Mon Dec 6 3:24am ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) takes questions during a new conference after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
John Harbaugh has the best kicker in the NFL, currently and possibly ever. Yet, trailing by one point, he left Justin Tucker on the sideline Sunday night and went for a 2-point conversion in the dying seconds at Pittsburgh.
Lamar Jackson didn't quite have enough touch on his pass to an open Mark Andrews, and the Ravens (8-4) fell 20-19 to the Steelers. The defeat dropped Baltimore from the overall lead in the AFC.
It seemed one of the stranger decisions of a strange NFL season. But Harbaugh, one of the league's best coaches, quickly explained his reasoning.
''We tried to win the game right there. We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time,'' Harbaugh said without noting that Baltimore's secondary has been leaky all season no matter who is playing. ''It was an opportunity for us to win the game right there.''
Considering the versatility of Jackson, it probably was a strong opportunity. But the one item not a major part of Jackson's bag of tricks is the finesse pass, which is what this play called for.
''You saw the play. It's that close,'' Harbaugh said. ''It's a game of inches. You saw the speech in, `Any Given Sunday,' right? That's football. It's just that close.''
As is the entire AFC race.
Baltimore's decision surprised its archrivals. And didn't.
''I was a little surprised because I ran off the field,'' said DE Cam Heyward, who is not on special teams. ''But we called the timeout, bought me an extra couple of seconds. At first, I thought (Andrews) scored, because he had it in his hand and then he dropped it. But I mean, it's just one or two plays that go your way.''
Harbaugh's gamble was in character, according to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has gone up against the Ravens coach for nearly 14 seasons.
''You know what, coach Harbaugh, Miami (Ohio) guy, nothing surprises me,'' Big Ben said. ''And that's why he's, you know, I consider him a great football coach because he takes those chances and believes in his team, and as a player, I'm sure they love that belief in them.''
Fair enough, and who is to say the Ravens would have won a coin toss to start overtime, marched downfield and scored a touchdown to end it without putting their secondary on the field?
But the decision brings into focus just how difficult crunch time can be for coaches. There is no accepted manual on how to manage such situations. Many times, the gut feeling is the best approach.
Unfortunately, very few head coaches have the, well, guts to go with their gut. Far too many of them coach not to lose rather to win. Is there anything more frustrating than watching your team go into the prevent defense? Cliche warning: All the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.
See what happened in Detroit, which is pretty emblematic of what the Vikings have gone through in 2021. A team talented enough to be high in the mix for the NFC wild-card spots, they fell to 5-7 in great part because they shut down the throttle. Minnesota added a two-point defeat to losses by eight, seven and four points; by three points in a pair of overtime games; and 34-33 at Arizona.
In pretty much handing the Lions (1-10-1) their initial victory of the season, the Vikings went into such a defensive shell, and offense-challenged Detroit went 75 yards in 1:50. Without a timeout.
Jared Goff threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown just beyond the goal line as time expired - with the Vikings' defensive backs far too deep in the end zone.
Minnesota's three-man rush backfired big time.
''In hindsight, we would have loved to have gotten more pressure on him,'' coach Mike Zimmer said of Goff, ''but I didn't think we were covering very well. I thought we needed more people in coverage than we did up front. Obviously, that didn't work.''
It very often doesn't.
The lesson? It hurts more to be passive and lose than to be super aggressive and lose.
''Honestly if we would've converted the 2-point conversion we would've been having a different conversation right now,'' said Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes. ''Let's be real. We'd be talking about how we found a way to win.
''At the end of the day they found a way to make one play and we didn't. That's what it came down to. That's what these games are about, especially this late in the season. They made one extra play.''
