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FFL: Playoff Week 8 | NFL: Superbowl

Panthers-Falcons Preview

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Players: Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Will Grier, Kyle Allen

Carolina Panthers' Perry Fewell is shown 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)


Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) leaves the field during the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 26-18. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn speaks to an official during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


ATLANTA (AP) Former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White says he tells players, “You're always being evaluated, whether you're winning or losing.”

The same is true for NFL coaches.

Panthers interim coach Perry Fewell begins his audition for the full-time position when Carolina visits Atlanta, where Falcons coach Dan Quinn's status is uncertain, on Sunday.

“It gives me an opportunity to prove it, and it gives our players an opportunity to prove it,” said Fewell, who took over for the fired Ron Rivera on Tuesday. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go out and prove that we can win a football game this Sunday, and then we will move to the next objective."

The Falcons (3-9) have been eliminated from playoff contention. Quinn took the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 2016 and another playoff berth the following year. This season will be his second straight with a losing record.

White, the Falcons' all-time leader in receptions, will be inducted into the team's Ring of Honor on Sunday. His 11 seasons with Atlanta included Quinn's 2015 debut season.

“I think Dan is a good coach," White said Wednesday. “I really have respect for him and the things he's done for our organization."

White is an assistant coach at Johns Creek High School in the Atlanta area. He said he has “zero" interest in becoming an NFL coach. One reason is the instability of what he said is “a win-now league."

The latest example of impatience came when Panthers owner David Tepper fired Rivera, who has the most wins of any coach in Carolina history (76-63-1 in the regular season).

Fewell was Carolina's secondary coach before being named interim coach. Four straight losses left the Panthers (5-7) on the brink of elimination from the playoff race and prompted Tepper to move on from Rivera so he could begin searching for the next coach.

Fewell was interim coach in Buffalo in 2009.

“It helps that I’ve done this before," he said. “I have this experience, so I know where to go, what to do and how to do it.”

Quinn has been unable to fix such nagging problems as a poor running game, leaky protection for quarterback Matt Ryan and an inconsistent pass rush. Ryan was sacked nine times in last week's 26-18 loss to New Orleans.

One of Atlanta's few 2019 highlights was a 29-3 win at Carolina on Nov. 17, leaving Quinn 7-2 in the series.

The Falcons hope that sweeping the season series with the Panthers could be the start of a strong finish to a disappointing season. It's not known if that would be enough to save Quinn's job.

NEW TURNER IN CHARGE

Buried in the news of Rivera's firing was that Tepper promoted quarterbacks coach Scott Turner to offensive coordinator and play caller. Turner replaces his father, Norv, who was removed from the role and will serve as assistant to the head coach. There won't likely be wholesale changes to the Panthers' offense, but Scott Turner will hope to be more successful than his dad in the red zone. Carolina's struggles near the goal line were a big factor in four losses this season.

HOPE FOR JULIO

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones returned to practice this week after missing last week's game with a shoulder injury. It was the first game Jones missed since 2016. He hasn't had a touchdown catch since Week 3. Jones' expected return would come one week after running back Devonta Freeman made his return after missing two games with a sprained foot.

ALLEN REMAINS AT QB

Fewell announced season-ending foot surgery for Cam Newton this week. There has been no talk of playing third-round draft pick Will Grier, and Fewell said the Panthers will stick with second-year quarterback Kyle Allen against Atlanta. Allen is 5-5 as a starter, but has lost five of his last six starts. He threw four interceptions and was sacked five times in last month's loss to the Falcons.

STILL UPBEAT

Ryan said the Falcons haven't given up on the season. “I think the mindset has been good," he said. “We’ve got a good group of guys in this building that are committed to one another and committed to trying to play well for one another."

RUN DEFENSE

The Panthers' poor run defense helped lead to Rivera's exit. Defensive coordinator Eric Washington is expected to take over the play calls against Atlanta with some input from Fewell. Significant improvement may be difficult with defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Kawann Short on injured reserve. The Panthers are allowing 137.5 yards per game on the ground and have surrendered a league-high 22 touchdowns rushing. That could be good news for Freeman, who is still looking for his first rushing TD of the season. Carolina has also allowed 18 run plays of 20 or more yards.

Player Notes
George Kittle Jan 27 6:00pm ET

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (shoulder) said that he's been playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder since the start of the 2018 season. "So I dislocated my shoulder last year," Kittle said Sunday on the Pardon My Take podcast, "and my labrum is completely torn. So I don't get surgery on it -- [The protective sleeve] basically helps me, so it doesn't hurt all the time." He didn't miss any games in 2018 and set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. Kittle said there's "no chance" he has surgery in the future. The 26-year-old has been quiet in the postseason with four catches for 35 yards in two games, but the Niners haven't really needed him with their ground game humming. That could change in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2.

From RotoBaller

Kareem Hunt Jan 27 3:20pm ET

Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who will be a free agent in March, emotionally admitted that he would fail a drug test to a police officer during a traffic stop recently. This was caught on video of the police officer's dash cam during the traffic stop. Hunt also admitted that the small amounts of marijuana found in the car were his, but the officer let Hunt off with just the speeding ticket. It remains to be seen if the NFL will consider a suspension for the 24-year-old from this incident. Hunt was released by the Chiefs during the 2018 season due to a domestic-violence incident, and he served a suspension before making his Browns debut in 2019. If he signs with another team this offseason and is given bell-cow duties in the backfield, Hunt could have RB1 upside.

From RotoBaller

Philip Rivers Jan 27 3:00pm ET

The Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on from Philip Rivers," according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. Rivers is set to become a free agent in March, and the writing was on the wall when he recently moved his entire family from San Diego to Florida. Rivers will end a 16-year run with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen where he'll land on the free-agent market this offseason. The Buccaneers are a popular expected destination, but that'll only be if they move on from Jameis Winston. Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019 for a QB rating of 88.5. He might have a few more seasons left in him, but at 38 years old his arm strength is clearly deteriorating, and he'll probably be more of a QB2 in 2020, depending on where he winds up.

From RotoBaller

Frank Clark Jan 27 12:30pm ET

Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

From RotoBaller

Fletcher Cox Jan 26 6:43pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

Jack Doyle Jan 26 6:33pm ET

Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

T.J. Watt Jan 26 6:33pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

Mark Andrews Jan 26 6:23pm ET

Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

D.J. Chark Jan 26 6:23pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

Davante Adams Jan 26 6:13pm ET

Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

Amari Cooper Jan 26 6:13pm ET

Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

Kirk Cousins Jan 26 6:03pm ET

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26

From TheHuddle

Michael Thomas Jan 26 6:03pm ET

New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.

From TheHuddle

Calais Campbell Jan 26 5:53pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.

From TheHuddle

Lamar Jackson Jan 26 5:53pm ET

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.

From TheHuddle

Darren Fells Jan 26 2:13pm ET

Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.

From TheHuddle

A.J. McCarron Jan 26 2:13pm ET

Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.

From TheHuddle

C.J. Mosley Jan 26 1:00pm ET

New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.

From RotoBaller

Eric Berry Jan 26 1:00pm ET

Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.

From RotoBaller

Drew Brees Jan 26 12:50pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will become a free agent in March, said he is still waiting to decide if he will play a 20th season in the NFL. "Then, I'll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I'll give it a month or so," Brees said. If the 41-year-old does decide to return, it'll be for the Saints. General manager Mickey Loomis also said that the team would welcome him back if he decides to keep playing. Brees' arm strength is starting to deteriorate, but he still put up great numbers when he came back from a fractured thumb last season, and he should remain in play as a QB1 if he returns for the 2020 season.

From RotoBaller