Sat Sep 21 11:13am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Sept. 8, 2019, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass as he is pressured by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. Mahomes Mahomes is the reigning league MVP. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
In this Sept. 16, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett (95) sacks New York Jets' Trevor Siemian (19) during the first half of an NFL football game in East Rutherford, N.J. Garrett leads the league with five sacks in two games. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)
In this Nov. 26, 2018, file photo, Houston Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (59) sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during the second half of an NFL football game in Houston. Mercilus has been a stud so far, while edge rusher J.J Watt is off to a relatively slow start. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
In this Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, file photo, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass during the first half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami Gardens, Fla. Boosting the Ravens to the top in yards gained is an average of 541.5 yards, led by Jacksons superb passing and running. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Once, the Ravens at Chiefs would have been looked at as one of those old-fashioned strong defense vs. dangerous offense matchups.
You know: ''Here's what we do, try to stop us'' against ''Here's what we do, try to move us.''
The weekend's best game has evolved quite a bit this year.
Baltimore has been among the most balanced teams, ranking second in overall defense and first in yards gained. The Ravens are leading the NFL with 21 quarterback hits, six of them sacks, and allowing only 41 yards on the ground. Of course, they played Miami and Arizona, which also were vulnerable defensively. Boosting the Ravens to the top in yards gained is an average of 541.5 yards, led by Lamar Jackson's superb passing and running. Jackson is tied with Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, the reigning league MVP, and Dallas QB Dak Prescott with seven TD tosses.
KC is first in passing offense and third overall, but this is a major test.
''It's going to be a great experience,'' Mahomes said. ''We got to play last year once and seeing Lamar's progression and understanding the offense - I understand going from Year 1 to Year 2, there's a huge switch where you start understanding the offense at a different level. Then with his running ability, he can still do that. It's a great challenge for our whole team.''
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has 209 wins, tied with Chuck Noll for sixth in NFL history. Curly Lambeau is fifth with 229.
The weekend began with Jacksonville's 20-7 victory over Tennessee on Thursday night. Gardner Minshew had an efficient night for the Jaguars (1-2), who dominated the Titans (1-2) up front and sacked Marcus Mariota nine times.
Pittsburgh (0-2) at San Francisco (2-0)
The Steelers have lost in their last six trips to the Bay Area - four times in Oakland, twice at San Francisco. Their last win was 27-6 at the 49ers in 1999. Pittsburgh is looking to avoid only its second 0-3 start since 2000 with Mason Rudolph making his first career start in place of injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Rudolph threw for 112 yards and two touchdown vs. Seattle last week after Roethlisberger left with a season-ending elbow injury. Pittsburgh ominously is 4-19-1 with a first-time starting QB. It will have safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, acquired from the Dolphins on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the 49ers seek their first 3-0 start since 1998 and seventh since the 1970 merger. San Francisco made the playoffs following five of the previous six 3-0 starts, missing only in 1980. The Niners come off back-to-back road victories to open a season for the first time since 1989.
New Orleans (1-1) at Seattle (2-0)
Like Pittsburgh, New Orleans is without its starting quarterback, Drew Brees (thumb surgery), but at least he is expected back this season. Coach Sean Payton says he will play both of Brees' backups, Teddy Bridgewater and versatile Taysom Hill, a special teams regular and frequent offensive contributor in the wildcat and as a running back or receiver.
The Saints stayed on the West Coast and practiced in Seattle following last week's loss to the Rams. This matchup is just as difficult: The Seahawks are 15-0 in September home games under Pete Carroll. Russell Wilson is 6-0 with 12 touchdowns and two picks in his past six home contests.
Houston (1-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
Family affair: Chargers coach Anthony Lynn's son, Danton Lynn, is the Texans' assistant secondary coach. He has helped as the Texans have forced a turnover in 15 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus has been a stud so far while edge rusher J.J Watt is off to a relatively slow start.
Chargers RB Austin Ekeler leads the NFL with four TDs and his 287 yards from scrimmage are the most by a Chargers running back through the first two games in franchise history. Think they miss holdout Melvin Gordon?
Los Angeles Rams (2-0) at Cleveland (1-1)
The Rams used to live in Cleveland before moving to LA, to Anaheim, to St. Louis, and back to LA. And no, it's not true they were the last franchise from the Ohio city to make the playoffs.
