Fri Jan 22 2:36am ET
By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer
Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams, left, celebrates after scoring with Marquez Valdes-Scantling after a touchdown during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce celebrates after an NFL divisional round football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City. The Chiefs won 22-17. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill runs up field after catching a pass during the second half of an NFL divisional round football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City. The Chiefs won 22-17. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) With his name plastered on election campaign-style lawns signs - ''Allen-Diggs 2020'' - popping up across Buffalo, receiver Stefon Diggs requires no further introduction.
And yet, cornerback Tre'Davious White playfully decided one was necessary upon ending his Zoom call with reporters, and Diggs waiting in the wings.
''The next person that is coming, y'all know who it is,'' White began on Wednesday. ''Rolls' Royce-driving, private jet-flying, All-Pro first team. The most receptions, the most yards in Buffalo Bills' history. The first receiver to go first-team All-Pro in the organization's history: Stefon Diggs.''
The receiver could be heard off camera laughing and jokingly saying ''Get out of my seat.''
In his first season in Buffalo, and after five in Minnesota where he played mostly a secondary role behind receiver Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook, Diggs has indeed arrived.
Acquired for a first-round draft pick in a trade in March, Diggs has become the main focus of a dynamically productive Josh Allen-led offense that had Buffalo setting team records in yards passing, points and touchdowns, while winning its first AFC East title in 25 years.
On Sunday, the Bills (15-3) make their first AFC championship game appearance since 1994 in traveling to face the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs (15-2).
For Diggs, it will mark his second time playing for a conference championship after the Vikings lost to Philadelphia in 2018, but the first in which he is his team's top threat.
''I ain't one of those people who's going to lie,'' Diggs said, dismissing a question of this being just another game.
''For me, I know it's a big game,'' he added. ''Come out and give it everything you've got.''
Diggs has done a fine job so far in a season in which he led the NFL with 127 catches and 1,535 yards, and followed that up with 14 catches for 234 yards in two postseason victories. He joined Hall of Famer James Lofton in becoming Buffalo's second player with consecutive 100-yard-receiving games in the same playoff year.
Despite the lack of an offseason, Diggs established almost instant chemistry with Allen, and used his shiftiness and speed in proving to be nearly un-guardable against opponents.
He's the NFL's first player with six or more receptions in 17 games in one season, including playoffs. The only time Diggs was held under six catches came in a Week 3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in which he finished with four receptions on six targets for a season-low 49 yards and a touchdown.
''His stats, his film, his confidence, his swag, he's just one of the best,'' Bills safety Micah Hyde said, in comparing Diggs with Hyde's former Green Bay Packers teammate Davante Adams. ''These guys, when they have confidence and they know they're good, nobody is stopping them.''
It's perhaps no coincidence Diggs and Adams aren't the only All-Pros competing this weekend. They're joined by the Chiefs tandem of receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Meantime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers feature an established tandem in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
A common thread to each receivers' success is playing on teams with elite quarterbacks in Tampa Bay's Tom Brady, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, with the third-year Allen the only non-Super Bowl winner of the bunch.
And yet, there is something more to be said about each of the receivers' abilities to consistently make catches when blanketed by opponents.
Adams was actually disappointed in finishing with nine catches on 10 targets for 66 yards and a touchdown while being matched up against Rams' All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in Green Bay's 32-18 win last weekend.
''I wouldn't say I produced at a crazy level this past game based on my standard and knowing what I can do,'' Adams said.
''But when you play against certain teams, the players are what they are. The coaches aren't dumb,'' he added. ''I'm not expecting to get just singled up, man-coverage, no help because if that is the case, we'll have a day. I pray that we get that, but I'm not expecting that.''
Hill knows the challenges he'll face in going up against Buffalo's White, who is on par with Ramsey. In their first meeting this season, Hill was limited to three catches for 20 yards - the fourth-fewest in a game he started - in the Chiefs' 26-17 win at Buffalo in mid-October.
