Thu Sep 24 5:19pm ET
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, center, during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws under pressure agains the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
It's the defending Super Bowl champions against a team that's won 14 straight regular-season games.
Or, maybe it's a preview of the AFC title game - a matchup many expected to see last January. Most of all, the intrigue surrounding Monday night's game between the Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) and Baltimore Ravens (2-0) is directed at the quarterbacks: 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson.
''When those two quarterbacks are on the field, it's magic on both sides,'' Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. ''I see every week what Lamar can do, and I always see some highlight or something of what Mahomes can do. So, when you have two superstar quarterbacks like that, it's going to be a fun game.''
Mahomes last season led the Chiefs to their first NFL championship since 1970 and was the Super Bowl MVP. Jackson guided the Ravens to a 14-2 regular-season record, set the league mark for yards rushing by a quarterback and directed the most prolific running attack in NFL history. Baltimore closed the regular season with 12 straight wins to earn the top seed in the AFC, but bowed out with an upset loss at home to Tennessee.
That helped Mahomes and the Chiefs to go the distance, and they'll be bringing an 11-game winning streak into Monday night's showdown.
Jackson is 21-3 as a starter during the regular season, with two of those losses coming against Kansas City and Mahomes in 2018 (27-24 in overtime) and 2019 (33-28). But, even though this is the first game in NFL history featuring two MVPs under the age of 26, Jackson waved off the notion that this is solely about him versus Mahomes.
''I don't have to focus on Mahomes. I've got to focus on their defense, I've got to focus on scoring, I've got to focus on my job,'' Jackson insisted. ''My defense has to worry about him.''
Oh, there's plenty of reason for the Baltimore defense to be concerned, even though the unit has been exceptional thus far in lopsided wins over Cleveland and Houston. Mahomes threw for 377 yards and two TDs in that 2018 game, and last year pierced the Ravens for 374 yards and three scores.
''He has all these tools, and he has so much talent around him,'' Humphrey said. ''With Mahomes, as good as he is in the pocket, he's just as good - probably better - outside the pocket, which is the craziest thing about his game. So, preparing for him, it's really tough.''
GETTING THEIR KICKS
Not only does this game feature two of the league's best quarterbacks, but two of the finest kickers will be ready to roll if a late field-goal try is required for the win.
Kansas City's Harrison Butker banged home two field goals of 58 yards last week in an overtime win over the Chargers. He's been perfect so far this season, led the league in scoring last year and has amassed 445 points in his career, most ever by a kicker after 47 games.
Justin Tucker, meanwhile, is the most accurate kicker in NFL history (90.9% on field goals). He's never missed from inside 29 yards, is 226 for 237 from inside 49 yards and has clicked on 71% of his tries from at least 50 yards.
NO HOME CROWD
The Ravens have been waiting since 2017 to have a Monday night game at home, and now that they got one, they'll be forced to play without the backing of their fans. Attendance will be zero because of the pandemic.
So, the Ravens won't enjoy the advantage the Chiefs had while playing at home against Baltimore in each of the past two seasons. This will be the third straight game for the Ravens without fans in the stadium.
''Sometimes you say, `We'll play them anywhere. We'll play them in a parking lot. We'll play them anywhere. No fans, we don't care,''' coach John Harbaugh said. ''Well, here we are. We're playing basically in a parking lot right now - with no fans.''
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, ''It's weird. I've been doing this a couple weeks now and you get out there and it seems like you can hear every penny drop.''
LOOK AND SEE
One of the problems the Kansas City offense has faced through the first two games of the season has been defenses that have showed completely different looks from the past. Teams that have run man coverage have gone to zones, and the blitz looks that Houston and Los Angeles have used in the past have been replaced - all in an effort to confuse Mahomes.
Expect the Ravens to do the same thing given how much they've played each other the past few years.
''It's going to be all about execution,'' Mahomes said. ''When you play a defense like this that's very mobile, multiple, you have to be ready to go and have answers for everything. Whenever they give us an un-scouted look, try to have a positive game, go to the sideline and try to figure it out.''
Without much offseason or preseason games, and limited hitting to practice it, tackling has been a problem for the Chiefs this season. They know how important it will be against the mobile Jackson and the Ravens' productive ground game.
''Coach Reid did an unbelievable job in camp trying to make things normal,'' defensive tackle Chris Jones said, ''but we just have to stay on that. We missed a lot of tackles last week and that's a big focus this week, wrap up and finish plays.''
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this story.
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Five Hot Plays: Week 8
Teddy Bridgewater, after being tripped while trying to scramble, took a shot to the head as he fell to the ground against the Falcons. Obviously, the first concern after a hit to the head is a concussion. Bridgewater's head abruptly twisted to the side and he went into the tent shortly thereafter. The Panthers' backup tonight is XFL sweetheart, P.J. Walker.
