Thu Oct 3 8:40pm ET
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Pro Football Writer
New York Giants' Ryan Connelly, right, tackles Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Buffalo Bills in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
In this Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski looks at the scoreboard in the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tenn. The Patriots have placed kicker Stephen Gostkowski on injured reserve. The team announced the move Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 but didnt disclose the 35-year-olds injury. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)
Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden watches the game against the New York Giants during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants defeated the Redskins 24-3. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) One of these NFL franchises is not like the other. At all. On one side, there’s the New England Patriots: Led by Bill Belichick’s defense and Tom Brady at quarterback, they’re the reigning Super Bowl champs and just so happen to be 4-0 this season.
On the other? The Washington Redskins are 0-4, have a coach, Jay Gruden, that everyone assumes will be gone at the end of this season, if not sooner, and a starting QB spot that’s completely unsettled.
No wonder New England is favored by about two touchdowns on the road Sunday.
As of Thursday, no one knew for sure whether it would be Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins or Case Keenum taking snaps this weekend.
Redskins running back Chris Thompson made the case that such uncertainty at the sport’s most important position was not a big deal.
“That’s not something we think about. We’ve gone through OTAs and training camp. You get used to everybody. There’s not a player in here that hasn’t caught a pass from all three quarterbacks,” Thompson said. “Right now, it doesn’t affect anything. I don’t think it affects the morale of the team, the players, or anything like that.”
That’s certainly possible.
Still, it’s hardly the ideal way to prepare for Sunday’s game against the visiting Patriots and a defense that ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL, No. 2 against the run and No. 2 against the pass, and has allowed a grand total of one TD all season.
“We just got to keep staying hungry,” said Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after eight tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in a 16-10 win at Buffalo.
Their defense also leads the league with 10 interceptions - twice as many as any other club - and has 18 sacks, tied for the league lead.
New England is allowing 6.8 points per game, the fewest among the 32 teams. Washington, meanwhile, is giving up the second-most, 29.5.
“Everything that they do is different than any other team in the league. They can roll with seven DBs on one play, and then they’ll have five linebackers out there next. You just never know,” Thompson said about New England’s defense. “With them, it’s never situational. It’s never like, ‘Oh, it’s third-and-5, they’re going to put all their DBs out there.’ They might do it on second down, just for the heck of it. And everything they do, they’re sound and disciplined. It’s a big challenge, for sure. And the fact is, our offense hasn’t been the best, especially the last two weeks.”
That’s certainly true.
Washington puts up 16.5 points per game, keeps handing the ball to the opponent and has neither run nor passed all that effectively. Plays are there to be made, thanks to Gruden’s keen offensive mind, but they’re not always being made.
Keenum had five turnovers in Week 3, then threw a pick before yanked in Week 4; his replacement, first-round draft pick Haskins, threw a trio of interceptions in his NFL debut last week at the New York Giants.
McCoy hasn’t played since breaking his leg last season. If he’s deemed completely recovered, he might just get his chance to show what he can do in an offense he knows so well.
Whoever is at QB for them this week, the Redskins know full well how difficult things will be.
“We could sit here and make it about the Patriots, and we would be here all day: Super Bowls; best quarterback of all time; one of the greatest coaches of all time. I really don’t care about any of that,” Washington defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “I’m focused on what the Redskins have to do. ‘Cause if we don’t do what we’ve got to do, it doesn’t matter what they do, ‘cause we’re not going to win.”
Here are some other things to watch:
The Patriots will have someone other than Stephen Gostkowski kicking field goals and extra points for the first time since 2010 after placing the 35-year-old on IR this week and signing Mike Nugent to replace him. Gostkowski is the franchise’s career leading scorer, but he’s already missed four extra points in 2019. “I think sometimes the outside world doesn’t know what he means to our special teams unit and us as a team,” safety Devin McCourty said. “Just the stability at that position; we never waver if there’s a kick on the line.” New England is Nugent’s eighth NFL team.
The Redskins are still without their best offensive lineman, left tackle Trent Williams, who is holding out, and they have two other starters dealing with injuries: RG Brandon Scherff (ankle) and C Chase Roullier (knee).
