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Rams deserve spot among NFC's top contenders down stretch

Tue Nov 24 2:40pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

Los Angeles Rams strong safety Jordan Fuller (32) runs with the football after intercepting a pass by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)


Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) celebrates as he leaves the field after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)


Los Angeles Rams nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (69) celebrates with defensive end Aaron Donald (99) after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)


Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (23) celebrates his touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)


LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Rams celebrated their gritty win Monday night in Tampa Bay with style, going crazy in the locker room with a party so exuberant and so joyously profane that the team's social media pros decided they couldn't post the video.

''The locker room is electric right now,'' rookie safety Jordan Fuller said after picking off Tom Brady for his first two career interceptions. ''It's just fun being out here.''

The Rams (7-3) earned that good time in Tampa before their latest six-hour flight home. They look like a genuine Super Bowl contender as they head down the stretch of a season in which they weren't generally expected to be among the NFC's elites.

Los Angeles moved atop the NFC West and into the No. 2 spot in the conference's playoff race with that 27-24 road win over the Buccaneers. The Rams have returned from their bye week with back-to-back victories over fellow NFC contenders Seattle and Tampa Bay, staking their claim as a worthy opponent for New Orleans, Green Bay and the other conference powerhouses.

The Rams' success is remarkable because they've overcome everything from a sluggish offense to a string of five East Coast trips in 10 weeks. Although other top teams are more consistent with the ball in their hands, coach Sean McVay's team is figuring out ways to win - usually with defense.

When Brady and the Bucs took the field down by three points with 2:32 to play, the Rams won with one last stand from a defense that has been remarkable all season long under McVay's rookie coordinator, Brandon Staley.

''I wasn't nervous,'' McVay said of the final drive, which ended with Fuller's second pick. ''I was more confident. Just seeing those guys come through in the clutch was big-time for our team. We'll enjoy it. We've got a lot of things that we've got to continue to clean up in a short amount of time.''

Most of that cleanup work is needed on offense, where McVay's group isn't producing at the level of the Rams' past offenses.

The Rams are only 17th in the NFL in points per game (24.3), and they've scored more than 30 points only twice. They accomplished that feat nine times in McVay's rookie season in 2017, and they did it 11 times on the way to the Super Bowl in 2018. They even did it five times last season while going 9-7 and missing the playoffs.

Those numbers won't matter if the Rams keep relying on the defense and the clutch play that has put them in the thick of the Super Bowl chase.

WHAT'S WORKING

Just about everything Staley's group does: The Rams are the NFL's top defense by yards allowed, just 291.9 per game. They held Brady and the Bucs to 251 yards, including just 113 after halftime. Tampa Bay scored only the third touchdown allowed by LA's defense in the second half of its 10 games, but it was on a short field after Goff's second interception. One week after hounding Russell Wilson into a quiet performance, the Rams forced a season-high 22 incompletions by Brady and made everything difficult for the six-time Super Bowl champ.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The running game was inept against Tampa Bay's tough run defense, which exposed flaws in the Rams' normally solid ground attack. LA had just 37 yards rushing, and top running back Darrell Henderson managed only 5 yards on eight carries.

STOCK UP

The Rams didn't have a first-round pick last spring, and their rookie class hadn't made much of an impact this season beyond sixth-round safety Fuller's surprisingly large role. But in Tampa, receiver Van Jefferson and running back Cam Akers both scored their first touchdowns while Fuller made his first two interceptions. Jefferson and Akers are hoping for bigger responsibilities down the stretch.

STOCK DOWN

The offense's execution in the second half was alarmingly bad. Goff threw two interceptions and said he made ''some pretty dumb decisions,'' while McVay made another handful of head-scratching play calls. Those mistakes and the Rams' nonexistent running game limited LA to 76 yards on its final six drives - 53 of those on the drive for the winning field goal.

INJURED

LB Micah Kiser went out late with an apparent head injury, and TE Tyler Higbee played part of the second half with a protective device on his arm. McVay didn't disclose their conditions before the Rams' long flight home, and he didn't speak to the media Tuesday.

KEY NUMBER

0 - The number of tackles in the past two games by Aaron Donald, who had been held without a tackle just once in his first 102 games. He's still making an impact, however: The All-Pro defensive tackle is drawing constant double- and triple-teams as usual, and Tampa Bay's Donovan Smith got away with a blatant hold on Donald in the end zone that should have resulted in a safety.

NEXT STEPS

A potential revenge game against the San Francisco 49ers (4-6) at SoFi Stadium, where the Rams are still unbeaten. The Niners decisively beat LA 24-16 last month in Santa Clara, but have lost Jimmy Garoppolo since then.

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Josh Adams Nov 24 2:50pm ET

The New York Jets are signing running back Josh Adams to the active roster on Tuesday from the practice squad, according to a source. The move comes with rookie La'Mical Perine (ankle) out several weeks with a high-ankle sprain. Veteran Frank Gore will continue to be Gang Green's lead back, with Ty Johnson and Adams backing him up. The 24-year-old Adams played in the first two games of the season, carrying the ball just three times for eight yards while catching both of his targets for 14 yards. Like most of the Jets offensive weapons, it's really hard to trust them to help you out in fantasy. Adams can remain on the waiver wire in most leagues.

