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Culture over cash: Ravens beating odds by keeping All-Pro talent – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When the Baltimore Ravens announced they had signed Ronnie Stanley to a five-year deal Friday, this was far more than a celebration of keeping the best left tackle in the NFL. It represented another victory lap for the Ravens’ culture.

It’s remarkable that Baltimore was able to sign two All-Pro players — Stanley and Marlon Humphrey — to long-term deals in the same month. It’s unreal that the Ravens were able to retain both without making them the highest-paid players at their positions.

Stanley and Humphrey believe this is the start of a special time in Baltimore. With Lamar Jackson in his second full season as a starting quarterback, there’s a feeling inside the locker room that the Ravens are beginning an extended run as a Super Bowl contender.

For Stanley and Humphrey, the top priority wasn’t about breaking the bank. It was more important that they didn’t break up this team.

“We all know we’re a family here,” Stanley said. “I think all the guys are on the same page on what we’re trying to build here in Baltimore and that’s long-term success.”

Ravens officials faced an untimely predicament this year when Laremy Tunsil shattered the market value for offensive tackles in April with a three-year, $66 million contract and Jalen Ramsey did the same at cornerback in September with a five-year, $100 million deal. Tunsil and Ramsey used the leverage of being traded to their teams before signing a long-term deal and knew neither the Rams nor the Texans would allow them to walk.

Tunsil’s $22 million-per-year average was $5.5 million higher than that of any other left tackle, and Ramsey’s $20 million-per-year average was nearly $3 million more than that of any cornerback. Baltimore knew there was no way it could keep this team intact if it surpassed these deals. So, the Ravens offered Humphrey and Stanley deals that fell just below top of the market — and crossed their fingers.

On Oct. 1, Humphrey signed a five-year, $97.5 million extension ($19.5 million per season). On Friday, Stanley agreed to a five-year, $98.75 million extension ($19.75 million per year).

“For me, being the highest paid never really was a factor,” Humphrey said earlier this month. “The biggest thing for me was just staying a Raven. I remember when I first got here, me and [wide receiver] Chris Moore used to joke around saying that we’re Ravens for life. And it’s a very good feeling to actually be one.”

When Eric DeCosta took over for Ozzie Newsome as Ravens general manager in January 2019, he emphasized that he wanted to keep young talent before reaching free agency.

The month of March has long become a frustrating period for the organization. Limited by cap space, the Ravens couldn’t come close to outbidding teams for the likes of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, center Ryan Jensen, guard Kelechi Osemele, offensive tackle Rick Wagner and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

In his 20 months as general manager, DeCosta has signed nearly a dozen players to extensions including kicker Justin Tucker and cornerback Marcus Peters. But the biggest achievement was holding on to a top defensive playmaker in Humphrey and Jackson’s blind-side protector in Stanley.

“I’m proud of the fact that guys want to be here, for sure,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m proud of the fact that guys want to come here. That’s kind of been established for quite a period of time. We’re just trying to do things the right way.”

Signing Stanley and Humphrey were just the first significant steps in keeping this core of Ravens players together. This offseason, Baltimore might have to use the franchise tag on one of its top pass-rushers (Yannick Ngakoue appears to be the prime candidate over Matthew Judon).

Jackson, reigning NFL MVP, has outplayed his rookie contract and could command a new deal over the next two years. Tight end Mark Andrews and and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. will be free agents in 2022.

“I feel the Ravens do a really good job of picking out good talent and trying to keep that culture the way it’s always been,” Stanley said. “It’s just Ravens football.”

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NFL Power Rankings Week 13

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The NFL Power Rankings enter December trying to figure out which games are truly the most important. Yes, every NFL game counts, but we admit that some just count a little bit more. Our NFL Nation writers assisted us in finding the most meaningful games down the stretch, picking games due to playoff implications, future aspirations and a slew of other factors.