''He's going to win some plays, I'm going to win some plays. That's how it goes,'' Hill said of White. ''Now, I'm going to do my job so I can win the majority of plays, but let's be realistic.''
The focus on shutting down an opponents' top receiver places an emphasis on teams' depth at receiver.
The Chiefs have the ever-reliable Kelce. In Green Bay, Allen Lazard picked up the slack last weekend with four catches for 96 yards, including a 58-yard TD.
In Tampa Bay, the Evans-Godwin tandem played a key role in Brady signing with the Bucs this past offseason. They've both been productive despite being limited by injuries, and open to sharing the ball among a group that also features Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown.
''Mike's all about winning,'' coach Bruce Arians said of Evans, who had 70 catches for 1,006 yards - the second fewest in his seven NFL seasons - while scoring a franchise-record 13 touchdowns. ''I can't say I've been around one that's as unselfish as he is.''
The Bills are saying the same about Diggs, who regularly deflects attention to Allen and his fellow receivers in Cole Beasley, John Brown, Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Gabriel Davis.
''We don't care who gets the credit, but it's more guys pulling for each other,'' Diggs said. ''So no matter who's getting the success, we're pushing those guys and we want them to eat some more.''
Interview with a Champ
Things are trending in the right direction for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) to play in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. Mahomes was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday and took the majority of the snaps on offense, a good sign that he didn't suffer a setback after practicing on Wednesday. The hope is that he's a full participant in practice on Friday, which means he'd likely be on his way toward being cleared from the league's protocol before Sunday. The 25-year-old former MVP will be a tad more risky at his elevated DFS price against Buffalo coming off a head injury that knocked him out of the Divisional Round game against the Browns, but Mahomes should put up numbers in what could be a high-scoring affair this weekend as long as he doesn't suffer another head injury.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to hire Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator, according to sources. Several teams were trying to hire Bevell after he finished the 2020 season as the Detroit Lions interim head coach. The 51-year-old was the offensive coordinator in Detroit the last two years, with the team averaging 22.5 points per game and 348.5 total yards per game in his two seasons at the helm. Bevell became the Seahawks offensive coordinator in 2011, 11 seasons after breaking into the NFL as an assistant quarterbacks coach with Green Bay. He made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013-14 and won one championship. His biggest task will be working with a likely rookie quarterback -- expected to be Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft -- to mold Jacksonville's offense to the young signal-caller's strengths.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is poised for a great showing against the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Godwin has 19 targets in the Buccaneers' two playoff games, a mark that leads the team. He could be in line to receive more work than usual, as Mike Evans will likely have to deal with star corner Jaire Alexander and Antonio Brown (knee) is a game-time decision. The drops have been an issue for Godwin in the postseason, but Tom Brady's trust in him hasn't wavered. He won't be as pricey as Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams, but he could provide similar production, making him a great DFS value play this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans will likely face off with Packers' star corner Jaire Alexander in the NFC title game. This is fresh off of being held to one catch by Marshon Lattimore- though his lone reception was a touchdown. Evans and Alexander went toe-to-toe in Week 6, with Alexander following him on 76 percent of the routes, holding him to zero catches, per Pro Football Focus. Evans is talented enough to beat any corner, but this is legitimately a matchup to fear. He should be faded in DFS tournaments this weekend.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (quadriceps) said he's "good" after returning last week from a quadriceps injury in a win over New Orleans. Jones has since gotten in two limited practice sessions and seems poised to be out there again on Sunday against Green Bay. While he's likely looking at a timeshare with Leonard Fournette, Jones has the upside to be the better valued running back this weekend in DFS. He only had 13 carries last week but ran hard against the Saints' stingy run defense- it's also worth noting that he had 20+ carries in a game three times this season, one of which was against the Packers. Jones is riskier than Fournette but could provide more bang for your buck, especially if he runs like he did last week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette has been on a roll in the playoffs. With fellow back Ronald Jones II (quadriceps) battling injury, Fournette has taken the reins of the backfield with 45 total touches in his last two games, the most for him in any two-game stretch this season. Jones seems to be getting healthier, but expect Fournette to have the slight carry edge if it turns into a timeshare. Green Bay's run defense has tightened up in the second half of the season, though it's still not a matchup to fear. Don't expect 20+ touches again, but Fournette could have himself a solid day against the Packers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has led his team on a six-game winning streak all the way up to Aaron Rodgers' doorstep at Lambeau Field for the NFC title game. Brady is playing some of the best football of his career in those six games, a stretch that includes the playoffs, where he's thrown for 580 passing yards, four passing scores, and one rushing touchdown against two of the league's better overall defenses. Tampa Bay may try to attack the Packers with the ground game, a formula that helped lead to their Week 6 blowout win. Brady might not provide the upside that the other quarterbacks on the slate can deliver, but he's been a safe, dependable option. That should continue on Sunday against Green Bay.
Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator officially announced his retirement on Thursday after 25 seasons of coaching in the NFL. He was hired in Minnesota in 2019 to be the team's assistant head coach/offensive advisor, serving as the offensive coordinator in 2020. The 59-year-old was leaning toward retirement after the season, but he has made it official. The Vikings will have their sixth offensive coordinator in eight seasons in 2021. The team ranked fourth in yards per game (393.3) and finished 11th in points at 26.9 per game in 2020 under Kubiak. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a career year and running back Dalvin Cook made Pro Bowls each of the last two seasons. Kubiak will retire with four Super Bowl rings to his name -- one as Denver's head coach, back-to-back titles in 1997-98 as Denver's offensive coordinator and his first Super Bowl ring in 1994 as the 49ers quarterbacks coach.
The Los Angeles Rams officially hired Raheem Morris to be their next defensive coordinator on Thursday. Morris will be replacing Brandon Staley, who was hired as the Chargers head coach last Sunday. The 44-year-old will bring 18 years of NFL coaching experience on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. He served as the interim head coach of the Falcons for their final 11 games in 2020. Morris was with Atlanta the last six seasons. He was the youngest head coach in the league in 2009 when he was hired by the Buccaneers. Morris started his NFL coaching career as a defensive quality control coach for Tampa in 2002 and was promoted to assistant defensive backs coach in 2004. He worked with head coach Sean McVay a combined four seasons with the Bucs and Washington. Morris will take over a nasty defense led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Rams D will likely be the first fantasy unit off the board in 2021 drafts.
The New York Jets are hiring Jeff Ulbrich as their defensive coordinator, and he will call plays on defense for the Jets in 2021. Ulbrich started last year as the Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach and linebackers coach, and he was promoted to defensive coordinator when Raheem Morris took over as the interim head coach in October. In six seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Ulbrich mentored players like Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and Foye Oluokun. He was a third-round pick of the 49ers in 2000, recording 488 career tackles, six forced fumbles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions with San Francisco from 2000-09. Head coach Robert Saleh and Ulbrich coached together in 2011 with the Seahawks under Pete Carroll.
The Philadelphia Eagles are hiring Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni as their next head coach on Thursday, according to sources. Sirianni spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, five seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers and the past three years with the Colts. The Colts went 4-12 and ranked 30th in the league in points and 31st in yards in 2017, the year before Sirianni joined Indy. In the last three years, the Colts ranked fifth, 16th and ninth in scoring under the 39-year-old and made the playoffs twice. Sirianni becomes the Eagles second-youngest head coach and the fourth straight offensive-minded head coach under owner Jeffrey Lurie. He's also the team's seventh straight head coach with no previous head-coaching experience, and one of his primary jobs will be to see if the team can salvage their relationship with quarterback Carson Wentz and turn him around after the worst season of his career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) hasn't practiced yet this week and will be a game-time decision for the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, according to head coach Bruce Arians. Brown is still being listed as day-to-day, but fantasy managers should consider him very questionable to suit up this weekend. Even if the 32-year-old veteran does play, he'll be a risky touchdown-dependent option and will be at risk of seeing fewer snaps in an offense with plenty of pass-catching weapons. He'll need to get in at least a limited practice on Friday to have a chance at playing. Rookie Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller should see more opportunities behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin if Brown is inactive against the Packers.
