In this Sept. 15, 2019, file photo, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan works the sideline during the second half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati. Almost nothing has gone wrong for Shanahan and the unbeaten 49ers, who are in position to establish themselves as the favorite in the division that the Los Angeles Rams dominated since head coach Sean McVays arrival. (AP Photo/Gary Landers, )
Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay looks toward the scoreboard late in the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 30-29. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
LOS ANGELES (AP) Sean McVay's first two seasons as the youngest head coach in modern NFL history were almost entirely positive times. His Los Angeles Rams were shockingly good from the start of his tenure, and they steadily improved all the way to the Super Bowl.
McVay is still easily the youngest coach in the league 2 1/2 years later, but the 33-year-old prodigy is finally facing some significant adversity as he matches wits with a former co-worker whose team has already jumped ahead of the Rams in this young season.
Kyle Shanahan was hired by the San Francisco 49ers just 25 days after McVay joined the Rams. McVay's fellow former Redskins assistant took a whole lot longer to get his Niners going, but they're 4-0 heading to the Coliseum to face the Rams (3-2) in an early-season landmark game in the NFC West race.
''We've been fortunate to have some success over the last couple of years, specifically in our division,'' McVay said. ''But every single game represents a chance to rewrite the narrative.''
The Rams are on just the second losing streak of McVay's tenure with back-to-back defeats after a shaky 3-0 start. McVay's revolutionary offense has been ordinary for long stretches of Los Angeles' first five games, with unspectacular play by his offensive line and by his star pupil, quarterback Jared Goff.
Almost nothing has gone wrong for Jimmy Garoppolo and the unbeaten 49ers as they begin play in the NFC West, which the Rams have dominated since McVay's arrival.
''We haven't done a good job in our division these last two years, and we definitely want to change that,'' Shanahan said. ''To do that against a team like the Rams, who really have dominated these last two years, would be a very good start for us.''
McVay, Shanahan and their players almost uniformly resist the urge to describe this California derby as anything special. The season is too young and this rivalry is too well mannered for true bad feelings.
If the Niners and Rams stay on top of the game in the coming years, that could change.
''Hopefully we can get that rivalry coming back,'' Shanahan said. ''I know there is a rivalry, but it's been a little bit one-sided. I know we are getting closer. I'm excited about the team that we've got now, and I'm excited to match up on Sunday.''
Things to watch in LA:
BREIDA THE CHEETAH
Niners running back Matt Breida has the speed to be one of the league's most dangerous big-play backs. His 83-yard run on San Francisco's opening play from scrimmage set the tone for last week's win over Cleveland and contributed to Breida's league-best 6.54 yards per carry this season. That success isn't new for the 2017 undrafted free agent, whose 5.22 career average trails only Bo Jackson and Jamaal Charles for the best mark since the merger among running backs with at least 300 carries. Speed is Breida's best attribute: He clocked the fastest speed for a player with the ball this season when he hit 22.3 mph on the run against the Browns, according to the NFL's NextGen stats. Breida had the fastest mark last year as well at 22.09 mph on a 33-yard run at Tampa Bay.
The Rams don't know how much they will use Todd Gurley, who missed their only real practice of the last two weeks Wednesday due to a bruised left thigh . The once-prolific running back's touches already are down sharply this season, and McVay plans to use Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson in the backfield against the Niners. Both backups are well regarded, but neither has shown Gurley's athleticism or his versatility in the backfield. The Niners' dominant rushing defense will be a formidable task, particularly for the Rams' up-and-down offensive line.
OUT OF JUICE
Along with their two injured starting tackles, the 49ers will be missing another key offensive piece due to versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk's knee injury. Juszczyk is a key part of the league's most productive running game as a lead blocker. He also provides great support as an extra pass blocker, allowing Garoppolo to hold onto the ball long enough to take some deep shots. He is even dangerous as a receiver with five catches for 71 yards the past two games, making it very difficult for one player to replace everything he does.
Aaron Donald's impact on games hasn't been nearly as tangible this season, with just 13 tackles and one sack through five games of near-constant double teams. But the Rams' two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year usually excels against the Niners. He has seven sacks in his last four games against San Francisco, including four sacks - one in which he tackled C.J. Beathard by shoving center Weston Richburg into the quarterback - in a destructive performance last October.
SEARCHING FOR GOULD
About the only thing that went wrong for the 49ers in last week's win over Cleveland was the field goal kicking. The usually reliable Robbie Gould missed three of his four tries - one from 52 yards following a low snap from recently signed long snapper Garrison Sanborn - to match his total misses from his first two seasons in San Francisco. Gould also missed wide right from 47 yards and had a 32-yarder blocked. Gould made 72 of 75 field goals in his previous two seasons with the 49ers for the most accurate two-season stretch in NFL history with at least 50 tries.
