Sat Jan 19 5:29pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
Los Angeles Rams' Aqib Talib (21) warms up during practice at the team's NFL football training facility Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Los Angeles Rams' Aqib Talib, left, and Todd Gurley stretch during practice at their NFL football training facility Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) The Los Angeles Rams realize they're heading into one of the NFL's most intimidating environments when they visit the top-seeded New Orleans Saints in the deafening Superdome for the NFC championship game.
Leave it to Aqib Talib, their voluble veteran cornerback, to remind his teammates about the upside of the New Orleans fans' famed investment in the game.
''As a defense, man, we like playing in it,'' Talib said. ''It's going to be quiet (when the Saints have the ball). We can talk. We can communicate good, so as a defense, we enjoy it.''
That's exactly the type of vocal, clever leadership the Rams desired when they acquired Talib last spring to bolster a defense lacking in big-game experience. They'll need every bit of Talib's expertise and skill when they attempt to slow Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and a New Orleans (14-3) offense that already carved up the Rams (14-3) once this season.
The Rams have one significant reason to think the rematch will be better: Talib was out with an ankle injury two months ago when the Rams gave up 346 yards passing to Brees during their first loss of the season, 45-35 at the Superdome.
Talib is healthy and eager to make a difference Sunday, although he deflects any attempt to put the spotlight on him.
''Everybody is preparing for this game different,'' Talib said. ''This is a huge game, so everybody is having real sharp meetings, and we're all going to bring something a little different to the table.''
The Rams acquired Talib and Marcus Peters to be the shutdown cornerbacks needed in the schemes of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who also coached Talib with the Broncos. Los Angeles even gave up linebacker Alec Ogletree, their leading tackler for most of his career, to create the cap space necessary to get Talib in a trade.
While many of his teammates got their first career playoff victory last week against Dallas, Talib has seen it all before - from big playoff games in New England to a Super Bowl championship run with Denver. The 32-year-old cover specialist was named a captain by his teammates before he had even played his first game with the Rams, although he downplays his own leadership role.
''I just be myself, you know,'' Talib said. ''I just communicate with guys, ask questions in the meeting room, and I don't know. Maybe if I was on the outside looking in, I would see it.''
Los Angeles' defense has experienced a clear upswing in performance since the Rams' epic 54-51 victory over Kansas City in late November. The Rams' defense forced five turnovers by the Chiefs, but also gave up 546 yards.
That was the eighth game missed by Talib due to a high ankle sprain. He returned for the next outing after their bye week in early December - and not coincidentally, the Rams have held four of their last six opponents under 23 points.
''It changes things,'' Phillips said. ''Since Aqib has been back, we haven't given up a lot of big plays in the passing game. He helps with communication, he helps with his talent, and we don't have to change people around to cover up for a guy that hadn't been playing. It gives us a versatility that we didn't have when he wasn't in there.''
Phillips typically doesn't like to assign one cornerback to a single receiver, preferring versatility and flexibility. The Rams also have a strong third cornerback, Nickell Robey-Coleman, who typically handles receivers lining up in the slot, as Thomas sometimes does.
But it seems highly likely the Rams would consider matching up Talib with Thomas as much as possible. After all, Thomas posted 211 yards receiving against his hometown team in November largely against Peters .
Talib understandably wouldn't give away the Rams' potential strategy for the NFC title game, and neither would Phillips. But Phillips made it clear how much he relies on the veteran to act as an extension of himself on the field.
''He's pretty proactive about everything,'' Phillips said. ''He's a big personality, so you can't help but be drawn to him. I tell him he always takes the other side. Whatever side you take, well, he's going to argue the other side. You know, that's him. He gets going, he gets excitable about a lot of things, and he's a lot of fun to be around. And he made me drippin' in the Super Bowl, so that was nice.''
New England Patriots wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will open training camp on the team's PUP list. This isn't that much of a surprise as the veteran receiver continues to rehab from a torn ACL suffered last season. But the situation could have fantasy consequences in a few weeks when the Patriots must make their first cuts. If Thomas cannot practice by then, the team may be forced to keep him on the PUP list. This would make the 31-year-old ineligible for the first six regular season games and further damage the value of a player on the back-end of a very productive career.
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel will begin training camp on the PUP list as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. Michel will not be eligible to practice with the team and his return is up in the air at this time. The Patriots still have plenty of time to activate the second-year back before first cuts and the expectation is that he should be ready to open the season as their lead back. But players must miss six regular season games if they remain on the PUP list after first cutdowns. The hope is this is precautionary since Michel participated in the team's mandatory minicamp. It is too early to become worried about Michel's status but his situation will have to be monitored throughout training camp all the way up to fantasy drafts.
Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Carter was placed on the active/PUP list for undisclosed reasons. Carter enters camp looking to lock down a role as Houston's fourth receiver, but he won't be able to practice until the team removes him from the list, which could put him behind in preparation for the upcoming season. Carter had 20 catches for 195 yards for Houston last year after joining the team in the middle of the year. He also spent time returning punts and kicks. Carter can be activated from the list at any time. With wide receiver Will Fuller's injury history, the fourth receiver job in Houston has the potential to produce fantasy points at some point during the season, though Carter shouldn't be drafted in any formats yet, and it's unclear how firm a hold he has on the job.