The Browns have designs on being a postseason qualifier for the first time since 2002, and this would be a major proving ground. Rams coach Sean McKay returns to the state where he played college ball at Miami. His 26-8 record is the best through 34 games for any coach hired in the 21st century, and his Rams are 8-0 vs. AFC teams, scoring nearly 35 points per game and winning by an average of 14.3 while racking up more than 400 yards of offense on average.
Cleveland plays a second straight prime-time game, and its first on Sunday night since 2008. Myles Garrett had a career-high three sacks against the Jets, but was called for five penalties, two for roughing. Garrett leads the league with five sacks in two games.
''I know who I am and the guys within these walls know who I am, and that's not me,'' Garrett said. ''I'm not going to do anything to try and hurt this team or take out any player outside the rule book. I'm just going to keep playing this game the way it's supposed to be played, and that's violently but passionately.''
Chicago (1-1) at Washington (0-2), Monday night
Neither team has shown much on offense, so if the Bears are going to break a seven-game slide against Washington, they'll need Mitchell Trubisky to find the range and get his receivers more involved. Comforting for Chicago is finally finding an accurate kicker: Eddy Pineiro is 4 for 4 on field goals this season after making all three last week, including the winning 53-yarder in the final second at Denver.
RB Adrian Peterson was a forgotten man in Week 1 when he was benched, but he's now the main guy with Derrius Guice injured. Peterson has averaged 111 yards rushing and scored 14 TDs in 14 games vs. the Bears, most of that while with Minnesota.
Oakland (1-1) at Minnesota (1-1)
Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was the linebackers coach in Cincinnati when Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator there. Guenther took over that role when Zimmer was hired by the Vikings in 2014.
The Raiders have begun a stretch of no home games in a 48-day span, due to a ''home game'' in London and a bye week sandwiched between two straight road games on each end. Derek Carr broke Ken Stabler's Raiders record for career passing yards last week. He has 19,196. But Minnesota's defense will be a challenge. DE Danielle Hunter tied a career high with nine tackles at Green Bay. In his past seven home games, Hunter has 8+ sacks.
The Vikings seek the franchise's 500th victory, including playoffs. They are 499-427-11 in 59 seasons, but have no NFL titles, including a Super Bowl loss to the Riders.
Cincinnati (0-2) at Buffalo (2-0)
The Bengals have won four of the past five meetings, including past two on the road, dating to 2011 since snapping a 10-game skid spanning 1989-2010. Their QB, Andy Dalton, is a local hero. His final-minute 49-yard TD pass to Tyler Boyd to beat Baltimore in 2017 clinched Buffalo's first playoff berth in 17 years and led to Bills fans donating more than $450,000 to Dalton's charitable foundation.
Don't expect him to get cheers once the action begins.
The Bills have scored nine touchdowns in their past nine drives inside opponents' 20-yard line dating to last season.
Atlanta (1-1) at Indianapolis (1-1)
Indy leads this series 14-2 and has won four of the last five, but took the only home defeat in the series when the Falcons last visited in 2011. The game will be the Colts' first at Lucas Oil Stadium since Andrew Luck announced his retirement in the preseason. The Colts' defense is second in the league with eight sacks and hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 consecutive regular-season games, second-longest streak behind New Orleans (24).
But Indy might be missing top CB Pierre Desir (knee), which would be good news for Julio Jones. The Falcons' star receiver has three TDs this season and at least one in a league-high six consecutive games. QB Matt Ryan needs 10 completions to pass John Elway (4,123) for No. 9 in league history. Ryan's next TD also will break a tie with Elway (300) for No. 11 in that category.
Detroit (1-0-1) at Philadelphia (1-1)
Lions QB Matthew Stafford feasts on the Eagles' defense. Stafford has thrown eight TDs without an interception in two meetings, winning by one point in 2016 and 31 in 2015. WR Kenny Golladay matched a career high with eight receptions last week, had 117 yards receiving and scored for a second straight game.
Philly is banged up on both sides of the ball. WRs DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are unlikely to play because of injuries. That puts the onus on tight end Zach Ertz and wideout Nelson Agholor and a deep running game that needs to keep the ball and clock moving.
Denver (0-2) at Green Bay (2-0)
Green Bay is 5-0-1 against the Broncos at home. And has scored 30-plus points in all five home wins against Denver.