How we rank in our Power Rankings: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings: 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Week 12 ranking: 1

Most important game remaining: Week 14 at Buffalo

An undefeated season would be cool, but for the Steelers, the biggest goal is reaching the Super Bowl, and the best way to do that is to clinch the top seed in the AFC. To do that, the Steelers have to stay ahead of a one-loss Chiefs team — which might mean going undefeated. The two biggest games left that could cause them to trip up are at Buffalo — a team that beat the Steelers on “Sunday Night Football” a year ago and really started the slide that prevented them from making the playoffs — and against Indianapolis in Week 16. — Brooke Pryor


Week 12 ranking: 2

Most important game remaining: Week 15 at New Orleans

If the Chiefs are to catch the Steelers for the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, they might have to win out. Four of their five remaining opponents aren’t on their level, and then there’s New Orleans. So the Saints could be the team standing between the Chiefs and a first-round playoff bye. Normally, this would be one of the least important games of the Chiefs’ remaining schedule because the Saints play in the NFC, but this is not a normal season. — Adam Teicher


Week 12 ranking: 3

Most important game remaining: Week 15 vs. Kansas City

Technically, this is the least important game on the Saints’ remaining schedule, since it is against an AFC opponent and won’t affect playoff tiebreakers. But every other team on the Saints’ slate has a losing record. So how could I not highlight a matchup that might be the most thrilling game left in the entire NFL regular season? And not to be cliché, but every game remaining on the Saints’ schedule is equally important, since they would badly love to clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed — and would lose a tiebreaker to the Packers if they finish in a two-way tie for first. — Mike Triplett


Week 12 ranking: 4

Most important game remaining: Week 16 vs. Tennessee

The Packers should have the NFC North wrapped up by then and when it comes to playoff seeding, a game against an AFC foe probably won’t impact tiebreakers. So why is it so important? Because it will be the Packers’ only chance to prove they can beat a top-tier opponent heading into the playoffs. After their blowout loss at Tampa Bay and their OT loss at the Colts, they could use a win over a legitimate Super Bowl contender to erase any doubts about whether they’re legit themselves. — Rob Demovsky


Week 12 ranking: 5

Most important game remaining: Week 14 vs. Pittsburgh

The Bills are in good position to win their first AFC East title since 1995, but have faltered against the best teams in their conference this season. With Pittsburgh coming into town possibly still undefeated, it will be a prime opportunity for Buffalo to throw its hat in the ring of conference title contenders against arguably the best team in the NFL on “Sunday Night Football.” The Steelers’ defense also will provide a challenging litmus test for the Bills’ upstart passing offense. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Week 12 ranking: 7

Most important game remaining: Week 16 vs. L.A. Rams

In all likelihood, it’s a three-team race for the NFC West crown between Seattle, the Rams and Arizona. Since the Seahawks have a two-game lead over Arizona and a split in the season series, the Rams look like their biggest challenger. They’re one game back of the Seahawks, but beat Seattle at SoFi Stadium. The Seahawks should be heavily favored in their next three games (Giants, Jets, at Washington) while the Rams have three winnable games of their own over that stretch. That means they could still be within one game of each other when they meet at Lumen Field in the rematch. — Brady Henderson

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Stephen A. Smith isn’t ready to crown Patrick Mahomes MVP yet and makes a case for why Derrick Henry should be in the discussion.

Week 12 ranking: 10

Most important game remaining: Week 13 vs. Cleveland

The race for an AFC playoff spot is extremely tight. The Titans have the No. 3 seed and are one of three teams with an 8-3 record. The Browns happen to be one of those teams. A win over Cleveland has double value in that it keeps the Titans ahead of the Colts and counts as a much-needed win over an AFC opponent. All three of Tennessee’s losses have been against AFC opponents, so avoiding another one would be a major boost for the Titans’ playoff hopes. — Turron Davenport


