Wed Jan 20 3:28am ET
By MARK LONG
AP Pro Football Writer
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to make history at Green Bay on Sunday. If they do, it might come with an asterisk.
No team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Tom Brady and the underdog Bucs (13-5) will try to become the first to do so by winning the NFC championship game against the Packers (14-3). The Super Bowl will take place two weeks later at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
It would be some feat for the wild-card Bucs to reach the NFL finale after playing three road playoff games. The prize would be much different this year, though, because the Super Bowl will be played in front of a far smaller crowd than usual.
Tampa Bay averaged 14,483 fans for its eight home games in 2020 - about 22% of stadium capacity. The NFL is planning for 20% capacity at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, according to ESPN. Fans will be in pods separated by 6 feet, and masks will be required in accordance with local COVID-19 safety protocols.
Capacity at Raymond James Stadium is 65,890, so a little more than 13,000 fans are expected inside to finish a season played during a pandemic. It's a huge drop from the 75,000 that would have been expected with additional temporary bleachers in the end zones.
So if Tampa Bay advances to the big game, it won't gain a significant advantage by playing in front of its home crowd. Technically, it won't even be a sellout, and the game would set an attendance record for the smallest Super Bowl crowd.
The first Super Bowl in 1967 was played in front of 61,946 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It's the only one that didn't sell out.
In the 53 Super Bowls since, just two teams have played the game in their home region: the 1984 San Francisco 49ers beat Miami in Super Bowl 19 in Stanford Stadium rather than Candlestick Park; and the 1979 Los Angeles Rams lost Super Bowl 14 to Pittsburgh in the Rose Bowl instead of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Here's a look at the other NFL teams that made the playoffs the season their home stadiums hosted the Super Bowl and came up short:
- Minnesota, 2017
Coming off the ''Minnesota Miracle'' at home against New Orleans - Stefon Diggs hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum on the final play - the Vikings traveled to Philadelphia for the NFC title game and got shellacked 38-7. Eagles backup Nick Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, a sign of things to come in the Super Bowl against New England.
- Houston, 2016
The Texans won the AFC South and were the No. 4 seed heading into the AFC playoffs. They beat Oakland in a wild-card game but lost 34-16 the following week on the road to Brady and New England. It was quarterback Brock Osweiler's final start for Houston. Brady went on to win his fifth of six championships, this one in come-from-behind fashion after trailing Atlanta 28-3 late in the third quarter.
- Miami, 1998
The Dolphins were the No. 4 seed in the AFC and beat division rival Buffalo at home to open the playoffs. They barely showed up the following week in Denver, getting smoked 38-3 by a team that featured four future Hall of Famers: quarterback John Elway, running back Terrell Davis, tight end Shannon Sharpe and safety Steve Atwater. Another Hall of Famer, Dan Marino, threw a pair of interceptions. Elway and the Broncos went on to claim their second straight championship.
- Miami, 1994
The Dolphins were the No. 3 seed four years earlier with the Super Bowl set to be played at Joe Robbie Stadium. They beat Kansas City to open the playoffs and traveled cross-country to face San Diego in the divisional round. Miami led 21-6 after Marino's third TD pass of the day just before halftime. But it was all Chargers from there. They scored 16 unanswered points in the second half, including the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds remaining. Pete Stoyanovich missed wide right from 48 yards out on Miami's final play. San Diego went on to beat Pittsburgh in the AFC title game before losing to juggernaut San Francisco in the Super Bowl in Miami.
- Miami, 1978
The Dolphins lost to Houston at home in a wild-card game, ending any chance they had of returning to the Orange Bowl for the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh beat Dallas for its third Vince Lombardi Trophy in five years.
- Miami, 1970
The wild-card Dolphins lost at Oakland 21-14 in the opening round of the AFC playoffs and ended up watching Baltimore beat Dallas in Super Bowl 5 at the famed Orange Bowl in Miami.
