Fri Nov 27 3:35pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon (54) sacks Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) in the end zone for a safety during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) is sacked by Cleveland Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon (54) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
CLEVELAND (AP) Olivier Vernon's dominating, three-sack performance last week resulted in an award for the Browns defensive end - and a plea from one of his coaches.
For an encore.
With star Myles Garrett sidelined again for Sunday's game at Jacksonville as he continues to recover from COVID-19, and with two other defensive starters out due to injury and the virus, the Browns are counting on Vernon and others to deliver against the Jaguars (1-9).
Last Sunday, Vernon stepped in in Garrett's absence and had his most productive game since coming to Cleveland last year from the New York Giants as part of the trade involving flashy wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Vernon did his best Garrett impression by recording three sacks, including one for a safety, as the Browns beat the Philadelphia Eagles 22-17 to stay firmly in the playoff race. Cleveland sacked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz five times and swarmed him numerous others.
Vernon was named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week, and the 30-year-old also received a pat on the back and pseudo pep talk from Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
''It was great that he got the award for being player of the week,'' Woods said Friday. ''That is what I told him: `Once you do it once, we expect to see it again.' He has always been capable of doing that.
''You have seen him flashing at times, whether it is just pressuring the quarterback and just missing a sack. It was good. I am happy for him that he had that type of game.''
The Browns needed it and will need another one.
Cleveland's defense will be ultra-thin at end - and elsewhere - Sunday.
Along with Garrett, the Browns will be missing ends Porter Gustin (he started for Garrett last week) and Joe Jackson, both of whom tested positive for the coronavirus this week and were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Also, top cornerback Denzel Ward, the NFL's leader in passes defensed, is out with a strained calf and starting linebacker Sione Takitaki, who had a 50-yard interception for a touchdown last week, is down after testing positive. Safety Sheldrick Redwine was ruled out Friday with a knee injury.
It's hardly an ideal situation, but Woods, who has had to plug holes all season because of injuries, thinks the Browns have adequate depth.
''I know you hear it a lot so it is a politically correct answer, but it is really next man up,'' he said. ''We were dealing with that same issue the week before with Myles being out. Now, it is just a different issue. We have flexibility across the defensive line so we will be able to move guys inside and outside whenever we need to. We feel comfortable going into this game.
''We are capable on the D line. It is just an opportunity for guys to show what they have.''
The rise in positive tests has made practicing difficult.
The Browns' offense and defense worked out separately Wednesday as a precaution to minimize the risk of spread of the virus, and Thursday's practice was limited to virtual meetings for the defense after Gustin's positive result closed the facility.
''A unique week,'' coach Kevin Stefanski said.
Not normal, for sure, but it's 2020. Woods wasn't surprised players handled the change well.
''It is right before a game, but you just have to deal with the circumstances,'' Woods said. ''We do not want to be in the business of making excuses. There are a lot of other teams that are dealing with similar issues across the league. We did the best we could. I feel like the guys are prepared and ready to go.''
The Browns were thrown another curveball when the Jaguars decided to start quarterback Mike Glennon over rookie quarterback Jake Luton. Glennon makes his first start since Week 4 in 2017.
''We watched that tape,'' Woods said with a smile. ''For us defensively, there are some little adjustments here or there in terms of things that we are going to do, but for the most part, we are really worried about us executing our game plan against them.''
NOTES: Rookie LT Jedrick Wills practiced after missing time earlier this week with an unspecified illness. ... RG Wyatt Teller (calf) and S Andrew Sendejo (groin) are listed as questionable for Sunday.
Five Hot Plays: Week 12
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard has been a favorite target of QB Daniel Jones since Shepard returned from a toe injury in Week 7. In that span, Shepard leads the team in targets and has at least six receptions in every game. He should be able to take advantage of a Bengals secondary that allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing receivers in the last four weeks. Shepard has a good target share and a good matchup, his main risk is the Giants leading early and throwing less than 30 passes. Shepard's high-floor makes him a solid-yet-unspectacular start in 12-team fantasy leagues and larger.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson's positive COVID-19 test came in on Thursday's round of testing, so he still won't be available to play against the Steelers in Week 12 with the game being moved back to Tuesday. However, based on the timeline, it's possible that he will be cleared in time to face the Cowboys on Dec. 7 on Monday night in Week 13. Jackson's disappointing 2020 season continues after he won the MVP in 2019. His absence this week will lead to Robert Griffin III making the start under center on Tuesday. RG3 could be a desperation option in superflex leagues as a low-end QB2, but he'll be facing a Steelers Defense that has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to the position this year. Pittsburgh's defense is arguably the best in the NFL.
