Thu Dec 12 1:32pm ET
By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson warms up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
With quarterback Russell Wilson at the center, Seattle Seahawks huddle before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Carolina Panthers' Perry Fewell speaks during his first press conference as the NFL football team's interim head coach, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. Ron Rivera was fired as head coach on Tuesday. (David T. Foster III/The Charlotte Observer via AP)
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson passes against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) runs against Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams safety Taylor Rapp during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) hits Carolina Panthers tight end Ian Thomas (80) as Thomas scores a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Not too long ago the Carolina Panthers viewed the Seattle Seahawks as their biggest rivals in the NFC.
Now the franchises are headed in vastly different directions.
While the Seahawks have posted eight straight winning seasons under coach Pete Carroll, the Panthers have been inconsistent. Coach Ron Rivera was fired last week.
On Sunday, the Seahawks (10-3) will try to clinch a playoff berth for the seventh time in eight seasons when they visit the Panthers. They need a victory over Carolina and a loss by the Packers, Rams or Vikings to secure a spot in the postseason.
The Panthers (5-8) have been relegated to the role of spoiler. They have dropped five in a row and will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Rivera had talked for years about the mental hurdle of ''getting over the hump'' and beating the Seahawks, who dominated Carolina earlier in the decade with four straight wins. That message resonated loudest after the Seahawks beat the Panthers in the NFC divisional playoffs in 2014.
The Panthers ultimately would get over the hump, beating Seattle in the 2015 regular season and then again in the divisional playoffs en route to the Super Bowl.
But while the Seahawks have remained a steady contender for the NFC title, the Panthers have fallen on hard times. They have failed to win a playoff game the past four seasons in part because of injuries to Cam Newton.
Panthers interim coach Perry Fewell said he believes the difference, in part, is the Seahawks have been able to maintain consistency at the quarterback position with a healthy Russell Wilson.
''Their stability at the quarterback, he's been healthy for the most part,'' Fewell said. ''Obviously his leadership permeates throughout the team.''
Fewell said Wilson is playing at a ''MVP level.''
''Watching him on tape, you're saying, `I hope he has a bad day,''' Fewell said.
Seattle had a pretty good set of complementary running backs with Chris Carson as the primary option and Rashaad Penny as the change of pace. But Penny suffered an ACL injury on his first offensive touch last Sunday against the Rams.
While Carson likely will see even more action going forward, there will be increased focus on C.J. Prosise and whether he can fill Penny's role. Prosise has shown flashes during his four seasons, but his career has been defined more by nagging injuries and being inactive on game days. Prosise has played in just 23 of a possible 61 regular-season games in his four seasons.
''C.J. has always done well when you give him a chance,'' Carroll said. ''Now, he'll know he's in the game plan and all of that. I'm hoping he'll contribute in a big way.''
Wilson's MVP case has taken a hit in the past few weeks. After a sterling first nine games of the season, the past four have been more pedestrian.
After posting a 118.2 passer rating through the first nine games, Wilson is at just 82.7 over the past four. He has four touchdown passes and four interceptions during the stretch. While Wilson has been hampered by some drops and errors in pass protection, he also has held onto the ball too long at times. Clearly, the Seahawks would like Wilson to find that early season form.
''He could do a little bit better and we need to help him. We need to contribute,'' Carroll said.
Seattle's pass rush barely sniffed Rams quarterback Jared Goff last week. The Seahawks had zero sacks and just four QB hits in the loss. Seattle thought it had corrected some of the pass rush issues from earlier in the season, but the performance against the Rams was a step back.
Seattle could get some help if defensive end Ziggy Ansah and linebacker Mychal Kendricks are able to play. Ansah missed last week with a shoulder injury. Kendricks is an excellent blitzer off the edge but missed last week with a hamstring injury.
ALLEN REMAINS THE STARTER
Fewell is sticking with Kyle Allen as his starting QB despite Carolina's five-game losing streak. Allen has thrown 12 interceptions during that span after not throwing any in his first five career starts.