Interview with a Champ
Free-agent wide receiver Corey Coleman has been suspended by the NFL for the first six games of the 2021 season due to a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Coleman was the 15th overall pick of the Cleveland Browns back in 2016. He played in just 19 games for Cleveland in his first two seasons before joining the Giants in 2018. Most recently, the 26-year-old from Baylor was released from the Giants practice squad in November of last season. Coleman hasn't played in an NFL game in the last two years, and this off-the-field setback won't help him as he tries to land a gig with a new team heading into the 2021 season.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (knees) said he had surgery on both of his knees on Tuesday. He also said he would have been out for the season after Week 2, but instead he battled through his injuries and made the Pro Bowl. The second-year wideout did miss two games, but he managed to finish as the 10th-ranked fantasy wideout in standard scoring after catching 70 passes on 106 targets for 1,073 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 23-year-old is expected to be ready for the 2021 season and is an easy top-10 fantasy wideout after going over 1,000 yards receiving in his first two NFL seasons while hauling in 19 total touchdowns. On top of it all, Brown is one of the best pass-catchers in the league at racking up yards after the catch.
Buffalo Bills rookie running back Zack Moss (ankle) underwent a minor surgical "tight rope" procedure on his ankle on Tuesday. Moss is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for offseason workouts and training camp. The 23-year-old was injured in the wild-card win over the Colts and won't be available for the rest of Buffalo's postseason run. But Moss impressed as a rookie, carrying the ball 112 times for 481 yards and four touchdowns while also catching 14 passes on 18 targets for 95 yards and an additional score. He should continue to be featured alongside Devin Singletary in 2021, but Moss should be the more attractive RB3/flex if the Bills continue to use him more than Singletary in the red zone and near the goal line. With quarterback Josh Allen breaking out in 2020, Buffalo's offensive arrow is only pointing up, giving Moss plenty of room for improvement going into Year 2.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) was designated to return from the Reserve/Injured list Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Buffalo Bills RB Devonta Freeman, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Kenny Stills and RB Antonio Williams were designated as protected practice squad players for the AFC Championship Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Free-agent WR Corey Coleman (Giants) was suspended by the NFL for the first six games of the 2021 season for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy on Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to a source.
Updating a previous report, Baltimore Ravens RB Mark Ingram was officially waived Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Fantasy Spin: Ingram was a healthy scratch in each of four of Baltimore's last five games, seeing his only action over that time in a Week 17 blowout win. The writing was on the wall for his eventual departure following the selection of J.K. Dobbins in the 2020 draft, but releasing a veteran like Ingram - especially at this point of the year - is highly unusual. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner is likely to catch on somewhere else this offseason and serve as a useful committee back, but his days of fantasy relevancy are probably over.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon was signed off the practice squad Tuesday, Jan. 19. The Buccaneers also placed LB Jack Cichy (elbow) on the Reserve/Injured list and designated RB Kenjon Barner (groin) for return from the Reserve/Injured list.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers designated running back Kenjon Barner (groin) for return from Injured Reserve on Tuesday, allowing him to resume practicing with the team. The team also placed linebacker Jack Cichy (arm) on Injured Reserve after he broke his arm in the Divisional Round against the Saints and signed linebacker Deone Bucannon from the practice squad to the active roster in a corresponding move. Barner will be allowed to practice with the team this week, but it doesn't mean he'll come off IR and join the active roster for the NFC Championship against the Packers on Sunday. Barner, a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2013, was active for six games this season but didn't receive a single carry and was targeted once in the passing game.