Chicago Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro missed two more field goals -- one from 47 yards and one from 48 yards out -- in Sunday night's loss to the Rams. Pineiro was 8-for-10 on his field goals and perfect on extra points going into the bye week, but he's hitting just 50 percent of his kicks since then and hasn't made a field goal since going 3-for-5 against the Chargers. Head coach Matt Nagy is disappointed in Pineiro, but he's not ready to make a change at the position just yet. Im not worried about anything right now, Pieiro said. Ive just go to keep making kicks in practice, go back and see what I did wrong, and just try to make kicks. Even in a good matchup with the Giants next week, Pineiro shouldn't be in starting lineups.
Denver Broncos fullback Andy Janovich (elbow) will miss the rest of the season after suffering a dislocated right elbow in the Week 11 loss to the Vikings. He will undergo an MRI exam on Monday to determine if he also has ligament damage. Janovich scored on a one-yard touchdown plunge before his injury. Andy Beck, an undrafted rookie who plays tight end and fullback, replaced Janovich in the second half. Janovich missed the first three games of the year with a partially torn pectoral muscle. His absence the rest of the way is bad news for both running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.
The Denver Broncos Defense had a solid outing against the Minnesota Vikings, the most noticeable stat being the five sacks they logged against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings o-line. They also managed to force and recover two fumbles, packing the stat sheet for any owners that played them in Week 11. Despite the defensive collapse in the fourth quarter, the Broncos held the Vikings to under 350 total yards and won the turnover battle during the game. They will look to keep up the pace next week against the Buffalo Bills in a road matchup.
Denver Broncos running back Royce Freeman was non-existent in the team's loss to the Vikings in Week 11. The 2nd-year back has started to dip in production his last two games, a daunting sign for owners that were occasionally sneaking him into their flex spot. Freeman only had eight carries for 31 yards, alongside one reception for 14 yards. Things don't lighten up for the Oregon product, as the Broncos face a stout Buffalo Bills Defense next week on the road.
Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus hit three of his four field-goal attempts on Sunday afternoon, while also connecting on both of his extra-point tries. The three hits came from 29, 41, and 47 yards out, while the lone miss was a 43-yard attempt. McManus continues to be a middle of the pack option at kicker, posting solid performances week-to-week.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (hand) suffered a hand fracture during Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He underwent successful surgery to repair the fracture on Monday morning. He's expected to be out for Week 12, and it's likely that he'll be out at least one more week after that. However, this is not considered to be season-ending for him at this point. With Jordan Wilkins inactive in Week 11, Jonathan Williams benefited the most from Mack leaving the game, attempting 13 runs for 116 yards and adding one catch for 31 yards in the win. On a short week Thursday night in Week 12 against the Texans, Williams could have RB2 upside if Wilkins misses another game. Nyheim Hines should also see more work, but he's mostly an RB3/flex for PPR leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson both suffered concussions in Thursday night's eventful loss to the Browns. Smith-Schuster also came away from the game with a knee injury for his trouble, and his status for Sunday's matchup with Cincinnati is up in the air, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Neither Smith-Schuster nor Johnson have been no-doubt weekly fantasy starters, but fantasy owners will nonetheless want to keep their ears to the ground for updates on these developments. Vance McDonald and James Washington could be in line for increased roles if one or both are inactive for Week 12, as well as the already PPR-friendly Steelers backfield.
Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant was a highly sought after target for quarterback Brandon Allen, as he hauled in four catches on 11 targets. This is a career-high in targets for Fant, who is starting to see an uptick in production with a change of scenery in recent weeks. Against the Vikings, the rookie tallied 60 yards, his second-highest yards in a game this season. Fant's stock continues to rise as he and the Broncos have a tough test against the Bills next week.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (wrist) was called "day-to-day" by head coach Freddie Kitchens on Monday. Njoku is eligible to be activated from injured reserve this week after fracturing his wrist during Week 2's win over the New York Jets. Kitchens told reporters, "We've got to get him on the football field and see where he's at." There is a strong possibility that Njoku practices on Wednesday as the team gears up for a Week 12 matchup against the Miami Dolphins. Fantasy GMs in need of tight end help should check for Njoku on the waiver wire. He has the potential to be a TE1 down the stretch of the fantasy season.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay struggled against the Minnesota Vikings run defense, posting disappointing numbers for his fantasy owners. The 2nd-year back had 16 attempts on the afternoon but only managed 67 yards, with eight yards added in the receiving game. Things don't lighten up for Lindsay, as he faces a stout Buffalo Bills Defense next week.
