Thu Dec 19 4:30pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower speaks with reporters in the team's locker room following an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott looks at the scoreboard during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) For years the Bills have been one of three chasers in the AFC East, annually trying and failing to knock the Patriots from their decade-long run atop the division.
Buffalo enters its Week 16 matchup with New England clinging to its best hope in years of ending that dominance.
With a win (or tie) the Patriots can clinch the AFC East title for the 11th consecutive season. They can also lock up a first-round playoff bye with a win and Chiefs loss (or tie).
But if Buffalo (10-4) beats the Patriots (11-3) and wins its finale next week against the Jets, and New England also loses at Miami, the Bills would win the division for the first time since 1995.
''We certainly respect the Patriots; they've reigned over this division, by far, for a long time,'' Bills coach Sean McDermott said. ''So, to have a game like this at this point in the season, our players have worked hard for it. So, you earn everything you get in this league, and so they've earned that, but we're going to have to earn it this weekend because the Patriots, they play well, and especially down the stretch.''
New England has played particularly well against Buffalo.
The Bills haven't beaten the Patriots in five games under coach Sean McDermott and have lost the past six meetings overall.
Buffalo also has yet to beat the Patriots in Foxborough in a game that Tom Brady started and finished (0-15). Buffalo defeated New England 17-9 in the 2014 regular-season finale, but Brady only played in the first half with the Patriots having already clinched the conference's top seed.
Overall, Brady owns a 31-3 overall record against the Bills, the most wins in NFL history by a quarterback against a single opponent.
''It's a big game for both teams,'' Brady said. ''I think everybody puts a lot into it. And it's for moments like this.''
If the Patriots are ripe for a late-season letdown, this could be the year.
New England's top-ranked defense gave up a season-high 375 yards to the Bills during its 16-10 win at Buffalo in Week 4. And that was with Bills rookie and leading rusher Devin Singletary sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Quarterback Josh Allen also sat out the fourth quarter of that loss with a head injury. He has nine rushing touchdowns this season, the most among quarterbacks in 2019.
The Bills also will face Brady during a season in which he has his lowest completion rate (60.1 percent) and fewest passing TDs (21) since 2013.
In his first 29 games against the Bills, Brady went 610 of 955 for 7,316 yards (252 per game average) with 66 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. But in his past five games against Buffalo, Brady is 102 of 166 for 1,082 yards (216 per game average) with three TDs and five interceptions. His 46.2 percent completion rate in the Week 4 meeting was the eighth-worst of his career.
Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said he ''absolutely'' thought back in September that Buffalo looked like a team capable of being in this position.
''They always have a new wrinkle,'' Hightower said. ''The skill players that they have and the offensive line that they have, the way that they're built - it's built to be in this division. It's built to play us.''
MAKING A STATEMENT
Jordan Phillips, who ranks second in the NFL among defensive tackles and leads the Bills with 9 1/2 sacks, doesn't know what else Buffalo has to do to prove itself.
Having defeated the Cowboys at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, and the Steelers in prime time last weekend, Phillips was asked if the next step is winning at New England.
Phillips shrugged and said: ''If we haven't shown that we're a contender by now, then beating the Patriots isn't going to do anything.''
MR. FOURTH QUARTER
Allen has a touchdown to interception ratio of 8:0 in the fourth quarter this season, the best mark in the NFL. He is the only QB in the league with at least 50 fourth-quarter pass attempts and no INTs. Allen has also taken the Bills to a victory five times with Buffalo tied or trailing in the fourth quarter in 2019.
The Patriots' defense will be without a key part of their secondary. Cornerback Jonathan Jones was ruled out for Saturday's game with the groin injury he sustained in the Patriots' win over the Bengals. Jones has appeared in all 14 games this season, primarily filling the role of slot defender when New England uses five defensive backs. He is sixth on the team in tackles in 2019 (47).
Bills tight end Tyler Kroft has played a significant role in helping Buffalo clinch two playoff berths in three years.
His 14-yard touchdown catch sealed Buffalo's playoff-clinching 17-10 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
It was his first touchdown since scoring twice while with the Bengals in Cincinnati's 2017 season-ending 31-27 win over Baltimore. The outcome eliminated the Ravens and vaulted the Bills into the playoffs.
It just so happened that Kroft ran a similar route Sunday to the one the offseason free agent did in his first practice with Buffalo in May, when he broke his foot. The injury forced Kroft to miss the entire offseason.
