Mon Dec 24 2:59pm ET
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
In this Oct. 21, 2018, file photo, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh stands on the sideline during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Baltimore. Harbaugh will return to coach the Ravens next season, and the team says its working on an extension beyond 2019. Harbaugh took over as Baltimores coach in 2008 and has taken the team to the playoffs six times, winning the Super Bowl in 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Wass, File)
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is sacked by Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor during the second half in an NFL football game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson warms up before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) After missing the postseason for three straight years, the Baltimore Ravens probably wouldn't complain at all about squeezing into this year's playoffs as a wild card.
Entering as AFC North champions is so much better - a scenario that stands as a distinct possibility entering the final weekend of the regular season.
Thanks to a Lamar Jackson-infused surge of five wins in six games, the Ravens are on the cusp of winning the division and hosting a first-round game. All it will take for that to happen is a victory Sunday at home against the Cleveland Browns (7-7-1).
''That's definitely the first goal, to be division champions,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ''And we're playing a championship game on Sunday. That's what you work for.''
Baltimore was 4-6 on Nov. 4 before entering its bye week. An injury to Joe Flacco paved the way for Jackson to take over at quarterback, and the Ravens promptly turned their season around by combining a sound running game with the top-ranked defense in the NFL.
Now, after Baltimore (9-6) upset the Los Angeles Chargers on the road Saturday night and Pittsburgh lost in New Orleans on Sunday, the Ravens are poised to win their first AFC North title since 2012.
''That's what we put in all that time for,'' Harbaugh said. ''In order to do that, we've had to weather some storms and overcome some challenges and win some games. Guys have done a great job. We appreciate where we're at. This is the opportunity that we wanted, and now it's ours to go get.''
The Ravens have been here before, with lamentable results. Two years ago, they lost in Pittsburgh on Christmas night in a matchup for the division crown. Last year, Baltimore had its playoff hopes crushed by the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale when Tyler Boyd caught a 49-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass with 44 seconds left.
Harbaugh doesn't intend to remind the team about that game because, well, those who experienced it won't soon forget it.
''We all know where we've been. We don't need to talk about anything,'' he said. ''When you have a gut-wrenching experience, a tough one like we've had the last two years, you take those with you. It makes you stronger. It forges you as a person, as a competitor.''
This isn't the same team as last year, the year before, or even the 2012 version that rode Flacco's arm to a world championship. A year ago, Jackson was preparing to lead Louisville against Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and Don Martindale was working with the Ravens linebackers under defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Now, Jackson is in charge of a flourishing offense that counts heavily on ball control and Martindale oversees a blitzing, gambling defense that has allowed fewer yards and fewer points than any unit in the league.
''The whole idea is to impose your will on your opponent however you can do it, based on your personnel and how you want to play, and what your fundamental beliefs are,'' Harbaugh said. ''It's pretty clear what we're trying to do. We'll just try to roll with that and see what happens.''
On Friday night, just over 24 hours before the Ravens faced the Chargers, the team announced that Harbaugh would return for the 2019 season and both sides are working on an extension to his contract.
If the gesture was meaningful to the coach, he opted to keep it to himself on Monday.
''That stuff is just really not something that you dwell on or think about,'' he said.
After Saturday's victory, however, Jackson appeared delighted with the news.
''That's pretty cool,'' the rookie said. ''He was the coach that was here when I got drafted and he's going to be here while I keep excelling and keep improving, so yes, I love it.''
TFC Draft August 13th
In a recent interview, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray gave ESPN's Josh Weinfuss a bit of insight to his vision for this upcoming season. Weinfuss asked Murray if he could see wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk all reaching 1,000 yards this year and Murray replied "Oh, yeah for sure. I definitely think that's possible." There's certainly no doubt that Murray has a fantastic arsenal of receivers this year with the addition of Hopkins. Last year, without Hopkins, Murray had an exceptional rookie year, throwing for 3,722 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He completed 64.4% of his passes and also rushed for 544 yards and four touchdowns. He could very well top those impressive numbers this year and secure his place amongst the top-tier of fantasy quarterbacks.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II may not see a heavy set of reps during training camp and he was seen with a limp, per ESPN. The 26-year-old has been nursing a knee injury dating back to his tenure with the Rams in 2018. Gurley was once an elite fantasy commodity, but has now been set back by injuries. Last season, the back had 857 rush yards, 12 rush touchdowns, 31 receptions, 207 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns in 15 games. The Falcons are set to have a high-powered offense this season and Gurley will be the RB1, but the possibility of an injury or missed time will continue to loom over his fantasy value. Because of this, the Georgia product's fantasy value takes a hit and downgrades him to an RB2 for 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin has been putting in the work to build rapport with new QB Tom Brady as training camps are continuing to progress. The 24-year-old was seen catching a pass from Brady on Tuesday as the two look to form a solid QB-WR duo. The now fourth-year player is coming off an incredible 2019 season in which he stockpiled 86 receptions, 1,333 yards, and nine touchdowns in 14 games. Despite having competition for targets on the team, Godwin enters 2020 as arguably a top-five fantasy receiver based on his performance from last season. The slow formation of chemistry with a legendary QB only helps his chances of accumulating similar stats from last season.
