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."
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.
Green Bay Packers WR Geronimo Allison (illness) was limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: It's an upgrade for Allison after he missed Wednesday's practice. He's likely to be limited for much of the week but should ultimately suit up for Sunday, Jan. 19's NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. He made just one catch for 11 yards last week against the Seattle Seahawks and isn't worth much more than a desperation flier.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (non-injury) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Graham has caught seven of 11 total targets across his last two games, recording 49 receiving yards in each game. He hasn't found the end zone since Week 7 and doesn't possess much touchdown upside, but the Packers have few better options in the passing game outside of WR Davante Adams. He could be a sneaky play at a thin position.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (elbow) practiced in full Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: It's Coleman's second straight full practice, and he should be good to go for the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 19. He's coming off one of his best games of the season, and he'll be worth starting once again in all formats.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (calf) was a full participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert's on track to play in the NFC Championship Sunday, Jan. 19. He took a back seat to RB Tevin Coleman in the Divisional Round game against the Minnesota Vikings, but he was still able to rack up 58 yards and 12 carries. He's worth starting, but Coleman should be viewed as the better option.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) and DL Dee Ford (quadriceps, hamstring) were limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 16.