Thu Dec 12 6:12pm ET
By KEITH JENKINS
AP Sports Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Heading into the season opener between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, nobody knew what to expect from first-year coach Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.
Fourteen weeks later, it's still a mystery.
Green Bay is on top of the NFC North heading into Sunday's home game against Chicago despite an inconsistent performance by Rodgers and company. There have been flashes of high-level offensive play, and some lackluster performances as well.
Rodgers has a passer rating of over 100.0 in four different games this season, but also four with under 90.0. Running back Aaron Jones has four games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage and five with fewer than 50. Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling emerged early on as the top contender for the No. 2 spot behind Davante Adams. But the 6-foot-4 speedster has two catches for 11 yards over the last six weeks. The Packers have scored 30 or more points in four games but also scored 20 or fewer in four other outings.
''The only difference between where we're at now at 10-3 and being a dangerous force that can make a run deep into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl is that consistency,'' Rodgers said Wednesday. ''If anything that will be the deciding factor on our fate here these next seven or eight weeks. Can we find that consistency in both the run and the pass game?''
Green Bay (10-3) closes the season with three games against divisional opponents. First up is the 200th meeting with Chicago (7-6). The last time the Packers faced divisional foes in the last three weeks was 2016. They went 3-0.
''We have the guys, for sure, and the guys in specific roles,'' Rodgers said. ''But it's the 11 being consistent that's going to take us from where we are now to where we all want to go.''
The Bears' defense took another big hit in last week's win over Dallas when linebacker Roquan Smith tore a pectoral muscle. The No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft will miss the remainder of the season.
Without Smith and veteran Danny Trevathan, who has been out since Nov. 10 with an elbow injury, Chicago figures to go with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis at inside linebacker.
''Well, 44 (Kwiatkoski), I've always thought he's been a really solid player,'' Rodgers said. ''I don't want to butcher his last name. But he rocked me a couple years ago and I know where 44's at most times when he's in the game. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he's played and his approach to the game. He's been backing up both Danny and Roquan this season and he does a hell of a job. He's a great player. So, we'll see.''
But the Bears could get a lift from defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who is eligible to return after an eight-week stay on injured reserve. A Pro Bowl pick last season, Hicks dislocated his elbow against Oakland in London on Oct. 6.
''I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly,'' Hicks said. ''One of the things I really focused on was just making sure my elbow was in the strongest place possible. We still have some finishing up to do and there's all these dates to make gains and get a little bit better. Just working on that.''
Adrian Amos had his best game as a member of the Packers last week against Washington. The fifth-year safety had an interception, a sack and seven tackles. It was the first time a Green Bay defensive back had a sack and an interception in a game since Micah Hyde in November 2014.
''I just try to hold myself accountable,'' Amos said. ''I just want to be available. I was taught at a young age that the greatest ability is availability. Just being out there and just giving myself an opportunity to make plays. You want to be a guy that people can trust and rely on.''
Amos has played all but four defensive snaps this season after signing with Green Bay for $37 million in March. Amos spent his first four seasons in Chicago. He picked off Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone to seal a 10-3 Packers victory over the Bears in the season opener in Chicago.
''I don't really think into it that much,'' Amos said. ''I just really focus on this team and the opportunity we have, you know, playing these next three games. I don't look at it as this big rivalry or anything. This is literally just the next game on the schedule for me.''
The Bears need Trubisky to continue his solid run if they're going to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The former No. 2 overall pick has completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions with a 99.1 rating while leading Chicago to three straight wins. Though two of those games were against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, he picked apart a top-10 defense last week in a 31-24 victory over the Cowboys.
''I just think he's playing at a really high level right now,'' LaFleur said. ''He just looks decisive. If it's not there, he's using his legs a little more. So we're going to have to be extremely disciplined in our rush lanes and just make sure we keep eyes on him at all times because he's a talented guy. If it's not there on schedule, he can really hurt you with his legs.''
Trubisky matched a season high by throwing for three touchdowns and ran for a score against Dallas. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 244 yards and ran for 63 yards, the most for him this year.
A KING'S TALE
Kevin King was a bit of a surprise scratch with a shoulder injury last week after the Packers cornerback was a full participant in last Friday's practice. The third-year pro appears to be on track to play on Sunday.
''I think he's in a good spot right now,'' LaFleur said Thursday. ''I like where he's at right now.''
King has four interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble this season.
The Bears' victories haven't exactly come against the league's heavyweights. That's something they'll need to change down the stretch, with games against AFC West-leading Kansas City and Minnesota remaining after this one.
The six teams Chicago holds victories over are a combined 28-49-1, and the only one with a winning record is the Vikings. The Bears beat Minnesota 16-6 at Soldier Field on Sept. 29, with Chase Daniel playing most of the game after Trubisky exited with a left shoulder injury.
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.