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.''
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson has reached the point in his career at which there isn't much to be made of his limited involvement in preseason action. When his second-year teammate at the position has not been cleared for full contact with a little over three weeks till the regular season, however, there might be something to that. Derrius Guice hasn't played in either of Washington's two preseason games as he awaits full medical clearance to resume taking unbridled hits on the field. Guice's situation is worth monitoring anyway, but the closer he gets to Week 1 without being cleared for contact, the more likely it is that he will be handled with extreme care by the Redskins coaching staff when he is. With that in mind, Washington's rushing attack could feature a heavy dose of Peterson during the first few weeks as Guice builds himself up from a workload standpoint. Peterson's ADP of 121.8 (per Fantasy Football Calculator) sits in the same range as a wealth of unproven commodities at the RB position. You could do worse than grabbing him that late and taking advantage of potentially high volume for the first few weeks.
Buffalo Bills rookie tight end Dawson Knox (hamstring) suffered a hamstring injury early in training camp and remained out of action until late this past week when he returned to practice. Knox has an opportunity to earn some solid playing time this year as the team's primary tight end Tyler Kroft has been nursing a broken foot since before the start of training camp. There likely isn't much hope of fantasy production from the Bills' tight end position this year. Kroft would be the most likely producer if he's able to stay healthy, while Knox might be more relevant in another year or two if he can prove himself.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones continued his comeback from a recent injury in practice, leading the team in drills. Jones is yet to play in a preseason game but is widely considered to be the team's starter at the position. Backup Jamaal Williams returned to the field but is unlikely to challenge Jones to start the season. Fantasy owners might want to see Jones in the preseason before they feel his ADP is a good value, but given the situation, he is in, handcuffing him late with Williams is a great option.
Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice has not played a preseason snap, as he has yet to be cleared for full contact. With the start of the NFL season three weeks away, there is still time for Guice to get on the field, but it's dwindling. The Redskins' third preseason game is in three days against the Falcons. If he is not active, one has to start considering the possibility he'll be looking at a very limited workload when he is declared 100% ready for game action--whenever that is. Guice was already looking at something of a timeshare with Adrian Peterson in Washington's backfield, but the fact that the former has not yet been medically cleared for full-scale football action points toward Peterson getting the bulk early on. Guice is currently going about 40 picks ahead of Peterson in fantasy drafts, per Fantasy Football Calculator.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Deshone Kizer is leading the Packers in first-team reps with Aaron Rodgers struggling with back tightness. While Kizer is unlikely to challenge Rodgers for the starting quarterback position, his performances in camp could affect the perceived value of the surround skill players if Rodgers were to miss time. Kizer was able to connect on a deep pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in a recent practice and has looked comfortable in the team's new offense in the opening preseason games against the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. Kizer won't be a consideration for fantasy drafts, but if Rodgers were to miss time could be a streaming option for owners.
Green Bay Packers tight end left a recent practice with an injury, a potential dislocated finger. Graham is the clear option at the position for the team and should be a decent fantasy option for owners that are taking their tight end at the end of drafts. However, Graham struggled with injury last season, and a further injury to his hand could deter fantasy owners from drafting him. If Graham were to miss time, it is unlikely that a combination of Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan or rookie Jace Sternberger are going to be fantasy relevant.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Roberts has primarily made his mark as a punt and kick returner since 2016. He's filled the role for the Lions, Falcons and Jets and this year will be his first season with the Bills. However, the Bills might be looking to get him a little more involved in the passing game as coach Doug McDermott has been encouraged by Roberts' work ethic, giving him some opportunities to run with the first team at practice. He blocked extremely well the other night," McDermott said in reference to practice, "Ran some people off to open up space for our other receivers and you never really hear him say two words about it. He just wants to win. While this revelation might put Roberts somewhere on the fantasy radar, he still has far too many other receivers ahead of him on the depth chart to warrant drafting consideration.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams returned to practice recently, his first since suffering a hamstring injury. The Packers have missed Williams and starter Aaron Jones through injury, but the team is returning to health in the latter part of preseason. Jones is thought to be the starting option for the team, with Williams being the clear backup option. The team drafted rookie Dexter Williams, who could be worth a waiver wire pickup if either player is injured again during camp, but he has stalled with the opportunity to lead the backfield.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling has built on his impressive performances in practice with a great catch and run. Valdes-Scantling broke the coverage from the defense to get wide open, before catching a deep pass from Deshone Kizer for a 60-yard touchdown. The receiver has been impressive throughout camp, showcasing the physical attributes that led to the Packers selecting him last season. Valdes-Scantling is thought to be the second option behind Davante Adams and represents fantastic value for fantasy owners in the mid-rounds.
