Thu Dec 2 2:09pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield works out prior to an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield walks to the locker room after the Browns defeated the Detroit Lions 13-10 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Cleveland. Mayfield's chance to change the narrative about him, about the Browns and about his future is staring him in the face. He's got five games to show he's either a franchise quarterback or another Cleveland miss.(AP Photo/David Richard, File)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield looks to pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
CLEVELAND (AP) Baker Mayfield's chance to change the narrative - about him, about the Browns and about his future - is staring him in the face.
He's got five games to show he's either a franchise quarterback or another Cleveland miss.
Pushing through several injuries for weeks, Mayfield spent the bye week healing up and preparing himself for a dastardly December stretch of important games that will define this season for the Browns (6-6) - and perhaps determine where he plays the rest of his NFL career.
The quarterback, who has long embraced playing like a cornered cat, is up against it.
The pressure's on for him to deliver after not doing so yet in 2021.
''We have seen Baker play a lot of good football here,'' general manager Andrew Berry said during Cleveland's late and much-welcomed break. ''We have seen Baker play good football this season. I know he's excited and we're excited for the opportunity ahead of us. We expect him to play his best football moving forward over the next five weeks.''
He'll have to.
What was supposed to be a season in which Mayfield and the Browns took another step toward a Super Bowl title after making the playoffs and winning a postseason game a year ago, has been a step back and dissolved into desperation.
Cleveland can't afford another loss or risk missing the tournament. And, it's a rough road ahead with games against Baltimore (8-3), Las Vegas (6-5), Green Bay (9-3), Pittsburgh (5-5-1) and Cincinnati (7-4) - all playoff contenders.
Realistically, the Browns will likely need at least four wins to have a shot.
With the focus on winning, Berry said the span will reveal much more than Cleveland's won-loss record.
''The next five games really provide us with a really valuable opportunity,'' Berry said this week. ''Oftentimes people talk about adversity or challenges really when it is convenient, but the reality is it is really important to us as a team and organization because No. 1, you learn a lot about people, whether it is on the field, publicly or privately.
''But also, adversity is universally important for growth.''
Mayfield has had his share of hardship in 2021.
A self-inflicted torn labrum in his shoulder suffered while making a tackle in Week 2 worsened when he fractured his humerus bone in Week 6. Mayfield also has been playing with a banged-up knee and bruised heel, limiting his mobility and making plays with his feet.
The injuries, however, don't excuse the times he has missed open receivers or failed to mount a comeback drive. He's 1-5 against teams with winning records, going 0-4 with a chance to lead a winning drive.
Most recently, Mayfield couldn't do anything at the end of Sunday's 16-10 loss to the Ravens. He couldn't pick up a first down on the last possession as the Browns let a game in which they intercepted Lamar Jackson four times slip away.
Mayfield's statistics don't reflect progress in his fourth year. He's ranked 26th in QBR and has thrown just 11 TD passes, putting him 24th in the league.
Cleveland's passing attack, so explosive and unpredictable last year, has been a dud. Sure, there are extenuating circumstances, but much of the blame has to land on Mayfield, who triggers every play.
Making plays and raising the level of your teammates is part of a franchise QB's job description.
Berry was quick to point out that there's more going wrong than just Mayfield. It's about the play call, protection, receivers running correct routes, not dropping balls, all of it.
''We have just not been consistent enough in the passing game,'' Berry said. ''I want to be clear here. That is not necessarily a one-player or a one-person problem.''
True, but the Browns' most important person is Mayfield.
The 26-year-old once seemed assured of getting a long-term extension from Cleveland, but that seems as uncertain as the team's playoff chances. The Browns did exercise his $18.9 million fifth-year option for 2022.
Berry wouldn't draw a direct line between Mayfield's erratic play and a future pay day.
''There are a lot of players across the league that are in similar boats, whether they are free agents or extension eligible,'' he said. ''It comes with the territory in terms of being a professional athlete, but I do know this: Baker is both physically and mentally resilient, and he's hyper-focused on winning and controlling the offense's play moving forward.''
Whether the Browns move forward with Mayfield as their starter could hinge on how he finishes this season.
Berry insists Mayfield doesn't have to prove anything to him over the next month, but it sure feels that way.
''I don't know if it's so much about showing me anything,'' Berry said. ''Really, our focus is on winning games and playing at a high enough level that allows us to be in a strong spot in December.
''Baker has shown a lot over the past three-plus seasons, so I don't necessarily subscribe to this notion that there's something in these next five games that is of particular focus, so to speak.''