Somehow, the clock didn't run out on the Bears on the drive to the winning field goal. Of course, the Broncos played far too conservatively on the third-down desperation pass that set up Peinero's kick.
Denver is 0-2 for the first time since 1999. The Broncos would become the 14th team to reach 500 overall wins with a victory.
Denver beat Green Bay in the 1998 Super Bowl for its first NFL championship after four defeats.
New York Jets (0-2) at New England (2-0)
Third-string QB Luke Falk vs. six-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, both the 199th pick in their drafts and both getting their opportunity through injury.
The comparisons stop there, as do the chances for the three-TD underdog Jets. And we know, as seen last week in Miami, that New England's coach will show no mercy.
Miami (0-2) at Dallas (2-0)
While the fire sale continues in Miami, with DB Fitzpatrick now in Pittsburgh, there is more speculation on the Dolphins going 0-16 than there is on who will be left on the roster by the end of the schedule. Some say it doesn't much matter given the dearth of talent already.
Dallas, on the other hand, is looking like a true championship contender, even if the wins are over weaklings in the division, the Giants and Redskins. The Cowboys are seeking a first 3-0 start since 2008, when they lost their last two and missed the playoffs at 9-7.
Prescott's seven touchdown passes, tying Don Meredith (1966) for the club record through two games, are complemented by completing his last 18 passes against Washington. Eighteen in a row might be easy against Miami.
New York Giants (0-2) at Tampa Bay (2-0)
All that positive talk about Daniel Jones' preseason performances had Giants fans salivating. Now they get to see the sixth overall draft pick behind center in place of Eli Manning in games that count, against starters, not third-stringers and camp fodder players. The Giants do lead this series 15-7.
Bucs RB Peyton Barber is coming off rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown in last week's win at Carolina. One of his two career 100-yard performances (106 yards, TD) was against the Giants last season. LB Shaquil Barrett had three sacks vs. the Panthers, the most in one game by a Tampa Bay linebacker since Broderick Thomas in 1992. .
Carolina (0-2) at Arizona (0-1-1)
While offensive star Cam Newton struggles with injuries - a foot sprain could keep him out, meaning inexperienced Kyle Allen starts - standout LB Luke Kuechly leads the Panthers' defense with 25 tackles. He had 17 in Week 2, including two tackles for loss, one that resulted in a safety.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald needs 10 catches to pass Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez for second on the NFL's all-time receptions list. Fitzgerald has 1,316, Gonzalez has 1,325. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is the leader with 1,549.
May 29th: Quarterback Preview
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward faced a high target rate of 22.4 percent in 2019, and on top of that he posted a coverage success rate of 61 percent and had a ballhawk rate of 14.3 percent, all while operating in a tight-window rate of 28.6 percent. His 77 targets accounted for nearly a quarter of his coverage snaps, so not only are opposing quarterbacks throwing his way, but Ward is shutting most of those targets down. If the 23-year-old former fourth overall pick can stay healthy -- he's played in just 25 games in his first two seasons -- he could break out in 2020 for a Browns Defense that could become streamable at some point during the year.
Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith was targeted just 40 times in pass coverage in 2019, but he comes in at No. 6 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in the league. He forced tight windows 20 percent of the time and allowed a passer rating of just 50.3 when targeted. Fellow safety Anthony Harris was a standout in his own right in Minnesota, but Smith is the more fear safety for the Vikings. The 31-year-old has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons and was an All-Pro in 2017. Smith had 85 tackles (65 solo), one sack, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries last year. Because he's also a threat against the run, Smith is a top-10 fantasy defensive back in IDP leagues.
The Carolina Panthers hired former seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly as a pro scout on Thursday. His new role will require plenty of film watching and advance scouting. Kuechly, who was also a five-time first-team All-Pro, retired after the 2019 season mainly because of multiple head injuries suffered throughout his career. He posted 100-plus combined tackles in every single one of his eight seasons in the NFL and also had 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 66 passes defensed. In his prime, Kuechly was one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers. He turned 29 years old this past April. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of Captain America on the football field, but he should be a tremendous asset to Carolina's scouting team.
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson III (shoulder) played with a torn labrum in his shoulder the entire season in 2019. "I don't know how I did it, but I did it. It was painful every game. I'm fully healthy and ready to go," Jackson said. The 27-year-old gutted it out through 14 games to record 37 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three passes defensed. It sounds like Jackson has recovered well and should be ready for the start of the regular season this fall. He could have a bounce-back year in 2020 if he's fully healthy, but Jackson hasn't ever been fantasy relevant in IDP leagues with just two career interceptions in 45 games for Cincy.
