Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, right, catches a pass ahead of New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, center, and cornerback Jonathan Jones, left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)
New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) tries to break a tackle by Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen scrambles during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott watches from the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The most recent time the Bills faced the Patriots, they left little doubt about their status as the pacesetter in the AFC East.
Buffalo walked off the field with a 47-17 win in the wild-card round of the playoffs this past January, demoralizing a New England team that was celebrating being back in the postseason after a one-year absence.
The Bills (8-3) will look to add to their recent run of success in a rivalry once dominated by the Patriots (6-5) during their latest trip to New England.
Buffalo enters Thursday night's matchup the winners of three of the past four regular-season meetings and is in second place in the AFC's only division in which all four teams are above .500.
But it has yet to notch a division win with close losses to Miami and the New York Jets. Both setbacks were on the road, a fact not lost on quarterback Josh Allen.
''Division games, you got to win them,'' Allen said. ''We know our record this year in them. It's not easy going on the road and playing in division games. We got to understand that and be ready for it again, a hostile environment.''
For New England, which is coming off its best offensive performance since quarterback Mac Jones returned from an ankle injury, the approach has been to remember but not fixate on last year's playoff debacle.
''I'm not going to just dwell on something that's in the past, but it was definitely in my mind how we ended the season last year,'' running back Rhamondre Stevenson said. ''I feel like we get to go out and put a different game on film.''
Thursday's game will be the third in 12 days for the Patriots, coming off having their season-best three-game winning streak ended in a 33-26 loss on Thanksgiving at Minnesota.
Back in last place in the division, it's left little room for error with six games remaining.
''We're going to need to play our best game and that's what we're going to prepare to do this week,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
The injury bug has migrated around the Bills' defense this season. The latest to be affected is top pass rusher Von Miller after he was ruled out with a knee injury.
Miller leads the team with eight sacks, but left Buffalo's 28-25 win over Detroit on Thanksgiving. It creates a big hole for a unit that has allowed just 18.1 points per game this season, the fifth fewest allowed in the NFL.
Coach Sean McDermott acknowledged it will be one of their toughest adjustments yet.
''He's a future hall of famer for a reason,'' McDermott said. ''That said, we've got to move forward this week. And the person or the people responsible to step in and step up have got to do the job, and that's the way it goes.''
The news isn't all bad. Buffalo's other starting defensive end Greg Rousseau started the week as a full participant in practices after missing the previous three games with a high ankle sprain.
''We've got to hold together,'' defensive tackle Ed Oliver said. ''Von did the same thing for us.''
If the Patriots are going to snap their two-game losing streak to Buffalo, it may start with forcing the Bills to punt the ball.
Buffalo scored on all seven of its drives without punting in last season's playoff win and went nine possessions without punting in its 33-21 regular-season victory.
''We went out there and it was negative-1 (degrees) and went out there and basically got our face kicked in,'' Patriots safety Adrian Phillips said. ''It's a big deal, but at the same time you can't let that consume you. It's a whole new team, a whole different mindset.''
Patriots team owner Robert Kraft interrupted McCourty's weekly news conference this week to present him with a photo collage in commemoration of what will be his 200th game for New England on Thursday.
The collage was made up of photos of McCourty from each of his previous 199 appearances for the Patriots over 13 seasons - all starts. It ranks third in team history behind only Bruce Armstrong (212 starts) and Tom Brady (283 starts).
''I came in here as a young pup and accomplishments didn't matter - individual accomplishments,'' McCourty said. ''But it's been a heck of a journey. I'm enjoying every moment of it.''
He's also still contributing in a big way, entering the week tied with Harrison Smith for the most interceptions among all active NFL players with 33.
The Patriots are 26-4 when McCourty has an INT in a regular-season game.
Interview with TFC Winner
Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has been a hot commodity in this year's coaching carousel, interviewing for head-coach openings with the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans. Now that the Panthers have hired Frank Reich, they have requested to interview Evero again, but this time for the team's vacant defensive coordinator position. The Minnesota Vikings would also like to interview Evero for their defensive coordinator job, but Denver has not yet granted either team permission. The 42-year-old Evero remains firmly in the mix as a candidate for Arizona and Indianapolis, but because he is still under contract with the Broncos, it seems that the organization would be reluctant to let him go should he not be hired elsewhere as a head coach.
University of Texas running back Bijan Robinson is widely considered to be the best prospect at his position in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Although a running back has not been selected higher than pick 24 since Saquon Barkley in 2018, ESPN's Mel Kiper stated that he believes Robinson will be drafted in the first round. Kiper went on to describe Robinson as "top-10 caliber" in this year's draft. The 21-year-old possesses an elite three-down skillset, posting 3,410 rushing yards, 60 receptions, 805 receiving yards, and 41 total touchdowns in his three collegiate seasons. Robinson figures to make an immediate impact on any team willing to spend up to get him on April 27th.
