Mon Jan 13 3:59pm ET
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (48) sits on the bench after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. The Titans won 28-12. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson leaves the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. The Titans won 28-12. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews cleans out his locker Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 in Owings Mills, MD. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Baltimore Ravens guard James Hurst fills bags with items from his locker, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 in Owings Mills, MD. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Patrick Mekari (65) leaves the field after an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Tennessee Titans, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. The Titans won 28-12. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) As top-seeded Baltimore approached its playoff opener last week, linebacker Josh Bynes was asked to compare the current edition of the Ravens to the Super Bowl champions of 2012.
Bynes, who played 10 games for the 2012 champs, replied, ''That team is special, and this team is special. But we won a Super Bowl back then. We haven't won anything yet. We're having a great season, but if you don't win it all, what does it matter?''
The 2019 Ravens went 14-2, the best regular season in franchise history, earned a No. 1 seed for the first time, and received a record-breaking performance from second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson. They had 12 players picked to the Pro Bowl, tying a record, and five All-Pros.
All of that is noteworthy, but those associated with this team will always remember the one-and-done outing in the playoffs.
Less than 24 hours after a 28-12 loss to Tennessee on Saturday night, Bynes and his teammates began an offseason that arrived far sooner than expected by somberly clearing out their lockers. After winning 12 straight to finish with the best record in the NFL, the Ravens' first loss since late September sent them packing for home.
''This game is going to be the one that we'll remember because it's the last one,'' coach John Harbaugh said. ''I told them, in the end, there's only one team that gets to be the one true champion - and that's not going to be us this year.''
Jackson set an NFL record for yards rushing by a quarterback (1,206) and led an offense that compiled more yards on the ground (3,296) than any in league history. He's got a great shot at being NFL MVP, but Jackson won't be taking home a Super Bowl ring. Although he accounted for more than 500 yards in offense against the Titans, Jackson committed three turnovers and was twice stuffed on fourth-and-1 runs.
And now he's 0-2 in the playoffs.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Regardless of how the Ravens fared in the postseason, the roster will change before the team returns for training camp in July.
Sacks leader Matthew Judon, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and cornerback Jimmy Smith are among the notable unrestricted free agents. Most would prefer to return if the Ravens are willing to pay to retain them.
''This is the only family I've known,'' said Pierce, who's played four years with Baltimore. ''I would love to stay and be a part of this amazing group.''
Also, eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda turns 36 in September and will decide in the months ahead if he's up for a 14th NFL season.
JACKSON THE NUCLEUS
Jackson was a far better quarterback this year than last, and if he continues to improve the Baltimore offense could be even better in 2020.
In addition to finishing sixth in the league in rushing, Jackson threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns with only six interceptions. But he was picked off twice and lost a fumble against Tennessee.
''I need to improve on everything,'' Jackson said, ''whether it's running, throwing the ball, pocket poise, everything.''
The addition of cornerback Marcus Peters during the season shored up a solid secondary that includes safety Earl Thomas and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr.
Peters was locked up with an extension, which leaves general manager Eric DeCosta with one less free agent to sign.
''Man, it just feels good to be around this place,'' Peters said. ''The workplace was a fun atmosphere; everybody came to work. We fell short on our goal, but I believe in this team a lot.''
Jackson had plenty of options when passing the ball, although he usually homed in on tight end Mark Andrews, who led the team in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches.
Rookie Marquise Brown shined against the Titans and ranked second during the regular season with 46 catches, but he had eight games with three receptions or fewer.
Willie Snead had 31 catches, half his total in 2018. He received a one-year extension in October, so the Ravens evidently have plans to make him more of a factor.
HOW TO GET IT RIGHT
It's tough to find a whole lot of flaws in a team that went 14-2, but the loss to Tennessee exposed some issues that must be addressed.
Though Baltimore was ranked fifth against the run, Derrick Henry rambled for 195 yards. Pierce and Brandon Williams are solid in the middle of the line, but they need capable backups.