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Nelson Agholor had his most catches of the season last week against the Chiefs with 6. He had 88 receiving yards and a touchdown. However, Agholor's consistency is a major issue from week to week. Prior to last week, Agholor had just three total catches in the three previous games. He has a great matchup this week against the Falcons to put together good back-to-back performances. Agholor is typically a big-play receiver, and the Falcons Defense is one of the worst in the league at allowing the big play. He has flex value in this matchup, but his inconsistency makes him a risky play.
The 49ers Defense has been pummeled over their last three games. Each of their past three opponents have scored at least 27 points on them, with two of them topping 30. This week, the 49ers are coming off a bye to face the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers held the Rams to just 16 points in their previous matchup this year. However, the Rams are coming off a strong offensive showing where they scored 27 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This week's game shouldn't be super high-scoring and both teams will likely run the ball a lot, which will slow the pace of the game. If you're in a bind, you can do worse than starting the 49ers as a low-end option, but you might be able to find better options on the waiver wire.
San Francisco 49ers tight end Jordan Reed (illness) has been held out of practice the past few days while dealing with an illness that is not COVID-related. He is currently listed as questionable for this week's game against the Los Angeles Rams. If he's able to go this week, he should be in line for a decent workload, but it will be against a tough matchup. The Rams have an elite pass defense, allowing just 200.6 passing yards per game, which ranks second in the league. If he's active, he's a low-end TE1 option who is safer in PPR leagues. He should see around eight targets as he and Deebo Samuel (hamstring) figure to be the top pass-catching options for quarterback Nick Mullens.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen isn't expected to play in Week 12 against the Panthers after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, according to a source. Thilen remains on the team's COVID-19 list, barring a change this weekend. It's a crushing blow to any fantasy managers that were relying on Thielen, the league leader with 11 touchdowns, to get them into the fantasy playoffs. Rookie Justin Jefferson, who has already proven to be a must-start fantasy asset, is likely to see double-digit targets in this one with Thielen sidelined. OlaBisi Johnson, Tajae Sharpe and Chad Beebe will fight for targets behind Jefferson, but none of that trio is a particularly intriguing deep-league flex play as a sleeper.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Richie James Jr. figures to see a decent amount of playing time in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. The team will be without Brandon Aiyukfor the game due to COVID-19, which means James and Kendrick Bourne will be the team's secondary receivers behind Deebo Samuel (hamstring), assuming Samuel is active for the game. Samuel is currently questionable but is expected to play. James has shown more of an ability to make plays this year than Bourne. James is averaging 17.5 yards per reception, while Bourne is averaging 13. The Rams have one of the league's best pass defenses, so 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens might be in for a rough day. Avoid starting James in fantasy this week. He can remain on waivers in the majority of leagues for now.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne should have a decent role in this week's game against the Los Angeles Rams. Unfortunately, he's been unable to do much when given the opportunity this year. He has just one touchdown this year and he's only topped 70 receiving yards on one occasion, despite seeing at least five targets in six different games. The Rams have one of the league's best pass defenses, which will make things difficult on the 49ers passing game as a whole. Deebo Samuel (hamstring) figures to be the team's top receiver in the game while Bourne and Richie James Jr. play secondary roles. Bourne isn't worth starting in any fantasy leagues and can be left on waivers.
San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon has seen 30 carries over his last two games, but his workload is probably about to diminish significantly this week. The 49ers appear likely to have both Raheem Mostert (knee) and Tevin Coleman (knee) back in Week 12 as they face the Los Angeles Rams. Mostert figures to handle a sturdy workload while Coleman may be the secondary rusher behind him. McKinnon, meanwhile, will likely be relegated to just a few carries and around four or five targets in the passing game. He's tough to trust as a starting option in Week 12, but he's worth holding onto in deep leagues in case he continues to have a prominent role going forward.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (hamstring) appears to be trending towards making a return to action in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. His presence would be much-needed for the 49ers who will be without Brandon Aiyuk (COVID) in the game. Samuel has only played in four games this year. He earned at least five targets in each of the three games he played in which he wasn't on a pitch count. The Rams are a tough matchup, allowing just 200.6 passing yards per game this year. However, Samuel should lead the 49ers in targets in the game, giving him a good chance to make some plays. Start him as a WR3 in Week 12.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (knee) appears to be trending towards making his return to action in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. His timing is somewhat unfortunate as fellow running back Raheem Mostert (knee) appears on track to make his return this week as well. If both players are active for the game, Mostert will be the team's primary rusher while Coleman and Jerick McKinnon play secondary roles. Coleman is a worthwhile deep league stash as he could have value down the stretch this year, but for now, he shouldn't be trusted as a starting option.