Calvin Ridley has been ruled out for the Falcons' Week 8 game against the Panthers. He was tackled by a defender and his left foot got caught under the defender. Ridley immediately grabbed his left foot and went to the locker room. His status for Week 9 will now be in question.
New York Jets running back La'Mical Perine has been buried on the depth chart for most of the season. However, head coach Adam Gase mentioned last week that he wants to get Perine more involved. Perine was on the field for 70 percent of the offensive snaps during the Week 7 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He saw 11 carries for 40 yards and a touchdown in the loss. He'll get a decent matchup here against the Kansas City Chiefs who are average against the run this season. Perine could be worth looking at as a desperation option for owners in need of a running back.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder (groin) was able to go through limited practice on Thursday. That is actually an upgrade since Crowder sat out of practice the day prior. Crowder has been basically the only bright spot for this team all season long. His absence would doom the Jets chances of doing anything at all on offense versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. Crowder has seen 10 or more targets in each game that he has played in this season. He'll be a reliable WR2, assuming he suits up here.
New York Jets running back Frank Gore has seen a significant role in the backfield this season. The departure of Le'Veon Bell has opened up lead back duties for Gore over the last few weeks. Sadly, the Jets offensive line and team as a whole is horrible this season. Gore has done what he can, but will likely see his role decrease going forward. Head coach Adam Gase wants to see La'Mical Perine more involved in the offense. That means, Gore is going to be a tough option to trust versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold showed no signs of life during the loss to the Buffalo Bills last week. Darnold returned after a two-game absence, but was torn apart by the Bills Defense in Week 7. He finished with 120 passing yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss. To be fair, Darnold doesn't have many weapons on the Jets, but his play under center has been difficult to watch. It won't get any easier for Darnold as he'll face off with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. A secondary that has allowed the ninth fewest amount of fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. There is no reason to start Darnold unless you absolutely have no other options. Hopefully Ben DiNucci is available because he's a better fantasy option this week than Darnold.
During the second quarter, Calvin Ridley was tackled from behind and immediately grabbed his left foot. Common injuries in the foot and ankle include lateral ankle sprains, high ankle sprains, mid-foot sprains, and turf toe. His status to return to the game is unknown at this time but considering this is a divisional game, the Falcons will do everything in their power to get him back on the field. His practice availability leading into Week 9 will be worth monitoring.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis has put together a few decent performance this season. Sadly, his production has been inconsistent and it's tough to predict when he's going to see a significant role in the offense. Last week, Davis saw three targets and caught one of them for 11 yards in the victory over the New York Jets. Davis is not expected to be a reliable streaming option against the top-10 secondary of the New England Patriots in Week 8. Fantasy owners might be able to use him as a low-end desperation deep league option, but that's about it.
The Seattle Seahawks will have a running back active Sunday versus San Francisco, although whether it's any of the trio of Chris Carson (foot), Carlos Hyde (hamstring), or Travis Homer (knee) remains to be seen. None of the aforementioned trio practiced in any capacity Thursday, furthering the notion that DeeJay Dallas may be heavily relied upon for the game versus the 49ers. Of the three, Carson seems the most likely to miss the contest after initially being deemed week-to-week with a foot injury. Should Hyde or Homer suit up (with the other being ruled out), they'd immediately garner RB2/Flex intrigue due to the lack of depth in the Seattle backfield. Check back over the coming days to get a better idea of how the Seahawks' backfield woes will shake out.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Trey Burton has emerged as a legitimate weapon over the past two games. Over the last two games, he has nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown on 11 total targets. However, he is matching up against a Lions Defense that ranks second against opposing tight ends. Burton is also sharing snaps with Jack Doyle, but Burton is seeing many more targets in the passing game. The Lions have one of the worst run defenses in the league, so there's a chance that the Colts will not have a heavy passing attack unless they get behind early. Burton has been productive, but all this data points to him having some bust potential this week. He may have TE2 or flex potential, but he is certainly a risky play.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin) was able to record a full practice session Thursday, a likely sign that he'll ultimately be given the green light to play Sunday against the Jets. The Chiefs Defense was already in a golden spot even with Jones' availability up in the air, but having the reigning Pro Bowler patrolling the line only enhances their value. Having accrued 21 tackles, nine quarterback hits, and 4.5 sacks in six games, Jones' presence should wreak havoc against a Jets offense that has struggled to muster much lightning in 2020. Despite Kansas City's struggles at stopping the run (149.9 yards per game) this year, they should be rostered in all season-long leagues on a streamer basis with the news of Jones likely being in the mix.