Veteran Buffalo Bills tight end Lee Smith is currently listed as the second tight end on the team's depth chart, behind the injured Tyler Kroft (foot). Rookie Dawson Knox is listed third, followed by fellow rookie Tommy Sweeney and Jason Croom. Knox and Croom have also been sidelined for much of the offseason with hamstring injuries, leaving Smith and Sweeney as the two most active tight ends on the team. The 31-year-old Smith is primarily a blocking tight end, with only 56 career receptions over 107 games and shouldn't be targeted in fantasy drafts.
Buffalo Bills kicker Steven Hauschka converted four of his five kicks in the team's second preseason game against the Panthers. He hit all three of his extra-point attempts as well as a 30-yard field goal, but missed a 48-yard attempt. Hauschka had his least efficient year since becoming a full-time kicker last season, hitting just 78.6% of his kicks, compared to his career average of 86.4%. He shouldn't be targeted in fantasy drafts as there are many superior kicking options out there.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is being considered day-by-day by head coach Matt LaFleur. LaFleur commented that if it were the regular season that he would be out on the field and that he hoped the tightness won't follow him into the regular season. Rodgers is yet to be put into a game situation in the new offense, but given the quarterbacks, talent level missing some game time may not be the end of the world. However, fantasy owners should consider his injury in their drafts and draft with the thought of injury risk.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown was inactive for the team's second preseason game against the Panthers. The team hasn't disclosed any injury news at this point. Brown has solidified himself as the Bills' top receiver going into the season. He's shown great rapport with quarterback Josh Allen from the start of training camp. Look for him to suit up for the Bills' preseason week three matchup against the Lions on Friday.
Minnesota Vikings rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. had an impressive night on Sunday, at least as far as preseason games go. Smith Jr. caught all five of his targets for 28 yards and a touchdown, and he looks firmly entrenched as the Vikings top backup option at the tight end spot. It's never a good idea to look too deep into how teams are scheming during the preseason, but it does seem fair to assume that Smith Jr. will be getting some opportunities in the passing game this season. He's more of a dynasty stash this year with Kyle Rudolph still in front of him, but he's probably worth keeping an eye on for ultra-deep leagues. Smith Jr. is currently going undrafted at 301 overall (TE32).
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was listed as active but didn't see the field on Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks. Cook was held out of last week's contest as well - the Vikings are being extra cautious with their third-year back during the preseason as he has struggled to stay healthy early in his career. He's an exceptionally talented player and has sneaky top-5 running back potential this season, but he's definitely not for the faint of heart. Cook's being drafted at 17 overall (RB10), which feels about right. Keep an eye on his status for the third preseason game, but don't expect him to play much, if at all.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen was his usual dependable self on Sunday, snagging all three of his targets for 45 yards in limited action with the first-team offense. Thielen made a nice over-the-shoulder grab for 34 yards in the first quarter and drew a pass interference penalty on a deep ball the very next play. Thielen is simply one of the top receivers in the league, breaking out for 1,373 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. He also tied the record for consecutive games with 100+ yards receiving with eight, joining Calvin Johnson. Thielen is being drafted at 28 overall (WR11) in points-per-reception formats and is worth a look as a rock-solid WR1 in 2019.
Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback Kirk Cousins was efficient in limited action on Sunday night, going 6-for-8 for 68 yards passing and leading the Vikings to a Dan Bailey 24-yard field goal in the first quarter. Cousins showed nice poise in the pocket and delivered a few beautiful deep balls to Adam Thielen before being pulled after just two drives. The veteran quarterback is entering a crucial second year with the Vikes, and he has the talent and offensive weapons to remain a high-end QB2 and even threaten to crack the QB1 tier in the right matchups. He's currently being drafted as QB16, but that may be underselling his value based on his 2018 production and this year's projections. Look for Cousins and the first-team offense to play much more in the next preseason game on Saturday against the Cardinals.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers claimed wide receiver Emanuel Hall off of waivers earlier this week. Hall had been with the Bears earlier but could not make it through camp. The Buccaneers present a solid opportunity given their lack of depth beyond starters Mike Evans and Chris Godwin along with Hall's fit in their new offense. Although Hall is unlikely to make much of an impact in 2019, he could be a solid project for head coach Bruce Arians to groom.
It appears Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown has not gotten over his ongoing helmet issue as hes left the teams training camp once again. General manager Mike Mayock showed his frustration Sunday by saying it's time for him to be all-in or all-out." Brown submitted his old helmet in for testing, which it failed, and hes now left the team with no information on when, or if, hell return. The Raiders believe his frostbitten feet issues are behind him and hes healthy enough to practice, but they can only hope the seven-time Pro Bowler suits up for Week 1. Browns red flags make him a player to fade in the second round despite his immense talent.
Oakland Raiders WR Antonio Brown wasn't at practice Sunday, Aug. 18, because he's upset about his ongoing helmet issue with the NFL. General manager Mike Mayock said the team has 'exhausted all avenues' and it's time for Brown to be 'all in or all out.'
Fantasy Spin: And we're right back to square one with AB. While he's indisputably one of the best receivers in fantasy football, there's once again a legitimate chance he sits out the entire season, or more. He's far too risky to draft in the first round.