Week 12 ranking: 6

Most important game remaining: Week 14 vs. Minnesota

At 7-5 after back-to-back losses to the Rams and Chiefs, the Bucs are drifting further from “contender” status and closer to “pretender,” which means they need to come out of the bye week with a statement win. Every game will matter, but they need a tone-setter. Coach Bruce Arians said they’ll spend this time going over everything, which should include adjustments in philosophy and playcalling. The offense has been stagnant much of the time. There has been no play-action or motion and Tom Brady‘s deep ball has been far too inconsistent. Further, they need to finally establish an offensive identity, as changing it week to week isn’t helping with consistency. — Jenna Laine


Week 12 ranking: 8

Most important game remaining: Week 14 at Las Vegas

The Colts lost out on being able to control their playoff destiny when Tennessee beat them Sunday to take a one-game lead over Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South. The Colts would have the seventh and final spot if the playoffs started today. The playoffs obviously don’t start today, which means the Colts can’t afford any more slip-ups. The Raiders are right in the thick of things for a playoff spot, too, as they have just one more loss than the Colts. That’s why that matchup is big for both teams. The Raiders beat the Colts in Indianapolis in 2019. — Mike Wells


Week 12 ranking: 9

Most important game remaining: Week 13 at Arizona

From top to bottom, the NFC West is the most competitive division in the league, which means the Rams’ next division game is their most important. Despite dropping the season series to the 49ers, the Rams remain in a three-team race with the Cardinals and Seahawks to win the division. Taking care of their game Sunday against the Cardinals is critical to staying in the hunt, especially with a trip to Seattle in Week 16. The Rams are 6-0 against Arizona under Sean McVay. — Lindsey Thiry


Week 12 ranking: 11

Most important game remaining: Week 14 at Cleveland

If the Ravens want to virtually guarantee a third straight trip to the playoffs, they’ll need to win in Cleveland. The biggest obstacle standing in Baltimore’s way of 11 wins is the Browns, the only team with a winning record left on the schedule after Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh. The Browns are 8-3, and the other remaining four teams on the Ravens’ schedule are a combined 10-33-1 (.238). Baltimore has won five of its past six games in Cleveland, but this year’s Browns are quite different from those teams. — Jamison Hensley


Week 12 ranking: 14

Most important game remaining: Week 14 vs. Baltimore

As much fun as it might be to potentially knock off Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale, beating Baltimore on Monday Night Football is easily the Browns’ most important remaining game. First, it would give Cleveland the signature victory this otherwise breakout season is missing. Second, the Ravens are a rival, dating to the Art Modell relocation 25 years ago. But most importantly, it would all but clinch a playoff berth, which would snap the league’s longest postseason drought of 18 years. — Jake Trotter


Week 12 ranking: 12

Most important game remaining: Week 13 vs. L.A. Rams

If the Cardinals lose this one, their playoff hopes might be dashed. A loss would put them two games back of the Rams with four to play, but with another game against them and one against the 49ers left, the Cardinals could run out of time to catch up in the NFC West. And sitting at 6-5, Arizona has three teams nipping at its heels for the seventh and last playoff spot. Coming off a 1-3 stretch, Sunday is as close to a must-win as Arizona has faced all season. — Josh Weinfuss


Week 12 ranking: 15

Most important game remaining: Week 16 at Las Vegas

The Dolphins currently hold a wild-card spot, but after Sunday’s game vs. Cincinnati they will be entering the toughest stretch on their schedule (Chiefs, Patriots, at Raiders, at Bills). The Raiders game is most significant because with both teams vying for a wild-card spot, the win and tiebreaker advantage will be essential. It’s quite possible that contest — now a Saturday, day-after-Christmas prime-time game — could be a playoff elimination game. Miami has dreams of the Week 17 game in Buffalo being an AFC East championship game, but if they don’t win in Vegas the week before, that Week 17 game might not matter. — Cameron Wolfe