A misdemeanor battery charge against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mackensie Alexander was dismissed on Tuesday. The charge stemmed from last August in relation to the disappearance of his father. Alexander entered deferred prosecution on Dec. 8, which led to the charges being dismissed. Part of the terms of the agreement included 24 hours of community service and participation in an anger-management course. Alexander allegedly went to a man's house to discuss the incident with his father, hit him and caused minor injuries. He pleaded not guilty and completed the pretrial diversion program on Jan. 13. The fifth-year player started in 10 of his 13 games in 2020 and recorded 47 tackles and one interception.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (concussion, toe) cleared 'some big steps' Tuesday, Jan. 19, but remains in the league's concussion protocol with what is considered a concussion. According to sources via ESPN's Adam Schefter, it is still 'too early to say that he definitely will play' against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship.
Fantasy Spin: Nothing new to see here other than Mahomes appears to be about halfway through the five-step protocol. Schefter added that the quarterback is expected to practice Wednesday, which would obviously be another step in the right direction. Chad Henne is a capable but unexciting option for the Chiefs if Mahomes has a setback or can't go Sunday, but it sure feels as though it won't come to that.
Free-agent RB John Kelly signed a Reserve/Future contract with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) cleared "some big steps" on Monday, but he remains in the league's concussion protocol, and it's too early to say definitively that he will play in the AFC Championship against the Bills, according to sources. We'll have a better idea of Mahomes' chances of playing this Sunday once the Chiefs begin practicing on Wednesday, but he'll need full clearance from the protocol in order to play against Buffalo. If the 25-year-old cannot play, veteran Chad Henne would likely start under center after replacing Mahomes in the Divisional Round against the Browns. Mahomes threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 6 win over Buffalo, but he'll be riskier than usual at his high price in DFS if he plays this weekend.
The Los Angeles Rams are focusing on former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator/interim head coach Raheem Morris as their new defensive coordinator, according to sources. It's looking like Morris will be the one to replace Brandon Staley, who was hired as the Chargers new head coach. Morris was Atlanta's interim head coach for the last 11 games of the 2020 season after Dan Quinn was fired, and he went 4-7 to close out the year. The Falcons Defense allowed 30-plus points in four of their first five games, but they turned things around on that side of the ball once Morris took over. The 44-year-old was Tampa's head coach from 2009-11, with the team going 17-31 in that stretch. Morris worked with Rams head coach Sean McVay in Tampa and also in Washington.
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen has thrown for league-best marks of 1,907 yards and 19 touchdowns against the blitz this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is scheduled to interview with the Philadelphia Eagles regarding their head coaching vacancy Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is reportedly nearing a deal to become the new defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, according to sources.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) is likely to have surgery on the torn deltoid and other ligaments in his ankle this offseason, according to a source. Thomas knew it was likely quarterback Drew Brees' last year and didn't want to miss out on a possible Super Bowl run. A high-ankle sprain limited the All-Pro wideout to just seven games this year. He often was playing at far less than 100 percent, catching just 40 passes for 438 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season. The 27-year-old did find the end zone in the wild-card win over the Bears, but he was a massive fantasy bust as the first receiver off the board in the first round in most drafts after his 149-catch, 1,725-yard season in 2019. Thomas should be a top-10 wideout, if healthy, in 2021, but losing Brees will also be a downgrade for his overall outlook moving forward.
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas (ankle) is likely to have multiple surgeries on the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his high ankle this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Thomas was clearly not himself in his catchless performance in the NFC Divisional game. With Drew Brees likely to retire, Thomas' value may take a hit with Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston under center. Brees had a rapport with Thomas like no other. He'll still be a WR1, but he may fall down a few pegs to the upper-middle range.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) did not suffer a serious knee injury in the Divisional Round win over the Saints, according to sources. Brown is considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI exam on Monday. The 32-year-old should have a chance to suit up in the NFC Championship against the Packers on Sunday, but we'll keep a close eye on his practice participation throughout the week. If Brown is unable to go or is limited, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson could see more opportunities in the passing game behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Brown played only 27 offensive snaps last weekend, missing most of the second half with his injury. He caught one of three targets for 10 yards against the Saints. Brown will be a touchdown-dependent fantasy option if he plays against Green Bay.