Players: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott answers questions after the Cleveland Browns defeated the Bills 19-16 in an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Miami Dolphins defensive back Chris Lammons, left, hugs head coach Brian Flores, center, after an NFL football game against New York Jets, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores walks off the field after his first win of the season after an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) rushes against the Washington Redskins during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Munson)
MIAMI (AP) The Miami Dolphins have been gaining ground the past few weeks on the Buffalo Bills, muddling the race between perennial AFC East also-rans.
Miami fell to 0-6 when it lost in Week 7 at Buffalo, which was 5-1 and off to its best start in 11 years.
But the Bills (6-3) have since lost two of three, quashing any illusions they were on the verge of challenging New England's supremacy in the division. The Dolphins (2-7), meanwhile, have quieted talk they're historically horrible by winning their past two games.
''The outside world, the media, maybe thought this wasn't possible,'' Miami defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. ''We got two more wins than the rest of the world thought we were going to have this year, so that's pretty cool.''
The Dolphins did appear destined for a winless season after they gave up 22 points in the fourth quarter and lost at Buffalo 31-21 on Oct. 20.
The teams meet again Sunday.
''We're different than we were when we played Buffalo last time,'' Miami coach Brian Flores said. ''And so are they.''
Much of the Dolphins' improvement has come on defense. A month into the season, they ranked last in the league in points and yards allowed. In Weeks 6 through 9, they ranked 15th in scoring defense and 14th in yards allowed.
''When we played them, they were we felt a better team than what their record indicated,'' Bills coach Sean McDermott said. ''And that has been proven. They're playing hard and they're disciplined. They don't beat themselves.''
The Dolphins' winning streak has hurt their chances of landing the No. 1 draft pick in April, to the distress of their fans and the amusement of their players.
''It's an interesting narrative that obviously has been following our team the whole year,'' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. ''It has been nice to get two wins and to kill the narrative a little bit.''
The Bills' offense has stagnated lately. They rank 25th in points and have totaled 29 in their past two defeats.
''We've got to score more points to enable ourselves to win games and to be a threat down the stretch,'' McDermott said.
Only two teams have allowed fewer points, but the Bills' run defense has become leaky lately. In their three games since the win over Miami, the Bills have allowed 492 yards rushing.
Because of soft run defense, opposing offenses haven't been forced into risky pass plays, and Buffalo's defense doesn't have a takeaway in the past three games.
''We have to do a better job in the run game, which will hopefully increase the number of shots people want to take,'' defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.
Miami managed a season-high 109 yards rushing against Buffalo last month but is averaging a league-low 3.1 yards per attempt.
After losing the three best defensive backs on their Week 1 roster to a trade and injuries, the Dolphins have been winning with a patchwork secondary.
Undrafted rookie Nik Needham and waiver acquisition Steven Parker each had his first career interception last week, and Eric Rowe has been forced to switch from cornerback to safety.
''In this league, that's what you anticipate - stuff like that,'' defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. ''If you're not thinking ahead and trying to anticipate those situations in a physical league, you're going to be behind, because it's going to happen.''
Cornerback Tre'Davious White made a diving interception at the Bills 2-yard line to spark their comeback against Miami last month. Fitzpatrick said that play will factor into his preparation in the rematch.
''Maybe not throwing an out route near the goal line this time, that's a pretty good lesson that I probably learned 100 times in my career,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''But learned it again the hard way in our first game.''
White also forced a fumble in the second half of that game.
''He does jump out on film,'' Fitzpatrick said.
One big reason for the Dolphins' improvement on defense is the 315-pound Wilkins, Miami's first-round draft choice this year.
''He has really started to pick it up the last few games,'' Flores said. ''He's very talented. He's got size, he's got athleticism, he plays with a really good motor, and I think he's starting to come into his own.''
Wilkins leads defensive linemen in the 2019 draft class with 32 tackles and ranks seventh among all tackles.
Free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney isn't close to signing with a team in free agency, according to a few sources. A growing thought around the league is that Clowney could wait a while to find his new team, perhaps into training camp this summer. He hasn't gotten offers anywhere close to what he wants, which is a multi-year deal in the $20 million a season range. Instead, the consensus is that the Seahawks' offer to re-sign him was in the $13-15 million per-year range. The pass-rusher had only three sacks in 2019 and has a long injury history, which makes things more problematic with the current restrictions on physicals due to the coronavirus. Clowney can be a difference-maker when healthy, but he's a wild card because of his injury history and lack of a double-digit sack season.
The Dallas Cowboys agreed to a three-year deal with a base value of $7.5 million with former Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein on Friday, according to sources. Zuerlein will reunite with special teams coach John Fassel. The signing is bad news for Kai Forbath. Greg the Leg had a down year in 2019 because of a foot injury, making 24 of his 33 field-goal attempts (72.7 percent). He made just five of his 11 tries from 40-49 yards but did make all 42 of his extra points. The 32-year-old has one of the strongest legs in the league and should be able to rebound if healthy in a great environment where he'll get to kick indoors for at least half of his games. Zuerlein has made 82 percent of his field-goal tries in his eight seasons in the league.
The Philadelphia Eagles exercised tight end Zach Ertz's option for the 2021 season on Thursday, according to a source. Ertz will count for $8 million in 2020 and $8.25 million in 2021, and extension talks with him and the team will likely pick up in the coming months. The 29-year-old has proven to be one of the most valuable pass-catching tight ends in the NFL since he was drafted in the second round in 2013. Ertz caught 88 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games in 2019, and he's made the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons. He's had 70-plus catches and at least 816 yards the last five seasons, culminating in 1,163 receiving yards and eight TDs in 2018. He's a high-end TE1, but the emergence of Dallas Goedert is starting to make him a little bit more risky.