San Francisco 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell (knee) has been removed from the injury report heading into the playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers. The knee issue appears to be behind him as Mitchell has fully practiced each of the last two days. That being said, Mitchell should have a full workload against Green Bay this weekend. He has seen 20-plus carries in each of the last six games. He'll be the offensive focal point and an excellent DFS option for this weekend's slate.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (abdominal) has been activated off the injured reserve. This is good news for the Packers who could use the reinforcements. Although, Cobb isn't expected to generated a ton of targets against the San Francisco 49ers this weekend. The last time Cobb played was Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. He finished with four receptions, 95 receiving yards, and one touchdown in that contest. Possibly, it's a sign that Cobb is better than he looks, but DFS players shouldn't trust him. He'll be a touchdown-dependent option for this playoff matchup with the 49ers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (ankle) did not suit up for Thursday's practice. There was some confusion earlier because Jones was at practice without a walking boot. However, he didn't practice with the team and was likely limited to rehab duties. Despite that, it's nice to see Jones out of the walking boot finally. However, it's uncertain if Jones will be able to suit up for Sunday's playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Rams. Fellow running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) is questionable to play after missing last week's matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. That means, the Bucs could once again use the combination of Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard. Neither of them carry high value in terms of streaming, but Bernard is the slightly better DFS option. However, the return of Fournette or Jones would likely end both of their values. Fantasy managers are going to need to stay tuned over the next few days.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Cyril Grayson Jr. (hamstring) remained sidelined during Thursday's practice. He was joined on the sideline by fellow wideout Breshad Perriman (abdominal, hip) on Thursday. That being said, Mike Evans, Tyler Johnson, and Scotty Miller could be the starters for the playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Rams this weekend. The hope is that Grayson will be able to play since he was able to practice on Wednesday. He has a small sample size this season, but played well whenever given the chance. Grayson hauled in six receptions for 81 yards and one touchdown against the New York Jets in Week 17. Possibly, Grayson could be a sneaky DFS option, assuming he's able to suit up against the Rams.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins has gotten somewhat lost in the storm of Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase putting up record-setting numbers. However, Higgins is a solid option, and it was fairly recently that the fantasy community was in a frenzy regarding taking Higgins over Chase in 2022. Things have changed, obviously, but Higgins is still a fantastic option for DFS and will be a draft target in 2022. A tall, possession wide receiver, paired with one of the best in the game in Chase and a gunslinger in Burrow, Higgins has the potential to go off in any given week while also holding a decent floor due to the offense's electricity and the lanky receiver's talent. With the LSU reunion in Cincinnati, the former Clemson Tiger is being overlooked to a fault.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle is nothing special, but if DFS players are scouring for a cheap wide receiver or Flex, Pringle is a good fit. In his last four games, Pringle has played 64 percent of snaps and been on pace for 81 receptions, 863 yards, and 17 touchdowns. Obviously, this is not sustainable, but behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Pringle has emerged as the Chiefs' next best option through the air. Although he has little value in Dynasty and probably won't even be drafted in 2022, fantasy managers can ride the 28-year-old's hot streak in what projects to be a shootout against the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon had a surprising performance last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers with 12 carries for 61 yards and six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. However, this apparent breakout should be analyzed skeptically. The 29-year-old accompanied a variation of lead backs in his days with the Minnesota Vikings but managed to sign a substantial deal with the San Francisco 49ers, where he would fade to irrelevance. But the Chiefs took a flier on this speedster, and after a full season with the team, he finally played a role in this offense for one game. Throughout the season, the Chiefs have been searching for an answer at running back and cycling from one guy to another. Perhaps McKinnon is what they've been looking for all along, but based on his career's history and the abruptness of his surge, it's most likely that they'll continue rotating to the next guy and McKinnon will fade once again.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary had a stellar end to the season and has continued his dominance into the playoffs. Last week, against the New England Patriots, Singletary had 16 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns as well three catches for 13 yards. Through the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15 to 17), the 24-year-old was the RB2, averaging 18.5 fantasy points per game. Singletary's divisional round performance against the Kansas City Chiefs may be extremely indicative of his future outlook. Against a good defense and in what's projected to be a contested game, the Bills may choose to lean on their lead-runner: a great sign for Singletary's future value. However, the Bills may also find themselves falling behind and revert to their pass-heavy ways, neglecting Singletary, which presents some downside for Dynasty managers and potential 2022 drafters. The Bills have recently reinvented themselves around this talented rusher, but only time will tell if they choose to sustain this strategy.
