Wed Nov 7 10:51 pm
In 2016, the Green Bay Packers were 4-6 when quarterback Aaron Rodgers proclaimed the team was capable of running the table. On cue, the Packers reeled off six consecutive wins to get in the playoffs, then advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
This season, the Packers are 3-4-1 headed into Sunday's home game against the Miami Dolphins. They are in the middle of a five-game gauntlet of games at the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, home vs. Miami, then back on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings.
Green Bay lost the first two legs of this pivotal stretch. If it's going to rebound and make a run at a playoff berth, it will be up to Rodgers to play much better than he did against New England.
While Rodgers has thrown a sizzling 15 touchdown passes vs. one interception, he ranks near the bottom of the league in completion percentage. In a 31-17 loss at New England, Rodgers completed only 24 of 43 passes (55.8 percent). When the offense absolutely needed to score in the fourth quarter, it couldn't even get to midfield.
"I just feel like we have to play better, consistently, 60 minutes, try to eliminate some of the lulls we've been having," Rodgers said. "We have to play with confidence and play up to the level we're capable of playing."
The Dolphins will pose a stiff challenge, even as they go from the heat of Miami to a projected 32-degree day at Lambeau Field. Miami leads the NFL with 15 interceptions. Four of those came in last week's 13-6 victory over the New York Jets.
"Maybe he'll change his mind this game," Dolphins head coach Adam Gase joked of Rodgers' ability to avoid interceptions.
Gase has a firm grasp of the obvious, and here's how we know:
"Aaron Rodgers," Gase said, "is a little different than Sam Darnold."
Rodgers, of course, is a former Super Bowl MVP and a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Packers. Darnold is the Jets' rookie first-round pick, a quarterback Miami beat last week with four interceptions.
So ... yeah, the Dolphins definitely have a bigger challenge this week.
However, the Packers are coming off their first losing season since 2008, and they are struggling this season with a sub-.500 record and two straight losses.
The bright spot for the Packers is that they are 3-0-1 at home this season. And something else to factor into the equation is that Green Bay was off to a 4-1 start last season before Rodgers got injured.
The Packers went 3-8 the rest of the way, with Rodgers playing in just one game during that stretch.
Rodgers' completion percentage this year is 60.6 percent, which would be the lowest number of his career since he became a starter in 2008. But he has already passed for 2,542 yards this season, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is outstanding at 15-1.
Miami ability to force interceptions makes for a fascinating matchup. Also fascinating is the fact that failed ex-Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin returned to Green Bay this year as the Packers' offensive coordinator.
The Dolphins will surely play close attention to two Packers targets -- wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. Adams has caught 19 touchdown passes since the start of 2017. Graham, a former Miami Hurricanes player, has caught 12 TD passes during that same span. However, Graham missed practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury.
When the Dolphins are on offense, they will be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will miss his fifth straight game due to a shoulder injury. Brock Osweiler is 2-2 at quarterback since replacing Tannehill.
For the Packers, who are in third place in the NFC North and 10th place in the NFC, this is practically a must-win game. As head coach Mike McCarthy likes to say, there's no reason to discuss the playoffs until a team gets win No. 10. For Green Bay to get to 10 wins, it must go 7-1 down the stretch.
"It's always good to be at home," McCarthy said. "You have to take care of your home-field advantage. That's something that's a great part of our focus this week. Really, the benefits of being at home is the repetition, particularly when you get to the end of the week. You've got to make sure you take advantage of that. To play in front of your home crowd, that's something that we've always enjoyed. We also know what's coming after it, too."
The Dolphins held the Jets without a touchdown last week, but the challenge against the Packers on Sunday will be much tougher. Miami's defense may struggle to contain the Green Bay passing game. Offensively, the Dolphins' beat-up offensive line allowed four sacks last week, and the unit failed to open holes or get anyone into the end zone.
Miami's offense will likely have to play much better this week to keep up with Rodgers and the Packers.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) has progressed in his rehab without setbacks since suffering a hip injury in October, according to a league source. Doctors have ruled out surgery once and for all for Wilson and has raised hope that he will be able to get back on the field this spring. The belief is that Wilson will be ready for the start of the offseason program in April. Wilson ranked third on the team in touchdowns (four receiving and one passing) despite missing nine games, and his yards-per-catch average (15.0) led the team. Although Miami's quarterback situation is up in the air, Wilson should have a prominent place in the team's offense next year regardless.
The New York Jets officially hired Dowell Loggains as their next offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach on Wednesday. Loggains has worked under head coach Adam Gase in both Chicago and Miami. With Gase likely running the show on offense, Loggains' main task will be to continue the development of quarterback Sam Darnold, who was very up and down in his rookie season. The Jets ranked 29th in yards per game (299.2), 25th in passing yards (197.8), 26th in rushing yards (101.4) and 23rd in the league in points per game (20.8) in 2018.
The Arizona Cardinals signed veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to a one-year deal on Wednesday so that he can return for a 16th season. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Fitzgerald will turn 36 at the end of August but will remain the No. 1 wideout on the team because of his experience. His numbers took a hit in one of the worst offenses in the NFL in 2018, but he still led the team in receptions (69), receiving yards (734) and touchdowns (six). While Fitz can still make an impact on the field, he'll be returning to his third head coach in three years, but the addition of Kliff Kingsbury could improve the offense moving forward. We won't say for sure that Fitzgerald will return to the 1,000-yard mark, but he should be a serviceable WR3 at the very least.
Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is expected to land with the New England Patriots in a top defensive role when linebackers coach Brian Flores heading to the Miami Dolphins.