The Ravens also need more production at middle linebacker. The loss of C.J. Mosley during the 2019 offseason proved hard to overcome, as pending free agent Patrick Onwuasor, Bynes and L.J. Fort did not adequately fill the void.
Putting pressure on the quarterback is a concern, especially if Judon heads elsewhere. Baltimore ranked 21st with 37 sacks, including 9 1/2 by Judon, five by Tyus Bowser and no more than three by anyone else.
Offensively, the Ravens ranked 27th in passing, a stat that can attributed greatly to their propensity to run. But as proven against the Titans, playing from behind is not a strength of this team. Baltimore must improve this aspect of its attack before the 2020 season.
The Green Bay Packers Defense faces a tough task this weekend in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. In their regular-season meeting, the Packers gave up 37 points and only dropped Jimmy Garoppolo only three times. They also failed to generate any turnovers. Green Bay's defense may need to lend their offense a helping hand by creating a turnover or two to swing the field position game. If Za-Darius and Preston Smith can ramp up the pressure, the Packers will have a good chance of generating a turnover or two and winning the game. It certainly won't be easy, considering how formidable the 49ers offense has been this season.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham gets a tough matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Graham has back-to-back 49-year receiving performances, but those games came against teams that struggle to defend the tight end position. The 49ers are not one of those teams. They allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends all season and were the league's stingiest pass defense. Maybe Graham makes a play in the red zone. Still, he's a cheaper DFS play but by no means a comfortable one.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (illness) is trending in the right direction to play in the NFC Championship game this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers. Even if available, Allison isn't an option in any fantasy format. The 25-year-old hasn't caught more than four passes in a game this season. It sure doesn't seem like he'll eclipse that mark against the league's best defense with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (ankle) is currently questionable for the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. There's certainly a risk for injury, considering he re-aggravated the ankle in last week's playoff game. Still, it's hard to ignore the two-game stretch Lazard had to end the season, where he saw 17 targets. That alone makes him worth a gamble, particularly in a must-win game for a Packers team in desperate need of another threat at receiver. Just beware, the matchup isn't ideal. The 49ers allowed only 172 passing yards to the Vikings last week.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams gets a tough matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game this weekend. Adams produced only 43 receiving yards and a score against San Francisco in the regular season but still had 12 targets. The star receiver has seen double-digit targets in nine of 13 games played this year. There's not many receivers that you can virtually pencil in for double-digit targets- but Adams is one of them. If fellow receivers Geronimo Allison (illness) and Allen Lazard (ankle) suit up, they may be limited. Adams could be looking at more work than usual, even in a matchup this difficult.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense enter Championship weekend as the highest-priced fantasy defense. The Niners face the Green Bay Packers, who they demolished 37-8 in Week 12. In that previous contest, the Niners relentlessly harassed future Hall of Famer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, dropping him five times and forcing a fumble. The Packers were a meager one for 15 on third down conversions. The 49ers will need to follow that blueprint again in the critical NFC Championship to emerge victorious. With a higher-intensity contest expected, it could be difficult to splurge on a defense in fantasy compared to other addressable positions.