Sunday Morning Update: Week 7
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (head) will not return to Sunday's matchup against the Chiefs. On a snowy, sloppy day in the Mile-High City, the 26-year-old suffered a concussion shortly before the end of the first half. Before his departure, he had nine attempts for 79 yards. Melvin Gordon, who also has nine carries, will likely serve as the featured back for the remainder of the contest. With more news to come, possibly sometime on Monday, fantasy managers will want to monitor this situation ahead of Denver's Week 8 against the Chargers.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith was targeted just four times but caught all four, totaling 56 receiving yards in a win over the Panthers. It wasn't the volume fantasy managers were hoping for from Smith, as he took a backseat to undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway (ankle). However, Smith really could be the lone wolf in the receiving room next week, especially if Michael Thomas (ankle, hamstring), Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19), and Callaway are all out for a Week 8 matchup against the Bears.
The Washington Football Team defense had another good game against a banged-up offense as they dominated the Andy Dalton-led Cowboys. Dallas was playing without several starters on the offensive line and Washington took advantage as they sacked Dalton six times with one sack leading to a safety. Cole Holcomb led the charge for Washington with an interception and a sack from the middle linebacker position. In all, Washington allowed three points, recorded six sacks, a safety, and an interception on a great day for fantasy managers. The Football Team will have a bye in Week 8 but have another juicy matchup versus the Giants in Week 9 where they will be a startable unit in fantasy.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green had seven catches (13 targets) for 82 yards during the loss to the Browns on Sunday. The veteran recorded another convincing performance against Cleveland while combining for 15 receptions (24 targets) over the team's previous two contests. Although fantasy managers may not see this type of production against the Titans in Week 8, he could have some more favorable outings over Cincy's remaining nine games, especially if Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd continue to open things up for him.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway caught eight of 10 targets for 75 receiving yards in a 27-24 victory over Carolina. Callaway led the team in targets in the absences of both Michael Thomas (ankle, hamstring) and Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19). Somewhat quietly, the 22-year old rookie has compiled 16 targets over his last two contests. With Sanders definitely out and Thomas's status looking murky, Callaway makes for an interesting waiver add. He did sustain an ankle injury and had to be helped off the field to the locker room. If Callaway's ankle isn't anything serious, fantasy managers should consider him as a streaming option against Chicago.
The Dallas Cowboys Defense didn't fare well in Week 7 despite being matched up against a Washington Football Team that was allowing the third most fantasy points to opposing fantasy defenses. The Cowboys defense allowed 23 points, recording two sacks but no turnovers. The Cowboys will take on the Eagles in the battle of bad NFC East defenses next week, where they will not be a recommended fantasy option.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins caught all five of his targets to finish with 71 yards and a touchdown against the Browns on Sunday. The rookie now has three touchdowns on the year, finding the end zone for the first time since Week 3 against the Eagles. With Joe Burrow leading a pass-heavy attack for Cincy, Higgins may continue to benefit, especially with Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green drawing the attention needed to open things up for him over the remaining nine games of his inaugural season.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught 11 of his 13 targets to finish the Week 7 matchup against the Browns with 101 yards and a score. After fizzling out against the Colts last Sunday, the 25-year-old recorded one of his most convincing performances of the 2020 campaign. Boyd has now logged at least eight targets in five of Cincy's seven contests and should continue to benefit from the stellar play of rookie signal-caller Joe Burrow. However, things may get difficult for the former Pittsburgh Panther in Week 8 against the Titans, with Tennessee looking to rebound after suffering its first defeat of the year against the Steelers.
Dallas Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein attempted a field goal in Week 7, and it was good for the only three points the Cowboys scored in an ugly 25-3 loss to the Washington Football Team. Zuerlein made his kick from 45 yards out and was never on the field on offense again. The Dallas offense is in total shambles, possibly moving Zuerlein out of the top-15 fantasy kickers going forward. He should continue to be solid, but may not get enough opportunities to score significant fantasy points.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup came up empty in a rough Week 7 loss. Gallup was targeted twice but couldn't come down with either pass, ending up with a blank box score and zero fantasy points. Gallup was working as a field stretcher with Dak Prescott around, but now with Andy Dalton and possibly Ben DiNucci throwing the ball for the Cowboys, Gallup seems much more likely to hit the "bust" part of his boom-or-bust fantasy outlook.