TIGHT END HELP?
New England’s Ben Watson is eligible to make his regular-season debut after serving a four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance after last season. He signed a $3 million, one-year deal with the Patriots to help try to fill the hole created by the retirement of Rob Gronkowski. Without Gronk in the lineup, the Patriots are looking for a boost at tight end: Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse have four catches for 77 yards with no touchdowns this season.
NO RUNNING GAME
The Redskins are averaging 17 rushing attempts, the fewest in the NFL, and they rank 31st in average gain per carry, 2.9 yards. Adrian Peterson, who topped 1,000 yards last season, has 90 yards on 33 carries so far this season. “Sometimes it’s what the defense is doing. Got to pat those guys on the back,” Peterson said. “And sometimes it’s what we aren’t doing right, whether that’s from the running back position or the offensive line.”
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham gets a tough matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Graham has back-to-back 49-year receiving performances, but those games came against teams that struggle to defend the tight end position. The 49ers are not one of those teams. They allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends all season and were the league's stingiest pass defense. Maybe Graham makes a play in the red zone. Still, he's a cheaper DFS play but by no means a comfortable one.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (illness) is trending in the right direction to play in the NFC Championship game this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers. Even if available, Allison isn't an option in any fantasy format. The 25-year-old hasn't caught more than four passes in a game this season. It sure doesn't seem like he'll eclipse that mark against the league's best defense with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard (ankle) is currently questionable for the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. There's certainly a risk for injury, considering he re-aggravated the ankle in last week's playoff game. Still, it's hard to ignore the two-game stretch Lazard had to end the season, where he saw 17 targets. That alone makes him worth a gamble, particularly in a must-win game for a Packers team in desperate need of another threat at receiver. Just beware, the matchup isn't ideal. The 49ers allowed only 172 passing yards to the Vikings last week.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams gets a tough matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game this weekend. Adams produced only 43 receiving yards and a score against San Francisco in the regular season but still had 12 targets. The star receiver has seen double-digit targets in nine of 13 games played this year. There's not many receivers that you can virtually pencil in for double-digit targets- but Adams is one of them. If fellow receivers Geronimo Allison (illness) and Allen Lazard (ankle) suit up, they may be limited. Adams could be looking at more work than usual, even in a matchup this difficult.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense enter Championship weekend as the highest-priced fantasy defense. The Niners face the Green Bay Packers, who they demolished 37-8 in Week 12. In that previous contest, the Niners relentlessly harassed future Hall of Famer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, dropping him five times and forcing a fumble. The Packers were a meager one for 15 on third down conversions. The 49ers will need to follow that blueprint again in the critical NFC Championship to emerge victorious. With a higher-intensity contest expected, it could be difficult to splurge on a defense in fantasy compared to other addressable positions.
San Francisco 49ers wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders both offer solid fantasy value in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Both players were limited to under 45 yards apiece in last weekends Divisional Round blowout but were featured early on when the game was still in question. The rookie Samuel has emerged as a consistent dual threat in the latter half of 2019 and is likelier the safer floor. Sanders, the savvy vet has proven himself as a reliable chain-mover with big-play potential. Against the Packers 10th-best pass defense by DVOA, either option seem primed to pop in Sundays winner-take-all battle.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams will face off with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game this weekend. Williams has been playing second fiddle to Aaron Jones quite a lot recently, as he hasn't seen double-digit carries since Week 13 against the Giants. It's worth noting that Williams played a large role in the regular-season game against the 49ers, which saw him rack up 18 touches. Green Bay very well could utilize Williams in spurts to keep San Francisco guessing, though his recent downtrend in usage makes him hard to trust.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a reasonable DFS bet for Sundays NFC Championship matchup against the Green Bay Packers. Priced as the third-best quarterback, Jimmy G squares off against a strong Packers defensive line that ranked 12th-best in adjusted sack rate during the regular season. Garoppolo was not pressed into service in the Divisional Round blowout win, but will likely be tasked with a tougher test on Sunday. While the Niners have mostly ridden its dominant running game throughout the year, Garoppolo has answered the bell in multiple occasions with three four-touchdown games. With dangerous weapons surrounding him, Garoppolo shouldnt be ruled out in the biggest game of his career to-date.