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FFL: Offseason | NFL: Championship

Bengals-Browns Preview

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Players: Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Odell Beckham Jr., John Ross, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold

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.''

HANDY MAN

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.''

ROSS RETURNS

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.''

ROOKIE MATCHUP

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.

RISING DEFENSE

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.''

BAD KARMA

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.

Player Notes
Tyreek Hill Jan 18 5:00pm ET

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.

From RotoBaller

Travis Kelce Jan 18 4:50pm ET

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.

From RotoBaller

Sammy Watkins Jan 18 4:50pm ET

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.

From RotoBaller

Patrick Mahomes Jan 18 4:40pm ET

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.

From RotoBaller

Damien Williams Jan 18 4:40pm ET

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.

From RotoBaller

Jimmy Garoppolo Jan 18 2:03pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Raheem Mostert Jan 18 1:23pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Derrick Henry Jan 18 1:13pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Odell Beckham Jr. Jan 18 12:43pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Jan 18 5:23am ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Jason McCourty Jan 17 10:53pm ET

New England Patriots CB Jason McCourty (groin) recently underwent surgery on the groin injury that hampered him throughout the 2019 season.

From TheHuddle

Jason Garrett Jan 17 8:03pm ET

Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has agreed to become the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, according to a source.

From TheHuddle

Tevin Coleman Jan 17 6:03pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

George Kittle Jan 17 6:03pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Raheem Mostert Jan 17 6:03pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Dee Ford Jan 17 6:03pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Marcedes Lewis Jan 17 5:43pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Geronimo Allison Jan 17 5:33pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Jimmy Graham Jan 17 5:23pm ET

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.

From TheHuddle

Green Bay Packers Jan 17 5:20pm ET

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.

From RotoBaller