Sun Jan 26 12:28pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes holds the Lamar Hunt Trophy after the NFL AFC Championship football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Kansas City, MO. The Chiefs won 35-24 to advance to Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Dee Ford (55) gestures next to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half of the NFL NFC Championship football game Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) practices at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh speaks during a news conference at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman speaks to reporters after a practice at the team's NFL football training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) With a fearsome front four capable of pressuring quarterbacks without blitzes, a lockdown cornerback in Richard Sherman and the speed at linebacker and safety to limit big plays, the San Francisco 49ers had the league's stingiest pass defense in a decade.
Shutting down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs' passing game in the Super Bowl will be a far tougher challenge than anything the Niners have faced this season.
''His mobility is unique. His arm strength is ridiculous. He's very, very accurate,'' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. ''But what I don't think people give him enough credit for is that he actually plays quarterback. There's a lot of people, there's a lot of quarterbacks in this league that will say no to number one and then it just becomes street ball. He gets rid of the ball on time. He puts it where it needs to be. He hits a lot of throws in rhythm. And when he needs to take his shot, he knows how to buy time in the pocket and do it. So he's a superstar in every way you can possibly imagine and he's going to be tough to deal with.''
The 49ers had to deal with Mahomes already in his brief but brilliant career. Back in Week 3 of the 2018 season in Mahomes' first year as starter in Kansas City, he threw for 314 yards and three TDs and led touchdown drives on all five possessions in the first half of the Chiefs' 38-27 win.
That marked the only time in the past 20 seasons that the Niners allowed five straight TD drives to open a game. They had no answer for Mahomes' play-making ability.
In the rematch next Sunday in the Super Bowl in Miami, San Francisco should be better equipped at least to try to slow Mahomes down.
It added a dynamic edge rushing duo in the offseason, acquiring Dee Ford in a trade with the Chiefs and drafting Nick Bosa second overall. That led to the team allowing the fewest yards in a season since the 2009 New York Jets.
''When you have edge rushers it speeds up the process of the quarterback, and, not that he needs speeding up, he already gets rid of it pretty quick. But it changes the game,'' Saleh said. ''It unlocks the offensive line so it creates a little bit more space and it gives the guys inside more space to operate. So having those guys out there, having them at full speed, will do nothing but help.''
Bosa and Ford transformed the entire defense as the added pressure helped San Francisco create more turnovers after having a record-low seven takeaways in 2018.
The Niners have 57 sacks including the playoffs, with Ford, Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner all recording at least 7 1/2, making it difficult for offenses to key on one spot.
''If we're covering and that guy takes two or three hitches most likely he'll be laying on his back,'' safety Jimmie Ward said. ''But Patrick Mahomes is a mover in the pocket. I'm pretty sure he'll make some guys miss and he'll make some plays. We just have to make more plays than he does.''
San Francisco got a league-best 40 of those sacks without bringing in extra pass rushers, which will be especially important against Mahomes, who has 22 TD passes, zero interceptions and a 118.3 passer rating in his career when defenses rush five or more players.
But not getting pressure with four creates its own problems, giving Mahomes the extra times he needs to generate big plays downfield to speedsters like Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins.
Mahomes leads the NFL with 76 completions the past two seasons on throws at least 20 yards downfield, an aspect San Francisco's defense is designed to stop.
It allowed the second fewest deep completions in the regular season, with only eight on 48 attempts, thanks in large part to Sherman's coverage skills and Ward's ability as a free safety to cover ground deep downfield.
''We believe in each other,'' Sherman said. ''We believe in the scheme. We believe in what we've done all year, and we plan on going out there and putting a good product on tape and seeing how it goes.''
When San Francisco has struggled defensively this season it has often come against more mobile quarterbacks, with Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson all having more success than QBs less apt to run like Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins.
That's just another reason why Mahomes is so tough. He has scrambled 10 times this postseason for 112 yards, taking advantage of undisciplined rush lanes and defensive backs who drop too deep into coverage.
The quarterback who exploited that the most against the Niners this season was Wilson, who scrambled 12 times for 79 yards in two games, compared with just 20 scrambles for 82 yards against San Francisco in the other 16 games.
''Every week, whether you're playing a guy like Mahomes or a statue, it doesn't matter,'' Saleh said. ''You have to have respect for where he is in the pocket. And your pass rush has to tie in with one another so that way you're just not carelessly rushing the passer to where even a statue can buy time and escape the pocket and create an explosive play through an off-schedule play. But that goes every single week.''
Five Sleepers: Week 8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (shoulder) and wide receiver Scotty Miller (hip, groin) are both good to go for Sunday. Both Gronkowski and Miller were limited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, though they have no injury designations after both were full participants on Friday. Without Chris Godwin (finger), both players could potentially see more looks in the passing game. Look at Gronkowski as a solid TE1 and Miller as a risky WR4 against the Giants Defense on Monday night.
