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.''
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.
Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will become a free agent in March, said he is still waiting to decide if he will play a 20th season in the NFL. "Then, I'll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I'll give it a month or so," Brees said. If the 41-year-old does decide to return, it'll be for the Saints. General manager Mickey Loomis also said that the team would welcome him back if he decides to keep playing. Brees' arm strength is starting to deteriorate, but he still put up great numbers when he came back from a fractured thumb last season, and he should remain in play as a QB1 if he returns for the 2020 season.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hernia) underwent sports hernia surgery recently to fix a lingering groin injury that he suffered during the season, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. The 25-year-old aggravated the injury in the Divisional loss to the Chiefs. Fuller missed five games with a chronic hamstring injury in 2019, and the Texans were 8-3 with him and 2-3 without him. He has 94 catches for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 22 regular season games with quarterback Deshaun Watson, yet Fuller continues to struggle to stay on the field with regularity. Fuller is an excellent deep threat but is a frustrating player to own as a boom-or-bust WR3. He should be fully recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Miami Dolphins SS Reshad Jones is unlikely to return to the team for the 2020 season under his current contract but a restructured deal isn't out of the question, according to The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. If Jones does not come back, the team is expected to use DBs Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe at safety.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (groin) underwent sports hernia surgery, according to sources Saturday, Jan. 25. He's expected to make a full recovery.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller was limited to 11 games in 2019. He managed to catch 49 of 71 targets for 670 yards and three touchdowns, but he's now four years into his career and has yet to play more than 14 games. He'll again be a risky but high-upside WR3 in 2020 drafts.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle in 2019 received the highest-ever full-season grade given to a tight end by Pro Football Focus, and has been named the site's 2019 Dwight Stephenson Award winner as the best player regardless of position.
Fantasy Spin: In catching 85 of 107 targets for 1,053 yards and five TDs, Kittle finished as fantasy's No. 3 tight end in both standard and PPR leagues. He's made more of an impact with his run blocking so far this postseason, but he'll be near the top of fantasy TE wish lists this summer once again.
Free-agent S Eric Berry (Chiefs) sat out the 2019 season but plans to play in 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston is coming off an up-and-down season in which he hit career highs in yards (5,109) and touchdowns (33) but also interceptions (30), including seven pick-sixes, and former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said it's time the Bucs and Winston part ways. 'I would be surprised if they pay him,' Dominik told PewterReport.com. 'Maybe they will. It's their decision, but I would be shocked if the Bucs franchised Winston -- or transitioned him. I think the decision they have is certainly difficult because there has been some production there, but I don't know how you could justify paying Jameis Winston more money this year than he made last year.'
Fantasy Spin: Unless your league deducts heavy penalties for turnovers, Winston was fantasy gold last season, finishing only behind Lamar Jackson in total fantasy points. The interceptions and miscues, though, are a little more unforgivable in real football, and whether or not Winston is retained by the Bucs promises to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark doesn't expect his role to change going into next season under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Chark became the team's No. 1 receiver under John DeFilippo in 2019, and he expects Gruden to do the same to utilize his playmaking abilities. The second-round pick of 2018 had a breakout year in 2019 and thinks Gruden's West Coast offense is a good fit for him. Chark is in his first Pro Bowl after catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 14 catches for 174 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie. He'll have WR2 upside going into 2020, but the uncertainty at quarterback will make him a bit volatile in fantasy drafts.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson won't have any of his $9.5 million salary guaranteed for the 2020 season unless he's on the roster for Week 1 of the regular season. The Dolphins are likely to discuss a restructuring of his contract in the weeks ahead. There will be $1.3 million in dead money but $9.5 million in salary cap savings if the Dolphins cut him. The 27-year-old slot receiver missed three games due to injury last season and caught 43 passes for 351 yards and just one touchdown in his second year in Miami. He could never really get on track after his slow start because of injury, and Wilson will be an afterthought in redraft leagues going into the 2020 season.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes reminds retired QB Brett Favre of himself with some of the traits he has displayed on the field. 'I see the comparison,â?³ Favre said. 'He may not admit this but he probably feels there is no throw he can't make or no angle he can't make it from. Whether he's flushed left or to the right, his vision always is down the field. I was always looking for the big play first and knew I could always react underneath if I needed, too. You have to have a certain confidence or air about you that you can make any throw, and it has been proven he can make any throw.'
Fantasy Spin: Mahomes is off to a particularly impressive start in the postseason with 13 total touchdowns (including two rushing), 1,313 total yards (125 rushing) and no interceptions in four playoff contests over two seasons. He'll challenge Lamar Jackson for first-QB-off the-board fantasy honors this summer.
The New England Patriots want to know if impending free-agent QB Tom Brady will return to the team for the 2020 season before the legal tampering period for free agency begins March 16, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Fantasy Spin: Schefter reasoned that the Patriots want a quick decision so they can pursue other quarterbacks in free agency in case Brady chooses to leave the only organization he has ever played for. New England wants to avoid a situation similar to last season when Rob Gronkowski waited until late-March to announce his retirement, meaning that the best free-agent tight ends had already been signed by other clubs. From a fantasy standpoint, Brady should be viewed as a QB2 in most formats at this stage of his career but he could merit consideration as a low-end QB1 if he has plenty of offensive weapons surrounding him.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) and DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) were limited during practice Friday, Jan. 24, but are not listed on the injury report for Super Bowl LIV. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle), S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and WR Dante Pettis (illness) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. said he expects to have a similar role in the offense next season under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Fantasy Spin: Chark was one of the breakout players this season and finished with 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He likely will be the main target in the passing game again next season and could be at least a No. 3 fantasy receiver.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is considered questionable for Super Bowl LIV.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman probably will need to practice at some point next week if he wants to play in the Super Bowl. He will share playing time with Raheem Mostert and Maatt Breida if he is active and could be a flex option.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman's (shoulder) MRI results were positive, but Coleman did not participate in any practices this week, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to keep an eye on Coleman's practice participate next week to see if he has a chance to play in Super Bowl LIV. Coleman will be part of a committee if he is active and should see some touches during the game. He can be considered a flex option.
Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson likely will be asked to restructure his contract this offseason if he wants to remain with the team. The Dolphins would save $9.5 million in salary cap space if they release Wilson.
Fantasy Spin: Wilson had a disappointing 2019 season with 351 yards and one touchdown. The Dolphins likely will look to upgrade at the position so Wilson probably would drop down the depth chart if he stays. He probably can be avoided in fantasy leagues next season.
Kansas City Chiefs S Jordan Lucas (illness) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is considered questionable for Super Bowl LIV. DT Chris D. Jones (calf) was limited during practice and is considered questionable. WR Demarcus Robinson (illness), WR Mecole Hardman (back), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is not on the injury report for Super Bowl LIV.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce appears to be on track to play and probably will see more practice time next week. He is a must-start option in fantasy leagues.