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Austin Ekeler Nov 24 2:40pm ET

The Los Angeles Chargers plan on designating running back Austin Ekeler (hamstring) to return from Injured Reserve this week, according to a source. However, it isn't clear if Ekeler will play in Week 12 against the Bills, but he'll practice for the first time since suffering a serious hamstring injury in Week 4. The 25-year-old has been posting videos of himself working out on social media, so he's definitely getting close to a return. Don't expect to have him this weekend, but Week 13 against the Patriots is much more realistic. Ekeler should be stashed in all fantasy leagues, as he'll return to a featured-back role when he's ready. Kalen Ballage has become the Chargers preferred backfield choice in recent weeks, and he'll be a low-end RB2/high-end RB3/flex this Sunday if Ekeler misses another game. The Bills Defense has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to running backs.

From RotoBaller

Derrick Henry Nov 24 2:40pm ET

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry won last week's game in overtime with his ninth touchdown in the last eight contests, but the Colts are one of two teams that have been able to keep Tennessee's star running back out of the end zone during this stretch, and they have allowed only five rushing scores to run backs heading into Week 12. The 133-yard performance in week 11 put him back in the NFL rushing lead with 1,079 rushing yards in 2020. The Colts are very stingy. Henry should play as a mid-range RB1 in this matchup.

From RotoBaller

Deshaun Watson Nov 24 2:30pm ET

Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil is expected back at the team's facility on Tuesday after he was inactive in the Week 11 win over the Patriots with a non-COVID-19 illness. Tunsil was battling the flu last week and didn't feel well enough to suit up. It's no guarantee that he'll be ready for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Lions, though, so continue to monitor his progress in practice this week. Even if Tunsil misses a second straight game, fantasy managers will want to keep quarterback Deshaun Watson in their starting lineups as a top-five QB option against Detroit.

From RotoBaller

Ryan Tannehill Nov 24 2:30pm ET

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill boasts an impressive 22:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season and a 44:10 mark in his time with the Titans, but Week 12 presents a difficult rematch against a Colts Defense that held him to 147 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago. The Colts have given up the third-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks this season and have the second-ranked defense overall. It's yet another matchup that poses significant challenges for Tannehill. He is best left on your bench if you have other options in leagues that start only one quarterback.

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Rex Burkhead Nov 24 2:20pm ET

New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead (knee) confirmed in a tweet on Tuesday that he'll miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in the Week 11 loss to the Texans. Burkhead was injured early in the third quarter and was carted off the field and ruled out almost immediately. The injury leaves the Patriots with Damien Harris, James White, Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor at running back. The initial fear was that Burkhead suffered a torn ACL. Harris is the best fantasy back to roster the rest of the way, and he'll be in the RB2 picture in Week 12 against Arizona. White will see more playing time as a result as well, mainly on third downs. He'll be an RB3/flex in PPR leagues. Michel came off Injured Reserve for last week's game but was inactive.

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Kyler Murray Nov 24 2:10pm ET

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (shoulder) was seen rehabbing on the side and not working during the period of practice open to the media on Tuesday. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was also not present. Murray tweaked his shoulder in last week's loss to the Seahawks, but he played through it and should be fine for Week 12 against the Patriots. Hopkins is likely just being rested early in the week. Murray and Hopkins should be considered top-five options at their respective positions this week, although Hopkins will have a tough matchup with All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore on Sunday. You might want to fade Nuk in DFS, but he's a must-start in all single-season formats.

From RotoBaller

J.K. Dobbins Nov 24 2:00pm ET

The Baltimore Ravens have had five players and four staffers test positive for COVID-19 this week, according to sources. The game on Thanksgiving on Thursday night against the division-rival Steelers is still on, but a source warned that more positives could mean postponing it. It's unclear if the game would be pushed back to the weekend or Monday night or if it would be postponed entirely for Week 12. Either way, fantasy managers need to keep an eye out for more updates, especially if you plan on starting any players from that game. Ravens running backs Mark Ingram II and rookie J.K. Dobbins are two of the players that tested positive, and they will be out against Pittsburgh. If the game is played this week, Gus Edwards has RB2 upside, even in the tough matchup.

From RotoBaller

Tom Brady Nov 24 1:50pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is 0-for-19 on deep passes 20-plus air yards down the field in his last four games with a 0.0 passer rating. From Weeks 1-7 on deep passes, Brady was 14-for-39 (35.9 completion percentage) with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 101.2. The future Hall of Famer missed on his final three deep attempts in Week 7, so he's missed on his last 22 deep attempts, which is the longest streak by any QB since 2017. Going back to Week 5, Brady is 3-for-36 on deep passes. His last four games were against the Giants, Saints, Panthers and Rams -- all teams that have been pretty solid against QBs in 2020. The Chiefs, Brady's Week 12 opponent, have also been decent against signal-callers, but they looked bad against Las Vegas on Sunday night. Brady should remain in the low-end QB1 conversation this week.