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19) will be absent from Sunday's contest versus Chicago, marking his second consecutive game out of the mix. Prior to hitting the COVID-19 list, Sanders reeled off his best performance of the year with a 12-catch, 122-yard outing versus the Chargers, with his absence creating an opening in the WR ranks for the Saints. With Michael Thomas (hamstring) returning to practice Thursday, New Orleans may have some reinforcements against a stout Bears Defense, but Sanders' next chance to return to action comes next Sunday against Tampa Bay. The nature of the virus puts Sanders' availability up in the air, so check back for updates on his status as they emerge.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been unreliable so far this season, so it may be difficult to insert him in a fantasy lineup against the Lions this week. Philip Rivers threw the ball for over 370 yards in Week 6 against the Bengals, but Hilton caught just one pass for 11 yards. He has just one game all season with more than five catches. He also has not been able to salvage any poor fantasy days by finding the end zone. Rivers seems to have a new receiving option he likes to go to every week, so it has been incredibly difficult to find any bright spots for Hilton. It is hard to consider him a fringe flex option at this point, so he is probably best suited on the bench in Week 8.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (ribs) and wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip/ribs) were both limited during practice Thursday, marking the second consecutive day that their workload was managed. Despite the limited practice time, there's no reason to believe that either is in danger of not suiting up Sunday against the Raiders for what should be an advantageous matchup for both. With Nick Chubb (knee) still out of the equation, Hunt should remain the bell cow out of the backfield, while Landry should see an increase in targets in the wake of Odell Beckham Jr.'s (knee) season-ending knee injury. Check back prior to kickoff Sunday just to make sure that both eventually get the green light, but something would have to go sideways over the coming days for either to be held out.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor will have a great opportunity to put up a good fantasy performance against the Lions this week. The Lions rank 30th against opposing running backs, and Taylor continues to improve on his yards per carry. The Lions Defense is giving up 4.5 yards per carry and have surrendered nine rushing touchdowns so far this season. Taylor is averaging 16 carries per game since being name the starter, and he has picked up three rushing touchdowns in those five games. He has mostly put up respectable fantasy performances, and he should be able to again this week. Taylor is a must-start option in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb) is in line to play Sunday against Dallas, making his first appearance since Week 2. Reagor sustained a torn UCL in his right thumb, but is expected to revamp the team's wide receiving corps after losing DeSean Jackson (ankle) to injured reserve. Taken with the team's first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Reagor combined to make five catches for 96 yards in his first two games, logging 60 snaps in his final outing before hitting IR. With limited consistent options in the passing game for Carson Wentz to target, Reagor carries WR3/Flex potential this Sunday, especially when considering his matchup against an exploitable Cowboys secondary.
Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (calf/back) was held out of practice Thursday for the second consecutive day, a worrisome note that may force Green Bay to get creative Sunday against Minnesota. Crosby has been the team's kicker for every game since Week 1 of the 2007 season, continuing to excel this year while going 9-for-9 on field-goal attempts. Special teams coach Shawn Mennenga is confident that he'll have Crosby at his disposal, but even if that's the case, current weather projections have the wind gusts in Green Bay expected to approach 40 MPH. The combination of injury concerns and bad weather opens the door for season-long fantasy managers to consider another placekicking option Sunday despite Crosby's sustained excellence.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion) was able to practice in a limited capacity Thursday, leaving the door open that he could be cleared from the league's concussion protocol in time to suit up Sunday against the Chargers. Lindsay has reclaimed his prior form over his last two games, having compiled 180 yards rushing on 32 carries. The return of Melvin Gordon III is sure to complicate Denver's backfield situation moving forward, but when given the green light, Lindsay holds RB2/Flex appeal due to past success. With that being said, his matchup Sunday against a Chargers Defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all year -- when combined with his injury -- makes for an avoidable DFS spot. Check back to get updates on Lindsay's status as they become available.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers will face off against the Lions in Week 8. Rivers is coming off his best performance of the season against the Bengals, but he will likely to revert back to what he was prior to Week 6. The Lions Defense has actually been fairly good against the pass, currently ranking ninth against opposing quarterbacks. They are allowing less than two passing touchdowns per game, and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 94. Week 6 was the only game of the year where Rivers threw multiple touchdown passes, and that is largely due to them falling behind early. Fantasy owners can feel comfortable with Rivers on the bench this week.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (groin) is moving in the right direction as it pertains suiting up Sunday versus Detroit, as he was a full practice participant Thursday. Leonard has been out of the mix for the past two games due to a groin ailment, but the Colts Defense has still soared out into elite company through its first six games. In the three full contests that he has appeared this season, Leonard already has two double-digit tackle efforts, while also having defended two passes. Having led the NFL in tackles as a rookie in 2018 before being named an All-Pro last year in just 13 games, Leonard's addition to the Colts linebacking core makes them an even more vaunted unit moving forward.