Week 12 ranking: 13

Most important game remaining: Week 13 at N.Y. Jets

Um, it’s this week! After Sunday’s unmitigated disaster in Atlanta — a 43-6 blowout loss to a three-win Falcons team — the Raiders fell to 6-5 and head east again to face the winless Jets, who upended them last year with a 34-3 beatdown. Lose at MetLife to a sorry Jets team again and the Raiders’ season, for all intents and purposes, is over. Handle business, and Las Vegas remains in the playoff hunt. No pressure, right? — Paul Gutierrez

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Adam Schefter reports that the 49ers will play their next two home games in Arizona after Santa Clara County’s decision to restrict contact sports for at least the next few weeks.

Week 12 ranking: 17

Most important game remaining: Week 13 vs. Buffalo

It’s not so much about the Bills as the fact that the most important game for the Niners right now is always going to be the next one. An upset against the Rams pushed the 49ers back into the NFC playoff picture, but they don’t have much margin for error if they intend to sneak into the postseason. That means the next game is going to be the one that holds the most meaning simply because another loss will make that task exceedingly difficult. — Nick Wagoner


Week 12 ranking: 18

Most important game remaining: Week 13 at L.A. Chargers

“The Next One.” When Tom Brady used to be asked which Super Bowl ring was his favorite, that was always his answer. In the case of the Patriots’ remaining schedule, it also applies because at 5-6 they likely can’t afford another loss if they want to keep their longshot playoff hopes alive. The final five games unfold this way — at Chargers, at Rams, at Dolphins, vs. Bills, vs. Jets. — Mike Reiss


Week 12 ranking: 19

Most important game remaining: Week 14 at Tampa Bay

The easy answer would be “all of them” given the Vikings are the No. 8 team in the NFC and one game out of the final wild-card berth. Minnesota got this far after a 1-5 start by beating up on bad teams, with only one of the Vikings’ five victories coming against a team with a winning record (Week 8 at the Packers). A win on the road against 7-5 Tampa Bay is critical. In order to be taken seriously as a postseason contender, Minnesota needs to show it can defeat better competition. A win against the Bucs would up the Vikings’ playoff odds significantly. — Courtney Cronin


Week 12 ranking: 16

Most important game remaining: Week 13 vs. Detroit

The Bears have dropped five straight and desperately need a victory to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. Losing Sunday’s game to the Lions at home would be the ultimate embarrassment after Detroit just fired coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn. The Lions clearly are bracing for another rebuild. The Bears might be on the same road unless they snap out of it over the final five games and do enough to save Matt Nagy’s and Ryan Pace’s jobs. — Jeff Dickerson


Week 12 ranking: 20

Most important game remaining: Week 14 vs. Denver

In other words, the next game coming off the bye. It’s important because it will show how the players and staff bounce back from a fourth-quarter collapse in Sunday’s 28-27 loss to Minnesota that all but ended any hopes of a playoff berth. It’s important because realistically it might be the only winnable game left on the schedule, with Green Bay, Washington and New Orleans after that. All three of those teams will be fighting for a playoff spot. It’s also important because it likely will mark the return of running back Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) and set the tone for 2021. — David Newton


Week 12 ranking: 25

Most important game remaining: Week 13 vs. New Orleans

In short, the next game on the docket. The Falcons have been a far tougher out under Raheem Morris, given they are 4-2 since Morris was named interim head coach. They are coming off their best effort of the season in Sunday’s rout over the Raiders and can see where they really stand against the division leader. They can also study what the Broncos did against Saints QB Taysom Hill, who finished with 78 yards passing Sunday. If the Falcons can give Hill similar problems, it would not only give them back-to-back wins over teams with winning records, but would be the kind of win that helps Morris’ candidacy for the permanent job. — Jeff Legwold

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Dan Orlovsky sounds off on Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles after all of them had to be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 for not following league protocol.

