Green Bay Packers' Ibraheim Campbell forces a fumble by Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. McCaffrey recovered his own fumble. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams catches a pass in front of Carolina Panthers' Donte Jackson during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey runs during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill (23) carries on a touchdown reception in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws a touchdown pass to running back Brian Hill, not pictured, in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) carries against New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (99) in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) drops back to pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) drops back to pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes under pressure in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson (26) reacts with linebacker Brian Burns (53) and defensive tackle Vernon Butler (92) after recovering a fumble during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Matt Ryan is coming to town, which tends to mean trouble for the Carolina Panthers.
The Falcons quarterback has dominated the rival Panthers of late, going 6-1 in his past seven starts while averaging 318 yards passing with 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
Ryan is 14-8 against Carolina.
So, while much of the attention this week has been on Carolina's porous run defense - they've allowed opponents to run for a combined 516 yards and 10 touchdowns in the past three games - defensive coordinator Eric Washington knows the Panthers can't forget about old No. 2 and his favorite target Julio Jones.
''We know what he's capable of and they have explosive talent at the wide receiver position,'' Washington said of Ryan. ''So we need to make sure we do a good job of getting him in third down situations they don't want to be in. And we have to be really efficient with our pass rush. The ball tends to come out fast on third-and-medium.''
That won't be easy.
Carolina's top cornerback James Bradberry is coming back from a groin injury this week, but the team's second- and third-best cornerbacks Donte Jackson and Ross Cockrell missed the first two days of practice this week with injuries and may not play. That means the Panthers (5-4) could have to lean on young players such as Javien Elliott, Cole Luke and Corn Elder, who was re-signed earlier this week because of injury concerns.
The Falcons (2-7) may not be contending for a playoff spot, but showed last Sunday they still have plenty of life - and firepower - by throttling the Saints 26-9
NEW LOOK AT RUNNING BACK
If Devonta Freeman is held out with a sprained foot, as expected, the Falcons will have a new look at running back. The position was considered to be the team's deepest spot before Ito Smith was placed on injured reserve last week following a concussion and a neck injury.
Brian Hill played well behind Freeman last week and is expected to start. Former Panthers backup Kenjon Barner would be the top backup and Qadree Ollison, who was active for the first time against the Saints, could play a bigger role. Notably, Barner was used in the wildcat formation, filling the role formerly held by Mohamed Sanu before the receiver was traded to New England. There could be more direct snaps for Barner against the Panthers.
NEW KICKER IS A KEEPER
The Falcons may have found their kicker, at least for the remainder of the season, in Younghoe Koo. Koo made four field goals, including a career-long 48-yarder, in last week's win at New Orleans in his Falcons debut. Koo was signed after veteran Matt Bryant's second stint with the team didn't go well and Giorgio Tavecchio couldn't hold the job.
Koo was the NFC special teams player of the week following his successful debut. He made three of six field-goal attempts with the Chargers in 2017 and kicked for the Atlanta Legends of the short-lived Alliance of American Football earlier this year. Koo, from South Korea, played for Georgia Southern.
The Panthers drafted Greg Little in the second round earlier this year to be their left tackle, but two concussions have limited him to two games and one start this season.
However, Little has now been cleared from the concussion protocol and is expected to start Sunday at left tackle with Dennis Daley sitting bothered by a groin injury. The Panthers have won both games that Little has played this season.
Before last week's game, Atlanta ranked last in the league with only seven sacks. Suddenly the Falcons rediscovered their pass rush with six sacks against the Saints, including 2 1/2 by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Vic Beasley Jr., who has been unable to duplicate his 2016 production, when he led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks, added 1 1/2 sacks.
''To me, it was just a good example to show what we're capable of,'' Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. ''If we apply those things time after time, those are the results that we hope to get.''
MORE OF MOORE
The Panthers are getting more production of late out of second-year wide receiver D.J. Moore, who is coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving games for the first time in his career. Moore had seven catches for 101 yards against the Titans two weeks ago and followed that up with a nine-catch, 120-yard performance last week against the Packers. Moore is leading the Panthers in receptions (54) and yards receiving (684). The next goal for him is getting into the end zone - he only has one TD catch.
