Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) readies a throw against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings brought back little to show from a trip to one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Other than additional injuries to important players and perhaps some pride in a fourth-quarter rally in Seattle that fell a bit short, that is.
There's a reward waiting for them at home, though, with a depleted Detroit Lions team toting a five-game losing streak. The Vikings will make the playoffs if they win out, and the last quarter of the season presents an unprecedented advantage. All three NFC North foes must play this month at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Vikings are 5-0 this year and 23-7 in the regular season and postseason since it opened in 2016.
Never before in team history have the Vikings had more than two intradivision home games stashed in the final four weeks of the schedule. The NFL first went to a divisional alignment in 1967.
''We need this one, and it's going to be really important the last quarter of the season, now that we're three-quarters of the way through, that we finish really strong,'' quarterback Kirk Cousins said. ''We've still got to go out and earn everything in front of us.''
Even with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford likely to miss his fifth straight game to a back and hip injury, with undrafted rookie David Blough now manning the offense, the Vikings (8-4) ought not to relax about this game. The last time they played at home on Nov. 17, they fell behind 20-0 at halftime to a Denver team that's now 4-8, before furiously rallying for a 27-23 victory. In the third game of the 2018 season, as a 16 1/2-point favorite at home against a Buffalo team that finished 6-10, the Vikings never even began a comeback and fell 27-6.
These Lions (3-8-1) have led in every game, and each of their losses during the streak have come by eight points or fewer.
''For us, there are positives in all of it and negatives in all of it,'' coach Matt Patricia said. ''You'd certainly rather be in close games than not close games, that's for sure.''
Prior to Minnesota's 42-30 win at Detroit on Oct. 20, the Lions lost by one point to Green Bay and by four points to Kansas City after leading both of those games with less than 30 seconds to go.
''They have highly paid, highly skilled players, and we barely beat them in Detroit. Barely,' ` Cousins said. ''You'd have to be pretty clueless to ever use the word `overlook' in terms of getting ready for this one.''
Blough performed admirably in his debut on Thanksgiving Day, passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns and one late interception against a stout Chicago defense to give the Lions a spark.
''It was fun to see the guys have my back and lifting me up,'' Blough said.
Here's a closer look at the matchup on Sunday:
RUDOLPH THE RED ZONE TARGET
Kyle Rudolph, who has nine touchdown receptions in 15 career games against the Lions, has six scores plus a 2-point conversion in the last six games for the Vikings. Cousins has grown increasingly comfortable throwing passes into tight windows to the ninth-year tight end, who has made a habit of one-handed grabs in the back of the end zone.
''I take a lot of pride in trying to make the quarterback right,'' Rudolph said.
BRIGHT SPOT BO
Hampered by a knee injury to starter Kerryon Johnson, the Lions have given carries to seven running backs this season. Johnson has returned to practice, but Bo Scarbrough has been a bright spot for the offense in the meantime.
''You can see him breaking tackles at the first level, breaking tackles at the second level. He can finish the run and kind of have that punishing style,'' Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. ''I think he's just kind of brought a little bit of the mentality that we're looking for, the blue-collar guy, the physical, punishing style that you'd like to play in this division.''
The Vikings just got done playing against that punishing kind of style, and they didn't fare well, allowing a season-most 218 rushing yards to the Seahawks on 43 attempts.
''You've always got to start with stopping the run. That's going to set you up for success,'' strong safety Harrison Smith said.
Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen has played only a handful of snaps in the five games since hurting his hamstring during a touchdown catch in the first quarter at Detroit. Coach Mike Zimmer said Thielen has ''a good opportunity'' to return Sunday, but if there's any question about his condition the Vikings will undoubtedly opt for caution and keep him on the sideline again.
Running back Dalvin Cook is also uncertain for the game, having departed in Seattle in the third quarter, but his injury to the collarbone area is more about pain tolerance than risk of reinjury.
''I feel good, actually better than I expected,'' Cook said. ''I'll be out there.''
Detroit wide receiver Kenny Golladay has joined Hall of Famer Randy Moss as the only two players in the last 35 years to have at least 45 receptions, average 20-plus yards per catch and score nine receiving touchdowns or more through the first 12 games of the season. Golladay needs 50 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year and give the Lions a 1,000-yard receiver for the 10th consecutive season.
SECONDARY, A PRIMARY CONCERN
The Vikings have been uncharacteristically vulnerable in pass defense this season, with two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes among the culprits. Golladay is far from the only downfield threat posed by the Lions, with Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola also needing to be accounted for. Jones had four touchdown receptions against the Vikings in the first matchup this year.
