Thu Dec 12 6:12pm ET
By KEITH JENKINS
AP Sports Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Heading into the season opener between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, nobody knew what to expect from first-year coach Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.
Fourteen weeks later, it's still a mystery.
Green Bay is on top of the NFC North heading into Sunday's home game against Chicago despite an inconsistent performance by Rodgers and company. There have been flashes of high-level offensive play, and some lackluster performances as well.
Rodgers has a passer rating of over 100.0 in four different games this season, but also four with under 90.0. Running back Aaron Jones has four games with at least 150 yards from scrimmage and five with fewer than 50. Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling emerged early on as the top contender for the No. 2 spot behind Davante Adams. But the 6-foot-4 speedster has two catches for 11 yards over the last six weeks. The Packers have scored 30 or more points in four games but also scored 20 or fewer in four other outings.
''The only difference between where we're at now at 10-3 and being a dangerous force that can make a run deep into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl is that consistency,'' Rodgers said Wednesday. ''If anything that will be the deciding factor on our fate here these next seven or eight weeks. Can we find that consistency in both the run and the pass game?''
Green Bay (10-3) closes the season with three games against divisional opponents. First up is the 200th meeting with Chicago (7-6). The last time the Packers faced divisional foes in the last three weeks was 2016. They went 3-0.
''We have the guys, for sure, and the guys in specific roles,'' Rodgers said. ''But it's the 11 being consistent that's going to take us from where we are now to where we all want to go.''
The Bears' defense took another big hit in last week's win over Dallas when linebacker Roquan Smith tore a pectoral muscle. The No. 8 pick in the 2018 draft will miss the remainder of the season.
Without Smith and veteran Danny Trevathan, who has been out since Nov. 10 with an elbow injury, Chicago figures to go with Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis at inside linebacker.
''Well, 44 (Kwiatkoski), I've always thought he's been a really solid player,'' Rodgers said. ''I don't want to butcher his last name. But he rocked me a couple years ago and I know where 44's at most times when he's in the game. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he's played and his approach to the game. He's been backing up both Danny and Roquan this season and he does a hell of a job. He's a great player. So, we'll see.''
But the Bears could get a lift from defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who is eligible to return after an eight-week stay on injured reserve. A Pro Bowl pick last season, Hicks dislocated his elbow against Oakland in London on Oct. 6.
''I knew it was coming and prepared accordingly,'' Hicks said. ''One of the things I really focused on was just making sure my elbow was in the strongest place possible. We still have some finishing up to do and there's all these dates to make gains and get a little bit better. Just working on that.''
Adrian Amos had his best game as a member of the Packers last week against Washington. The fifth-year safety had an interception, a sack and seven tackles. It was the first time a Green Bay defensive back had a sack and an interception in a game since Micah Hyde in November 2014.
''I just try to hold myself accountable,'' Amos said. ''I just want to be available. I was taught at a young age that the greatest ability is availability. Just being out there and just giving myself an opportunity to make plays. You want to be a guy that people can trust and rely on.''
Amos has played all but four defensive snaps this season after signing with Green Bay for $37 million in March. Amos spent his first four seasons in Chicago. He picked off Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone to seal a 10-3 Packers victory over the Bears in the season opener in Chicago.
''I don't really think into it that much,'' Amos said. ''I just really focus on this team and the opportunity we have, you know, playing these next three games. I don't look at it as this big rivalry or anything. This is literally just the next game on the schedule for me.''
The Bears need Trubisky to continue his solid run if they're going to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The former No. 2 overall pick has completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions with a 99.1 rating while leading Chicago to three straight wins. Though two of those games were against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, he picked apart a top-10 defense last week in a 31-24 victory over the Cowboys.
''I just think he's playing at a really high level right now,'' LaFleur said. ''He just looks decisive. If it's not there, he's using his legs a little more. So we're going to have to be extremely disciplined in our rush lanes and just make sure we keep eyes on him at all times because he's a talented guy. If it's not there on schedule, he can really hurt you with his legs.''
Trubisky matched a season high by throwing for three touchdowns and ran for a score against Dallas. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 244 yards and ran for 63 yards, the most for him this year.
A KING'S TALE
Kevin King was a bit of a surprise scratch with a shoulder injury last week after the Packers cornerback was a full participant in last Friday's practice. The third-year pro appears to be on track to play on Sunday.
''I think he's in a good spot right now,'' LaFleur said Thursday. ''I like where he's at right now.''
King has four interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble this season.
The Bears' victories haven't exactly come against the league's heavyweights. That's something they'll need to change down the stretch, with games against AFC West-leading Kansas City and Minnesota remaining after this one.
The six teams Chicago holds victories over are a combined 28-49-1, and the only one with a winning record is the Vikings. The Bears beat Minnesota 16-6 at Soldier Field on Sept. 29, with Chase Daniel playing most of the game after Trubisky exited with a left shoulder injury.
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.