Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon celebrates after an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes as he is pressured by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
CLEVELAND (AP) Their margin for error is completely gone, and with one more loss, the Cleveland Browns can say goodbye to their playoff hopes as well.
They may have already.
Another demoralizing setback last week in Pittsburgh has left the Browns with no option but to win their final four games - starting with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday - to have any chance of ending a 17-year postseason drought, the NFL's current longest dry spell.
December was supposed to be the Browns' runway to the playoffs. Instead, it might be a dead end.
''We have to buckle down and win each game from here on out,'' said quarterback Baker Mayfield, who suffered a bruised right throwing hand last week. ''It is just plain and simple. We can't have any slip-ups and we have to win.''
This season that offered such promise after so many dreadful ones in Cleveland has plummeted, leaving the Browns (5-7) to ponder what might have been.
''For everybody there's been a lot of disappointment,'' said star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who hasn't had nearly the impact forecast when he arrived via trade in March. ''There's areas that we expected more of ourselves, not like we didn't know we were going to have to go out and work for it, but we just expected it, and we were willing to go get it. We just didn't get it.''
For the Bengals (1-11), there's a glimmer amid gloom.
Seemingly on their way to an 0-16 season, they ended the longest losing in franchise history last week by beating the New York Jets 22-6. Cincinnati's return to the win column coincided with quarterback Andy Dalton's return to the starting lineup.
The veteran was benched three games by first-year coach Zac Taylor, but Dalton put his hurt feelings aside and showed he's still got some magic inside his orange-and-black striped helmet.
Dalton's hoping to conjure some more over the final four weeks.
''You have to have confidence in yourself,'' he said. ''Confidence is contagious. It's one of those things where, if you practice well, if you go into the week, guys are in the right spots, you're talking about everything, you're giving everyone else confidence that you're going to get a win on Sunday.
''That's the way I'm going to go about practicing for these last four games and these last four weeks and do whatever we can to make sure guys are feeling good for the games on Sundays.''
Mayfield's expected to play despite the hand injury, which he sustained when he smashed it on the facemask of a Steelers player last week. The second-year QB didn't throw until Thursday, and said he'd like to play without wearing a glove as he did in the second half on Sunday.
Mayfield's had an uneven second season - he led the league in interceptions through seven weeks - but it hasn't changed the Browns feeling that he'll develop into an elite player.
''He is a tremendous football player - competitor, smart, tough, has a rare competitive quality and a rare want to be great,'' said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. ''... in my mind, we have the right guy going forward.''
Wide receiver John Ross returns this week after missing eight games with a shoulder injury, giving the Bengals a much-needed playmaker.
Cincinnati has lacked a deep threat most of the season with A.J. Green sidelined by an ankle surgery and Ross can fill the void. He had touchdown catches of 33, 55 and 66 yards in the first two games, the start of what he'd hoped was a breakout season.
Ross got to work with Dalton on the scout team for two weeks while he was getting back into shape. Games will be a different, but welcomed experience.
''It's hard to simulate a game during practice because there's only so many things you can do,'' Ross said. ''It's not full-speed tackling and things like that. So I think that's something I'm going to have to adjust to real quick.''
For just the second time, the ''Battle of Ohio'' will feature two rookie coaches with Taylor matched up against Browns coach Freddie Kitchens.
The only other time it happened was in 1984, when Cleveland's Marty Schottenheimer was opposite Cincinnati's Sam Wyche, who five years later provided one of the most memorable moments in the rivalry's history when he scolded Bengals fans for throwing objects on the field by reminding them, ''You don't live in Cleveland.
Cincinnati's defense is coming off its best three-game stretch of the season, allowing no more than 17 points in any game.
The biggest improvement has been on the line, which was shoved around earlier this season. End Carlos Dunlap tied his career high with three sacks of Sam Darnold in last week's breakthrough win. The Bengals are on their fourth defensive coordinator in four years, which contributed to some of the issues earlier this season.
''We're settling into each other I think,'' coordinator Lou Anarumo said. ''I've had no issues and no complaints with the guys all year. They are executing a whole lot better of late.''
A loss would relegate the Bengals to last place alone in the AFC North for the second year in a row. They haven't finished last in consecutive seasons since 2001-02. They've lost 13 of 14 overall and 18 of 20, including nine straight division games since a 34-23 win over Baltimore on Sept 13, 2018.
