Fri Jan 11 3:39pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
At left, in a Dec. 16, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff carries the ball during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Los Angeles. At right, in a Nov. 22, 2018, file photo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) scrambles against the Washington Redskins during the first half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas. The Rams and Cowboys meet in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/File)
In this Dec. 16, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff throws a pass during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Los Angeles. The Rams and Dallas Cowboys meet in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
In this Aug. 2, 2010, file photo, then-Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips, left, and then-offensive coordinator Jason Garrett chat during the team's NFL football training camp, in San Antonio. Phillips, the 71-year-old Los Angeles defensive coordinator who was fired as Dallas head coach in 2010 and replaced by his assistant, Jason Garrett, calls this weekend's divisional playoff showdown " a revenge game for me." (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
In this Nov. 11, 2018, file photo, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) in action during an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Philadelphia. The Los Angeles Rams and Cowboys meet in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
In this Dec. 2, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff throws against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game in Detroit. The Rams and Dallas Cowboys meet in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
In this Aug. 12, 2017, file photo, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay , right, greets Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, left, after a preseason NFL football game, in Los Angeles. The Rams and Cowboys meet in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
LOS ANGELES (AP) As if the pressure of playing for the Los Angeles Rams' first playoff victory in 14 years wasn't enough, Todd Gurley carries an extra imperative into the Coliseum on Saturday night.
''Basically, everybody I know hates the Cowboys,'' the Rams' All-Pro running back said. ''They've been hitting me up all week, so I've got to try to take care of business for those guys.''
And then there's Wade Phillips, the 71-year-old Los Angeles defensive coordinator who was fired as Dallas head coach in 2010 and replaced by his assistant, Jason Garrett. With a straight face, Phillips calls the divisional playoff showdown ''a revenge game for me.''
The Cowboys (11-6) inspire strong feelings across the football world, but these Rams (13-3) are just joking around. Their ability to do so indicates they're not feeling crushed by the extraordinary weight on both teams in this matchup under the Hollywood spotlight.
A trip to the NFC championship game is more than enough motivation for two franchises that haven't been that close to a Super Bowl in many years.
''It's a prime-time game in the playoffs,'' Gurley said. ''What better game would you want? Playoff game in LA versus America's Team. It's going to be a great matchup.''
Dallas has won three playoff games in 22 years, and it hasn't won a road playoff game since January 1993. The Cowboys haven't reached the NFC title game since the 1995 season, losing five straight times in the divisional round.
''Yeah, it would mean a lot,'' Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said. ''And more than what it means for the past, but because of this group of guys that I'm going to do it with. Just simply how we've been able to persevere (through) all the adversity and everything that we've been through together, off the field, on the field. I just know we've got the right guys to do it.''
The Rams haven't been in a conference championship game since the 2001-02 season, and they only ended a 12-year playoff drought last January with a home loss to Atlanta in the wild-card round. Coach Sean McVay's incredible turnaround of his franchise has inspired a wave of copycat coaching hires across the NFL this month, but McVay knows it doesn't mean much without his first playoff victory.
The matchup also showcases two of the best young quarterback-running back combinations in the league. Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are the heart of a team that has won eight of its last nine games since trading for receiver Amari Cooper, capped by Dallas' gritty victory over Seattle last week in the wild-card round.
Jared Goff and Gurley make it happen for the Rams, who rolled to an 11-1 record with a nearly unstoppable offense. Losses to the Bears and Eagles in December raised questions about their run defense and offensive line, but McVay's team is rested and determined to make a Super Bowl run .
''I think there's a confidence that's been earned,'' McVay said. ''We have a lot of respect for the Dallas Cowboys, but we expect to win this game. We know it's going to take a great effort, but we're going in with the mindset and mentality that we expect to win. I think that confidence is something that's been earned every day by our players, and then we've got to go out and prove it.''
Here are more things to watch in these NFC mainstays' ninth playoff meeting - the most in NFL history - but their first since January 1986 in Anaheim:
The matchup will be a showcase for arguably the NFL's top two running backs - as long as Gurley's balky knee is good. Gurley hasn't played since Dec. 16, but McVay has seemed certain he'll have his offensive centerpiece at full strength. Gurley finished third in the NFL rushing race behind Elliott, who won his second title in three years. Gurley hesitated to say whether he'll be limited, but backup C.J. Anderson had two huge games in his absence.