The Houston Texans are releasing wide receiver Kenny Stills on Friday to give him a chance to latch on with a contender. Stills will go on waivers. The Texans were open to dealing the 28-year-old at the trade deadline, but nothing ever came of it. He was inactive on Thursday for the team's Thanksgiving win over the Lions with a quadriceps injury and has just 11 receptions (19 targets) for 144 yards and a touchdown in 10 games this year for Houston. His departure could mean more work for Keke Coutee down the stretch, but it should remain Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb (when healthy) in three-receiver sets. Stills remains on the waiver wire in the majority of leagues, but he could be worth a deep-league flier if he lands in the right situation.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens is in a tough position going into Week 12. First off, he's facing a Los Angeles Rams Defense that has been one of the league's best against the pass. They've allowed just 200.6 passing yards per game this year, which ranks second in the league. Second, Mullens is going to be working with a depleted set of receivers in the game. While Deebo Samuel (hamstring) might be able to return for the game, the team will be without Brandon Aiyuk (COVID), who has been the team's most consistent receiving threat this year. The team also may not have Jordan Reed (illness) for the game. Mullens is a low-end QB2 option in two-quarterback leagues, but you might be better off looking for other alternatives.
Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles (hip) is listed as doubtful to face the division-rival Packers in Week 12. It means that Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder), who has practiced in full this week, will return to the starting gig under center after being benched for Foles in Week 3. Neither Foles nor Trubisky have been the answer for the Bears offense in 2020, but at least Trubisky offers fantasy managers in superflex leagues a bit more upside because of his rushing ability. No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson II should also benefit, as he showed some nice chemistry with Trubisky in 2019. Trubisky's fantasy stock is back on the rise as a low-end QB2, but he'll also be facing a Packers Defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to signal-callers this season.
Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr may be in the QB1 conversation this week against a bad Falcons Defense that ranks 29th against opposing quarterbacks. The Falcons defense has allowed the second-most passing yards, tied for the second-most passing touchdowns, and a passer rating of 105.9, which is the worst in the NFL. They have also allowed the most passing plays over 20 yards. Carr has been a very good road quarterback this season, completing about 68 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and just one interception. Carr has not put up the volume numbers this season to regularly be a QB1 but is worthy of consideration this week due to a favorable matchup.
It appears likely that San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (knee) will make his return to action in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. Mostert suffered a knee injury in Week 6 and was placed on Injured Reserve shortly after. While he's been out, the team has struggled to find consistent production in their running game. If Mostert is indeed activated prior to this week's game, he should see a heavy workload right out of the gate. The Rams have a tough defense, allowing just 91.3 rushing yards per game, but 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan should be able to put together a game plan that will allow Mostert to have success regardless. Start Mostert as a high-end RB2 this week.
The Cardinals Defense has a favorable matchup in Week 12. They face a New England Patriots team that's averaged just 20.9 points per game this year. The Cardinals have allowed at least 28 points in four straight games, but they've faced far more productive offenses over that stretch. Against weak offenses, the Cardinals Defense has shown some value. They held the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys to 10 points each in back-to-back weeks. If you're in a bind, you could do worse than starting the Cardinals Defense in Week 12, but there's certainly a risk that the Patriots find a way to score 25 or more points in a game that could be more high-scoring than they're accustomed to.
The Los Angeles Chargers have ruled out cornerback Casey Hayward (groin) and defensive end Melvin Ingram (knee) for Week 12 against the Bills. Ingram has already spent time on Injured Reserve for a knee injury, so this is more bad news for the 31-year-old pass-rusher from South Carolina. He's totaled just 10 tackles, four QB hits and one interception in his seven games played this season. The Chargers secondary will be extra vulnerable without Hayward out there on Sunday, giving more upside to both Bills QB Josh Allen and top wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The Los Angeles defense should be faded this week in DFS and season-long leagues with both Ingram and Hayward out.
If you're in a tight spot going into Week 12, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella could be a decent dart throw option for you. Isabella has been extremely quiet ever since his two-touchdown performance in Week 3 against the Detroit Lions. However, this week the Cardinals will be without Larry Fitzgerald (COVID) for the first time this year, which should open up extra opportunities for Isabella. The Cardinals will face the New England Patriots in Week 12. The Patriots Defense is known for focusing attention on No. 1 targets, which could mean DeAndre Hopkins will struggle in the game. Isabella is an extremely risky start, but he could see around five targets, which gives him a solid chance to make a few big plays and deliver a solid flex performance for deep league owners.
The Colts Defense has a tough test this week against a good Titans offense. The Titans offense is led by Derrick Henry who rushed for over 100 yards on 5.4 yards per carry against the Colts defense in Week 10. Henry has at least 100 yards in six of 10 games and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry on the season. They struggled in stopping the run in Week 10 but were good against the pass. They held Ryan Tannehill to just 147 passing yards and a passer rating of 83.4. They ended up holding the Titans offense to just 17 points in their first meeting and will look for a similar performance this week. It will be a tall task, but the Colts defense should have starting consideration based on how well they have played for most of the season.