From RotoBaller

Tom Brady Nov 24 1:33pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady has not completed any of his last 22 pass attempts that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to Next Gen Stats.

Fantasy Spin: Also per Next Gen Stats, Brady is 3-for-36 on such throws since Week 5. It's an unthinkable stat for a quarterback considered one of the greatest ever and surrounded by so much talent. However, it is also one of those baseball-type streaks that can turn around at any time. Expect Tampa Bay to get it figured out soon, although the Buccaneers will have their hands full in Week 12 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

From TheHuddle

Mark Andrews Nov 24 1:30pm ET

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews has been impressive throughout his previous two games, racking up 12 catches (16 targets) for 157 yards and a touchdown. While that type of production would get anyone excited, the 25-year-old will have a tough matchup against an effective Steelers defense on Thanksgiving. Andrews didn't have a stellar outing in his first meeting against Pittsburgh just a few weeks ago, finishing with only three catches for 32 yards. While the veteran has a high ceiling whenever he steps on the field, fantasy managers may want to look for an alternative in Week 12.

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Gus Edwards Nov 24 1:20pm ET

Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards will likely serve as the team's workhorse in Week 12 against a tough Steelers Defense. With J.K. Dobbins (illness) and Mark Ingram II (illness) both testing positive for COVID-19, the former Scarlet Knight's fantasy stock is the highest it's been all year. Although Justice Hill will be around the gobble some snaps on Thanksgiving, Edwards should still handle most of the snaps out of the backfield in both the run and passing game. While the matchup against Pittsburgh isn't favorable for anyone, the 25-year-old should still be a suitable waiver-wire option and a value play in DFS formats.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson Nov 24 1:10pm ET

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson may have his hands full against Pittsburgh on Thursday night. The third-year signal-caller had a rough go against the smothering Steelers defense just a few weeks ago, finishing with 208 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions to go along with a miserable 46.4 completion percentage. The 23-year-old may put up similar numbers on the passing end, but with the team down Mark Ingram II (illness) and J.K. Dobbins (illness), Jackson could pick up the slack on the ground. Nonetheless, he is a risky option for fantasy managers on Thanksgiving but is still a starting option for those with nowhere else to turn.

From RotoBaller

Denzel Ward Nov 24 11:53am ET

Cleveland Browns CB Denzel Ward (calf) will miss a few weeks due to a calf strain, according to sources.

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Denzel Ward Nov 24 11:20am ET

Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (calf) is expected to miss a few weeks with a calf strain, according to sources. It's a tough break for the Browns secondary and defense overall, but the good news is that they're facing the lowly Jaguars in Week 12. The loss of Ward for multiple weeks is a blow to this defense and should knock them down slightly in the weekly rankings, but they are still worth using in 10-team leagues as a starting fantasy unit this weekend against Jacksonville. The 23-year-old was a Pro Bowler in his rookie season in 2018 after being taken fourth overall in the draft, and he has 38 tackles (32 solo), two interceptions, a league-leading 15 passes defensed and one forced fumble in 10 games this season.

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Joe Burrow Nov 24 11:00am ET

The Cincinnati Bengals and doctors were encouraged by what they saw in the imaging of rookie quarterback Joe Burrow's knee after he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the Week 11 loss to the Washington Football Team. Burrow is obviously dealing with a multi-ligament injury, but they are optimistic about the 2021 season and beyond. The rookie signal-caller will have to wait for swelling to go down in his knee before surgery is done, and depending on how his rehab goes, he could be ready for the start of the 2021 season. But it's definitely not a guarantee and Cincinnati will most likely be extra cautious with their franchise QB. Burrow still remains an excellent dynasty asset, but his 2021 fantasy value will be shaky because of the chance that he'll miss the beginning of the season. Ryan Finley will take over under center for the Bengals, starting in Week 12 against the Giants.

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Levi Wallace Nov 24 10:50am ET

The Buffalo Bills activated cornerback Josh Norman from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday. Norman has missed time with a hamstring injury and from being on the COVID-19 list and has managed to play in just three games this year in his first season in Buffalo. The veteran cornerback hasn't played since Week 6 against Kansas City. The former Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro is more of a depth piece in Buffalo's secondary at this point in his career and is no longer the shutdown corner that he was with Carolina. Tre'Davious White and Levi Wallace are the team's starting corners on the outside. Buffalo's defense will be a fringe starting unit in 14-team leagues in Week 12 against the Chargers.

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Josh Norman Nov 24 9:43am ET

Buffalo Bills CB Josh Norman was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, Nov. 24.

From TheHuddle

Aaron Donald Nov 24 1:53am ET

Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald went without a tackle in the Week 11 road win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first 102 NFL games, Donald was held without a tackle just once, but he has zero tackles in each of his past two outings.

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Anthony Brown Nov 24 1:33am ET

Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Brown (ribs) is not expected to be available for the Week 12 game against the Washington Football Team due to the rib injury he suffered in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings, sources said Monday, Nov. 23.

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