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game this weekend. The 49ers Defense held Jones to just 38 rushing yards in their regular-season meeting. However, the star back has been playing some seriously good football in his last five games, with 501 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He's also had 20-plus carries in three straight contests. Expect Green Bay to utilize Jones early and often in screens and runs to combat the 49ers mighty pass rush. Even if Jones doesn't pile up over 100 yards, his propensity to find the end zone and role in the passing game make him a safer play this weekend.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take on the San Francisco 49ers this weekend with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The 49ers Defense held Rodgers to just 104 passing yards and one touchdown in their regular-season meeting. However, there are a couple things that are different ahead of this matchup. First, tackle Bryan Bulaga will play in this game after being injured in the first quarter against the 49ers previously. Rodgers should have better protection than he had when these teams met. Secondly, Rodgers himself is playing better football than he was during the regular season before this matchup. He has 566 passing yards and four touchdowns in his last two contests. There is also the added motivation of denying a Super Bowl berth to the team that could have drafted him. Play Rodgers on Sunday, despite the tough matchup.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne is worth a gamble for Sundays NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Bourne scored the only receiving touchdown for the Niners in the Divisional Round, adding to his 2019 resume as a legitimate red-zone threat. The third-year pro has just 33 catches this year, including the playoffs, but collected six scores. Despite his risks as a zero-floor fantasy option, Bourne has emerged as a trustworthy target in clutch situations.
San Francisco 49ers running backs Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert are both bankable DFS options in Sundays NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. The two backs combined for 163 rushing yards in the Divisional Round, with Coleman riding a hot hand to two touchdowns. Considered a backup for the latter half of the regular season, Coleman played 46 percent of snaps last Sunday compared to Mosterts 34 percent. While the touch forecast for either back is cloudy, the Niners draw one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Packers ranked 23rd in rushing DVOA during the regular season with the second-worst defensive line in the league, yielding 4.96 adjusted yards per carry. With a likely floor of 10 touches for each Coleman and Mostert, both runners have great opportunities to make a splash.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (ankle) was a full participant in Thursdays practice and should be fine for Sundays NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Kittle scared Niner Nation with soreness on the left ankle he chipped earlier this year, but confirms he feels fabulous. Kittle factored more as a blocker in last Sundays Divisional Round blowout but the Niners passed just 19 times. The All-Pro is an integral piece in all facets of the offense so is worth his premium TE1 price in DFS on Sunday.
Detroit Lions WR Danny Amendola is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but he's a 'prime candidate' to be re-signed, in the opinion of The Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
Free-agent WR Antonio Callaway (Browns) signed with the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL Thursday, Jan. 16.
Kansas City Chiefs RB LeSean McCoy (illness) remained out of practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: McCoy played just one offensive snap in last week's Divisional Round game against the Houston Texans. He's clearly behind RB Damien Williams and is no longer worth starting.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Matt Moore (illness) and DT Chris Jones (calf) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. DT Khalen Saunders (knee), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder), CB Kendall Fuller (knee), DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (neck), C Austin Reiter (wrist) and G Andrew Wylie (ankle) practiced in full.
Green Bay Packers DL Kenny Clark (back), TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury), LB Preston Smith (ankle), FB Danny Vitale (knee) and CB Tramon Williams (non-injury) were limited participants in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. S Adrian Amos (chest), OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), WR Ryan Grant (non-injury), LB Blake Martinez (hand) and OL Billy Turner (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) remained limited at practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce earned a light practice week while catching 10 of 12 targets for 134 yards and three touchdowns against the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round. He's the week's top tight end option once against this week so long as he takes the field.
Tennessee Titans LB Jayon Brown (shoulder), LB Rashaan Evans (foot), WR Adam Humphries (ankle), CB Adoree' Jackson (foot), WR Cody Hollister (ankle) and OT Jack Conklin (shoulder) were limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 16. CB Logan Ryan (illness) and LB David Long Jr. (knee) participated in full.