Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) reacts to a question during a post-game news conference after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) is pended by New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, left, shakes hands with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston after an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) reacts after throwing an interception to New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen, right, speak following an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. The Falcons won 29-3. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (24) chases Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill (23) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill (23) scores a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers while wide receiver Justin Hardy (14) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) misses a tackle by New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) on a 30-yard touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
ATLANTA (AP) In a way, the 2020 season has already begun for the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With six weeks to go, neither team has a realistic path to the playoffs.
Sunday's game will be as much about the future as the present.
The Falcons (3-7) want to keep building on their stunning turnaround the past two weeks. After a six-game losing streak, they bounced back with perhaps the most surprising result of the season - a 26-9 upset at first-place New Orleans - followed by a 29-3 rout at Carolina.
Beginning a stretch of three straight home games, the Falcons can gain additional momentum heading into next season - and perhaps remove lingering doubts about coach Dan Quinn's job status.
''Yes, we wish we had been playing like this earlier in the season,'' Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said. ''But, man, we've just got to take it for what it is, know that we're doing it now, and try to finish out the season the way we know we can.''
Tampa Bay (3-7) has the same record but is heading in the opposite direction with five losses in its past six games.
The Bucs' biggest issue is whether to stick with quarterback Jameis Winston, who is earning nearly $21 million in the final year of the contract he signed as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2015.
Winston has thrown for 300-plus yards in a franchise-record five consecutive games, but that's only part of the story. He was intercepted four times in last Sunday's 34-17 loss to New Orleans and leads the NFL with 22 turnovers, including 18 picks.
The fifth-year pro knows that he's got to clean up his game - and he may be running out of time to do it in Tampa Bay.
''Whether (the turnovers are) coming from me, whether it's anybody else - it's always my fault,'' Winston said. ''I'm the quarterback.''
Coach Bruce Arians sent a message to a roster filled with younger players when he released 2016 first-round draft choice Vernon Hargreaves for failing to hustle on a long pass completion.
''Nobody likes losing, but I'll never stop fighting,'' receiver Mike Evans said. ''We're going to fight until the end and live with the results.''
Some things to watch for in Sunday's game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium:
Evans and Chris Godwin have combined for 121 receptions and 1,880 yards - the most receiving yards by a pair of teammates through 10 games since Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders (2,059) in 2014.
Evans is second in the NFL with 993 yards, seven shy of joining Hall of Famer Randy Moss as the only players to begin a career with six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Godwin has 63 catches for 887 yards. Both have seven TDs, tied for fourth in the league.
The Falcons have their own dynamic duo at receiver.
Six-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones has 59 receptions for 882 yards, while 2018 first-round pick Calvin Ridley hauled in eight catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in the victory over Carolina.
''If you like wide receiver play, this is the game to watch,'' Quinn said. ''Both teams are capable of making explosive plays.''
ON THE BRINK
After a 2-2 start, the Bucs are closing in on missing the playoffs for the 12th consecutive season. Only the Cleveland Browns, who haven't earned a berth since 2002, have a longer postseason drought.
''We know that we have the talent,'' tight end O.J. Howard said. ''We've just got to put it all together and stop beating ourselves.''
The Falcons might look to Kenjon Barner to bolster the running game if Devonta Freeman continues to be hampered by an injured toe. Brian Hill got the start in Carolina but managed only 30 yards on 15 carries.
Barner had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown - earning NFC special teams player of the week honors - and got two carries for 15 yards in his limited time with the offense.
''I'm a versatile guy. I can run the ball. I can catch the ball. I can run routes out of the backfield,'' Barner said. ''I bring a lot to the table.''
The Falcons will need to keep an eye on Tampa Bay linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who ranks second in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks.
''On a team that has a very good front seven in a number of spots, he stands out,'' Quinn said.
The Falcons have suddenly found a knack for getting to the quarterback after managing an NFL-low seven sacks through their first eight games. They piled up 11 sacks in their past two victories, led by Adrian Clayborn, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett.
RICO'S NEW POSITION
The Falcons improved play in the secondary can partly be attributed to a position change for Allen, who shifted from free to strong safety a few weeks ago.
One of the team's most respected players and vocal leaders, Allen believes he's in better position to influence the game at strong safety.
''As a free safety, you're just like the anchor of the defense,'' Allen said. ''Sometimes, you don't get any work. Now, I'm more in the mix. I'm covering backs. I'm covering tight ends. I'm covering receivers. I'm blitzing. I'm playing zone. I'm showing how versatile I am.''
While the Falcons have shown improvement against the pass, the Bucs' secondary is a mess.