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers has officially returned after recovering from his torn Achilles in record time, and he has returned with a bang. The sophomore amassed 18 touches for 95 total yards against the Arizona Cardinals on Wild Card Weekend. After such a great performance, it seems as though Akers has returned as the Rams' feature-back; however, this notion is not reflected in his DFS cost. A mere price of $5,700 places him in the neighborhood of questionable backups Giovanni Bernard and Jerick McKinnon. Even if Akers isn't ready to assume the full workload, this price is overcompensating for an injury that has been a minimal factor since his return. Akers should be a cornerstone of all DFS lineups this week and will be a staple of the early rounds in 2022 drafts.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Breshad Perriman (abdomen, hip) looked to be limited in practice on Thursday and is still a question mark to play on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round. Perriman sat out of Wednesday's walkthrough practice, but the good news is that he was able to get back on the field on Thursday. The 28-year-old caught only one of three targets for five yards in the wild-card win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week with Cyril Grayson (hamstring) inactive. If he's able to play against the Rams, he'll be a boom/bust DFS option for fantasy gamers. If both Perriman and Grayson are unable to play, Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller would have expanded roles alongside Mike Evans in three-wide sets.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (foot) is progressing well, but the team won't make a decision on his status for the Divisional Round against the Cincinnati Bengals until Friday, according to head coach Mike Vrabel. Henry has been taking contact in practice this week, but the Titans must first activate him from Injured Reserve if Henry is healthy enough to play on Saturday for the first time since Week 8. All signs are pointing to the 28-year-old being active against Cincinnati, and if he is, he should be the team's workhorse running back. Henry could be a bit risky in his first game back, especially as the most expensive RB at DraftKings, but he's also been the most dominant RB in the league when he's been healthy the last couple of seasons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) is practicing again on Thursday. Fournette remains on Injured Reserve and hasn't played since Week 15, but he could be trending towards a return for the Divisional Round game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. If Fournette is healthy enough to play, the Bucs will have to activate him no later than Saturday. With Fournette and Ronald Jones II (ankle) out in the wild-card round, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard were in a timeshare in Tampa's backfield. Fournette should operate as the team's lead back if he's activated, although he might not be used as the workhorse in the running and passing game like he was before his injury, especially if Jones is able to return as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (ankle) was back at practice on Thursday and wasn't in his walking boot as he worked with a trainer. Jones appears to be making progress after sitting out of the wild-card win over the Philadelphia Eagles, but he's fighting an uphill battle to be ready on Sunday to face the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round. Leonard Fournette (hamstring) is making progress and could come off Injured Reserve to play this weekend, while Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Giovani Bernard wait for their opportunity after splitting the backfield touches last weekend. Even if Jones somehow was able to play on Sunday and Fournette missed another game, Vaughn and Bernard would likely still be involved, which would make Jones tough to recommend in DFS contests.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is interviewing with the Carolina Panthers for their vacant offensive coordinator spot again Thursday, Jan. 20.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (ankle) was working with a trainer at practice Thursday, Jan. 20, without a boot.
Fantasy Spin: RoJo could be a flex candidate even though Leonard Fournette is trending upwards.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (knee) made his return from injury for the Bills' playoff game against New England and caught two passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. He come out of that game healthy and was able to practice in full all week, meaning he will remain active against a Chiefs team who he had great success against in October when he caught three passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns. Now, since that time, Gabriel Davis has emerged as a key members of the wide receiver corps; however, Sanders has not been phased out. In fact, Sanders played the third-most snaps among Bills wide receivers during the Wild Card win over New England, so if the Bills need to push the pace against the Chiefs, Sanders could be an intriguing DFS dart throw in GPP lineups.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce draws a difficult matchup on Sunday against the Bills. In particular, Bills linebacker Matt Milano, who the team usually uses to cover opposing tight ends, has given up the fewest yards per target in the NFL (min. 150 targets) since 2017. Milano also leads the NFL in coverage success rate and catch rate allowed over expected. When the Bills played the Chiefs in October, Kelce had 6 catches for 57 yards, but he did find the end zone, and his clear red zone role on a good offense will always make him a fantasy option. However, with the Bills missing star cornerback Tre'Davious White, it's fair to wonder if this is a game where the Kansas City wide receivers may be more consistently impactful.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup (knee) has yet to undergo surgery on his torn ACL, per head coach Mike McCarthy. He suffered a clean ACL tear in the Week 17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 25-year-old reportedly will undergo surgery later once the swelling subsides. Gallup will become an unrestricted free agent and may not be ready by Week 1 of the 2022 campaign since he tore his ACL towards the end of the 2021 season. He caught 35 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns over nine games in 2021. Gallup will look to recover fully, and barring any setbacks, should draw plenty of interest from teams during the offseason. Stay tuned.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said the team is taking a "wait and see" approach for running back Leonard Fournette's (hamstring) status for the Divisional Round matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. He's been sidelined since Week 16 due to a hamstring injury. The 27-year-old did practice on Wednesday and is trending in the right direction towards suiting up this Sunday. Giovani Bernard and Ke'Shawn Vaughn will lead Tampa Bay's backfield if Fournette is ruled out. The Buccaneers will have until Saturday to activate Fournette from injured reserve, and if active, the Buccaneers running back is a solid value at $7,000 price tag on FanDuel.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darrel Williams (toe) didn't practice on Wednesday. He played through the toe injury in Sunday's AFC Wild Card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers but only logged one carry. The 26-year-old rushed for four yards on his only attempt and lost a fumble which was returned for a touchdown. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was a full participant in Wednesday's practice and is trending in the right direction towards suiting up for the Divisional Round game against the Buffalo Bills. If active, it's unclear what Williams' role will be with Edwards-Helaire most likely returning and Jerick McKinnon in the mix, who led the Chiefs backfield with 18 touches for 142 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday's win over the Steelers. Williams is a risky play at his $5,500 price tag on FanDuel.