Thu Dec 12 1:32pm ET
By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
With quarterback Russell Wilson at the center, Seattle Seahawks huddle before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Carolina Panthers' Perry Fewell speaks during his first press conference as the NFL football team's interim head coach, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Ron Rivera was fired as head coach on Tuesday. (David T. Foster III/The Charlotte Observer via AP)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) runs against Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams safety Taylor Rapp during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) hits Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas (80) as Thomas scores a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Not too long ago the Carolina Panthers viewed the Seattle Seahawks as their biggest rivals in the NFC.
Now the franchises are headed in vastly different directions.
While the Seahawks have posted eight straight winning seasons under coach Pete Carroll, the Panthers have been inconsistent. Coach Ron Rivera was fired last week.
On Sunday, the Seahawks (10-3) will try to clinch a playoff berth for the seventh time in eight seasons when they visit the Panthers. They need a victory over Carolina and a loss by the Packers, Rams or Vikings to secure a spot in the postseason.
The Panthers (5-8) have been relegated to the role of spoiler. They have dropped five in a row and will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Rivera had talked for years about the mental hurdle of ''getting over the hump'' and beating the Seahawks, who dominated Carolina earlier in the decade with four straight wins. That message resonated loudest after the Seahawks beat the Panthers in the NFC divisional playoffs in 2014.
The Panthers ultimately would get over the hump, beating Seattle in the 2015 regular season and then again in the divisional playoffs en route to the Super Bowl.
But while the Seahawks have remained a steady contender for the NFC title, the Panthers have fallen on hard times. They have failed to win a playoff game the past four seasons in part because of injuries to Cam Newton.
Panthers interim coach Perry Fewell said he believes the difference, in part, is the Seahawks have been able to maintain consistency at the quarterback position with a healthy Russell Wilson.
''Their stability at the quarterback, he's been healthy for the most part,'' Fewell said. ''Obviously his leadership permeates throughout the team.''
Fewell said Wilson is playing at a ''MVP level.''
''Watching him on tape, you're saying, `I hope he has a bad day,''' Fewell said.
Seattle had a pretty good set of complementary running backs with Chris Carson as the primary option and Rashaad Penny as the change of pace. But Penny suffered an ACL injury on his first offensive touch last Sunday against the Rams.
While Carson likely will see even more action going forward, there will be increased focus on C.J. Prosise and whether he can fill Penny's role. Prosise has shown flashes during his four seasons, but his career has been defined more by nagging injuries and being inactive on game days. Prosise has played in just 23 of a possible 61 regular-season games in his four seasons.
''C.J. has always done well when you give him a chance,'' Carroll said. ''Now, he'll know he's in the game plan and all of that. I'm hoping he'll contribute in a big way.''
Wilson's MVP case has taken a hit in the past few weeks. After a sterling first nine games of the season, the past four have been more pedestrian.
After posting a 118.2 passer rating through the first nine games, Wilson is at just 82.7 over the past four. He has four touchdown passes and four interceptions during the stretch. While Wilson has been hampered by some drops and errors in pass protection, he also has held onto the ball too long at times. Clearly, the Seahawks would like Wilson to find that early season form.
''He could do a little bit better and we need to help him. We need to contribute,'' Carroll said.
Seattle's pass rush barely sniffed Rams quarterback Jared Goff last week. The Seahawks had zero sacks and just four QB hits in the loss. Seattle thought it had corrected some of the pass rush issues from earlier in the season, but the performance against the Rams was a step back.
Seattle could get some help if defensive end Ziggy Ansah and linebacker Mychal Kendricks are able to play. Ansah missed last week with a shoulder injury. Kendricks is an excellent blitzer off the edge but missed last week with a hamstring injury.
ALLEN REMAINS THE STARTER
Fewell is sticking with Kyle Allen as his starting QB despite Carolina's five-game losing streak. Allen has thrown 12 interceptions during that span after not throwing any in his first five career starts.
But Fewell said Allen, not third-round draft pick Will Grier, gives the Panthers the best chance to win. Allen has been taking the losses hard. He said doesn't talk to anyone after a loss, not even his girlfriend.
''I take these losses to heart,'' Allen said. ''When I come home, I go shower. I go lay in my bed. I don't do anything because this stuff means a lot to me.''
McCAFFREY CHASING HISTORY
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is looking to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He needs 274 yards receiving in the last three games to join that elite club.
''I believe if they were having a winning season he would be up for MVP consideration,'' Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said. ''He still may get some votes. The dude is just super talented. Great in open space. Really good in-between the tackles, (which) he doesn't get that much credit. He's a good strong guy who can hit it up the seam.''