Tampa Bay ranks next-to-last in the NFL in both yards allowed (290.9 yards per game) and TD passes surrendered (25). That doesn't bode well against Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who last week moved up to No. 10 on the league's career list for passing yards.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller recorded just three catches for 42 yards against the Cowboys but hauled in a touchdown toss from Mitch Trubisky midway through the third quarter. Though the 25-year-old had a much more efficient outing on Thanksgiving against the Lions, he continued to benefit from the absence of Taylor Gabriel (concussion), who has now missed the last two games. Keep on eye on Gabriel's status moving ahead, and if he is out against the Packers in Week 15, Miller should continue to have a place on fantasy rosters in deeper formats.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson had five catches for 48 yards and two touchdowns during the win over Dallas on Thursday. Robinson picked up both of his touchdowns in the second quarter and has now scored four times over the last three weeks while also combining for 30 targets during that span. He should continue to benefit from the absence of Taylor Gabriel (concussion), who has sat out the last two games, so keep an eye on his status leading up to the Week 15 matchup against Green Bay.
Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen pulled in all six of his targets for 24 yards in the win over the Cowboys. He also had seven yards off of three carries. Once again, Cohen did little on the ground as David Montgomery served as the workhorse on Thursday by logging 86 yards on 20 attempts. After scoring a touchdown in each game against the Lions and Rams, the 24-year-old hasn't done much over the last three weeks outside of picking up the scraps left over by Montgomery, Allen Robinson, and Anthony Miller. He is good for the occasional score, but don't expect much against the Packers in Week 15 or throughout the remainder of the year, for that matter.
Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery ran for 86 yards on 20 carries during the win over the Cowboys on Thursday night. Montgomery once again outpaced Tarik Cohen, who had just three carries for seven yards, and maintained a respectable 4.3 yards per carry against a Cowboys Defense that has played decently against opposing backs this season. Next up for him is a Week 15 matchup against Green Bay, with the 22-year-old rushing for just 18 yards on six carries against the Packers back in Week 1.
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky finished with 244 yards on 23-for-31 passing while adding four touchdowns and an interception during the win over the Cowboys on Thursday. Trubisky shook off an early interception by tossing three touchdowns on the night, two of which went to Allen Robinson in the second quarter, before running one in off of a 23-yard attempt early in the fourth. While turnovers have been an issue (at times) for the 25-year-old, he has now compiled seven total touchdowns over the last two games. Nonetheless, things will get tougher in Week 15 against Green Bay, with Trubisky going 26-for-45 for 228 yards and a pick against the Packers back in Week 1.
Detroit Lions rookie quarterback David Blough will get the start in Week 14 when the Lions travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. With Matthew Stafford (back) unlikely to return this season and Jeff Driskel (hamstring) placed on the injured reserve, it looks like it will be all Blough from here on out. Those who advanced to the fantasy playoffs are likely not going to be putting their hopes into a rookie quarterback starting for just the second time of his career, but the Lions quarterback situation is terrible news for Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones going forward. Both receivers caught touchdown passes with Blough under center last week, but that cannot be expected on a weekly basis. Blough's performance was impressive, especially given the circumstances, but removing the first quarter of last week's game from the equation paints a much uglier picture, as he was only able to lead the Lions to two field goals the rest of the way. Blough is not a recommended start this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is coming off a very disappointing performance in Week 13, but that shouldn't hold fantasy owners back from going right back to him in Week 14 against the Indianapolis Colts. Winston was only able to pass for 268 yards with no scores last week, but he should have no problem moving the ball against a bend-but-don't-break defense that gives up plenty of yards. Prior to last week's flop, the fifth-year signal-caller was averaging 324 passing yards and two scores per game since the Bucs bye and has put up QB1 numbers the entire season. Winston will comfortably slot in as a QB1 heading into the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
The Dallas Cowboys Defense struggled mightily in a Week 14 loss to the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys defense seemed unable to stop the Bears on any third down play. Eternally struggling Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky threw three touchdown passes and ran for 63 yards and another touchdown. The Cowboys defense only intercepted him once and recorded just two sacks. A previously hyped fantasy unit, the Cowboys defense should probably be avoided for the remainder of the fantasy playoffs.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin caught six passes in Week 14, gaining 50 yards. Jarwin was targeted seven times, finishing third on the team. Jarwin's usage this season has been very unpredictable, but he has shown the ability to play a decent game when given the chance. He could have more fantasy relevance next season if Jason Witten were to retire again.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber rewarded fantasy owners who were brave enough to start him in Week 13, but a repeat of his two-touchdown performance, or even something close to it, is hard to envision heading into the first week of the fantasy playoffs. The Bucs backfield is a weekly guessing game with head coach Bruce Arians still refusing to commit to Barber or Ronald Jones. That makes it extremely hard to trust Barber, especially in a do-or-die situation for fantasy owners. Barber has a tough task on his hands regardless this week with the Indianapolis Colts coming to town. The Colts have given up the seventh-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season, with only one back going over the century mark on the ground. Barber is not a recommended start this week.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten caught five passes in Week 14, gaining 37 yards. It was a classic late-career Jason Witten game, where he caught most of the balls thrown his way right before falling to the ground. Witten saw seven targets, tied with fellow tight end Blake Jarwin for third on the team. Jarwin was able to come up with one more catch and gain 13 more yards, however. Witten has shown a consistent non-zero floor, which is at least something in the thoroughly empty fantasy position that is 2019 tight end, but he's been unable to establish any sort of ceiling in the meantime.
Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher, already leading the league in missed field goals, missed another one in a Week 14 loss to the Chicago Bears. Maher made all three of his extra points and did make a 31 yarder at the end of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys tried out kickers last week and might do a bit more of that this coming week. Maher may not be long for the Cowboys roster.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup had a strong game in Week 14, catching six passes for 109 yards. He led the team in yardage and with the 10 targets thrown his way, and tied for the team lead with six catches. Gallup did a lot of work after the catch in this one, and was a touchdown away from an enormous game in the first week of the fantasy playoffs. He'll continue as a strong WR2 through Week 17.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper scored a fourth quarter touchdown in a Week 14 loss to the Chicago Bears. Cooper caught six passes for 83 yards on a total of eight targets. Cooper's six catches tied for the team lead, and his was the only receiving touchdown of the night for Dallas. His score came on a nice 19-yard pass from Dak Prescott near the end of the fourth quarter. Cooper showed some signs of still working through the injuries that have limited him of late, but he was still able to get work done against a strong Chicago defense.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Randall Cobb was targeted five times in Week 14, but was only able to come down with two catches. He gained a respectable 43 yards with the two catches, but in a game that he was predicted as a sneaky fantasy option, he ended up disappointing. While Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup were able to do their work on the field, Cobb fell behind and looks to be over his recent hot streak. He'll likely fall back into fantasy irrelevance in most standard leagues.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott performed decently in fantasy terms in Week 14 despite losing to the Chicago Bears. Prescott attempted 49 passes, completing 27 of them for 334 yards and a touchdown. Prescott's only touchdown came on a 19-yard pass to Amari Cooper near the end of the fourth quarter. It wasn't a great performance in general from Prescott, but given a strong Bears Defense on the other side, things could certainly have been worse.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott scored two touchdowns on the ground in a Week 14 to the Chicago Bears. Elliott ran the ball 19 times, gaining 81 yards. He added two catches for 12 yards on five targets. Elliott stayed on the field the whole game with Tony Pollard (ankle) inactive. Elliott's first touchdown was a two-yard run in the first quarter, and his second was another two-yard run at the end of the third.
Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller broke out of a five-game drought in Week 13, recording his first 100-game since Week 7. He'll have a good opportunity to repeat his seven-catch performance from last week versus a Titans Defense that has allowed the seventh-most points to the TE position this season. They were burned by Jack Doyle (6/73/1) and Travis Kelce (7/75/1) in recent weeks, while Waller has remained the favored target of Derek Carr all season long. With Josh Jacobs questionable for Sunday's game, the offense may need to rely on the air attack to win this game, which would be excellent news for Waller owners. Treat the 26-year-old as a high-volume TE1 for Week 14.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams is coming off his worst game of the season (1/9/0), and his Week 14 matchup doesn't appear that encouraging either. The Titans have allowed the sixth-most passing yards in the league (260.1 YPG), but have kept opposing WRs out of the end zone in five of their last seven contests. Quarterback Derek Carr has also struggled of late, which has limited Williams to five consecutive games without a score and no 100-yard games since Week 1. Treat the veteran as a WR4 as we enter the first week of fantasy playoffs.
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is coming off back-to-back underwhelming performances as the Tennessee Titans come to town for a pivotal matchup this weekend. With both teams in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, the Raiders will need Carr to improve on his recent play with Josh Jacobs questionable for this Sunday. The Titans give up the sixth-most passing yards in the league (260.1 YPG), but have only allowed opposing quarterbacks to reach 20+ fantasy points three times through 13 games. Carr has just two of these games to his credit this season, so the stars aren't exactly aligning for a big performance. With a 3:4 TD to INT ratio over his past four games, treat the veteran as a low-end QB2 for Week 14.