: Adams led the NFL with 18 receiving touchdowns, tied for second with 115 receptions and finished in a tie for fifth in receiving yards. His status as the unquestioned go-to target for Aaron Rodgers should continue to make him one of the safest fantasy options at any position for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry led all running backs with 75 forced missed tackles this season, and his 1,490 rushing yards after contact were the most in the league.
Fantasy Spin: Henry has been a fantasy monster since Ryan Tannehill took over as the Tennessee quarterback. His massive workload will likely take a toll at some point, but there is no reason he shouldn't deliver another RB1 campaign in 2021.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with 1,242 yards on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield during the 2020 season.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers also led the league in touchdown passes in a season that could net him MVP honors for the third time and a second Super Bowl ring. After seeing his numbers dip a bit the last couple of years, he is back in the mix of top-five fantasy options at the quarterback position heading into next season.
Things are trending in the right direction for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) to play in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. Mahomes was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday and took the majority of the snaps on offense, a good sign that he didn't suffer a setback after practicing on Wednesday. The hope is that he's a full participant in practice on Friday, which means he'd likely be on his way toward being cleared from the league's protocol before Sunday. The 25-year-old former MVP will be a tad more risky at his elevated DFS price against Buffalo coming off a head injury that knocked him out of the Divisional Round game against the Browns, but Mahomes should put up numbers in what could be a high-scoring affair this weekend as long as he doesn't suffer another head injury.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to hire Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator, according to sources. Several teams were trying to hire Bevell after he finished the 2020 season as the Detroit Lions interim head coach. The 51-year-old was the offensive coordinator in Detroit the last two years, with the team averaging 22.5 points per game and 348.5 total yards per game in his two seasons at the helm. Bevell became the Seahawks offensive coordinator in 2011, 11 seasons after breaking into the NFL as an assistant quarterbacks coach with Green Bay. He made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013-14 and won one championship. His biggest task will be working with a likely rookie quarterback -- expected to be Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft -- to mold Jacksonville's offense to the young signal-caller's strengths.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin should be ready for the NFC Championship game as long as he does not suffer a setback. He will see plenty of targets against the Green Bay Packers and can be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Evans continues to be one of the main options in the passing game when healthy and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues if active.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (finger, quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Jones shared playing time with Leonard Fournette in the last game but may see a few more touches this week. He can be a starting option in most fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Williams received 12 carries in the Divisional Round playoff game and probably will receive a similar workload against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He can be a possible flex option in some leagues but is not a must-start option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) participated in practice Thursday, Jan. 21, and 'looked fit and didn't appear to be having any challenges getting in and out of stance.' according to ESPN's Jenna Laine. 'Vita moved around pretty good today when it was full speed,' head coach Bruce Arians said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, Jan. 21, and is expected to be a game-time decision for the NFC Championship game versus the Green Bay Packers, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: As Arians told reporters, Brown is "veteran enough" to handle his business Sunday without getting in any practice this week if it comes to that. Either way, a limited Brown is enough of a reason to back off of him in all fantasy formats, especially because the Buccaneers are deep at receiver. Scott Miller and Tyler Johnson would likely split snaps if he is unable to go.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is poised for a great showing against the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Godwin has 19 targets in the Buccaneers' two playoff games, a mark that leads the team. He could be in line to receive more work than usual, as Mike Evans will likely have to deal with star corner Jaire Alexander and Antonio Brown (knee) is a game-time decision. The drops have been an issue for Godwin in the postseason, but Tom Brady's trust in him hasn't wavered. He won't be as pricey as Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams, but he could provide similar production, making him a great DFS value play this week.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (knee) was added to the injury report and limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: There has been no indication as of yet from Buffalo's beat writers that Beasley had a setback Thursday, but his name was a curious omission from the injury report on Wednesday considering he is far from 100 percent. Friday's practice report will be telling in terms of what fantasy owners and DFS players should expect, but the likely absence of rookie Gabriel Davis may help Beasley bounce back from his bagel against the Baltimore Ravens in a big way.