Dallas receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jarwin didn't practice all week because of ankle injuries. Beasley was limping badly at times against Seattle. Jarwin, who had three touchdown catches in the regular-season finale against the New York Giants, was getting more playing time because of a season-ending injury to Geoff Swaim. Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo returned to practice after sitting against the Seahawks with an ankle injury. If the UCLA product is able to play, Dallas will have to decide between him and rookie Connor Williams at left guard.
Goff will be tested by Dallas' defense, which has one of the NFL's best collections of linebackers and backs. The Pro Bowl quarterback's production and effectiveness slipped in December when opponents increasingly refused to bite on McVay's play-action schemes, and Dallas' defense also has enough talented pass rushers to apply pressure. Goff realizes he'll be judged on his ability to answer the challenge. ''Winning is the most important stat, and that's no different in the playoffs,'' he said.
SOME QB HATE
Speaking of Goff, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence had a little fun when asked his impressions of his fellow Pro Bowler: ''He's a quarterback. I don't like quarterbacks.'' Lawrence had his second straight double-digit season in sacks with 10 +, but he finished well behind the NFL leader, Los Angeles All-Pro Aaron Donald (20 +).
After last January's loss to the Falcons, the Rams bolstered their defense with three prominent veterans eager for postseason success. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is hoping for his first playoff victory after going 0-3 with Detroit and Miami, while cornerback Marcus Peters will attempt to reach his first conference title game after losing his last three playoff games with Kansas City. Cornerback Aqib Talib won a Super Bowl ring with Denver, and he feels a similar vibe in the Rams' locker room. ''Everybody knows it, so I don't have to tell them,'' Talib said. ''If you want (your team) to be popular and get your name out there, make a couple of plays in the playoffs.''
The Detroit Lions signed free-agent cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year, $3.5 million deal on Friday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Melvin played for the Patriots in 2015 when head coach Matt Patricia was the defensive coordinator. The 29-year-old has been mostly a starter the last three seasons with the Colts and Raiders and had a career-high three interceptions with the Colts in 2017. He could be the replacement for Nevin Lawson, who signed with the Raiders earlier this week.
The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon to a one-year, $2 million deal on Friday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The 29-year-old will be with his fourth different team in the last four seasons and will serve as Derek Carr's backup in silver and black. Glennon has played in 27 games (22 starts) and is 6-16 as a starter in his five seasons in the NFL. He has 35 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions and an 84.0 quarterback rating. Glennon won't be fantasy relevant.
The Pittsburgh Steelers informed safety Morgan Burnett that they will release him by April 1 per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner. Both parties discussed trade possibilities before the release, according to a source. Pittsburgh signed the safety to a three-year, $14.25 million contract last season that included a $4.25 million signing bonus. Burnett missed four of the first six games of 2018 due to injury and recorded 30 tackles and six pass deflections in a sub-package role in 11 games. The 30-year-old had previously played eight seasons with the Packers.
The Los Angeles Rams are matching the Detroit Lions offer sheet for restricted free-agent running back Malcolm Brown on Friday. Brown's deal with the Rams is for two years with a $3.3 million base salary, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He'll receive $2.1 million in practice guarantees ($1 million base guaranteed and a $1.1 million roster bonus to be issued April 15). Brown landed on Injured Reserve in Week 13 with a clavicle injury. He played just 15 percent of the offensive snaps and had 264 yards from scrimmage and one receiving touchdown. He's merely depth behind Todd Gurley.
The New York Giants re-signed wide receiver Cody Latimer to an undisclosed deal on Friday. Latimer played in the first three games and the last two games of the 2018 season but just one of the 11 games in between in his first season in New York because of injuries. He battled a knee injury and also spent two months on Injured Reserve with a pulled hamstring. Latimer finished with only 11 receptions for 190 yards and one touchdown and also averaged 24.6 yards on five kickoff returns. He might have more opportunities to make noise in 2019 with Odell Beckham Jr. out of the picture, but Latimer still doesn't have much fantasy upside.