Week 12 ranking: 21

Most important game remaining: Week 13 at Kansas City

In an injury-ravaged season in which the Broncos just played a game without any of their quarterbacks in uniform, the most important measuring stick of progress will be how the Broncos fare against the defending Super Bowl champions. The Broncos have lost 10 in a row to the Chiefs and four in a row at Kansas City, three of those coming by double digits. Patrick Mahomes isn’t going anywhere and the Broncos can’t really say they’ve progressed until they show it against the team that is on track to win the AFC West. — Jeff Legwold


Week 12 ranking: 22

Most important game remaining: Week 17 vs. Washington

The Football Team is tied with the Giants atop the division at 4-7 — with the Eagles right behind — and should be in contention the rest of the way despite a pretty challenging schedule. Somebody has to win this dreadful division, and this game in Philadelphia could decide which team goes to the playoffs. — Tim McManus

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Dan Orlovsky says there have been too many moments where the coaching has failed the Chargers this season and expects the team to move on from Anthony Lynn.

Week 12 ranking: 23

Most important game remaining: Week 17 at Kansas City

The first go-around was Justin Herbert‘s first start and he threw for 311 yards, took the game to OT and lost, in large part because Anthony Lynn decided to punt on fourth-and-short in overtime instead of going for it, giving the ball to the Chiefs, who drove for a game-winning field goal. Perhaps a more experienced Herbert, along with a healthy Austin Ekeler, can come up with an effort that provides momentum for next season and perhaps saves Lynn’s job. — Shelley Smith


Week 12 ranking: 27

Most important game remaining: Week 13 vs. Indianapolis

At 4-7, the Texans have to win their remaining games for a shot at the playoffs. That starts Sunday when they host the 7-4 Colts. Houston has three remaining AFC South games and is 2-1 in the division (both wins coming against the Jaguars). It is extremely unlikely the Texans will run the table, but with how well quarterback Deshaun Watson is playing, expect them to remain competitive in every game. — Sarah Barshop


Week 12 ranking: 26

Most important game remaining: Week 17 vs. Dallas

In order for the Giants to win the division and make the playoffs they are going to need to beat the Cowboys in Week 17. There is no way around it. The Giants are going to have a hard time over the next four weeks when they face four teams (Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore) with a winning record, beginning with the Seahawks in Week 13. That likely leaves the matchup with Dallas, which has beaten them seven straight times, as an absolute must-win. — Jordan Raanan


Week 12 ranking: 24

Most important game remaining: Week 13 at Chicago

This is the most important game only because it’s Darrell Bevell’s debut as a head coach and it might begin to answer the question of whether it was the talent on the roster or the coaching of Matt Patricia that caused many of Detroit’s problems this season. So it’s intriguing from that aspect to see how the players respond to a regime change. Otherwise, the most important game for Detroit is the last one because it can really push forward on its plan for the future once it concludes. — Michael Rothstein


Week 12 ranking: 29

Most important game remaining: Week 17 at Philadelphia

Because it’s the NFC East, Washington doesn’t need to be perfect down the stretch even with a 4-7 record. But it will have to win at least two more games if it wants to win the division. That means Washington will have to win one game in the next four — a difficult stretch that includes Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle and Carolina. If it can get to 5-10 entering the finale, it has a shot. To be safe, if Washington wins two of its next four games it would enter the last game likely being able to clinch with a win, which would give Washington a 4-2 division record. That could prove key in a tiebreaker scenario. — John Keim

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Bart Scott asserts that Mike McCarthy needs to change his coaching style if he wants to remain a head coach in the NFL.