Denver Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen is starting to get his footing under himself after two starts with Broncos in Joe Flacco's absence. He posted a strong first half against the Minnesota Vikings but wasn't able to close out the game on Sunday. Allen threw for 240 yards and one touchdown alongside one interception. The 27-year-old quarterback will face his toughest test yet next week as he and the Broncos make a trip to Buffalo to face the Bills.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick tallied 77 yards in his first game of action in 2019. Patrick is fighting for minutes in a receiving corps that currently has a gap alongside established star Courtland Sutton. Sunday's performance has lighted hope into Broncos fans that have been looking for someone to pop out in the receiving corps, and Patrick is making a case to be that someone moving forward. Patrick logged four catches on eight targets for 77 yards and is available on almost all waiver wires. He could be a flyer pick for owners looking to add depth with potential moving forward.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Trey Quinn has not seen more than four targets in a game since Week 3, nor has he caught more than three passes in this same span. That trend regrettably continued in Week 11 with his second straight game of single-digit receiving yards. There was a glimmer of promise in his 2019 fantasy profile after being targeted 20 times combined in his first three games, but inconsistent QB play and an otherwise inept offense have cast him into the void. Whatever PPR upside Quinn possessed coming into the season, that ship has clearly sailed.
Washington Redskins tight end Jeremy Sprinkle was once again mostly a non-factor in Sunday's loss to the Jets, catching two passes for 16 yards on three targets. Unlike the rest of his stat lines this season, which all look a lot like this one, he scored a touchdown in Week 11. The game was all over but the shouting by the time Sprinkle hauled in his one-yard score, as his visit to the endzone narrowed the Redskins' deficit to 17 points with just over a minute left to go in the fourth quarter. Even in an offense nearly devoid of reliable pass-catching options outside of Terry McLaurin, the Redskins have clearly not placed an emphasis on getting the ball to Sprinkle at tight end. He hasn't been targeted more than three times in a game since Week 3. Touchdown or no touchdown, he can continue to be overlooked in fantasy leagues.
Denver Broncos FB Andy Janovich (elbow) is expected to miss the rest of the season with a right elbow injury suffered in Week 11. He will seek more medical opinions before determining whether surgery will be needed.
Washington Redskins wide receiver Kelvin Harmon was the primary beneficiary in terms of playing time with Paul Richardson sidelined for Sunday's game. Harmon was targeted six times (two more than any other Washington pass-catcher), and hauled in five for 53 yards. The Week 11 performance exponentially increased his season-long catch and yardage totals, which should tell you everything you need to know about whether he's been seeing chances on a regular basis. The fact that he was more productive than Richardson has been for most of the year and immediately outplayed Trey Quinn might earn him more such chances going forward, but this is still a pass offense without safe or trustworthy options outside of Terry McLaurin.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton made his presence known all over the field in the Broncos loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon. The 2nd-year receiver caught five passes, ran the ball twice, and completed one pass. He only managed 10 yards rushing, but the pass was an impressive 38-yard completion to teammate Tim Patrick. The most important part though was his five catches for 113 on nine targets. Sutton has continued to put up impressive numbers despite having a shaky quarterback situation and looks to keep it rolling in Week 12 with a tough matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
New York Giants TE Evan Engram (foot) shed his walking boot Monday, Nov. 18, and believes he can resume running and cutting at some point later in the week. He told ESPN's Jordan Raanan that it is 'definitely possible' to return in Week 12 against the Chicago Bears.
Fantasy Spin: Players are typically optimistic about their chances early in the week, but fantasy owners should be skeptical considering Engram wasn't practicing Monday with the team coming off a bye. As such, Week 13 is looking like a more realistic return date. Either Rhett Ellison (concussion) or sixth-round rookie Kaden Smith should draw the start against Chicago if Engram sits.
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson had to contend not only with a stout Jets run defense on Sunday, but also with the return of second-year teammate Derrius Guice. Naturally, Peterson's fantasy output in the 34-17 home loss to New York suffered. He saw just nine carries and took them for a combined 25 yards. Sunday marked the first time since Week 5 that Peterson did not see at least 14 carries or 16 touches in a game, and fantasy owners have to believe there are going to be a lot more days like this one with Guice back in the fold. Peterson will need to be downgraded as a result, as his 2019 fantasy value has been entirely the product of opportunity.
Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky (hip) suffered a right hip pointer when he was sacked at the end of the second quarter in Week 11 against the Los Angeles Rams, according to head coach Matt Nagy. Trubisky was pulled from the game late in favor of Chase Daniel, but Nagy insisted the move was made due to the injury. 'Every decision that was made, it had zero to do with his play. It was completely based off his injury and where he was at,' Nagy said.
Fantasy Spin: Trubisky was not particularly good again in Week 11 even before the injury. His play across the board has deteriorated from last year, and one of the biggest differences in his game in 2019 is how little he has scrambled (and how ineffective he has been at doing it). Trubisky has two good upcoming matchups against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, but it will be difficult for owners to start him in fantasy at any point the rest of the way.