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes finished 33-for-44 for 378 yards and three touchdowns versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round. Mahomes also ran for a team-high 69 yards and another score. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire rushed for 60 yards on seven carries and caught one of two targets for another nine yards. RB Jerick McKinnon ran 10 times for 24 yards and hauled in five of seven targets for 54 yards. WR Tyreek Hill caught 11 of 13 targets for 150 yards and a touchdown. WR Byron Pringle hauled in five of seven targets for 29 yards. WR Mecole Hardman ran for 31 yards on two carries and hauled in his only target for 26 yards. TE Travis Kelce caught eight of his nine targets for 96 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) told reporters he will undergo surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, and will decide whether he wants to continue his career 'after [his] surgery.'
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen completed 27 of 37 passes for 329 yards and 4 TDs against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round matchup on Sunday, Jan. 23. He also ran 11 times for 68 yards. RB Devin Singletary carried the ball 10 times for 26 yards and a touchdown; in addition, he caught four passes for 25 yards. WR Gabriel Davis led the team with eight receptions, 201 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR Stefon Diggs managed just three catches for seven yards, though he did catch a two-point conversion. WR Cole Beasley caught six of eight targeted passes for 60 yards, finishing second on the club in both categories. WR Emmanuel Sanders had one reception for 16 yards. On defense, LB Matt Milano posted a team-high 11 tackles, including six solo.
Updating an earlier report, Kansas City Chiefs S Tyrann Mathieu (head) sustained a concussion during the team's win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Jan. 23.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs was held completely under wraps during Sunday's loss to the Chiefs, finishing with just three receptions for a season-low seven yards. Diggs' prior season-low mark was 23 yards back in Week 11, an outing that he salvaged from a fantasy perspective by scoring two touchdowns. Gabriel Davis was Josh Allen's favored target in the Divisional Round, hauling in eight catches for 201 yards, including a record-setting four touchdowns. Diggs, who led the league in receptions and receiving yards just one year ago, was back among the league's elite this season, earning his second straight Pro Bowl nod after setting a career high with 10 receiving touchdowns. He figures to reprise that top-tier role heading into 2022, but his ice cold finish to the year could give some fantasy managers pause.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce hauled in the game-winning grab during Sunday's victory over Buffalo, capping a wild, topsy-turvy contest. Kelce finished with eight grabs for 96 yards, including the score, which marks five consecutive outings with him finding pay dirt dating back to the regular season. His production came on just nine targets, giving him his highest catch percentage of the year when it mattered most. Coming short of the 100-yard plateau, Kelce saw his four-game streak of exceeding the century mark in the postseason snapped. Next up, he faces off with a Bengals defense that he accrued 25 yards against on five catches in Week 17, albeit with one crossing the goal line. He and Tyreek Hill stand to continue seeing massive passing game interest from Patrick Mahomes during what stands to be another shootout in the AFC Championship Game.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary enjoyed a touchdown deluge to conclude the 2021 year, including adding one final rushing score during Sunday's loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round. Singletary was utilized for just 10 carries and 26 yards on the ground, but he did add four receptions for 25 yards through the air. Dating back to Week 15 of the regular season, Singletary scored nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving), emerging not only as the lead back for the Bills, but as a potentially game-changing back heading into the '22 season. The 24-year-old had a six-game stretch during the regular season where he did not so much as log double-digit carries once, collecting just one touchdown in that span; now, he stands to be a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 ahead of his fourth professional year.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen saw his year come to a close during Sunday's loss to Kansas City, but it certainly wasn't due to his lack of production. Allen followed up his five-touchdown performance from the Wild Card Round with a four-touchdown showing in an epic duel against Patrick Mahomes. Allen finished 27-for-37 through the air, adding 329 passing yards to his team-high 68 yards accrued on the ground. The 25-year-old combined for nine touchdowns and just 14 incompletions in his two playoff outings, finishing with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions over his last three games dating back to the regular season. Allen will be in the conversation for top quarterback honors in 2022 drafts, although offensive coordinator Brian Daboll stands to be a highly coveted head-coaching target over the coming months.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was once again a game changer during Sunday's win over Buffalo, which sent the team to the AFC Championship Game. Hill hauled in 11 of his 13 targets for a reception, none bigger than the 64-yard touchdown that he peeled off late in the fourth quarter, seemingly sealing the contest. Ultimately, Hill would compile 150 receiving yards, the third time this season he reached that mark. Next up is a meeting with the Bengals' defense, which held him largely under wraps back in Week 17, limiting his six catches to just 40 yards and no touchdowns. Still, the Patrick Mahomes-Hill connection remains as potent as they come, with the wideout having ripped off a 100-yard performance in four of his last six postseason appearances.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led his squad back to the AFC Championship Game with a victory over the Bills on Sunday that saw the signal caller sling three passing touchdowns, in addition to adding a rushing score. Arguably Mahomes' most impressive moment came with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation, when he got his team into field-goal range, thereby forcing overtime. Mahomes finished 33-for-44 through the air, slicing the elite Bills defense for 378 passing yards. If being the game's preeminent pass maestro wasn't difficult enough to gameplan, Mahomes also led Kansas City's ground attack with a season-high 69 rushing yards. He next squares off with a Bengals defense that he dropped 259 passing yards and two touchdowns on back in Week 17. He remains the premier DFS threat on any slate due to his propensity for finding the end zone.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis became the first player in NFL history to haul in four receiving touchdowns during a game in Sunday's defeat to the Chiefs. Davis' scintillating stat line also included eight receptions for 201 yards, easily pacing his team in both categories. During the regular season, Davis did not exceed five receptions in any single outing, with his domination of the Chiefs' defense coming as Stefon Diggs was largely held under wraps (three catches, seven yards). Looking ahead, Davis figures to remain a focal point of the potent Buffalo offense for years to come, having combined for 13 regular-season receiving touchdowns over his first two professional seasons.