The Minnesota Vikings re-signed running back Ameer Abdullah to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Abdullah, a second-round pick of the Lions in the 2015 draft, only had 23 rushing attempts for 115 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and no rushing scores in his first full season with the Vikings in 2019. He added 15 receptions on 21 targets for 88 yards and one touchdown. Behind Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison and Michael Boone on the running back depth chart, Abdullah is unlikely to move the needle in fantasy once again in 2020 unless Minnesota's running backs are hit hard by the injury bug.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that the team will look to bring in a "pass-catching back" in free agency and/or the draft to complement running back Ronald Jones II. Jones was brutal in his rookie season but stepped up in his sophomore campaign to run 172 times for 724 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and six touchdowns in 16 games (nine starts). He was splitting time with Peyton Barber, although he was the much better back for most of the season. He corralled 31 passes for 309 yards in the passing game, but his pass blocking still leaves a lot to be desired, and Tampa can't afford mistakes with Tom Brady under center in 2020. If Jones is sharing touches once again, especially through the air, it'll significantly lower his fantasy ceiling. Just because Brady is in town won't necessarily mean that Jones will break out. Don't overpay.
The Green Bay Packers are expected to re-sign running back/return man Tyler Ervin on an undisclosed one-year deal. Ervin was picked up off waivers midway through last season and gave the Packers a boost in the return game. The 26-year-old had 11 punt returns for 106 yards and also returned six kickoffs for 160 yards in four games in Green Bay in 2019. He did next to nothing on offense, though, carrying the ball just one time for 10 yards and catching two passes for 11 yards. He's strictly a special teams guy and is behind Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Dexter Williams on the running back depth chart.
The Baltimore Ravens announced on Thursday that they wouldn't be signing defensive tackle Michael Brockers after being unable to agree on the terms of a contract after his high ankle sprain from last season was flagged on a physical. Instead, he's getting a three-year, $31.5 million deal to re-sign with the Los Angeles Rams, according to a source. It's a similar deal to what Baltimore had offered. The 29-year-old returns to the only team he's called home since being the 14th overall pick in 2012. He's not much to look at in fantasy in IDP leagues, but he'll return to strengthen the interior of LA's defensive line along with Aaron Donald.
The belief is that Denver Broncos recently signed running back Melvin Gordon III will be the team's bell-cow back in 2020. We have a long way to go before the start of the regular season and Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman will still get their touches in this crowded backfield, but Gordon could be the lead man in this backfield after coming over from the Chargers in free agency. On the surface, Denver's backfield looks like one to avoid in fantasy because of all the bodies in play, and Gordon's signing surely destroys Lindsay's fantasy upside as an RB2. The question now is how much upside will Gordon have and how large of a share will he command in his first season in Denver? He had a weak 3.8 yards per carry alongside Austin Ekeler in LA in 2019, and the Broncos could change up their plans if Gordon struggles out of the gates as the bell-cow.
Free-agent LB Elijah Lee (49ers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Detroit Lions Friday, March 27.
Free-agent LB Reggie Ragland (Chiefs) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Detroit Lions Friday, March 27.
Free-agent RB Tyler Ervin (Packers) is expected to sign a one-year deal with the Green Bay Packers Friday, March 27. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
Free-agent DT Michael Brockers (Rams) spurned an agreement with the Baltimore Ravens Friday, March 27, and he agreed to a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams. The deal is worth up to $31.5 million. Brockers' high ankle sprain from late last year was flagged in his physical with the Ravens, and the two sides couldn't agree to contract alterations.
Chicago Bears RB Tarik Cohen picked up a first down on only 18 of his 79 catches in 2019. The resulting 22.8-percent first-down rate was the lowest in the league among all players with at least 50 receptions.
Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs managed 63 catches - the second-lowest mark of his career - and was charged with a drop on 6.4 percent of his 94 targets - a dramatic increase from two percent in 2018 - but he still finished with a career-high 1,130 receiving yards in 2019 with the Minnesota Vikings due in part to averaging 13.1 yards before the catch per reception. That figure was more than double his 5.6 yards before the catch per reception the previous season.
Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler hauled in 92 of his 108 targets last season. The resulting 85.2-percent catch rate led the league among all players with at least 50 receptions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians shut down the possibility of free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown landing with the Bucs on Thursday. "Theres no room and probably not enough money. Its just not going to happen here. Its not a fit here," Arians said. New quarterback Tom Brady is close with Brown and reportedly wanted him to follow him to his new home in Tampa, but that won't be happening. For one, it's not even known if the NFL will have Brown back amid all of his off-field issues and ongoing investigations. It was mostly a pipe dream all along after Brady and Brown played in one game together for the Patriots in 2019. Having Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as his top two receivers is already a huge upgrade on what Brady was working with in Boston last year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans picked up a first down on 54 of his 67 catches in 2019, while Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker did so on 58 of his 72 receptions. The resulting 80.6 percent first-down rate for both players led the league among players with at least 50 receptions.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce recorded 1,229 receiving yards in 2019, becoming only the fifth tight end in NFL history to top 1,000 yards four times in his career. However, he is the only one ever to do so in four consecutive seasons.
Denver Broncos RB Melvin Gordon is believed to be in line for a bell-cow role in 2020, according to James Palmer of NFL Network Thursday, March 26.
Fantasy Spin: While promising for Gordon's fantasy value in 2020, it's bad news for those with shares of either Phillip Lindsay or Royce Freeman. Gordon is likely to be low-end RB1 or high-end RB2, while fantasy managers will have to choose between the other two as an RB4/5 later in drafts.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) won't be signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to head coach Bruce Arians Thursday, March 26. 'There's no room and probably not enough money,' Arians said. 'It's just not going to happen here. It's not a fit here.'