But Fewell said Allen, not third-round draft pick Will Grier, gives the Panthers the best chance to win. Allen has been taking the losses hard. He said doesn't talk to anyone after a loss, not even his girlfriend.
''I take these losses to heart,'' Allen said. ''When I come home, I go shower. I go lay in my bed. I don't do anything because this stuff means a lot to me.''
McCAFFREY CHASING HISTORY
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is looking to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He needs 274 yards receiving in the last three games to join that elite club.
''I believe if they were having a winning season he would be up for MVP consideration,'' Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright said. ''He still may get some votes. The dude is just super talented. Great in open space. Really good in-between the tackles, (which) he doesn't get that much credit. He's a good strong guy who can hit it up the seam.''
The Dallas Cowboys haven't had contract discussions with wide receiver Amari Cooper, but he said that he wants to be in Dallas for a long time. Cooper will become a free agent in March, but he is the team's No. 2 priority this offseason behind quarterback Dak Prescott. Despite dealing with nagging injuries for most of the season, Cooper had 79 receptions for a career-high 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns over a full season in 2019. It's hard to imagine Dallas letting him walk in free agency, and his fantasy value would remain the highest as a high-end WR1 if he stays with the Cowboys moving forward. If he goes elsewhere, Michael Gallup would become the team's No. 1 wideout.
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said that outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (knee), who tore his ACL on Sept. 30 against the Jaguars, is making "really good (progress)." "He looks great. I (jokingly) asked with about five weeks left in the season if he was ready to go. He should be ready to go for OTAs (in May) or even the offseason program (in April)," Elway said. Losing the pass rusher for most of the 2019 season was a big loss for Denver's defense. The 23-year-old was a force in his rookie season with 60 total tackles (41 solo), 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He should be able to bounce back across from Von Miller in 2020 and give Denver a formidable pass rush once again.
The Minnesota Vikings are turning to Gary Kubiak, who has been an assistant head coach and offensive advisor, as their next offensive coordinator, according to sources. Minnesota's previous offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski, has left to become the Browns head coach. Not much will change in Minnesota with Kubiak at the helm of the offense, but it is mostly good news for running back Dalvin Cook, who will continue to be the focal point of this offense moving forward. Quarterback Kirk Cousins also benefited from plenty of play-action passing plays while Kubiak was an offensive advisor.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham is expected to be released during the offseason, in the opinion of The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty, who called the prospective move a 'given.' Graham has one year remaining on his deal. Releasing him would free up $8 million in cap room.
Fantasy Spin: Graham posted a 38-447-3 line in his age-33 season, and despite playing well in the playoffs he has been a disappointment since signing with the Packers. Wherever he plays (if he does) in 2020, Graham's days as a TE1 seem far in the rear view.
Green Bay Packers S Adrian Amos (pectoral) is unlikely to require surgery on his injured pec, according to head coach Matt LaFleur. Amos suffered the injury during the NFC Championship Game.
Updating a previous report, impending free-agent Austin Hooper (Falcons) is expected to receive overtures from the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins if he is allowed to reach the open market, according to sources via Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline.
Impending free-agent DE Robert Quinn (Cowboys) would prefer to remain with the Dallas Cowboys, and sources have told Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline that team owner/general manager Jerry Jones has been 'aggressive' in letting Quinn know he wants him to return.
Atlanta Falcons TE Austin Hooper is not close to a contract extension with the team, according to general manager Thomas Dimitroff Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'The reality right now is that we are trudging along,' Dimitroff said. 'Once we get back from the Super Bowl, after the Super Bowl week we'll continue to look and see how we are moving forward. But at this point there are no updates on Austin.'