San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Edwards (ankle) suffered a right ankle injury during the win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night. Fortunately, X-rays were negative, showing no fractures, which increases his chance of being available for the NFC Championship versus the Los Angeles Rams. However, the All-Pro still has a way to go before getting the green light to suit up, and if he doesn't, things may become more challenging for Jimmy Garoppolo, who has struggled during the postseason thus far.
Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon (ribs) sustained a fracture during the narrow Divisional round loss to the 49ers on Saturday night. Although Aaron Jones was the lead man out of the backfield, Dillon still finished the regular season with just over 800 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns. The 23-year-old has proven to be one of the best backups in the league, and with the Packers hinting at a rebuild, there is a chance Dillon could see an enhanced role during the upcoming 2022-23 campaign.
Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (concussion) will not return to Sunday's game versus the visiting Bills. The defensive specialist suffered the injury during the first quarter, and after going to the locker room for an evaluation, he now finds himself in concussion protocol. The 29-year-old led the team in interceptions while ranking fourth in total tackles this season, so this certainly isn't the update the Chiefs' coaching staff was hoping for. Nonetheless, without Mathieu on the field, Josh Allen will have one less thing to worry about as he attempts to lead Buffalo to the AFC Championship versus the Bengals.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans caught 9-of-16 targets for 119 yards and one touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. In this raging comeback attempt with absurd passing volume, Evans sometimes looked like the only aspect of the Buccaneers offense that was working. In 2022, with Antonio Brown gone, Chris Godwin starting the season injured and possibly being on another team, and Rob Gronkowski aging, Evans may find himself in an unfamiliar position in 2022 with fairly minimal competition. Regardless of what this offense looks like, as long as he has Tom Brady as his quarterback, Evans should be drafted in the first three rounds. Albeit in different ways, whether or not he has competition, Evans will succeed in fantasy.
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers had 24 carries for 48 yards and two extremely costly fumbles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The sophomore runner still looked impressive at times, and considering the Buccaneers have one of the best run defenses and were expecting the Rams to run, this wasn't that discouraging. Fantasy managers should continue to monitor that his fumbling doesn't become a recurring issue, but other than that, this performance was not as bad as it seems. Plus, even after his initial fumble, the Rams remained confident in their young runner, illustrating that they trust him and prioritize his talent over the risk that he brings in terms of ball security, even in the playoffs. In 2022, Akers should be drafted in the early second round as a workhorse back with some lingering questions but elite talent and opportunity.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp collected 183 on nine catches and one touchdown, including a spectacular grab that led to the game-winning field goal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's not completely logical, but the chemistry that Kupp and Matthew Stafford share has been truly unparalleled andat timesunstoppable this season. Kupp isn't necessarily the fastest nor most agile, but his football IQ is unmatched and he seemingly always finds a way to produce. Historically, this illogical confidence can lead to disappointment, however. Kupp should be drafted as a top three wide receiver in 2022, but fantasy managers shouldn't expect him to replicate what he did this year.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford had a phenomenal statistical output going 28-for-38 for 363 yards, two touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, he made a number of almost costly mistakes. Fantasy managers must realize that this wasn't a fluke, and it's just part of the Stafford-experience; that isn't necessarily a bad thing though. For fantasy a quarterback that plays recklessly is typically not penalized that much, and this style of play can lend itself to fantasy stardom by means of comeback attempts. Sometimes, a reckless quarterback such as this can fail in the comeback attempt or even be benched, but Stafford is so talented that neither of these general concerns are major issues. In 2022, with the collection of Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Robert Woods along with Cam Akers and a stellar offensive line, Stafford must be considered a top quarterback in all leagues.