Former New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has emerged as the favorite to be hired as Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator, according to sources.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald announced Wednesday, Jan. 23, that he'll return for the 2019 season.
Fantasy Spin: Fitz had a 69-734-6 season, which was well below the 100-catch, 1,000-yard seasons the three years previously. The rookie quarterback was part of the problem, but he doesn't have much more upside next season. He's still a PPR asset, but he'll be a mid-round option as a WR3.
Updating an earlier report, Arizona Cardinals impending free-agent WR Larry Fitzgerald re-signed with the Cardinals on a one-year deal. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson (hip) is on schedule with his recovery from an October hip injury that landed him on IR and could be at full speed when the team's offseason workout program begins in April.
Fantasy Spin: After four largely nondescript seasons in Kansas City, Wilson flashed some playmaking ability before getting injured against the Lions. There are far too many variables in Miami for an accurate read on Wilson's fantasy prospects for 2019, but he did enough last year to warrant your attention.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles would be eligible to be franchise or transition tagged and then traded if the team decides not to pick up his option, which ESPN's Chris Mortensen believes is a possibility as doing so would allow the Eagles to influence Foles' destination.
Fantasy Spin: Mortensen indicates such a move would prevent Foles from going to a division rival, but it's all speculation at this point. While it's far from a sure thing, Foles could have some fantasy value in the right situation.
Oakland Raiders CB Daryl Worley (shoulder) had successful surgery on his ailing shoulder last week, according to head coach Jon Gruden.
Baltimore Ravens WR Michael Crabtree is likely to be released in the offseason, according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent WR Cole Beasley claimed Tuesday, Jan. 22, that the Dallas front office encourages the coaching staff to get the football to certain players. 'I haven't been a huge priority in that regard. Maybe that will change but I'm not sure,' Beasley said.
Fantasy Spin: Beasley's frustrations are evident and understandable, although Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Gallup are all bigger, more talented threats with the ball. Beasley does have a role to play and put together his second best season from a statistical standpoint. That being said, he's only a mid- to late-round PPR flier if he stays in Dallas.
Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said the team is "optimistic" that quarterback Alex Smith (leg) will be ready for the start of the 2019 season, but he also said "we'll see." In his first year with Washington, Smith was a disappointment, throwing for 2,108 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions with an 85.7 QB rating in 10 games before his gruesome leg injury. He'll be heading into his age-35 season and is unlikely to be ready for training camp or the regular season, so he's one to avoid for fantasy purposes. The 'Skins are in dire need of a long-term quarterback.
The Kansas City Chiefs relieved defensive coordinator Bob Sutton of his duties on Tuesday. Sutton was head coach Andy Reid's defensive coordinator for all six of his years in KC, but the Chiefs defense continued to trend downward in 2018 and was their Achilles heel in the AFC Championship loss to the Patriots last weekend. Defensive end Chris Jones -- third in the NFL with 15.5 sacks in 2018 -- and linebacker Dee Ford are the linchpins of this defense, but they must improve their talent in the secondary. The Chiefs ranked 31st in yards allowed per game (405.5), 31st in passing yards allowed (273.4), 27th in rushing yards allowed (132.1), 24th in points allowed (26.3) and tied for eighth in takeaways (27) in 2018.
Oakland Raiders impending free-agent TE Jared Cook will be re-signed if head coach Jon Gruden has his way, but Gruden admitted that Cook will be a popular name on the free-agent market.
Fantasy Spin: Cook was one of the few bright spots for the Raiders this season, and maybe the lone bright spot. He's a top-five fantasy tight end candidate now after finishing 2018 as the TE5.
Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones led all receivers with 24 receptions for first downs on 30 third-down targets this past season.
Fantasy Spin: Despite a slow start in the TD department (none in his first seven games) Jones also wound up leading the league in receiving yards (1,677) for the second time in the last four seasons. And even with Jones turning 30 this offseason (on Super Bowl Sunday), he remains an elite WR1 in all fantasy formats.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said the team is unsure if impending free-agent running back Marshawn Lynch plans to play in 2019. Gruden said "we'd love to have him back" if he decides to play another season. Beast Mode will turn 33 in April and is coming off a season in which he played in just six games due to injury. Lynch ran 90 times for 376 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and three scores. Even if Lynch returns, he'd be more of a low-upside, injury-risk RB2 for Oakland that is more attractive in standard-scoring leagues.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said the team would like to re-sign impending free-agent tight end Jared Cook, but he knows the market for his services will be competitive. He'll be in high demand after he set career highs across the board in catches (68), targets (101), yards (896) and touchdowns (six) for the Raiders. Given the sad state of the tight end position in fantasy, Cook was a strong TE1 this year and will likely be drafted as one again this year, depending on where he lands. Staying in Oakland might be the best for his value.
The Cincinnati Bengals are hiring former Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan as their next offensive coordinator. Callahan has never been an offensive coordinator in the NFL but has been a QBs coach since 2015. He'll oversee an offense that could easily bounce back after serious injuries to quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green derailed them in 2018. Cincinnati finished 26th in yards per game (310.8), 24th in passing yards per game (205.6), 21st in rushing yards per game (105.1) and 17th in points per game (23.0) in 2018.
Oakland Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch, an impending free agent this offseason, hasn't announced whether he plans on playing in 2019, but if he does, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Tuesday, Jan. 22, that 'we'd love to have him back.'
Fantasy Spin: Lynch will be 33 by the time next season rolls around, but he'd still be a fantasy RB2 consideration if were to be projected to be the primary RB in Oakland.