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.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill had an incredible performance against the Tennessee Titans during their Week 10 matchup. He caught 11 of his 19 targets for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Tennessee. He'll get another chance to run over the same team in the AFC Championship matchup on Sunday. Hill hasn't been able to get over 100 yards receiving in a single game since that matchup. DFS players know that Hill has a chance to be a complete bust, but the fact he destroyed Tennessee the first time is hard to ignore. Hill has given DFS players a lot to think about before Sunday's kickoff.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is coming off a three touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. He hauled in 10 receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round victory. The Tennessee Titans main focus has to be slowing down Kelce. They allowed seven receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown to Kelce earlier in the season. Kelce isn't going to be cheap for DFS contests, but he's proven all season long that he's worth the risk.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been tough to watch all season long. He started off the year with a three touchdown performance, but it was downhill after that. Watkins was only targeted more than five times in a game once over the last five games. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have taken over the passing attack in Kansas City. Watkins was able to haul in five receptions for 39 yards during his regular season matchup against the Titans. DFS players shouldn't expect a better performance out of Watkins this time around.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is set to battle with the Tennessee Titans for the AFC Championship on Sunday. Mahomes is coming off a five touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. He's already faced off against the Titans once this season and Mahomes didn't disappoint. He threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns in that game. DFS players should be able to lean on Mahomes to at least be efficient on Sunday. He has a solid chance of being the best quarterback out of the bunch in the division title games.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams is coming off a three touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. He rushed 12 times for 47 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards through the air. LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson have been absent from the backfield lately. The Chiefs have been leaning on Williams and it's been paying off. He's been able to find the end zone when he's called upon and piled up 109 yards against the Titans earlier in the season. Fantasy owners are aware that Williams has been up and down this season, but he's red-hot right now. He'll be used in both the rushing and passing attack, so DFS players should give Williams a long look for Sunday's slate.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has the confidence of former 49ers QB and Hall of Famer Steve Young. 'When they've asked him to raise up and go win it, he did it,' Young said. 'Those are hard things to do. That just doesn't happen. When you see it in the NFL and someone is able to do it, you go, once you've done it, you can do it again. You can keep doing it.'
Fantasy Spin: Jimmy G wasn't a fantasy factor with his 11-of-19, 131-yards, one-TD, one-interception game in the divisional-round playoff win over the Vikings, but that's largely due to the Niners' overwhelming success on the ground (47 rushes-186 yards). When Garoppolo has been forced to pass, he's delivered the majority of the time, and his fantasy numbers Sunday likely will depend on how much the opposing Packers are able to get done against the San Fran defense.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert is the only player since special-teams tackles were first tracked in 2001 to lead his team in rushing yards and special-teams tackles in the same season.
Fantasy Spin: While Mostert is a breakout talent who led the Niners in rushing in each of their last six regular-season games, keep in mind that it was Tevin Coleman who led the squad in rushing attempts (22), yards (105) and touchdown runs (2) in the divisional-round playoff win over the Vikings as Mostert (12-58-0) battled a calf cramp which he said was an after affect of an illness he dealt with the week leading up to the game. In the meantime, it's a plus matchup Sunday against a Packers defense which allowed the ninth-most rushing yards (120.1) per game during the regular season.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry has rushed for 377 yards on 64 carries in two wins this postseason, but Kansas City Chiefs DE Frank Clark says he isn't intimidated heading into the AFC Championship matchup with the Titans on Sunday, Jan. 19. 'He's not hard to hit,' Clark was quoted as saying on NFL Network. 'He's just a big guy -- 240, 245, 250 (pounds). Honestly he should be running harder at his weight and size. I don't see no difficulty in tackling him. ... He's just easy to me up front because I don't look at any running back like they can't be tackled. He's not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly.'
Fantasy Spin: Henry is on a truly historic run -- with only Terrell Davis owning more 150-yard postseason games (four) than Henry's three -- and it will be challenge for Clark and the K.C. D, which ranked in the bottom fourth of the league in allowing 128.2 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, to slow down -- let alone shut down -- Henry and the run-first Titans.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. likely won't face simple-assault charges for slapping a security officer's buttocks Monday, Jan. 13, as the officer has declined to press charges, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: The Browns -- and OBJ's fantasy dynasty-league owners -- are hoping this the final negative offseason headline the wideout generates for a good while and he starts focusing his energies on improving on his disappointing debut season with Cleveland.
Confirming a previous report, the Dallas Cowboys have hired New Orleans Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan to be their new defensive coordinator. Head coach Mike McCarthy said he plans to run a defense with four down linemen.
New England Patriots CB Jason McCourty (groin) recently underwent surgery on the groin injury that hampered him throughout the 2019 season.
Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has agreed to become the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, according to a source.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (elbow) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman is coming off one of his best games of the season last week and should continue to receive most of the carries in the running game. He should be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (ankle) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle is one of the top options in the passing game for the 49ers and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (calf) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert will have a solid role in the running game against the Green Bay Packers and could see a few targets in the passing game. He has a chance to be a flex option in fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 17, but is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game. DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) fully participated in practice and is not on the injury report.
Green Bay Packers FB Danny Vitale (knee) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is listed as questionable for the NFC Championship game. TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury), LB Preston Smith (ankle) and CB Tramon Williams (non-injury) were limited during practice but are not on the injury report. S Adrian Amos (chest), OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), DT Kenny Clark (back), WR Ryan Grant (non-injury), LB Blake Martinez (hand) and OT Billy Turner (ankle) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Green Bay Packers WR Geronimo Allison (illness) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Allison has only been targeted 12 times over the last five games and was held to nine yards in his last game against the San Francisco 49ers. He can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (non-injury) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 17, but is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Graham likely will see a handful of targets in the passing game against the San Francisco 49ers and could be a stating option in some fantasy leagues.
The Green Bay Packers Defense faces a tough task this weekend in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. In their regular-season meeting, the Packers gave up 37 points and only dropped Jimmy Garoppolo only three times. They also failed to generate any turnovers. Green Bay's defense may need to lend their offense a helping hand by creating a turnover or two to swing the field position game. If Za-Darius and Preston Smith can ramp up the pressure, the Packers will have a good chance of generating a turnover or two and winning the game. It certainly won't be easy, considering how formidable the 49ers offense has been this season.