Washington Football Team tight end Logan Thomas caught all four of his targets for 60 yards and a touchdown in a Week 7 win over the Cowboys. Thomas played second-fiddle to Terry McLaurin in the passing game as no other Washington player had more than two targets. Thomas made them count catching several big passes to move the chains while finding the end zone for the third time this season. Thomas has had an up-and-down season but is getting enough weekly targets to be considered a borderline starter in 12-team fantasy leagues. He'll be a touchdown-dependant starter in his next matchup in Week 9 versus the Giants.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard racked up 37 yards off 13 carries during the heartbreaking loss to the Cleveland Browns. He also added five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. The veteran filled in admirably for Joe Mixon (foot), who is considered week-to-week after being injured during the Week 6 encounter with the Colts. At this point, the 28-year-old has likely found a home on fantasy rosters. However, if he is still floating around the waiver wire, managers should pick him up before it's too late, especially if Mixon cannot suit up against the Titans in Week 8. Although Bernard isn't the most efficient runner, he should continue to benefit from the team's pass-heavy offense.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray posted 56 scrimmage yards on 12 total touches in a victory over the Panthers. Murray's 4.3 yards per carry were a bit skewed, as he picked up 25 yards on one run and just 22 yards on the other 10 carries. Still, the opportunity Murray is getting is encouraging for those who have him rostered, as the coaching staff clearly trusts him. It bears repeating, but if something were to happen to Alvin Kamara, Murray would be an easy start as an RB1.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin posted a 7-90-1 line versus the Cowboys to help lead Washington to a win over their division rival. The sophomore receiver was a huge part of the game plan against a bad Dallas secondary as McLaurin was targeted 11 times, his fourth game this season with double-digit targets. It could have been an even bigger game for McLaurin but he came up inches short of the goal line on his first catch of the game. He made up for it a couple of drives later as he torched Trevon Diggs for a 52-yard score. McLaurin doesn't operate in the NFL's most electrifying offense, but his combination of skill and target-floor make him one of the best WR options in fantasy. He'll have another solid matchup with the Giants in Week 9 after the bye.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara carried the ball 14 times for 83 rushing yards and caught all eight targets for 65 receiving yards in a 27-24 win. The 83 rushing yards tied a season-high for Kamara, as the running room was easy to find against Carolina's ground defense. Amazingly, the star halfback has exceeded 100 scrimmage yards in every game but one- and he ended up with two scores in that contest to salvage his day. There might be no better player to roster in fantasy football right now, so managers should keep riding the Kamara wave into a Week 8 contest against a Bears Defense that can be had on the ground.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (knee) will have an MRI performed on Monday. The veteran was forced out of Sunday's matchup against the Bengals after injuring his left knee in the first quarter. Although the team fears the worst, fantasy managers should wait until official confirmation before hitting the panic button. Heading into Week 7, the 27-year-old grabbed 23 of his 42 targets for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Schultz made two catches in Week 7, gaining 22 yards. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Schultz ended up second on the team in both catches and receiving yards. He was targeted four times in a game in which the Cowboys couldn't do much of anything on offense. Even if Andy Dalton (head) is able to play next week, Schultz may be no better than a mid-range TE2. Things are rough on both sides of the ball in Dallas right now.
Dallas Cowboys rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb was targeted five times in an ugly Week 7 loss, failing to catch any of those targets. He was given one carry and gained one yard. In standard scoring leagues, Lamb put up just 0.1 fantasy points. It was a bad game for pretty much everyone in a Cowboys uniform. Even if Andy Dalton (head) isn't forced to miss time, Lamb and all of the Cowboys pass catchers are getting a huge downgrade compared to when Dak Prescott (ankle) was under center.
Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan caught only two passes for 32 yards in the Packers 35-20 romp over the Texans in Week 7. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was generous with his offensive distribution but Tonyan was unable to enjoy the fruits of the teams prosperity. Fantasy teams that raced to pick up Tonyan after his three-touchdown performance in Week 4 have been rewarded with only five catches for 57 yards over the last two weeks. Tonyan's fantasy value will continue to sink heading into Week 8.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper had the only remotely productive offensive game for the Cowboys in Week 7. He caught seven passes for 80 yards and added a carry for five more yards on the ground. Cooper was targeted seven times and caught everything sent his way. He ended up leading the team in catches, targets, and yards all by a significant margin. It was a rough game for the Cowboys in all aspects, but in the "someone has to catch the ball" situations that the Cowboys may have going forward, Cooper is the most likely to be that "someone". Cooper will remain a volume-based WR2 option regardless of the Cowboys quarterback situation going forward.