The Kansas City Chiefs and tight end Travis Kelce agreed to a four-year, $57.25 million extension on Thursday, including $28 million in guarantees according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The All-Pro tight end had two years and $46 million remaining on his original deal, which was signed back in January of 2016. The Chiefs have spent big to keep their explosive core together this offseason as they doled out a 10-year extension to quarterback Patrick Mahomes that could be worth around $500 million. Kelce led all tight ends in 2019 with 97 catches and 1,229 receiving yards. He should be the second tight end off the board in fantasy drafts after San Francisco's George Kittle.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is already expected to play a pivotal role in the offense in 2020. The first-round draft pick may not have the blow-away speed of departed receiver Stefon Diggs, but is a versatile route-runner who can play outside or in the slot. The Vikings have been decimated on the defensive side of the football this past offseason, putting more of an onus on the offense to step up. The absence of preseason games creates a challenge for fantasy owners to properly scout rookies before drafts. But Jefferson figures to have a role early on, making him an intriguing late-round fantasy option.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller enters training camp trying to put 2019 behind him after disappointing last season. The third-year receiver caught seven touchdowns during his rookie season in 2018 and Miller's future looked very bright. But Miller endured a sloppy training camp and struggled to see the field the first month of the season. He did rebound and finished the season with 52 receptions for 656 yards but caught only two touchdowns. Bears receivers coach Mike Furrey has made a litany of comments in the offseason about Miller's preparation but has praised, thus far, what he has seen. He's trying to learn. He's dropped the ego of this whole Memphis thing. Now he's coming here and learning from Allen Robinson, asking Allen Robinson, watching Allen Robinson," Furrey told reporters. "If you're starting to do that stuff, you're definitely heading in the right direction and starting to grow individually.'' Miller will be the definition of boom-or-bust heading into fantasy drafts.
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw to receivers on Wednesday but the real competition for the starting job begins on Friday when full-padded practices begin. Head coach Matt Nagy has intimated that the decision could come sooner than later with the condensed training camp schedule hindering the team's ability to get a full picture. To this point, Trubisky has said all the right things and has been praised for his preparation in zoom meetings. Even if he wins the job out of camp, Trubisky's leash will be extremely short with backup Nick Foles breathing down his neck heading into the team's Week 1 battle against the Lions.
Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles has already been praised by head coach Matt Nagy for "improving the quarterback room" as the team prepares for full-padded practice starting next week. Foles was acquired from the Jaguars in the offseason to not only compete with incumbent starter Mitch Trubisky, but perhaps snatch the starter's job from him. Foles had a disastrous season in 2019, breaking his collarbone in Week 1 and then underperformed when he returned to action in Week 11. The veteran has a history of poor quarterback play when given the keys to an offense right out of the gate but also has shown to be one of the greatest off-the-bench passer's in recent history. If Foles wins the starting job in Chicago, he still lacks any kind of fantasy appeal outside of two quarterback leagues.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones will look to take a step forward in his second NFL season, and will be doing so with a new offensive coordinator in former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. In his first public comments since being hired in January, Garrett raved about the sophomore-signal caller's work ethic and the work Jones put in to learn the offense without the two being able to meet face-to-face due to the coronavirus pandemic. Jones showed huge upside last season with five-300 yard passing games and three games with four-plus touchdowns. His main issue was turnovers as he threw 12 picks and fumbled a league-leading 18 times. Garrett had great success with Dak Prescott, so expect him to help Jones improve in year two making him a good QB to target if waiting on the position in drafts.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle agreed to a five-year, $75 million extension Thursday, Aug. 13, that includes an $18 million signing bonus. The contract language is still being worked out.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle is an elite tight end that should be among the top two or three taken universally in fantasy.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle signed a five-year $75 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. The $15 million per season average makes Kittle the highest-paid tight end in the league by a wide margin over Hunter Henry's $10.6 million franchise-tag deal. Kittle caught 85-plus passes and gained 1,000-plus yards each of the past two seasons in becoming arguably the best tight end in football. The 26-year-old was named a First-Team All-Pro last season and now will be locked-into Kyle Shanahan's offense in San Francisco that was fourth in the NFL in total offense last year. Kittle should be one of the top-two tight ends drafted in fantasy within the top-25 picks.
Free-agent DT P.J. Hall (Raiders) signed an undisclosed deal with the Houston Texans Thursday, Aug. 13.
Updating a previous report, Dallas Cowboys DE Everson Griffen agreed to a one-year deal with a $3 million base salary and includes $3 million in potential roster bonuses.
Free-agent DL Ziggy Ansah (Seahawks) was offered a one-year, $910,000 minimum salary by the San Francisco 49ers, but it wasn't enough for Ansah to sign.
Seattle Seahawks LB K.J. Wright (shoulder) had a 'marvelous' recovery from shoulder surgery and was able to practice Wednesday, Aug. 12, according to head coach Pete Carroll.
Free-agent DE Everson Griffen (Vikings) agreed to terms with the Dallas Cowboys Wednesday, Aug. 12, according to a source.
The Dallas Cowboys signed free-agent defensive end Everson Griffen to a contract on Wednesday evening. Griffen had spent over a decade with the Minnesota Vikings and had multiple suitors during free agency. The veteran lineman has recorded 74.5 sacks across his past 77 games and adds an extra pass-rushing element to the Cowboys' defense. The unit gave up the 11th-fewest points per game last season, but also lost Robert Quinn and Byron Jones over the summer. The Cowboys project to be a middle-of-the-pack DST unit in 2020.
Updating a previous source, free-agent TE Luke Stocker (Falcons) is expected to re-sign with the Atlanta Falcons, according to a source Wednesday, Aug. 12.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner said Wednesday, Aug. 12, he never considered opting out, despite the fact he's a high-risk player as a cancer survivor. 'Going on four years now removed from cancer,' Conner said. 'I didn't really have to talk to my family. It was never a concern for me. I've been healthy for years now. It was an easy decision for me. I never really gave much thought to it. I'm healthy and my immune system is back healthy. I'm not worried.'
Fantasy Spin: Conner stands to have a good bounce-back season with QB Ben Roethlisberger back under center for the Steelers. He totaled just 464 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 116 carries over 10 games in 2019. This is also a contract season for him, and he should be targeted as a low-tier RB2.