San Francisco 49ers wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders both offer solid fantasy value in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Both players were limited to under 45 yards apiece in last weekends Divisional Round blowout but were featured early on when the game was still in question. The rookie Samuel has emerged as a consistent dual threat in the latter half of 2019 and is likelier the safer floor. Sanders, the savvy vet has proven himself as a reliable chain-mover with big-play potential. Against the Packers 10th-best pass defense by DVOA, either option seem primed to pop in Sundays winner-take-all battle.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams will face off with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game this weekend. Williams has been playing second fiddle to Aaron Jones quite a lot recently, as he hasn't seen double-digit carries since Week 13 against the Giants. It's worth noting that Williams played a large role in the regular-season game against the 49ers, which saw him rack up 18 touches. Green Bay very well could utilize Williams in spurts to keep San Francisco guessing, though his recent downtrend in usage makes him hard to trust.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a reasonable DFS bet for Sundays NFC Championship matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Priced as the third-best quarterback, Jimmy G squares off against a strong Packers defensive line that ranked 12th-best in adjusted sack rate during the regular season. Garoppolo was not pressed into service in the Divisional Round blowout win, but will likely be tasked with a tougher test on Sunday. While the Niners have mostly ridden its dominant running game throughout the year, Garoppolo has answered the bell in multiple occasions with three four-touchdown games. With dangerous weapons surrounding him, Garoppolo shouldnt be ruled out in the biggest game of his career to-date.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game this weekend. The 49ers Defense held Jones to just 38 rushing yards in their regular-season meeting. However, the star back has been playing some seriously good football in his last five games, with 501 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He's also had 20-plus carries in three straight contests. Expect Green Bay to utilize Jones early and often in screens and runs to combat the 49ers mighty pass rush. Even if Jones doesn't pile up over 100 yards, his propensity to find the end zone and role in the passing game make him a safer play this weekend.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take on the San Francisco 49ers this weekend with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The 49ers Defense held Rodgers to just 104 passing yards and one touchdown in their regular-season meeting. However, there are a couple things that are different ahead of this matchup. First, tackle Bryan Bulaga will play in this game after being injured in the first quarter against the 49ers previously. Rodgers should have better protection than he had when these teams met. Secondly, Rodgers himself is playing better football than he was during the regular season before this matchup. He has 566 passing yards and four touchdowns in his last two contests. There is also the added motivation of denying a Super Bowl berth to the team that could have drafted him. Play Rodgers on Sunday, despite the tough matchup.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne is worth a gamble for Sundays NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Bourne scored the only receiving touchdown for the Niners in the Divisional Round, adding to his 2019 resume as a legitimate red-zone threat. The third-year pro has just 33 catches this year, including the playoffs, but collected six scores. Despite his risks as a zero-floor fantasy option, Bourne has emerged as a trustworthy target in clutch situations.
San Francisco 49ers running backs Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert are both bankable DFS options in Sundays NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. The two backs combined for 163 rushing yards in the Divisional Round, with Coleman riding a hot hand to two touchdowns. Considered a backup for the latter half of the regular season, Coleman played 46 percent of snaps last Sunday compared to Mosterts 34 percent. While the touch forecast for either back is cloudy, the Niners draw one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Packers ranked 23rd in rushing DVOA during the regular season with the second-worst defensive line in the league, yielding 4.96 adjusted yards per carry. With a likely floor of 10 touches for each Coleman and Mostert, both runners have great opportunities to make a splash.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (ankle) was a full participant in Thursdays practice and should be fine for Sundays NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Kittle scared Niner Nation with soreness on the left ankle he chipped earlier this year, but confirms he feels fabulous. Kittle factored more as a blocker in last Sundays Divisional Round blowout but the Niners passed just 19 times. The All-Pro is an integral piece in all facets of the offense so is worth his premium TE1 price in DFS on Sunday.
Detroit Lions WR Danny Amendola is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but he's a 'prime candidate' to be re-signed, in the opinion of The Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
Free-agent WR Antonio Callaway (Browns) signed with the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL Thursday, Jan. 16.
Kansas City Chiefs RB LeSean McCoy (illness) remained out of practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: McCoy played just one offensive snap in last week's Divisional Round game against the Houston Texans. He's clearly behind RB Damien Williams and is no longer worth starting.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Moore (illness) and DT Chris Jones (calf) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. DT Khalen Saunders (knee), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder), CB Kendall Fuller (knee), DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (neck), C Austin Reiter (wrist) and G Andrew Wylie (ankle) practiced in full.
Green Bay Packers DL Kenny Clark (back), TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury), LB Preston Smith (ankle), FB Danny Vitale (knee) and CB Tramon Williams (non-injury) were limited participants in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. S Adrian Amos (chest), OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), WR Ryan Grant (non-injury), LB Blake Martinez (hand) and OL Billy Turner (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) remained limited at practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce earned a light practice week while catching 10 of 12 targets for 134 yards and three touchdowns against the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round. He's the week's top tight end option once against this week so long as he takes the field.