Fri Nov 27 3:17pm ET
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
In this Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is sacked by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Demario Davis in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. This is not how Matt Ryan wanted to be spending his golden years at quarterback. His body battered by eight sacks. His worst-rated game since 2013. A team headed toward its third straight losing season.(AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
ATLANTA (AP) The Las Vegas Raiders have positioned themselves to make a run at what would be just their second playoff appearance since reaching the Super Bowl during the 2002 season.
Of course, they've been here before.
A year ago, in their last year in Oakland, the Raiders entered the stretch run with a 6-4 records - the same mark they have heading into Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. But the team that now calls Las Vegas home stumbled to the finish, managing one win in its final six games while averaging a league-low 14.7 points during that span.
''We're definitely a better team this year, but we have to - and I mean have to - finish this season better than we did last year,'' quarterback David Carr said. ''I'm hopeful and I believe that we will and I think that it's different,''
This year feels much the same to the Falcons (3-7), who don't have a whole lot to play for other than avoiding their third straight losing season.
Interim coach Raheem Morris is trying to stay positive, even after an ugly 24-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints last weekend.
''We had a couple of really good physical runs early that we were not able to maintain, that we have to be able to maintain throughout the whole game in order to finish teams off the way we want to finish teams off,'' Morris said. ''We have to figure out how to do that better.''
The Raiders' hopes of contending for the AFC West title took a huge blow last week with a 35-31 loss to Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce with 28 seconds to play for the winning score.
Coach Jon Gruden was in no mood to discuss comparisons to last year's Raiders. He's only looking ahead.
''This comparing stuff is for ESPN analysts. Those days are in my past,'' said the former ''Monday Night Football'' commentator. ''We have a long way to go. We're making progress.''
The Raiders have struggled getting to the quarterback, making the second fewest sacks in the league with 11. The only times they've had fewer sacks after 10 games in the Super Bowl era came in 2014 (10) and 2018 (9).
But after watching Atlanta's Matt Ryan get sacked eight times last week by New Orleans, the Raiders are hoping to get some chances.
''You get excited about that,'' defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. ''We obviously have to go out and play the game. Just because one team had nine sacks or whatever amount they had, doesn't mean we'll have the same, too.''
Of course, Ryan is surely excited for the chance to bounce back against the league's 28th-ranked pass defense. Matty Ice is coming off his lowest-rated game since 2013, but he's never been one to wallow in a disappointing performance.
''This league will humble you week in and week out,'' said Ryan, who will be playing in his 200th career game. ''You have to flush it out of the system, get back to work and stay confident and believe that we're going to play great this week.''
Las Vegas picked up a couple former members of the Falcons defense heading into the game.
Defensive end Takk McKinley was claimed off waivers a couple of weeks after being cut by Atlanta, ending a tumultuous, injury-plagued stint with the team that made him a first-round draft pick in 2017.
The Raiders also signed defensive end Vic Beasley Jr., an All-Pro with the Falcons in 2016, to their practice squad. Beasley hasn't come close to matching the form he showed in his best season.
''Well obviously he's had a history in the NFL,'' Gruden said. ''We've got to see if we can get him going again, but I'll make no predictions.''
COPING WITH THE VIRUS
The Falcons had to cancel practice and work virtually Thursday after two non-coaching members of the staff tested positive for COVID-19.
It's the third time this season the Falcons have taken such a step, but none of their games has been affected.
The team also got a bit of good news on the virus front, activating defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. from the COVID-19 reserve list.
The Raiders are in better shape after having to practice last week without a significant number of players because they had ''high-risk contacts'' to a teammate who tested positive. Las Vegas, Gruden and its players have already been fined more than $1.2 million and docked a sixth-round draft pick for violations of the COVID-19 protocols.
The empty stadiums this season have allowed TV audiences to hear much more of the talk that goes on at the line of scrimmage.
Carr is particularly vocal, with his frequent audibles with interesting names like ''Purple Walrus'' or ''Pistol Pete'' becoming popular on Twitter. He was calling out so many last week that NBC announcers joked he was like the third member of the broadcast booth.
''I've had some fun with it,'' Carr said. ''I got some new ones obviously for this game and all those kinds of things. My mind is always working, just coming up with stuff, but don't get it twisted. I don't come up with all of them. I'm not that smart.''
Five Hot Plays: Week 12
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.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Kalen Ballage (ankle, calf) is listed as questionable for Week 12 against the Bills. Ballage was limited in practice this week, so he should be able to play, barring a last-minute setback. But we also don't know for sure yet if Austin Ekeler (hamstring) will return yet after being designated to return from Injured Reserve this week. But if Ekeler sits out another game, which is expected, Ballage should continue to be the leader of this backfield while fending off rookie Joshua Kelley and Troymaine Pope. The Bills Defense has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to running backs, too, so Ballage will be in the RB2 conversation if he's active and Ekeler remains sidelined.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Trey Burton enters the week as the No. 2 tight end on the Colts depth chart behind Jack Doyle. Burton played just 29 percent of the team's snaps last week while Jack Doyle played in 54 percent. Mo Alie-Cox is still in the mix as well, and he played 51 percent of the team's snaps. Despite Doyle and Alie-Cox seeing more snaps, Burton is still the most expensive DFS option this week between the three. The formula for Burton's production is fairly simple. He does not catch a lot of passes, so he relies on touchdowns for decent fantasy days. This makes him difficult to trust from week to week, but he is the only tight end on the team that should be given starting consideration being that Doyle and Alie-Cox hardly ever produce.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has a bit of a challenge ahead against the New England Patriots in Week 12. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is widely known for his efforts to take team's No. 1 options away in games. This week, that will certainly mean Hopkins. Hopkins is coming off a disappointing showing where he caught just five of eight targets for 51 yards. He's followed up every disappointing game with a big one this year, so he's likely going to make it hard on Belichick and the Patriots contain him. Start him with confidence as a WR1 this week, but don't be surprised if it's a bit of a bumpy ride.
Miami Dolphins rookie running back Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) has been ruled out for Week 12 against the Jets. On top of it, the Dolphins are non-committal on whether Myles Gaskin (knee) will play after being designated to return from Injured Reserve this week. If Gaskin is available to play, he should be at least eased in as the featured back in a great matchup against the winless Jets. However, if Gaskin misses another game, we should see some sort of timeshare between Matt Breida, Patrick Laird and DeAndre Washington. The matchup is obviously a tasty one, but good luck to any fantasy managers trying to navigate those choppy backfield waters if both Gaskin and Ahmed aren't available.