The New York Jets agreed to terms with free-agent quarterback Trevor Siemian on a one-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Siemian can make up to $3 million in incentives. The 27-year-old former Bronco didn't play at all with the Vikings last year while backing up Kirk Cousins. He was the starter in Denver in 2016 and 2017, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. New York's addition of Siemian likely means that veteran Josh McCown, a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, will leave in free agency or retire. Siemian won't have any fantasy appeal in his new digs while backing up Sam Darnold.
The New Orleans Saints are expected to sign free-agent tight end Jared Cook, sources told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Cook, who turns 32 next month, had a career year with the Raiders in 2018, catching 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. The veteran can stretch opposing defenses down the seam and should open up more space for star receiver Michael Thomas on the outside. While it would be foolish to expect Cook to put up better numbers than he did in Oakland, he should remain a strong TE1 option in the high-flying offense of the Saints.
Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams LB Clay Matthews' two-year deal has a $9.25 million base value with $5.5 million guaranteed.
Pittsburgh Steelers FS Morgan Burnett will be released by April 1, per the player's request, according to his agent, Kevin Conner.
Free-agent QB Robert Griffin III (Ravens) re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens Friday, March 22, on a two-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed, and the deal is pending a physical.
The New Orleans Saints signed long-time Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. The 31-year-old was the Vikings primary punt returner for the last eight years and averaged 12.0 yards per punt return in 2018 to finish in the league's top five for the third time in the last six seasons. He was also used occasionally as a kickoff returner and was a backup cornerback. New Orleans ranked in the league's bottom 10 teams in punt return yardage the last two years. Sherels won't be an option in most fantasy leagues with his move to the Saints.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard (ankle) spent time running routes and catching passes from Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes Thursday, March 21.
Fantasy Spin: Howard was having a TE1 campaign in 2018 before an injury ended his season early, but he should be back at full strength well before the start of next season. He is a big-play weapon from the tight end spot and could finish as a top-five fantasy option at his position.
The Baltimore Ravens re-signed backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday to an undisclosed two-year deal. The 29-year-old will continue to back up starter Lamar Jackson in 2019. The former first-round pick can be an invaluable source for Jackson as he matures heading into his second season, but RG3 will continue to have no fantasy value.
Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is unlikely to have a role in the offense if he remains with the team in 2019, in the opinion of Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
Fantasy Spin: Howard has always struggled to make an impact in the passing game, and after regressing as a between-the-tackles runner last year, the Bears don't have much incentive to feature him in the offense. Feel free to take a flier on him in the final rounds of drafts, but don't count on him to be a contributor for your fantasy squad.
The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent outside linebacker Justin Houston to a two-year deal worth $24 million on Thursday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Houston had nine sacks for the Chiefs last year, but he was cut with the team trying to get younger and defense while transitioning from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. The Colts also run a 4-3, but they project to use him as a defensive end for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with a nagging knee injury in recent years but still has 18.5 sacks in the last two years. The veteran will certainly help boost a weak Indy pass rush from a season ago.
Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (toe) has been working out with teammates this offseason, according to RB Adrian Peterson.
Fantasy Spin: Reed managed to play in 13 games last season, but it didn't translate into much production on the field. Between constant health issues and slipping per-game numbers, Reed is no more than a late-round lottery ticket heading into 2019.
Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp (knee) said his recovery is where it is 'supposed to be' at this point in the process.
Fantasy Spin: Kupp is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 season. He was Jared Goff's go-to target on third downs and in the red zone prior to the injury, and Kupp should be able to deliver WR2 numbers, especially in PPR formats.
Los Angeles Chargers TE Hunter Henry (knee) is expected to be ready for the start of OTAs, according to general manager Tom Telesco.
Fantasy Spin: Assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks, Henry should open the year as the starting tight end for the Chargers and a low-end TE1 candidate for fantasy owners.
Free-agent PK Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) is making progress in contract talks with the New England Patriots. Gostkowski has also received interest from other teams.
Fantasy Spin: Gostkowski struggled at times this past season but still can be a weekly starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Free-agent DT Al Woods (Colts) met with the Detroit Lions Thursday, March 21.