Week 12 ranking: 28

Most important game remaining: Week 17 at N.Y. Giants

It’s not because there will be a chance for the Cowboys to win the NFC East against the Giants. It’s not because they can extend their seven-game winning streak against New York. No, it’s the most important game because that will mark the end of one the franchise’s most disappointing seasons and allow it to turn its attention to 2021. From injuries to poor play to questionable coaching decisions, this season has been one to forget. The quicker it’s over for the Cowboys, the better. And they can turn their attention to a probable top-five pick in the upcoming draft. — Todd Archer


Week 12 ranking: 30

Most important game remaining: Week 14 vs. Dallas

For the second straight year, December is all about losing for the Bengals. Cincinnati and Dallas are in the mix for the No. 3 draft pick. While the Bengals are indeed trying to win, a loss will likely clinch the rights to select the best player in the 2021 draft not named Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields. That means potentially taking Oregon’s Penei Sewell, a dominant tackle who could fortify the edge and protect Joe Burrow for years to come. While another loss might be a lot for Zac Taylor and the Bengals to stomach, nobody said rebuilding was going to be fun. — Ben Baby


Week 12 ranking: 31

Most important game remaining: Week 13 at Minnesota

The Jaguars have lost 10 consecutive games (a franchise record for a single season) heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Vikings. The streak needs to end now because the Jaguars have Tennessee and Baltimore the following two weeks. Three more losses ties the longest losing streak in franchise history (last five games of 2012 and first eight of 2013). — Mike DiRocco


Week 12 ranking: 32

Most important game remaining: Week 17 at New England

There’s a good chance the Jets will be 0-15, which sets up a fascinating angle if the Patriots are eliminated: Would Bill Belichick want to beat the Jets to hand them the dreaded 0-16, or would he be better served with a loss if it costs the Jets a shot at Trevor Lawrence? Belichick certainly doesn’t want to see the Clemson star and presumptive No. 1 pick in the division for the next 10-plus years. This could be the game no one wants to win. — Rich Cimini

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Fantasy football fallout – Should Justin Jefferson, Jarvis Landry, Deebo Samuel be playoff starters?

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Nobody has a more stacked lineup of fantasy analysts and NFL team reporters than ESPN. It’s the rare backfield by committee that is actually a good thing for fantasy managers. Every Tuesday, we’ll ask our NFL Nation reporters a series of burning questions to help inform your waiver-wire pickups and roster decisions.

Receivers Jarvis Landry, Deebo Samuel and DeVante Parker all set season highs for receiving yardage on Sunday. But they did it from the bench in several leagues. Landry and Samuel were started in less than 25% of ESPN fantasy leagues, while Parker was started in 62%.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Vikings rookie receiver Justin Jefferson has now had three standout performances in a row after a boom-or-bust start to the season. But he was started in only 69% of ESPN leagues in Week 12 and will still come with slight question when fellow WR Adam Thielen returns from the COVID-reserve list.

The question with all of them is: Can you trust them in your starting lineups once the fantasy playoffs begin? As always, our team reporters are here to help.

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

The first-round pick sure feels like a must-start at this point. He caught seven passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns Sunday for his third straight outing of at least 17.6 fantasy points in ESPN PPR leagues. And he now has four games with 20-plus points this year.

However, Thielen was also looking like a must-start before he went on the COVID-reserve list (he led the NFL with 11 TD catches through Week 11). And the run-heavy Vikings rank 29th in the league with just 29.1 pass attempts per game.

Still, Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin insisted, “I think it’s very possible for two receivers to produce in Minnesota’s offense once Thielen returns.”

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that Jefferson’s big numbers against the Panthers came on a day where Dalvin Cook struggled to produce his usual amount on the ground,” Cronin said. “Minnesota is a run-first team, but that’s not always going to work. And at this point of the season, the Vikings would be wise to rely more on Jefferson and Thielen to try and preserve Cook for a playoff push.

“But how can both Jefferson and Thielen each have big outings on the same day? For one, Minnesota has gotten comfortable running deep crossing routes with both of them to try and get a safety to bite on one receiver’s route while the other is usually left with a one-on-one matchup. That’s nothing new for this offense, as the Vikings used the same strategy with Thielen when Stefon Diggs was around.”

If forced to choose one of them entering Week 13, Cronin said she would go with Jefferson, who accounts for 33% of the Vikings’ receiving yards.