Chicago Bears free safety Eddie Jackson wasn't targeted all that much in 2019 (43 times) and his ballhawk rate (9.3 percent) won't turn many heads, but he allowed a passer rating of just 49.9 and a catch rate allowed below expectation of minus-20.9 percent. He had only two interceptions last season, but he's demonstrated a nose for the football in the past, as evidenced by his career-high six picks in 2018. A fourth-round selection by Chicago in 2017, Jackson has been a Pro Bowler each of the last two years and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2018. He might be useful as a bye-week filler in deeper IDP leagues, but he's not an every-week starter. The Bears Defense, on the other hand, is a top-five fantasy unit that should rebound after a down season in 2019.
Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White has become one of the league's best cover corners after being taken in the first round in 2017. He faced 84 targets last season and had six interceptions, 17 passes defensed, allowed a passer rating of (38.9) and a catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-8.4 percent). White had a tight-window percentage of 28.6 despite playing press coverage on opposing wideouts at a low rate. His ballhawk rate of 20.2 percent is close to that of Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who came in at No. 1 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 coverage men in 2019. Like Gilmore, White isn't much of an IDP star because QBs often avoid him, but Buffalo's defense overall should be seen as a top-five fantasy unit.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has been impressed by quarterback Baker Mayfield's leadership during the offseason virtual program. Hes done everything Id expect from him as a starting quarterback," Van Pelt said. Mayfield also hosted a throwing session for around nine teammates in Austin, Texas. Van Pelt said that Mayfield has quickly grasped the new offense and is making strides with new West Coast footwork. Van Pelt has Mayfield leading with his left foot in the shotgun and is streamlining his footwork under center. He's also removing a big stagger step from his dropbacks. Mayfield was talked up prior to the 2019 season, too, and he disappointed in his second season. But the third-year signal-caller does have everything in place for a rebound and is in an offense that should cater more to his strengths, making him a value QB2 with upside for QB1 status by season's end.
Denver Broncos free safety Justin Simmons was only targeted 44 times in 2019, but he was very effective when he was the nearest defender on a target. His 34.1 percent ballhawk rate -- the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a play on the football -- was the best among those meeting NFL.com's Nick Shook's criteria by more than six percentage points. Simmons' catch rate allowed below expectation wasn't all that impressive at minus-6.7 percent, but his tight-window percentage of 34.1 helped him allow a low 34.7 passer rating. The Broncos slapped the franchise tag on the 26-year-old and hope to iron out a long-term extension before July 15. Simmons is the strength of Denver's secondary now and is a fringe defensive back starter in IDP leagues.
New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson posted excellent coverage numbers in 2019 despite starting only six games. His overall numbers were slightly better than teammate Stephon Gilmore, but Gilmore had almost twice as many targets (96 versus Jackson's 58). Jackson allowed the lowest passer rating (21.8) as the nearest defender in coverage among all defenders who qualified and the second-lowest completion percentage allowed. He allowed a passer rating of just 8.1 in press coverage and recorded all five of his interceptions while in press. And finally, Jackson had a perfect passer rating of 0.0 as the nearest defender on deep targets. He should see a much bigger role in 2020 for a Patriots Defense/special teams that is a top-10 fantasy unit.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore earned the top spot as the best defensive back in coverage in 2019, according to NFL.com's Nick Shook. He was the only player who faced 85 or more targets and didn't allow a single touchdown, and he also picked off six passes. Gilmore allowed the lowest passer rating (38) as the nearest defender in coverage among cornerbacks. His catch rate allowed below expectation (minus-11.8) was also the lowest among cornerbacks with a minimum of 300 coverage snaps. But like most elite corners, Gilmore lacks fantasy appeal because opposing quarterbacks often shy away from his side of the field. New England's strength will be on D again in 2020, though, and their defense/special teams unit is a top-10 fantasy option.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Josh Sweat could receive a bigger role in the defense this upcoming season after he had a solid 2019 season.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Genard Avery may only be used on special teams and as a pass rush specialist this upcoming season, in the opinion of The Philadelphia Inquirer's Les Bowen.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson used his explosiveness to shed defenders and turn upfield in 2019. He had 50 15-plus mph runs and averaged 4.3 yards gained after a defender closed within one yard of him last season. It helped him gain 1,230 yards on the ground despite not playing a full season because of injuries. Carson is coming off a season-ending hip injury, but although he's expected to be ready for Week 1, his explosiveness as a runner is tempered by the fact that he continues to struggle with injuries. If the 25-year-old can remain on the field for a full season, he should easily be an RB1, but you're much better off taking him as an RB2 and keeping your fingers crossed.
