Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, left, runs after a reception past Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) throws an interception as he is hit by Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry (58) during the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle (84) celebrates a touchdown catch against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
TAMPA, Fla. (AP)
The Indianapolis Colts know what it takes to thrive under the pressure of a race for a playoff berth. The young Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to learn.
A year after staging a torrid stretch run to make the postseason in their first season under coach Frank Reich, the Colts (6-6) find themselves in a familiar position of needing to win their last four games to give themselves a good shot at earning another berth.
The Bucs (5-7) have won three of four following a 2-6 start and vow to keep fighting until they are mathematically eliminated from contention.
“They’re a team that’s in the same situation as us,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s a one-game season.”
The Colts know all about that after overcoming a 1-5 start last season by winning nine of their last 10 - including four straight down the stretch in December - to grab an AFC wild-card berth.
Jacoby Brissett is quarterback this year instead of the retired Andrew Luck, but the challenge remains the same as Indianapolis tries to right itself after dropping four of five to fall from first to third place in the AFC South.
“Obviously, we would have liked not to be in that position again, but we’re here and we know we have to win games,” Colts tackle Anthony Castonzo said.
“Frank (Reich) did a good job speaking about that and what you did to this point doesn’t matter. You can’t rely on any of that information in the future. ... I know everybody on this team is committed to playing one week at a time,” center Ryan Kelly added. “Obviously, we have a tough four games ahead, but if you take it one game at a time, you’ll be fine.”
Arians, the former Cardinals coach who also led Indianapolis to the playoffs as interim coach for 12 games in 2012, said the Bucs will benefit from a strong finish - even if it doesn’t produce Tampa Bay’s first playoff in 12 years.
“We talked about it. ... If you want to feel like you’re in the playoffs, you’re in it. Right now,” Arians said. “They are one-game seasons. You lose, you’re done. Then you play for fun.”
Reich hasn't spent much time over the years around Bruce Arians. But he's heard plenty of stories about the longtime assistant and has plenty of respect for the man who earned the first of two coach of the year awards filling in for Indy coach Chuck Pagano in 2012.
And Reich figures not much has changed as Arians completes his first season as Tampa Bay's head coach.
"I guess there are guys like (Bill) Belichick where you're like, 'Don't try to be like him,'" Reich said. "You try and be like Bruce Arians. I could never pull that off, I don't know if anybody could from what I understand. You just know the players that play for him - they will die for him."
SHARING THE WEALTH
The Bucs defense is tied for fifth in the NFL with 21 takeaways. That’s four more than they had all of last season, when Tampa Bay ranked 22nd.
Nine players have forced fumbles, eight have recovered an opposing team’s fumble, and eight have interceptions.
The unit has also scored four touchdowns, compared to one in 2018.
Four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton has missed four of the last five Colts games, and there's no guarantee he'll play this week, either.
Hilton returned from a calf injury against Houston two weeks ago but sat out last week after aggravating the injury in practice. He did not work out Wednesday and with only four regular-season games left, some wonder if he'll make it back this season.
"I'm doing everything I can to get back out there," Hilton said. "Ïf I can, I can and if I can't then I'm going to have to shut it down. But I'm doing everything I can."
Indy finished last week's game with only three healthy receivers after Chester Rogers suffered a season-ending knee injury on the Colts' opening series. Chad Williams was promoted from the practice squad earlier this week and the Colts could get more help if rookie Parris Campbell (hand) can play.
IN HIS SIGHTS
Arians has not committed to making Jameis Winston the long-term answer at quarterback for the Bucs.
Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard thinks Winston has everything it takes to thrive in that role, though.
The Colts' defensive leader provided his own scouting report, full of the intangibles he witnessed as the two worked out together during the offseason.
"He can throw the ball," Leonard said. "I know what kind of guy he is, I know what kind of leader he is and he's throwing the ball to a lot of his receivers. He knows how to make a play down the field. He's definitely one of those great quarterbacks."
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.