Dynasty | Zach Wilson will likely remain with the Jets organization in hopes that he can develop in a backup role Dynasty Analysis: The article plainly points out that the Jets have exactly two choices: 1) Release him or, 2) Keep him; Wilson has no trade value. With a very palatable $3.8M expense for 2023, there's little reason for the team to move on and Wilson, for his part, appears determine to get better. There's a big difference between NFL reality and fantasy reality. A veteran backup would also exceed the cost of Wilson. He's been so bad under-center and without blue skies on the horizon, he's a difficult hold in dynasty. Amazingly, Wilson still possesses a QB25 ranking but is in steep decline and he'll likely fall as the quarterback situation in New York becomes more clear. At this juncture, Zach Wilson is a fading dynasty asset and, arguably, may only be a roster candidate in deeper dynasty leagues.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith is fresh off a career-best season and is now in pursuit of a long-term contract as a pending free agent. It has been reported for a few weeks that the Seahawks are expected to bring the 32-year-old back, and the two sides have begun negotiations since falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. "It's looking very good," Smith said of his contract discussions with Seattle on Pro Bowl Live on SiriusXM NFL Radio. Smith also stated that he has a great relationship with the organization and loves the city. Assuming talks continue trending in a positive direction, a deal is likely to get done before March 15th, when free agency officially begins.
The Baltimore Ravens interviewed Georgia offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Todd Monken for a second time on Friday for their offensive coordinator opening, according to sources. Monken is one of a handful of candidates that have received a second interview with the Ravens, and he also interviewed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' open offensive coordinator position. Other candidates that the Ravens have been considering include Eric Bieniemy, Dave Canales, Doug Nussmeier, Zac Robinson, Justin Outten, Chad O'Shea, James Urban and George Godsey. Monkey previously served as an offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns. Baltimore's next OC will get to work with one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league in Lamar Jackson.
The Denver Broncos officially signed new head coach Sean Payton to a five-year deal on Friday, tying him to the team through the 2027 season, according to sources. In order to pry Payton away from the New Orleans Saints, who he was still under contract with, the Broncos had to fork over a 2023 first-rounder and a 2024 second-rounder to the Saints. Denver fired first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett midway through the 2022 season after a disappointing start that saw quarterback Russell Wilson have the worst season of his career. While the Broncos still have some interesting weapons on offense and a solid unit on defense, Payton will have plenty of work to do to get Wilson back on track in 2023 and beyond.
The Athletic's Matt Barrows writes that he'd be very surprised if the San Francisco 49ers trade wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk this offseason. The Niners are light on receivers, and Danny Gray didn't light up the stat sheet in 2022. If the team picks up Aiyuk's fifth-year option in May, he'll be under contract for two more years. Barrows thinks the 49ers will hold tight in 2023 and start considering a contract extension in 2024. The 24-year-old posted career-highs in catches (78), targets (114), receiving yards (1,015) and touchdowns (eight) in 17 regular season starts in his third NFL season while working with quarterbacks Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy. With more stability under center potentially in 2023, Aiyuk could be just as good, if not better, for fantasy managers.
The Las Vegas Raiders have already granted quarterback Derek Carr permission to speak with other teams interested in trading for him that have also agreed to compensation with the Raiders, according to sources. It's the same arrangement the Houston Texans had with quarterback Deshaun Watson last offseason before he was dealt to the Cleveland Browns. Carr said on Thursday at the Pro Bowl that he wouldn't be extending the Feb. 15 deadline for $40.4 million in guarantees, so the Raiders would have to outright release him if they can't find a trade partner by that date. Either way, the 31-year-old veteran will draw plenty of interest from a handful of teams seeking upgrades under center heading into 2023. Carr's fantasy value next season will all depend on where he winds up.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (ankle, leg) said that he wouldn't be focusing on his throwing mechanics early in the offseason. "I feel like I'm in a really good spot," Lance said. He plans to remain in Santa Clara, Calif., for around the next three weeks to finish up his rehab before working on some other things. "I feel like I've got a much better plan this offseason. I said the same things last year. But even more (this year). As the years go on they get better just in knowing what they want from me and where I feel I'm at my best." Jimmy Garoppolo is a free agent and won't be returning, and Brock Purdy (elbow) may not be full go by training camp after tearing his UCL in the NFC Championship game. Lance, who is the former first-rounder, feels like the early favorite this offseason to open 2023 as San Fran's starting QB, if he's healthy.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) didn't practice all week and is listed as doubtful to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 12, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hardman really wants to play in the big game and has been seeking second opinions after aggravating a core injury in the AFC Championship win over the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend. The AFC Championship contest was Hardman's first game action since initially suffering a core injury in Week 9. All signs are pointing toward him missing the big game next Sunday, but that could change if he's able to return to practice at some point next week. The Chiefs are banged up at the position with JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) also questionable to play against the Eagles.
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) was held out of practice on Friday as a precaution, and the expectation is that he will be ready to play in Super Bowl LVII against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, according to a league source. Maddox was seen with a walking boot on his left foot after missing more than a month late in the year with a toe injury. The 26-year-old played only 19 defensive snaps in the NFC Championship win over the San Francisco 49ers last weekend, but it sounds as though he'll be available to play in the big game. Still, even if Maddox is active for the Eagles secondary, Josiah Scott could see more slot duties if Maddox isn't 100 percent.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) both missed practice all week and are listed as questionable for the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12. Smith-Schuster and Toney were both forced out of the AFC Championship early with injuries, but the Chiefs remain optimistic that they will both be available for the Super Bowl after another week to rest up. Mecole Hardman (pelvis) also missed practice all week and is doubtful to play in the big game, so if Smith-Schuster and/or Toney are limited or out for the Super Bowl, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, rookie Skyy Moore and Justin Watson would be asked to step up in the passing game.
