Los Angeles Chargers tight end Virgil Green (88) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins warms up before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
CARSON, Calif. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings realize they can't stop to take a deep breath in the final three weeks of the regular season - not even at sea level on the sunny West Coast.
With the Green Bay Packers ahead of them in the NFC North and the Los Angeles Rams right on their tails in the wild-card race, the Vikings (9-4) might need to be perfect in their final three games just to make the playoffs.
The next stop on Minnesota's perilous path to the postseason is a suburban soccer stadium hosting its next-to-last NFL game. The Los Angeles Chargers (5-8) have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but they've got more than enough talent and motivation to worry the Vikings in their final road game of the regular season.
''It's the NFL, so you can't take no team lightly,'' Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said.
The Vikings have won seven of nine with an increasingly impressive offense and a playmaking defense, but they realize the Chargers are a danger not indicated by their record.
Los Angeles' eight losses have all been by seven points or fewer, leaving the Chargers out of the playoff race despite a plus-38 point differential and elite talent on both sides of the ball. The Bolts' late-game execution has doomed them repeatedly, while the Vikings pulled out a pair of narrow victories last month to kick-start their playoff push.
A loss by the Vikings would greatly benefit the Rams, who will be the Chargers' stadium roommates next season. That's not a motivation for the Bolts, who are still fighting for coach Anthony Lynn's stated goal to rally back to .500.
''We want to win for us,'' quarterback Philip Rivers said. ''Obviously, it's been tough with every loss by one score. We're playing for us, but certainly, there's a lot on the line for them. The Rams are pulling for us as well. It'll be a heck of a game.''
TRIPPING UP Road games on the West Coast have long been tricky for teams in the Central or Eastern time zones, and the Vikings have been no exception.
After losing 37-30 at Seattle two games ago, they're 1-6 on the road in the Mountain and Pacific time zones in six seasons under coach Mike Zimmer. Their last such win was at Oakland in 2015. Five of those losses were in night games, so the NFL did the Vikings a favor by recently moving this contest out of prime time and into the late afternoon slot.
Another category that could hinder the Vikings? The natural grass at Dignity Health Sports Park. They've won only one of seven games on grass over the last two seasons, at Philadelphia in 2018.
''Good football teams, no matter what comes at them, find a way to still get the job done,'' quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
The Chargers haven't played a home game since Nov. 3, and they have just two left in their temporary stadium south of downtown Los Angeles. While the Vikings are likely to have a serious fan turnout, the Bolts are used to that - and they're still grateful to be home for the next two weeks believing they can reset their mentality with a regular schedule.
Minnesota's Stefon Diggs is fifth in the NFL with an average of 17.8 yards per reception. When he's targeted on an attempt of 20 or more yards in the air, the passer rating of 139.2 is second best in the league behind only Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce. Diggs has seven catches of 40 or more yards, tied for second in the NFL with Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and trailing only Mike Williams of the Chargers with eight. His success with Cousins going deep has been a big reason the Vikings have won seven of their last nine games and stayed on track for the playoffs despite the loss of two-time Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen to a hamstring injury. Thielen has been limited to 16 snaps over the previous seven games.
''Be able to run routes at a high level, catch the ball and have success down the field is just part of the game that you work at, but I never wanted to be good at one thing. I just wanted to be a good receiver,'' Diggs said.
Thielen has practiced on a limited basis this week and could finally be at full strength again on Sunday. After the initial injury on Oct. 20 at Detroit, he had a false start on Nov. 3 at Kansas City that forced him out again in the first quarter, making the Vikings extra cautious about his return. The Vikings have averaged 27 points over their last seven games.
''I'm excited. The only thing you're worried about is, `Hey, we've got a good rhythm going, you know?''' Cousins said, smiling. ''It does feel different when you have him back. It has a different dynamic, so you just joke with him, `Hey, don't rock the boat too much.'''
Keep an eye on the matchup between Vikings sack machine Danielle Hunter and the Chargers' offensive tackles. While left tackle Russell Okung is usually rock-solid, right tackle Sam Tevi is learning on the job and has given up too many chances to get at the relatively static Rivers. Hunter is tied for fourth in the league with 12 1/2 sacks after becoming the youngest player to reach 50 career sacks last week.
The Jacksonville Jaguars plan to hire former Redskins head coach Jay Gruden as their next offensive coordinator, according to sources. A deal isn't officially done, but the Jaguars are very close to adding Gruden in the role. The biggest question for Jacksonville's offense heading into the 2020 season will be who is the starter under center, Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew. Leonard Fournette can be an effective bell-cow back in the backfield if he can stay healthy, while the Jags have a nice three-receiver mix in place of D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. The Jaguars finished 2019 with 341.8 yards per game, 235 passing yards per game, 106.8 rushing yards per game and only 18.8 points per game. Gruden's addition is good news for this very mediocre offense across the board.
Free-agent TE Evan Baylis (Packers), OT Cody Conway (Packers), RB Damarea Crockett (Packers), CB Kabion Ento (Packers), TE James Looney (Packers), LB Randy Ramsey (Packers), WR Darrius Shepherd (Packers), QB Manny Wilkins (Packers) and LB Tim Williams (Packers) signed Reserve/Future contracts with the Green Bay Packers Tuesday, Jan. 21. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell seems confident that the team will re-sign defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Jacksonville wants Ngakoue back, and Caldwell said something "should be done hopefully relatively easily." He'd become one of the top pass rushers available if he hits the open market after logging 37.5 sacks, 85 quarterback hits and 42 tackles for loss in 63 games since being a third-round pick in 2016. Retaining Ngakoue is the top priority for the Jaguars this offseason as they look to build their defense back up around the ferocious pass rusher.
Jacksonville Jaguars impending free-agent DE Yannick Ngakoue is the top priority for the Jaguars this offseason, and general manager David Caldwell said he hopes the two sides will be able to reach an agreement relatively easily.
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (ankle, knee) will not need surgery on his ankle or knee this offseason, according to head coach Pete Carroll.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch's (neck) surgery "went well." "I feel really good about it. I feel really good about him making a full recovery and being ready to participate in everything," Jones said. The second-year linebacker should be good to go for the team's offseason workouts after missing the final five games of the 2019 season. He recorded a total of 72 tackles (43 solo), half a sack and one forced fumble in his nine games played. LVE was a beast his rookie season with 140 total tackles, and he could return to being an IDP force again in 2020 if he can just stay on the field.
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.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman (shoulder) had a minor shoulder surgery last week, but he's expected to be ready for the offseason program.
Fantasy Spin: Edelman's fantasy value will hinge largely on whether Tom Brady returns to the team. Edelman should be a low-end WR2 in PPR formats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) will be unable to participate in the Pro Bowl due to a lingering hamstring injury. He'll be replaced by Detroit Lions WR Kenny Golladay.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip) isn't expected to have surgery this offseason and will play in the Pro Bowl.
Fantasy Spin: Landry had a career-high 1,174 receiving yards to go with 83 grabs and six scores. The 27-year-old played in all 16 games for the sixth straight year and will be a low-end WR2 option in drafts next year.
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.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. (abdomen) underwent surgery to repair his core muscle Tuesday, Jan. 21, in Philadelphia. He dealt with the injury for multiple weeks during the season.
Fantasy Spin: OBJ had a miserable season by his standards after most likely being a top-five pick. It's not a lock that he returns to the Browns after considerable drama that comes along with his immense talent. He's a risky fantasy asset because of that, but he'll be a WR1 in drafts again next year.
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.