Former Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen is joining the Jacksonville Jaguars and new head coach Urban Meyer as the team's defensive coordinator, according to sources. Cullen becomes the third defensive assistant to leave the Ravens Defense since the 2020 season ended, joining Mike Macdonald and Jesse Minter. He had spent the last five seasons with the Ravens and will return to the Jaguars after serving as a defensive line coach from 2010-12 with them. It will be Cullen's first job as a defensive coordinator in the NFL after being a D coordinator at Richmond and Indiana. Jacksonville's defense ranked 31st in sacks (18) and 29th in fumble recoveries (five) while allowing the second-most points (492), ninth-most passing yards per game (270.1) and third-most rushing yards per game (153.3) in 2020.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are planning to sign former first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Thursday, according to sources. Haskins is meeting with Steelers coaches right now and a deal should be hammered out if all goes well. He was cut by the Washington Football Team in late December after just 13 starts in less than two years. Haskins also visited the Carolina Panthers. Ben Roethlisberger's future is in doubt after a rough second half of the season, and the Steelers didn't upgrade their quarterback room of Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs last year. Despite struggling in his first two years, Haskins has a strong arm, but poor mechanics and struggles to read defenses have led to inconsistent play so far. A change of scenery and proper coaching could turn things around for Haskins, but he'll still be off the fantasy radar in redraft leagues in 2021.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Le'Veon Bell (knee) was added to the injury report and did not practice on Thursday. Linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) also missed his second straight practice this week. Mid-week additions are usually not a good sign, but the Chiefs might just be giving the veteran Bell a little extra rest ahead of the AFC Championship tilt against the Bills on Sunday. Bell's practice status on Friday will be telling. The 28-year-old just hasn't looked like his old self in KC while mainly splitting touches with rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but Bell hasn't really taken advantage of CEH's injury late in the season. He carried the ball just two times for six yards in the Divisional Round against the Browns and has just nine carries for 36 yards in two games with Edwards-Helaire sidelined. It's looking like the rookie will return against Buffalo, too, which makes Bell one to avoid in fantasy lineups.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) is practicing again on Thursday with a helmet. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle, hip), wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland (concussion, shoulder) and Rashad Fenton (foot) are also practicing. Mahomes might be limited again on Thursday, but he appears to be making good progress in the league's concussion protocol after clearing some steps initially on Monday. While he's not officially out of the protocol, the 25-year-old is expected to suit up in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday after leaving the Divisional Round with a concussion. Mahomes will be a bit more risky at a high DFS price this weekend, but he did throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo earlier this year and could easily go off if he's past his concussion issues from a week ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) was not seen Thursday, Jan. 21, in the portion of practice open to the media. Afterward, head coach Bruce Arians said he expects Brown's status for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday to come down to a game-time decision, adding that Brown doesn't necessarily need to practice this week in order to play.
Fantasy Spin: Brown was limited to 40 percent of the offensive snaps and one 10-yard reception on three targets in the divisional-round win over the Saints, but his status is obviously very much in question this week. Even if he does play, it's tough to imagine Brown seeing a ton of snaps or having a big impact.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (calf) is participating in practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Watkins, who was limited in practice Wednesday, hasn't played since Week 16, and upping his participation level Thursday or Friday will go a long way toward doing so.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (concussion, toe) is participating in practice with a helmet Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Another necessary step as Mahomes navigates the concussion protocol this week. There will be a forthcoming update regarding his level of participation Thursday.