Los Angeles Chargers tight end Virgil Green (88) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins warms up before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
CARSON, Calif. (AP) The Minnesota Vikings realize they can't stop to take a deep breath in the final three weeks of the regular season - not even at sea level on the sunny West Coast.
With the Green Bay Packers ahead of them in the NFC North and the Los Angeles Rams right on their tails in the wild-card race, the Vikings (9-4) might need to be perfect in their final three games just to make the playoffs.
The next stop on Minnesota's perilous path to the postseason is a suburban soccer stadium hosting its next-to-last NFL game. The Los Angeles Chargers (5-8) have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but they've got more than enough talent and motivation to worry the Vikings in their final road game of the regular season.
''It's the NFL, so you can't take no team lightly,'' Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said.
The Vikings have won seven of nine with an increasingly impressive offense and a playmaking defense, but they realize the Chargers are a danger not indicated by their record.
Los Angeles' eight losses have all been by seven points or fewer, leaving the Chargers out of the playoff race despite a plus-38 point differential and elite talent on both sides of the ball. The Bolts' late-game execution has doomed them repeatedly, while the Vikings pulled out a pair of narrow victories last month to kick-start their playoff push.
A loss by the Vikings would greatly benefit the Rams, who will be the Chargers' stadium roommates next season. That's not a motivation for the Bolts, who are still fighting for coach Anthony Lynn's stated goal to rally back to .500.
''We want to win for us,'' quarterback Philip Rivers said. ''Obviously, it's been tough with every loss by one score. We're playing for us, but certainly, there's a lot on the line for them. The Rams are pulling for us as well. It'll be a heck of a game.''
TRIPPING UP Road games on the West Coast have long been tricky for teams in the Central or Eastern time zones, and the Vikings have been no exception.
After losing 37-30 at Seattle two games ago, they're 1-6 on the road in the Mountain and Pacific time zones in six seasons under coach Mike Zimmer. Their last such win was at Oakland in 2015. Five of those losses were in night games, so the NFL did the Vikings a favor by recently moving this contest out of prime time and into the late afternoon slot.
Another category that could hinder the Vikings? The natural grass at Dignity Health Sports Park. They've won only one of seven games on grass over the last two seasons, at Philadelphia in 2018.
''Good football teams, no matter what comes at them, find a way to still get the job done,'' quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
The Chargers haven't played a home game since Nov. 3, and they have just two left in their temporary stadium south of downtown Los Angeles. While the Vikings are likely to have a serious fan turnout, the Bolts are used to that - and they're still grateful to be home for the next two weeks believing they can reset their mentality with a regular schedule.
Minnesota's Stefon Diggs is fifth in the NFL with an average of 17.8 yards per reception. When he's targeted on an attempt of 20 or more yards in the air, the passer rating of 139.2 is second best in the league behind only Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce. Diggs has seven catches of 40 or more yards, tied for second in the NFL with Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and trailing only Mike Williams of the Chargers with eight. His success with Cousins going deep has been a big reason the Vikings have won seven of their last nine games and stayed on track for the playoffs despite the loss of two-time Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen to a hamstring injury. Thielen has been limited to 16 snaps over the previous seven games.
''Be able to run routes at a high level, catch the ball and have success down the field is just part of the game that you work at, but I never wanted to be good at one thing. I just wanted to be a good receiver,'' Diggs said.
Thielen has practiced on a limited basis this week and could finally be at full strength again on Sunday. After the initial injury on Oct. 20 at Detroit, he had a false start on Nov. 3 at Kansas City that forced him out again in the first quarter, making the Vikings extra cautious about his return. The Vikings have averaged 27 points over their last seven games.
''I'm excited. The only thing you're worried about is, `Hey, we've got a good rhythm going, you know?''' Cousins said, smiling. ''It does feel different when you have him back. It has a different dynamic, so you just joke with him, `Hey, don't rock the boat too much.'''
Keep an eye on the matchup between Vikings sack machine Danielle Hunter and the Chargers' offensive tackles. While left tackle Russell Okung is usually rock-solid, right tackle Sam Tevi is learning on the job and has given up too many chances to get at the relatively static Rivers. Hunter is tied for fourth in the league with 12 1/2 sacks after becoming the youngest player to reach 50 career sacks last week.
There has been buzz that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a possible landing spot for Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who will become a free agent in March. After his worst season since 2007, the aging gunslinger is unlikely to re-sign with the Bolts, and he recently moved his family from San Diego to Florida to be closer to his extended family in Alabama. The 38-year-old might have a year or two left of football in him if he continues to play, but the 2019 season showed that he's near the end of the line. Rivers would only be an option for Tampa if they choose not to bring Jameis Winston back for at least another season after he led all of football in passing yards last season.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has been fired, and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has been promoted in his place, according to league sources. Houston's defense was a liability for most of the year, especially their leaky secondary. The Texans allowed 51 points and seven straight touchdown drives to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round loss. During the 2019 season, Houston's defense allowed 388.3 yards per game (fifth worst), 267.3 passing yards per game (fourth worst), 121.1 rushing yards a game and 24.1 points per game. Getting J.J. Watt back healthy for a full season will be a start to the Texans rebounding on defense under Weaver.