Dynasty | According to The Athletic, the belief is that the Rams would like to "build off" what Cam Akers was able to accomplish late in the 2022 season Dynasty Analysis: It's music to the ears of dynasty coaches rostering Akers. Following a tumultuous year in which the back appeared to be on the way out, he returned to the team, the Rams summarily released Darrell Henderson, and Akers performed as most fantasy players expected he would to start the season. The 23-year-old runner scored six touchdowns over his final six games and finished the season with three 100-yard performances, while also chipping in with six receptions. Listed as DLF's RB31, it's obvious dynasty coaches remain stung by the mid-season drama, but enterprising coaches who took advantage of plummeting risk-on opportunity may be rewarded with a young upside runner who could turn in RB1 production in 2023. The fact remains that Sean McVay remains one of the NFL's most mercurial coaches and when it comes to running backs, any back in the team's room is risk-on.
Dynasty | Aaron Rodgers is still in play for the Raiders Dynasty Analysis: The story reads more as possibility than probability while connecting the dots should Rodgers choose to depart Green Bay. The belief is the Raiders, instead, will select a rookie thrower in the first two rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft to be groomed behind a short-term veteran starter. The cost to acquire Rodgers, now 39, will be sky high and the team may wish to simply do a full reboot at the position. Rodgers, DLF's QB14 has yet to indicate whether he plans on staying, going or retiring.
New York Giants defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is considered a a front-runner for the Indianapolis Colts' head-coaching job, according to a source. The Colts are considering a rare third round of interviews with a select few finalist following an extensive second round of interviews that includes nine candidates. The Colts fired Frank Reich in the middle of the 2022 season, and interim head coach Jeff Saturday remains in play for the full-time job despite going 1-7 down the stretch. If the Giants lose Martindale, they could take a look at Lou Anarumo, Steve Wilks, Sean Desai or Jerome Henderson for their defensive coordinator position.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that the team will be starting over at kicker in 2023, meaning they will move on from kicker Brett Maher. The 33-year-old will become a free agent next month, but the Cowboys won't be re-signing him after he famously missed six of his final seven extra-point attempts in the team's final three games. It was a tough way to close out his season after he made 29 of his 32 field-goal tries during the regular season, which was timed for third in the NFL. Maher should get another shot with another team in 2023, but it won't guarantee that he'll be fantasy relevant like he was with the Cowboys before he got the yips to close out the year.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (hernia) underwent sports-hernia surgery earlier this week, he announced on his official Instagram page. Robinson will become an unrestricted free agent next month, but the injury shouldn't limit him much, if at all, for offseason workouts. The 28-year-old was needed to step up for the Ravens in 2022 due to a season-ending injury to No. 1 receiver Rashod Bateman (foot). In 17 regular season games for Baltimore, Robinson recorded a career-high 48 receptions on a career-high 75 targets for 458 yards and two touchdowns. He became fantasy relevant for managers hurting at the receiver position, but Robinson will be more of a long shot for more playing time in 2023, depending on where he lands in free agency.
Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki is headed for unrestricted free agency in March and is expected to sign elsewhere. From the moment the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel as head coach, Gesicki's fit in the offense was questioned. Playing on the $10.9 million franchise tag in 2023, he finished with his fewest snaps, receptions (32) and receiving yards (362) since his rookie season. The 28-year-old's fantasy stock obviously took a huge hit this past season, but with a change of scenery and a better fit in a new offense, he could easily become attractive again to fantasy managers if he finds himself in the right situation. Under McDaniel, Miami's two-tight end usage rate dropped precipitously from the 2021 season.
New Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans was non-committal on a plan at quarterback during his introductory press conference, but he did say that the team plans to add to the position this offseason. Davis Mills was benched for two games in 2022 and replaced by Kyle Allen before regaining the starting role to close out the year. But Mills regressed in his second NFL season, completing 61% of his passes for 3,118 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Houston will have salary cap space and the second and 12th overall picks in the first round, so they could take a signal-caller early in the draft. Mills is currently the only QB under contract with Allen and Jeff Driskel set to be free agents in March. Depending on what the team does at the position, Mills could be headed for backup duties in 2023.
Dynasty | Derek Carr would be guaranteed his $40.4M salary if he remains on the Raiders roster on Feb. 15th. Dynasty Analysis: Carr has said he's not willing to extend that deadline and his contract also possesses a no trade clause. The Raiders essentially sealed their fate after benching Carr late in the season and now it appears they will simply have to release the veteran. While a trade is still possible, the team has yet to allow Carr's camp to speak with potential suitors. Soon to be a free agent, he'll be arguably the top name on the quarterback market and free to choose his own landing spot. Listed as DLF's QB19 and still only 31 years of age, there's every chance Derek Carr finds success with his next team.