New York Giants running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) has been ruled out for Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was expected, as Freeman was not able to take the practice field all week. He suffered the injury during the Giants' Week 7 contest against the Eagles on Thursday night, though the added time didn't help him heal any quicker. The Giants will turn to Wayne Gallman- who looked good in spurts against Philadelphia- as their lead back. He'll get enough touches to be started as a flex option, though it's hard to envision him finding much success against Tampa's league-best run defense.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (knee) is out for a key Week 8 divisional clash against the Bills. There was a glimmer of hope on Thursday when Gilmore was able to get a limited practice session in, though Friday's DNP made his status for Sunday grim. New England doesn't have much depth behind last year's Defensive Player of the Year and is inconveniently about to face Stefon Diggs. Diggs was already a must-start based on his previous production and is now arguably a top-five wide receiver this week.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion) will go for one more post-concussion evaluation on Saturday, but the team expects him to play in Week 8 against the Chargers, barring a setback in that test. It's bad news for Melvin Gordon, who will now share touches in the backfield with Lindsay, making him more of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3/flex. Lindsay was the better runner in Week 7, too, racking up 79 yards on nine carries. He's averaging just under five yards a carry and Gordon lost two costly fumbles against the Chiefs. Lindsay will be an RB3/flex option in PPR leagues if he can pass his final concussion test.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) has been downgraded from doubtful to out for the Sunday night game against the division-rival Eagles in Week 8. This was the expectation all along after Dalton was unable to clear the concussion protocol or practice all week. Owner Jerry Jones thinks that the signal-caller will be ready to go for Week 9 against the Steelers, but we'll have to keep a close eye on his progress in the league's protocol. If he is available next week, he'd be a low-end QB2 against a tough Steelers Defense. Rookie Ben DiNucci will make his first career start against Philadelphia this Sunday, but he's also a low-end desperation QB2 in superflex leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop makes for a good play in a Week 8 matchup against the New York Giants. Succop has made at least five kicks in four straight games and has at least five extra points in two straight. There's no reason to doubt Tampa Bay's offense against the Giants, even though their defense has shown signs of improvement. Fire up Succop as a solid starting option this week.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense has been one of the best options for fantasy this year. They get their best matchup of the year in Week 8 against the Giants, who have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Giants' offensive line ranks dead-last in adjusted sack rate while Tampa Bay's defensive front ranks second in sack rate. This is a dream matchup for the Buccaneers' defense, so expect more than a few sacks and a couple of turnovers forced at the expense of Daniel Jones. The Buccaneers are probably going to be the highest-scoring defense of the week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski faces a semi-tough matchup in Week 8 against the Giants. Gronkowski has at least six targets and 50 yards receiving in each of his last three contests and has scored a touchdown in two straight games. The Giants are not the soft spot they used to be for tight ends- they've allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to the position. Still, Gronkowski is too hot to bench right now, especially with how thin the tight end position is for fantasy. He has a good chance of putting up top-12 numbers at his position in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf) has been ruled out for Week 8's Sunday night matchup with the division-rival Cowboys. Jeffery still has yet to make his 2020 season debut and missed practice all week. The 30-year-old miss the start of the season after having offseason foot surgery, but the calf injury is what's holding him back of late. The oft-injured veteran might not even have much of a role once he finally does return, so he's not a very attractive stash in standard-sized leagues at this point. The Eagles will be getting tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle) and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb) back in Week 8 as well. Jeffery has become a fantasy afterthought.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tyler Johnson will take the place of the injured Chris Godwin (finger) in Week 8 against the Giants. Johnson got the start in Week 5, playing a season-high 79 percent of the snaps and putting up a 4-61-0 line. With Brady currently rolling, it's fair to consider starting a player such as Johnson. There is some risk here, as the game script may tilt this towards a more run-heavy gameplan for the Buccaneers. Still, Johnson can be started by managers who are struggling with injuries or bye weeks.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (ankle) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the division-rival Bills. Harris was a limited practice participant all week, so he should be able to suit up on Sunday against Buffalo, barring any setbacks. New England will need as much help as possible from their backfield this weekend with both receivers Julian Edelman (knee) and N'Keal Harry (concussion) out, but the Patriots crowded backfield and their stagnant offense are both big concerns for Harris' potential upside. Harris has seen double-digit carries in two of his three games this year, but he'll need positive game script to reach his ceiling this weekend, and that might be tough going against a strong Buffalo offense. With just two catches in three games as well, Harris is an uninspiring RB3/flex in this crowded backfield picture.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and center Ryan Kelly (knee) are both questionable for Week 8 against the Lions. Alie-Cox didn't practice on Wednesday, but he was limited both Thursday and Friday. He sat out of the team's Week 6 game and rested up during the bye last week. The 27-year-old has a decent shot at playing this Sunday against Detroit, but his moment in the fantasy sun appears to have come and gone in 2020. Alie-Cox went over 100 yards receiving in Week 2 and scored in back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4, but he failed to haul in his only target in Week 5 when he was injured, and he's expected to take a back seat to Trey Burton moving forward.