They were swept by the Browns last season, and a loss would give them three straight against Cleveland for the first time since 2001-02.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said that quarterback Dak Prescott is the team's "No. 1 priority as we go into the offseason." Despite the Cowboys missing the playoffs in 2019, Prescott wasn't the problem. He had his best season with 4,902 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his fourth year in the NFL. The Cowboys continue to reiterate that Prescott is their QB of the future, so expect a contract extension to come soon. If that doesn't happen, the franchise tag is another option to retain him for 2020. Prescott finished as the No. 3 fantasy signal-caller last season, and he'll head into the 2020 campaign as a strong high-end QB1.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (shoulder) underwent a shoulder procedure last week that is said to involve "not a lengthy rehab," and Edelman is expected to be ready for the team's offseason program, according to a league source. The 33-year-old was noticeably hindered by his shoulder to close out the year, but overall it was a very successful 2019 season. Edelman had 100 receptions for a career-high 1,117 yards and six touchdowns over a full season. It was the second time in his career that he reached the 100-catch mark as quarterback Tom Brady's only real trusted receiving option. Edelman's outlook may change if Brady isn't under center in 2020, but he should at least be a solid WR2 in PPR leagues.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (abdomen) underwent successful surgery on Tuesday to fix a core muscle injury. A full recovery is expected. OBJ didn't miss a game in his first season with Cleveland despite fighting through injuries. He caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards and only four touchdowns in what was a very disappointing first year with the Browns. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was extremely inconsistent behind a terrible offensive line, which didn't help matters for Beckham's fantasy owners. Another offseason to gain chemistry with Mayfield should help Beckham rebound in 2020, and he could be a nice value pick as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip) is not expected to undergo surgery, and he will play in the Pro Bowl. It's great news for a Browns offense that will be looking to shake off the disappointment of the 2019 season heading into 2020. Landry was the team's most consistent wideout last year, catching 83 passes for a career-high 1,174 yards and six touchdowns over a full season. In his six NFL seasons, Landry has had at least 81 receptions and four touchdowns and has never missed a game. He's a very consistent WR2/3 in PPR leagues, and the presence of Odell Beckham Jr. should continue to take attention away from him.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel combined for just three catches for 65 yards in the NFC Championship victory against the Green Bay Packers. Samuel added two rushes for 43 yards. The Niners opened up the game with a dominant running attack and a 27-0 lead, resulting in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes. While the stat sheet was underwhelming, both aerial playmakers made the most of their opportunities, picking up chunk gains on each touch. With the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs offense on deck, the Niners will conceivably need to throw the ball more in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders failed to record a catch in the NFC Championship blowout win against the Green Bay Packers. With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes, Sanders saw only a single target. The clear third option in a low-volume passing game behind standout rookie wideout Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, Sanders has just two catches in the playoffs. Hell likely be tasked with more work in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert exploded for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. He also caught two passes for six yards. Mostert was unstoppable on Sunday, converting three rushing scores of 36, nine and 18 in the first half. He capped his evening with a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The fifth-year breakout player was the star in the Niners easy 37-20 victory and will again lead the backfield into the Super Bowl in two weeks against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed just six of eight passes for 77 yards and no scores in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Garoppolo had little to do but watch running back Raheem Mostert annihilate the Packers rush defense for 220 yards and four scores. With two consecutive easy victories in the playoffs, Jimmy G has attempted just 27 passes this postseason. Sledding will surely get tougher in the Super Bowl against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) aggravated his injured ribs during the NFC Championship game but should be available for Super Bowl LIV.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers on Sunday. Coleman had his shoulder popped back into place and Shanahan thinks that Coleman has a chance to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks. Only time will tell if the 26-year-old will be able to play against Kansas City. He ran the ball six times for 21 yards before his injury and had a season-high 22 totes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Divisional win over the Vikings. Even if Coleman plays, he'll be second fiddle to Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four scores against Green Bay. Matt Breida would spell Mostert in the backfield if Coleman doesn't gain clearance.
Updating a previous report, San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) suffered a dislocated shoulder during the NFC Championship game but had it popped back into place, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. The team is still waiting on the results from Coleman's MRI.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman could be a game-time decision for the game, so fantasy players should keep an eye on his status over the next few weeks. He could be a starting fantasy option if he plays.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) has undergone an MRI on his injured shoulder, but the team is waiting for the results, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan said Coleman has a chance to play in Super Bowl LIV.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to keep an eye on Coleman's practice participation over the new few weeks to see if he has a chance to play against the Kansas City Chiefs. He will be part of a committee at running back if he plays and could be a starting fantasy option.
Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins (rib) suffered a broken rib during the Divisional Round playoff game but continued to play in the game.
Fantasy Spin: Hopkins could miss some offseason workouts but will be fine for the 2020 season. He is one of the top receivers in the NFL and will be an early round pick in fantasy drafts.
Tennessee Titans impending free-agent CB Logan Ryan said he would be interested in re-signing with the Titans this offseason but does not know what will happen in free agency.
Green Bay Packers impending free-agent TE Marcedes Lewis said he wants to continue his playing career and hopes to re-sign with the Packers this offseason because he felt comfortable with his role in head coach Matt LaFleur's offense.
Los Angeles Chargers QB Philip Rivers is set to become a free agent at the end of the league year and recently moved from San Diego to Florida in order to be closer to his family in Alabama. The combination of the two is fueling 'a lot of buzz' that Rivers may be a potential target for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.
There has been buzz that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a possible landing spot for Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who will become a free agent in March. After his worst season since 2007, the aging gunslinger is unlikely to re-sign with the Bolts, and he recently moved his family from San Diego to Florida to be closer to his extended family in Alabama. The 38-year-old might have a year or two left of football in him if he continues to play, but the 2019 season showed that he's near the end of the line. Rivers would only be an option for Tampa if they choose not to bring Jameis Winston back for at least another season after he led all of football in passing yards last season.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has been fired, and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has been promoted in his place, according to league sources. Houston's defense was a liability for most of the year, especially their leaky secondary. The Texans allowed 51 points and seven straight touchdown drives to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round loss. During the 2019 season, Houston's defense allowed 388.3 yards per game (fifth worst), 267.3 passing yards per game (fourth worst), 121.1 rushing yards a game and 24.1 points per game. Getting J.J. Watt back healthy for a full season will be a start to the Texans rebounding on defense under Weaver.
The Carolina Panthers hired former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow as their new defensive coordinator on Monday. Snow oversaw the defenses for Matt Rhule at both Baylor and Temple. He has 37 years of college coaching experience and has also served as a defensive coordinator at UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and Boise State. Snow coached four seasons in the NFL with the Lions from 2005 to 2008 when he worked with the team's linebackers. Snow will lead a Carolina defense in 2020 that will be without All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recently announced his retirement from football.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is not expected back in 2020. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is the top candidate to replace him.