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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be a free agent in March, plans to return to the Saints if he comes back for a 20th season in the NFL. "I have never been in the situation where I was mulling over the thought of [returning]," Brees said. "To me, each one of these contracts, I don't know how many it's been with the Saints, I've played with them 14 years, it's not a matter of if it gets done, it's when. At this stage of my career, it's not a given that I'm coming back every year, but when that time comes, I'll always be a Saint." Despite diminished arm strength, Brees was one of the best quarterbacks when he returned from his thumb injury last season. He may no longer have sky-high QB1 upside for fantasy owners, but Brees will at least be a midrange QB1 target next season if he returns to New Orleans, which is what is expected.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt was pulled over and cited during a traffic stop in Rocky River, Ohio on Tuesday. Police pulled Hunt over for going 77 MPH in a 60 MPH zone and found small amounts of marijuana in three different locations in the car. The car was registered in Hunt's mother's name and he told officers that the drugs belonged to his brother. While the running back did not receive a drug charge during the stop, he could still be subject to discipline from the NFL. Hunt is a restricted free agent this offseason and has a chance to land elsewhere as a team's starting running back. This incident is only likely to be an issue in fantasy if the NFL decides to get involved.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was back at practice on Friday. The Chiefs played it safe with Kelce and gave him some rest on Thursday, but he should be ready to rock in the Super Bowl against the 49ers on Feb. 2. He had a quiet game in the AFC Championship against the Titans but exploded for three touchdowns in the Divisional Round. Kelce was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and could put up big numbers in the passing game against San Francisco in the Super Bowl if this game turns into a shootout.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said it's his understanding that tight end Jimmy Graham wants to play in 2020. Graham is under contract for one more year for $8 million, which is the final year of his three-year contract. The 33-year-old has clearly lost a step at this point in his career, catching just 38 passes (60 targets) for 447 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 with the Packers. He's no longer the focal point in the passing game, and he's more of a low-end, touchdown-dependent TE2 in fantasy circles.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was granted bail by a Broward County judge on Friday morning at $110,000 for a felony burglary with battery charge. Brown will be monitored by GPS and be required to release his passport and guns, go through drug and alcohol testing and get a mental-health evaluation. He's facing charges of felony burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief stemming from an alleged assault of a moving-truck driver earlier this week. This isn't Brown's first run-in with the law, and all of his off-field issues virtually assure that no NFL team will take a chance on him moving forward.
Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to fix torn ligaments in his wrist. Hughes revealed the injury after the playoff loss to the Texans in the wild-card round, and the league launched an investigation as to whether the Bills had violated the injury reporting policy since Hughes never appeared on the team's injury report with a wrist injury. Despite his wrist injury, Hughes didn't miss a game in 2019 and hasn't missed a single game since 2012. He recorded 23 total tackles (14 solo), 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for Buffalo's stout defense last season. Hughes should be recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his wrist this week.
Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen hasn't been written off, according to general manager Chris Grier, and Grier said he saw improvement in Rosen during practice throughout the year.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) did not practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Mid-week downgrades aren't good, but we still have another full week before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, so Kelce should be just fine to play in the big game against the 49ers. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice after sitting out on Wednesday. Although Kelce had just three catches for 30 yards in the AFC Championship against Tennessee, he busted out for 10 grabs, 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round against Houston. Kelce was the top-scoring fantasy tight end in 2019 and could easily have a big game in the Super Bowl against San Francisco.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) is expected to turn himself in to police but hadn't done so as of the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 23, according to a public information officer for the Hollywood Police Department in Florida. 'I believe they've given him ample opportunity to turn himself in,'' Christian Lata told USA TODAY Sports. An arrest warrant was issued against Brown following an incident with a moving truck driver Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'I'm sure it's going to be within today or tomorrow, but I'm not sure exactly when,'' Lata said late Thursday afternoon. 'I would assume it would be sooner than later.''
Fantasy Spin: There's less and less reason to hold out hope of Brown finding his way onto an NFL roster and becoming fantasy relevant in 2020. Dynasty owners should be looking to move on.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman did some solo work as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder. Expect him to play in Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2.
Kansas City Chiefs DT Chris Jones (calf) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) practiced in full. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (hand) was removed from the injury report. S Jordan Lucas (illness) didn't practice.
San Francisco 49ers WR Dante Pettis (illness) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DL Dee Ford (quad, hamstring) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce and the Chiefs have a long way to go until Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2. He should be fully expected to be on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson has scored just one touchdown since Week 3, and he hasn't recorded 100 or more receiving yards since Week 2. He's a risky flier without a guaranteed role in the offense.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was seen running on a side field ahead of the team's practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: It appears Coleman will be able to suit up for Super Bowl LIV after dislocating his shoulder in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He'll continue splitting work with Raheem Mostert and, to a lesser degree, Matt Breida. Any or all of the three could have a big game, but it's Mostert with the hot hand following the NFC Championship.
Houston Texans CB Gareon Conley (ankle) recently underwent a procedure to have a screw removed from his right ankle but is expected to be recovered in full for the beginning of the team's offseason workout program, according to a league source Thursday, Jan. 23.
Oakland Raiders CB Nevin Lawson signed a one-year contract extension Thursday, Jan. 23. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) is doing some running on a side field at the team's practice on Thursday. Despite sitting out of practice, Coleman appears very much in play to suit up for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers, but Coleman has an extra week to heal up and should be good to go for the big game. He will continue to serve as a change-of-pace back for Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers.
The Atlanta Falcons plan to tender a contract to impending exclusive-rights free-agent kicker Younghoe Koo. The 25-year-old place kicker solidified the team's kicking position in the final eight games of the season, making 23 of his 26 field-goal tries and 15 of his 16 extra points. Koo went 7-for-9 on kicks from 40-49 yards and hit his only attempt of 50-plus yards. While he should enter the 2020 season as the favorite to kick for Atlanta, the Falcons will also bring in some competition to push him. With an offense that can be explosive and put up points, Koo will have some fantasy appeal if he sticks around.