Fantasy Spin: Hooper is coming off a career year in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns. He's an excellent third option behind WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in Atlanta, but his play this year may have priced him out of the Falcons' budget for 2020 and beyond. His potential free-agent destination would have a big impact on his 2020 draft stock.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Josh McCown spoke with head coach Doug Pederson about a potential role on the coaching staff, but McCown isn't ready to retire just yet. The veteran QB came out of retirement last August to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles. He's currently recovering from a torn hamstring that he suffered in the wild-card loss to the Seahawks. McCown threw only five passes during the regular season and served as a de facto player/coach as Carson Wentz's backup. He has some potential as a future offensive coordinator, but it's unlikely he would immediately be considered as Mike Groh's successor in Philly. Wherever McCown is playing in 2020, he'll strictly be a backup and won't have any fantasy value.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) had an arrest warrant on a felony charge of burglary and battery issued against him Wednesday, Jan. 22, by Hollywood, Fla. police. A moving truck driver claimed he was assaulted by Brown and his trainer. Brown also was charged with one count of burglary of an occupied conveyance and one count of criminal mischief.
Fantasy Spin: Dynasty owners should be preparing to move on from Brown before finalizing their rosters ahead of 2020 drafts.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. will sit down with new head coach Kevin Stefanski Thursday, Jan. 23, to discuss Stefanski's plan for personal conduct. 'I'm looking forward to sitting down with Odell face to face,' Stefanski said. 'I haven't had the chance to do that yet and I get the chance to do that (Thursday). And at that point, that's when I can start laying out my expectations for Odell and all of our players.' Beckham was caught on video at the College Football Playoff Championship Game earlier this month appearing to hand out cash to LSU Tigers players, as well as appearing to slap a security officer on the butt in the locker room. Charges had been filed against Beckham for the latter incident, but they were later dropped.
Fantasy Spin: Beckham totaled 1,035 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his first season in Cleveland. Bigger things were expected, and the hiring of Stefanski should help lead to improvements for 2020. He remains a top-end WR1.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Kelce will be just fine to suit up on Feb. 2 against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. He was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and hasn't slowed down in the postseason, catching 13 of 16 targets for 164 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans and Titans. Most of that production came in the Divisional Round when he had 10 grabs for 134 yards and three scores, but Kelce can go off at any time and could be the X-factor in the Super Bowl in two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was unable to practice on Wednesday, but the team remains hopeful that he will be available for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. The team didn't practice on Wednesday, but they were required to submit an estimated practice report. Coleman dislocated his right shoulder in the first half of the NFC Championship against the Packers and played just eight snaps. If he's active for the Super Bowl, Coleman will split snaps with Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers. Matt Breida will be the No. 3 back.
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder) indicated that he will be ready for the start of offseason workouts. Cook is entering the final year of his contract and is a candidate for an extension this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Cook was one of the top running backs in the NFL this season with 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. He will continue to be a focal point on offense for the Vikings next season and will be an early round pick in fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) fully participated in practice. The 49ers did not hold a practice Wednesday, so the injury report is an estimation.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. The 49ers did not hold a practice Wednesday, so this is an estimation.
Fantasy Spin: The 49ers are optimistic about Coleman's status for Super Bowl LIV, but he may be a game-time decision. He will share snaps with Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida if he plays and could be a flex option in fantasy leagues.
New Orleans Saints impending free-agent QB Drew Brees is a player that the Saints want to keep as long as he wants to keep playing, according to general manager Mickey Loomis.
Fantasy Spin: Brees will be a free agent this offseason, but the Saints will try to re-sign him. He finished with 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns in the regular season and can be considered a No. 1 quarterback in most fantasy leagues in 2020.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip), who had a career-high 1,174 receiving yards and six touchdowns on his way to his fifth Pro Bowl selection in six years, said he played the entire 2019 season with a hip injury. "I'm good. I'm good," Landry said. "Just in this recovery process, this rehab process to make sure I can get back to my 100 percent self." The good news is that Landry won't require surgery on his hip in the offseason, and he should be fully healthy in 2020 under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. Cleveland's offense struggled to find consistency last season, but Landry was a consistent bright spot next to Odell Beckham Jr. He should once again be a rock-solid WR2 for owners in PPR leagues.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) was limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce probably will be limited over the next two weeks but will be ready to play in Super Bowl LIV. He is a must-start fantasy option in all leagues as long as he is healthy.
Kansas City Chiefs DT Chris D. Jones (calf) was limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. WR Mecole Hardman (back), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder), DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (hand) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) fully participated in practice.