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams picked up just six rushing yards on three carries and caught two passes for one receiving yard in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Williams had a disappointing end to his season, as he failed to register at least 40 rushing yards in his last three games after eclipsing the mark in his previous three. The 24-year-old did show flashes at times of being the perfect complement to Aaron Jones. Still, it will be interesting to see if Green Bay hands the reins to Jones next year or continues to spell him with Williams. For now, consider Williams more of a handcuff option than a complement heading into 2020.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones carried the ball 12 times for 56 yards and a rushing touchdown along with five catches for 27 yards and a receiving score in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Jones was running well and would have been able to do more damage on the ground if not for the 27-0 deficit at the half. The 24-year-old finished the year tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with 19, then added four more scores in the playoffs. He (likely) won't score this many times next year, though Jones proved he's more than just a touchdown machine, racking up career-highs in both rushing and receiving yards. He'll be among the best options in 2020 for fantasy backs in all formats.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. At first glance, Rodgers' stat line doesn't look so bad, though the first half was a complete struggle for him and the offense. Down 27-0 at the half, the veteran signal-caller effectively used up garbage time to post these numbers. It's a disappointing end to the season for Rodgers, though he still put up his eighth career 4000-yard season as well as his 10th season with at least 25 touchdown passes. The 36-year-old has plenty of juice left in his arm but will probably need another threat on the outside next year besides Davante Adams if Green Bay wants to make noise.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was not targeted often, but made it count when he was called upon. Robinson hauled in both of his targets for 31 yards during their victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. His first reception was a 24-yard catch that helped the Chiefs move upfield for their second quarter comeback. However, Robinson is normally an afterthought with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce on the roster. He could have some cheap DFS value for Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman was unable to make much of an impact during the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Hardman finished with one reception for eight yards. His reception was technically a jet sweep play that was a handoff on the second drive of the game. However, he drew a big defensive pass interference call that helped the Chiefs get into scoring position. Hardman is a fantastic special teams player, but won't bring much value to DFS contests for Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was able to find the end zone twice during Sunday's AFC Championship game. Hill caught five of his seven targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Tennessee Titans. His first score was a 10-yard jet sweep handoff that counted as a reception, but regardless it was a nice way for Hill to show off his ridiculous speed. The performance of Hill in Super Bowl 54 could help make or break plenty of DFS players.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was surprisingly held in check by the Tennessee Titans during Sunday's AFC Championship contest. He caught three of his four targets for 30 yards in the win over the Titans. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins were the players making the splash plays in this game. DFS players shouldn't be worried as Kelce should see plenty of opportunities during Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams was able to find the end zone three times last week in the Divisional Round battle with the Houston Texans. Williams continued his strong play against the Tennessee Titans in Sunday's AFC Championship game. Williams rushed 17 times for 45 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 44 yards through the air. Veteran back LeSean McCoy (illness) didn't play and rookie Darwin Thompson saw just one carry in this game. It's clear that the Chiefs trust Williams to be their lead back going forward. Look for him to make a significant impact in Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins was able to finally find the end zone for the first time since Week 1. It's been a tough season for Watkins, but at least he was able to do damage when it mattered most. Watkins hauled in seven receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Tennessee Titans. Watkins caught a 60-yard touchdown that basically sealed the Chiefs ticket to Super Bowl 54. It's been impossible to trust Watkins this season, but maybe he's finally turning the corner.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darwin Thompson was not able to make much of an impact in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Thompson had one rushing attempt for seven yards in the victory over the Tennessee Titans. Damien Williams continues to be the workhorse while LeSean McCoy (illness) didn't play in this one. Thompson has only two carries this postseason, so he won't be much of an option for Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was phenomenal in the AFC Championship game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. He completed 23 of 35 passing attempts for 294 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes also had eight rushing attempts for 53 yards and a touchdown. It was a fantastic performance for Mahomes and DFS players who stuck with him despite the high price are smiling now. The Chiefs are heading to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was forced from the Conference Championship game with an injury in the second quarter, and is questionable to return. After being tackled on the play, it initially looked like Coleman sustained an elbow or arm injury, but it is now being called a shoulder injury. He remained down on the field in pain, and was eventually carted to the locker room. Raheem Mostert has taken over as the lead running back, and Matt Breida will be sprinkled in as well for as long as Coleman remains sidelined.
The San Francisco 49ers have declared TE Daniel Helm, DT Kevin Givens, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, RB Jeff Wilson Jr., CB Dontae Johnson, QB C.J. Beathard and WR Jordan Matthews inactive for NFC Championship.
The Green Bay Packers have declared FB Danny Vitale, WR Ryan Grant, OL Alex Light, RB Dexter Williams, OT John Leglue, CB Ka'dar Hollman and DB Raven Greene inactive for Conference Championships.
Updating a previous report, Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans (foot) has returned to the AFC Championship game after missing time because of a foot injury.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz will be a candidate for a contract extension this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Ertz has been one of the top tight ends in the NFL over the last few seasons and should be a main option in the passing game for the Eagles again in 2020. He will be a No. 1 tight end in all fantasy leagues next season.
Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans (foot) suffered a foot injury during the AFC Championship game and is considered questionable to return.
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent TE Jason Witten has not ruled out playing in 2020 and could join the New York Giants because of his connection with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, according to sources.
Tennessee Titans WR Adam Humphries (ankle) is officially active for the AFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Humphries will return to the lineup for the first time since Week 13, but his role in the passing game is uncertain. He probably will see a few targets during the game but can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
The Tennessee Titans have declared DT Isaiah Mack, OG Kevin Pamphile, WR Rashard Davis, LB Reggie Gilbert, WR Darius Jennings, DT Joey Ivie and WR Cody Hollister inactive for Conference Championships.