The Baltimore Ravens could rest quarterback Lamar Jackson if they lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed by Week 17. If that's the case, Robert Griffin III would be expected to get the start in Week 17 against the Steelers, even if the season finale is important for the Steelers' chances of sealing a wild-card berth. This is why most fantasy leagues only go until Week 16. If your league goes all the way and you own Jackson, you might be without the league's most dynamic player in your fantasy title game. RG3 has been impressive in limited spurts, but he'd be a huge downgrade to Baltimore's entire offense if he starts, and the Ravens could also choose to rest starters other than Jackson.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot), who was officially placed on Injured Reserve on Thursday, is dealing with a Lisfranc injury that is expected to require surgery. He's facing many months of recovery ahead and could be in danger of not being ready for training camp next summer. Jeffery will turn 30 in February and he'll probably be avoided by most fantasy owners going into 2020 drafts after not playing in a full season since 2017. He had just 43 receptions for 490 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games for the Eagles this year. At best, Jeffery will be seen as a WR3 for fantasy owners going into next season.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (hand) took snaps under center at practice on Wednesday, but his right hand was pretty swollen on Monday after he injured it in the Week 14 win over the Patriots. Mahomes has been getting more treatment on his hand since the swelling went down earlier this week, including strengthening it as Week 15 against the Broncos approaches. He admitted that it was a scary situation after Sunday, but there is no fracture in the hand, so Mahomes should be fine to play this Sunday. It's not idea if he's at less than 100 percent against a strong Denver secondary, but Mahomes remains a must-start in fantasy if he's playing.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (foot) was at practice again on Thursday, and his foot injury is very minimal. He should be expected to play in Week 15 against the Patriots. A serious deep threat with his top-notch speed, Ross was on his way to a breakout season before he suffered a broken collarbone in Week 4. The 24-year-old had just two catches for 28 yards in his return from Injured Reserve last week against the Browns, and his matchup with the Patriots this weekend is less than ideal. Ross could get behind the defense for a big play or two, but much more likely that he's a fantasy bust for the second straight week.
Oakland Raiders rookie wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs) is back at practice on Thursday. Renfrow has been out since Week 12 but has a shot at returning in Week 15 against the Jaguars. The 23-year-old first-year player has 36 receptions (53 targets) for 396 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Oakland just doesn't support anyone of much fantasy relevance in the passing game outside of tight end Darren Waller and receiver Tyrell Williams. You can ignore Renfrow in most leagues if he makes his return this weekend against Jacksonville.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) called Thursday's practice a "win," but he will see how the rest of the week goes before he decides whether he'll play in Week 15 against the Chargers. Thielen is more optimistic about returning than he has been before. It's looking like he'll finally return for the first time since Nov. 3 when he re-injured his leg against the Chiefs. Most fantasy owners will immediately throw Thielen back into their lineups in the fantasy playoffs, but he'll be more of a WR3 if he returns, and he could be at risk of seeing limited snaps if the Vikings choose to ease him back into the fold. His return would be bad news for Olabisi Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) wasn't seen at practice on Thursday for the second straight day. Unless Agholor gets in a limited practice on Friday, he'll be on his way to missing another game. It hurts even more with Alshon Jeffery on Injured Reserve for the final three games of the season. Even if Agholor were to suit up this Sunday against the Redskins, he'd be a low-upside WR4/flex for desperate fantasy owners. Philly could be using three-wide sets consisting of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward Jr. and Robert Davis this weekend. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will be heavily involved.
Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (knee) doesn't have a timetable for a return next year after suffering a torn ACL last Sunday night against the Rams. Head coach Pete Carroll said that doctors will wait for inflammation to subside before undergoing surgery on Penny's knee. While he wouldn't say for sure that Penny won't be available for the start of next season, he didn't completely rule it out either. The Seahawks will rely on C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer as the backups to lead ball carrier Chris Carson for the rest of the 2019 season. Carson is a surefire RB1 with heavy volume expected in Week 15 against a suspect Carolina run defense. Penny remains a firm hold in dynasty/keeper leagues despite his devastating injury.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) returned to practice with the team on Thursday. He is currently questionable for Week 15 against the Redskins. If he's able to go this week, he could be a sneaky good start against a Redskins Defense allowing almost 135 rushing yards per game. Miles Sanders and Boston Scott have been shouldering the load while Howard has been out the past four games. If Howard returns, he'd likely be one of the team's primary rushers, with Sanders seeing more action in the passing game and Scott being relegated to single-digit touches. Keep an eye on Howard's status through the next few days.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that running back Raheem Mostert has earned his role as the lead ball carrier of late and that "he's given us no choice." Mostert has had double-digit carries each of the last two weeks against the Ravens and Saints and has also caught four passes, including one for a touchdown. Over the last three contests, Mostert has four total touchdowns (three on the ground) and was impressive with 146 ground yards against Baltimore on Dec. 1. He's taken over the backfield from Tevin Coleman and should be considered an RB2 on the rise for Week 15 in a great matchup against the Falcons.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee, shoulder) returned to practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. The Patriots were just giving Edelman a rest on Wednesday, as he's battled through nagging injuries for much of the season. He's clearly quarterback Tom Brady's favorite target -- eight straight games with double-digit targets -- and he'll be a no-brainer must-start in fantasy against a Bengals squad that the Patriots should be able to take advantage of through the air in Week 15. Edelman isn't in any danger of sitting out this Sunday.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (hamstring) said "I'll be ready to go" for Week 15 against the Raiders. Henry has been rested early in the week recently as he navigates a nagging hamstring injury, but he should be fine for this Sunday and is a must-start in all fantasy lineups. The bruising 25-year-old back is once again carrying teams in the fantasy playoffs in 2019 with four straight 100-yard performances. We see no reason why that shouldn't continue against Oakland this weekend as long as Henry plays the entire game.
Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo has certainly risen to the occasion since joining the team in November. He's hit 16 of his 18 field goal attempts on the year, with three made field goals in four of the five games he's played with the Falcons. This week, the Falcons face the 49ers and both teams should be able to put some points on the board. Expect Koo to get around three field goal attempts in the game with a few extra-point opportunities to boot, making him a solid starting kicker option once again this week.
The Falcons Defense faces an extremely tough task in Week 15. They're up against a 49ers team that has put up 36-or-more points in three of the past four weeks. The only time they were held under that number was against the Ravens. Needless to say, the Falcons don't have quite as formidable of a defense as the Ravens. The Falcons will likely cede over 30 points in this game and they may struggle to come up with a turnover, let alone multiple turnovers, to save their day. They should be avoided in all formats.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) is returning to practice on Thursday. It gives him a chance to suit up on Monday night against the Saints. Hilton hasn't seen game action since Nov. 21 against the Texans, though, so he could have his snaps limited if he returns against New Orleans. That would obviously make him a pretty risky fantasy option, especially on a Colts team that is usually run-first. Making the decision even tougher for fantasy owners is that the game is on Monday. Zach Pascal is Indy's No. 1 receiver with Hilton out, so he'd be the plug-and-play option if you take your decision all the way to Monday.
Atlanta Falcons rookie wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus made waves with his first NFL catch last week. It went for 93 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, it was his only catch of the game. There might be more opportunities for Zaccheaus going forward as Calvin Ridley (abdominal) is out for the season and Julio Jones (shoulder) is currently questionable for Week 15 as well. Zaccheaus was fourth on the team in offensive snaps amongst receivers in Week 14, behind Jones, Ridley and Russell Gage. If Jones sits this week, Zaccheaus could be a worthwhile dart throw in DFS or as a WR4 in deep leagues. If Jones plays, it's probably best to just keep Zaccheaus on your watch list or add him to your bench.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage should see his role increase going forward with Calvin Ridley (abdominal) out for the year. Gage has earned at least four targets in each of his past six games, with nine-plus targets in three games over that stretch. Julio Jones (shoulder) and Devonta Freeman (ankle) have been dealing with injuries this week and are both questionable for Week 15 against the 49ers. If one or both of them sit, Gage's upside becomes even higher, making him a must-start in PPR and a more realistic non-PPR option as well. Regardless of Jones and Freeman, Gage is a great WR3 or flex play in PPR as he should have a great chance to catch about five passes for 60-plus yards.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper has had an absolutely exceptional season with 58 catches for 640 yards and six touchdowns over 10 games. Last week, in his return from a three-game absence, he had one of his weaker showings of the year, catching just two passes for 32 yards. However, it was a rare off-game in an otherwise top-end season. Plus, the team just lost Calvin Ridley (abdominal) for the season and there's a chance they could be without Julio Jones (shoulder) and/or Devonta Freeman (ankle) this week as well. Hooper should see at least six or seven targets regardless of the availability of Jones and Freeman, and we've seen him turn in high-end tight end numbers with targets like those all year, so make sure to get him in your lineups.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (calf) is expected to be a limited participant in practice Thursday, Dec. 12, as the Colts return to the field. Head coach Frank Reich said the team plans to take it careful with Hilton, and he will play in Week 15 on Monday night only if the Colts feel he's 100 percent.
Fantasy Spin: Hilton has played in only one game with three receptions for 18 yards since Week 8, and it would be a nice early Christmas for his fantasy teams if he were able to return. That still seems like more of a longshot at this point, but we'll have to monitor Indy's practice reports over the next few days to get a better gauge.
Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison is currently third on the team's depth chart behind Devonta Freeman (ankle) and Brian Hill. Freeman has been dealing with an ankle injury this week and is currently questionable for Week 15, but even if he sits, it would be Hill who stands to benefit more than Ollison. In Week 14, Freeman earned 17 carries, while Hill had nine and Ollison had only four. If Freeman plays, Ollison's playing time will be greatly limited and if Freeman sits, Ollison will be a touchdown-or-bust option. He's best to avoid in all formats.