Free-agent RB Devonta Freeman (Falcons) would receive interest from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if he lowered his asking price, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: Freeman rejected an offer that would have paid him $4 million, so he may have to wait longer if he is looking for more than that salary. He would be part of a committee if he signed with Tampa but could lead the team in carries in that situation. Fantasy players should continue to monitor his status.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey comes in ranked ninth on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of 2019, but he'll still be the No. 1 player selected in the vast majority of 2020 fantasy drafts. He reached 15-plus mph on 96 touches last season, which was the most in the NFL, with 52 of those touches coming on rushing attempts. McCaffrey had a 15-plus mph rate of 18.1 percent and was able to gain 10-plus yards on 31 of his rushes in 2019. The fact that he touched the ball so much brings his 15-plus mph percentage down on this list. But McCaffrey's superior abilities as both a runner and receiver make him stand out above the rest of the competition by a landslide.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II had a down year by his standards in 2019 with the Rams, but he still placed No. 8 on NFL.com's Nick Shook's top-10 explosive runners of last season. Only one of his 10 fastest touches over the last two years came in 2019, but he still reached or exceeded 15 mph on almost 20 percent of his 223 carries. Gurley's knee issues in recent seasons have sapped some of his explosiveness, but he still had 21 runs of 10-plus yards last year. Don't ignore Gurley simply because he's no longer in play for the overall RB1 in fantasy. He'll have a better offensive line to work behind in a strong Falcons offense and should see plenty of carries. Draft him as a high-end RB2 with the ability to finish as a top-10 back.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack was the team's running game in 2019, which is why his broken hand in the second half of the season coincided with their late-season descent. He broke 15 mph on 51 runs (fourth-most among running backs) and had 28 runs of 10-plus yards. While Mack was an underrated explosive runner last year, his fantasy stock took a major hit when the Colts drafted rookie Jonathan Taylor in April. Mack could see the starting nod early in the season because of his veteran status, but Taylor is fully expected to take over this backfield at some point in 2020. The 24-year-old Mack can still make his mark with fewer touches because of his explosiveness, but he's expected to mainly be a flex option this year.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay wasn't as good in his second season as he was in his rookie campaign, but the former undrafted free agent still had 1,011 rushing yards in 2019 despite playing with three different quarterbacks. He had 48 runs of 15-plus mph last year despite defenses keying on him in the box most of the time. The offseason addition of Melvin Gordon III makes it basically impossible for Lindsay to see the 224 carries he saw last season, but he remains an explosive change-of-pace for this improved backfield. His fantasy stock is down across the board because of Gordon's presence as the lead back, but Lindsay still has some standalone fantasy appeal as a low-end RB3/flex in PPR leagues.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been interested in free-agent running back Devonta Freeman, but head coach Bruce Arians said that Freeman is asking for more money than the team is looking to spend given their current salary cap situation. Tampa has just over $6.4 million in cap space entering the 2020 season. Freeman reportedly declined a one-year, $4 million offer from the Seahawks last month and thinks he's worth more than what he's been offered on the open market. Freeman had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2015 and 2016 but has taken a dive since then and has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. The Bucs wouldn't mind adding veteran depth behind Ronald Jones II, but rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Dare Ogunbowale should also have roles in 2020 if the Bucs don't add anyone else to the backfield.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones saw most of his success in 2019 between the tackles, as he tied for the league lead with 10 touchdowns on inside runs and averaged 4.1 yards per rush on runs inside the tackles in the red zone, which was the most in the NFL among those with at least 15 such runs. Jones' 53 runs on which he hit 15-plus mph were the fourth-most in the NFL. The 25-year-old had his first 1,000-yard rushing season on 236 carries last year and led the league with 16 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 474 yards and three TDs. Even though he might not see an RB1 workload with second-rounder A.J. Dillon now in the mix, Jones is a high-end RB2 at the worst with RB1 upside.