Las Vegas Raiders rookie wide receiver Bryan Edwards (ankle, foot) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Browns. Edwards was limited in practice all week, so he definitely has a chance to return for the first time since Week 3. The third-rounder has caught five of his six targets for 99 yards in the first three games of his career, but he won't carry any fantasy appeal if he returns to action against Cleveland, as rookie Henry Ruggs III, Hunter Renfrow and Nelson Agholor should operate in three-receiver sets this Sunday. The Browns are an enticing matchup for wideouts; they've allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to them this year. Edwards might be able to make a splash play if he's active, but you can't trust him in fantasy lineups.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II (concussion) has cleared the league's concussion protocol and is expected to play in Week 8 against the Saints. Robinson missed practice all week, making it seem unlikely on Friday that he would be able to suit up on Sunday. But it looks like fantasy managers can return him to their starting lineups for this weekend. Chicago's offense has been stagnant the last two weeks, though, which has limited A-Rob to nine receptions for 123 yards on 13 targets in that span. The Bears need to make their top receiver a bigger part of the game plan to get back in the win column, but the 27-year-old will be a WR2 for fantasy managers against New Orleans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scotty Miller could have a chance at more targets in Week 8 without Chris Godwin (finger) on the field. Miller has started two games without Godwin, producing a 2-11-0 line in Week 2 and a 5-83-1 line in Week 4. Brady certainly seems to trust him, which bodes well for his outlook. However, the game script might be working against him, as the Giants aren't likely to keep this a close contest. He's a risky WR4 for this game, though he's a player that can be rolled out there if you're up against it with injuries or bye weeks.
New York Jets running back Frank Gore (hand) is listed as questionable to play in Week 8 against the Chiefs. Gore was limited in practice on both Wednesday and Friday but sat out on Thursday. You really shouldn't trust anyone in this atrocious Jets offense not named Jamison Crowder, and he's not expected to play this Sunday. The 37-year-old Gore is now dealing with an injury and has been splitting repetitions with rookie La'Mical Perine recently, further cratering his fantasy value. In what will likely be a blowout loss to the defending Super Bowl champions this weekend, trusting any of Gang Green's runners would be foolish. Gore is an RB4/flex that shouldn't be trusted in 12-team leagues if he's active.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans should see an increased target share without teammate Chris Godwin (finger) in Week 8. Evans has averaged nine targets per game in three starts without a healthy Godwin and has delivered WR2 numbers or better in all three of those contests. The matchup will be tough this week- he'll go up against a familiar foe in James Bradberry, who has been playing phenomenal football for New York. Still, Evans will get plenty of looks from Brady and has a good chance of finding the end zone in Week 8. Start him as a high-end WR2 this week who could very well finish among the top-12 at his position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette gets the Giants in Week 8 fresh off of leading his team's backfield in touches. Fournette played a season-high 56 percent of the snaps en route to 97 scrimmage yards on 17 touches back in Week 7. He'll face a Giants Defense that has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing halfbacks, including the fifth-most receiving yards. Tampa Bay is likely to operate with a lead, though Fournette seems to have the trust of the coaching staff as the third-down back. Expect a near-even split in touches with Ronald Jones II, with the former Jaguar handling much of the receiving work. He's a good flex play with RB2 upside, particularly in PPR formats.
Miami Dolphins tight end Adam Shaheen (shoulder) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Rams. Shaheen was a limited participant in practice all week, so he has a good shot at playing this Sunday. Just signed to a two-year extension worth up to $7.85 million this week, the 26-year-old has scored in each of his last two games. He had his best performance of the season in Week 6, catching all three of his targets for 51 yards and the score. But Shaheen has just seven targets and five catches for 58 yards in six games this year and remains behind Mike Gesicki in the tight end pecking order in Miami. Shaheen shouldn't be considered for starting fantasy lineups in Week 8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II gets a good matchup against the Giants on Monday Night Football. Jones II ran wild in the absence of Leonard Fournette, picking up over 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games while handling at least 20 touches in each contest. However, Fournette returned healthy last week and out-touched Jones II 17-14, as the latter saw a huge dip in his snap percentage. Still, it appears that the 23-year-old will retain his early-down role for the time being, with head coach Bruce Arians referring to Fournette as more of his "nickel" back. With Tampa Bay projected to be in the lead against the Giants, Jones II will likely get his chances on the ground, making him a low-to-mid RB2.