The Baltimore Ravens placed offensive guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on Sunday. He is still recovering from shoulder surgery performed in January. Lewis has started 18 games over the past two seasons, but he was unable to perform during the offseason program. OG Jermaine Elumunor has been working with the first-team offense in his absence. The offensive line is a concern for the fantasy outlooks of quarterback Lamar Jackson, the pass game and the running game, so keep a close eye on the blocking of the Ravens during training camp and into the preseason games.
Arizona Cardinals tight end Charles Clay (knee) is dealing with a knee issue and he was one of six players the team placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on Sunday leading up to the open of training camp this week. Clay can be activated at any point, but he cannot do any on-field work until he is activated. He is challenging for a potential starting job, so he'll want to get on the field as soon as possible. The Arizona offense promises to be rather prolific under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, although with plenty of four- and five-receiver sets, it's uncertain how much the tight end will see of the field. Stay tuned.
The Arizona Cardinals placed defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (knee) on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Sunday. The team also placed linebacker Dante Booker (knee), OL Max Garcia (knee), LB Brooks Reed (hip) and CB Brandon Williams (back) on the PUP. In addition to those moves, they released OL William Holden and DL Immanuel Turner, while signing DL Sterling Bailey. PUP players are eligible to return any point during training camp, but cannot take part in on-field work until they're taking off the list. Nkemdiche and Garcia are each making their way back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during the 2018 season.
While it's unclear what led to him being placed on it, Houston Texans rookie tight end Kahale Warring will open training camp on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. What this essentially means is that Warring is dealing with some injury that wasn't sustained as part of his NFL duties and that he won't be available to practice at the start of training camp. As a rookie who plays a position where the Texans have a lot of depth, Warring may miss out on valuable early reps that could help him battle for snaps over second-year tight ends Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas. Warring is much more interesting as a dynasty prospect than a re-draft one at this stage.
The Houston Texans have placed wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins on the active/PUP list. What this means is that Hopkins, who's been dealing with a shoulder injury, will be unable to practice with the team as long as he's on the list, but Hopkins can be activated from the list at any time. There should be no concern at this point about Hopkins' availability for Week 1, though it would be surprising if we see him at all in the preseason. Hopkins is a clear first round pick in all formats and is capable of finishing as the overall WR1 based on what he's shown in the past in this Houston offense.
Rumors that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones might hold out have turned out to not be true, as Jones has reported to training camp. Jones and the team will continue to talk about a long-term extension for the wideout, but it doesn't look like there's any danger of Jones missing time or getting behind on his conditioning. He remains one of the top wide receivers in fantasy football and should be a first round pick in all formats.
Houston Texans tight end Jordan Thomas recently suggested that Houston will use a committee approach at tight end with Thomas, Jordan Akins, and rookie Kahale Warring, but Thomas is expected to be the leader of that committee and the player most likely to be a weapon in Houston's passing game. Thomas caught four touchdowns last season, but he saw his snap percentage fade as the season went along. Even if Thomas gets the most snaps, quarterback Deshaun Watson doesn't target tight ends at a rate that would make Thomas a sustainable fantasy starter.
Washington Redskins LB Josh Harvey-Clemons is expected to serve as the team's nickel linebacker this year, after bulking up in the offseason.
Washington Redskins LB Mason Foster is expected to be used as a starter at one of the team's inside linebacker spots, although it remains uncertain if he will appear in nickel sets.
Former Washington Redskins LB Preston Smith had attracted interest from the Indianapolis Colts during free agency before he ultimately signed with the Green Bay Packers.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (knee) is expected to be completely recovered from his torn anterior cruciate ligament in time to play against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller missed the entirety of spring workouts and figures to be limited at best early in training camp, but he will be roughly 10 months removed from surgery by the time the Texans visit the Saints on Sept. 9. Of course, his biggest challenge will be staying on the field - something he has struggled to do as a pro. He's a high-end WR3 who owners need to have a backup plan for, as he has missed 17 of a possible 48 games in his three-year NFL career.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill could be traded early next season if a contract extension can't be worked out, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.
Fantasy Spin: Hill should be headed for another year of WR1 production as one of the main weapons in Kansas City's high-powered offense, but his ceiling could change dramatically if he switches teams. The trade talk is just speculation for now, but it is one more reason to try to acquire Mecole Hardman in keeper formats.
Seattle Seahawks WR Jaron Brown will likely enter the 2019 season as a starter in three-receiver sets, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
Seattle Seahawks WR Amara Darboh could 'steal a roster spot' if he can build on his performance from OTAs, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
Seattle Seahawks WR David Moore will open the season as a top-three receiver, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
Fantasy Spin: Tyler Lockett is likely to be the top target in the passing attack, but the pecking order is wide open from there. With Seattle looking to replace Doug Baldwin, Moore could be worth a flier as a WR5.
Houston Texans RB D'Onta Foreman's performance this year will be a 'season-long audition' to show he deserves to be the lead back in 2020, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Fantasy Spin: Lamar Miller enters 2019 as the starter, but he is also in a contract year. Foreman is a high-end handcuff in redraft leagues for now, but his upside in keeper formats is enormous. By next season, he could be the featured back in a potent offense.