The Carolina Panthers hired former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow as their new defensive coordinator on Monday. Snow oversaw the defenses for Matt Rhule at both Baylor and Temple. He has 37 years of college coaching experience and has also served as a defensive coordinator at UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and Boise State. Snow coached four seasons in the NFL with the Lions from 2005 to 2008 when he worked with the team's linebackers. Snow will lead a Carolina defense in 2020 that will be without All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recently announced his retirement from football.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is not expected back in 2020. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is the top candidate to replace him.
Updating a previous report, San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) has a 'good chance' to be available for the Super Bowl, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander (thumb) suffered a broken thumb during the team's NFC Championship Game loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Alexander is hopeful he won't need to undergo surgery.
The Green Bay Packers Defense recorded one sack and allowed 37 points in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers steamrolled past Green Bay's unit for 285 rushing yards and four rushing scores. To make matters worse, they couldn't generate much pressure or any turnovers. Despite the disappointing end, the Packers defense was much improved from last year, ranking 15th in sacks with 41 as well as third in interceptions with 17. They may not be among the top defenses drafted in 2020, though they should be on every fantasy managers' radar.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham caught four of five targets for 59 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Graham was a big disappointment this season in a year filled with disappointing tight ends. The 33-year-old put up the lowest numbers since his rookie season and never really put together a good stretch of play until very recently. Graham has one year left on his contract worth about 7.5 million dollars. Given how much of a bust he was, perhaps Green Bay cuts ties with him and goes younger at the position in 2020.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison caught two of three targets for eight yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. There were big expectations for Allison heading into 2019 in both the real and fantasy football worlds. Unfortunately for him, he lived up to neither, failing to eclipse 50 receiving yards in all but one game all year. Green Bay, who is in desperate need of another receiver behind Davante Adams, will have a decision to make about the 25-year-old, who is an unrestricted free agent. It's hard to see Allison being back in Green Bay in 2020.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard caught three of four targets for 36 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Lazard may not have made much noise in the two playoff games but flashed some potential in the regular season, including his first career 100-yard game. Rodgers started to develop a little chemistry with the 6-foot-4 wideout late in the season, as he looked his way 17 times in the last two contests. It would be surprising if Lazard were the number-two receiver for the Packers next year, though it still makes sense for them to bring him back in some capacity. Lazard has some sleeper potential if he's catching passes from Rodgers in 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' 87 passing touchdowns in his first 35 games, including playoffs, are the most in NFL history. His 11 passing touchdowns and 142 pass attempts without an interception to begin his playoff career are both the most on record, and he is one of just two players to have at least 250 passing yards, three or more passing touchdowns and at least 50 rushing yards in multiple career playoff games.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19, becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams caught nine of 10 targets for 138 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Adams operated as Rodgers' safety blanket yet again, capturing 79 more receiving yards than the Packers' next leading receiver. When healthy, this is what the 26-year-old did all year, as he compiled double-digit targets in all but four games, including the playoffs. Despite missing five games, Adams still almost put up a 1000-year season. It would behoove Green Bay to put together a stronger receiver group behind the star receiver. Even if they don't, a healthy Adams should be back in the discussion as an elite fantasy wideout in 2020.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams picked up just six rushing yards on three carries and caught two passes for one receiving yard in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Williams had a disappointing end to his season, as he failed to register at least 40 rushing yards in his last three games after eclipsing the mark in his previous three. The 24-year-old did show flashes at times of being the perfect complement to Aaron Jones. Still, it will be interesting to see if Green Bay hands the reins to Jones next year or continues to spell him with Williams. For now, consider Williams more of a handcuff option than a complement heading into 2020.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo completed six of his eight passes for 77 yards in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19. RB Raheem Mostert rushed 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns and caught two passes for six yards, and RB Tevin Coleman rushed six times for 21 yards. WR Deebo Samuel caught two passes for 46 yards and rushed twice for 43 yards, TE George Kittle caught his only target for 19 yards, and WR Emmanuel Sanders was held without a catch on one target. DE Joey Bosa and DL Arik Armstead both recorded a sack.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones carried the ball 12 times for 56 yards and a rushing touchdown along with five catches for 27 yards and a receiving score in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Jones was running well and would have been able to do more damage on the ground if not for the 27-0 deficit at the half. The 24-year-old finished the year tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with 19, then added four more scores in the playoffs. He (likely) won't score this many times next year, though Jones proved he's more than just a touchdown machine, racking up career-highs in both rushing and receiving yards. He'll be among the best options in 2020 for fantasy backs in all formats.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. At first glance, Rodgers' stat line doesn't look so bad, though the first half was a complete struggle for him and the offense. Down 27-0 at the half, the veteran signal-caller effectively used up garbage time to post these numbers. It's a disappointing end to the season for Rodgers, though he still put up his eighth career 4000-yard season as well as his 10th season with at least 25 touchdown passes. The 36-year-old has plenty of juice left in his arm but will probably need another threat on the outside next year besides Davante Adams if Green Bay wants to make noise.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of his 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and lost one of his three fumbles in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19. RB Aaron Jones rushed 12 times for 56 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 27 yards and a score. WR Davante Adams caught nine of his 10 targets for 138 yards, TE Jimmy Graham hauled in four of his five targets for 59 yards, WR Allen Lazard added three catches for 36 yards, and TE Jace Sternberger caught two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown. LB Blake Martinez led the team with nine tackles, including six solo stops.
Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander (thumb) has been ruled out for the remainder of the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Jan. 19.