“He’s shown he can handle the workload of a No. 1, and I don’t see any reason for his spike in targets to decline anytime soon,” Cronin said.

It took the five-time Pro Bowler 11 games to finally catch his first TD and notch his first 100-yard game of the season (8-143-1). But Cleveland Browns reporter Jake Trotter gave him a strong endorsement going forward.

“Landry had been relatively quiet in three games following the season-ending injury to Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. But that also came in three straight miserable-weather games,” said Trotter, who pointed out that only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald had been targeted more than Landry without scoring a touchdown this season heading into the weekend. “Sunday in sunny Jacksonville, he showed what he can still do.”

“Even playing in a run-first offense, Landry is going to continue to get the bulk of targets from Baker Mayfield going forward. And he will be a receiver worth starting as you, like the Browns, attempt to make their push to the playoffs.”

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Stephania Bell and Field Yates express how impressed they were by Deebo Samuel in Week 12, and both expect Samuel to find similar success in the 49ers’ offense.

The 49ers’ second-year receiver returned from a hamstring injury in dynamic fashion Sunday, catching 11 passes for 133 yards. But he comes with the full gamut of questions because of his injury history and the constant moving parts in San Francisco’s offense. Rookie Brandon Aiyuk had started to establish himself as the Niners’ go-to receiver before missing Week 12 on the COVID-reserve list.

“Here’s the thing. It’s so hard to predict how the Niners are going to operate when fully healthy on offense because — wait for it — they’ve never been fully healthy on offense this season,” 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner said. “And when Aiyuk returns, they still won’t be, because they will be missing tight end George Kittle and QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

“It’s important to note that, because I think if the circumstances were different at quarterback, both Aiyuk and Samuel would be guys you could trust to start. … They should and will, eventually, complement each other well. But with Nick Mullens at quarterback, I find it hard to give both of them a big thumbs up every week, because he’s just not consistent enough to get the ball to both of them regularly.”

Wagoner said he thinks Samuel could be the more reliable fantasy option when healthy, because “he’s so good at so many things, which allows the Niners to get the ball in his hands in so many different ways.” He said Aiyuk is similar, but he’s more of a refined receiver, which means he might “have to rely more on the guy delivering the ball to produce.”

Parker has clearly established himself as the Dolphins’ No. 1 receiver, especially since Preston Williams has battled injuries. But Dolphins reporter Cameron Wolfe also thinks Parker’s fantasy value might be tied to the starting QB. Both of Parker’s 100-yard games this season have come with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick under center — including Sunday’s eight catches for 119 yards. But rookie Tua Tagovailoa is expected to get the job back when healthy.

“Parker has performed better with Fitzpatrick because the veteran has shown more of a willingness to throw him those 50-50 balls,” Wolfe said. “As we saw Sunday, Parker can be a fantasy WR1 when given the chances. But Tagovailoa admittedly is trying to get more comfortable with throwing to receivers, like Parker, who don’t get much separation. So, if Fitzpatrick is starting, Parker is ‘set it and forget it’ for me. If it’s Tagovailoa, I’d be a little more hesitant to start him at this point.”

Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league:

Elliott finally had his first 100-yard rushing game in Week 11. Then, he followed up with his biggest dud of the entire year on Thanksgiving Day (10 carries for 32 yards, one catch for seven yards, his fifth lost fumble of the season).

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Field Yates thinks it will be tough sledding for the rest of the season for Ezekiel Elliott and the banged up Cowboys.

“I’m not sure you can trust Elliott in fantasy lineups down the stretch, and I say that mostly because of the offensive line,” Cowboys reporter Todd Archer said. “Zack Martin is out ‘multiple weeks’ with a calf injury, and Cam Erving is also out multiple weeks. Elliott’s season has been a major disappointment on a number of fronts, including his inability to protect the ball. But the line inconsistencies have been a major part of it, as well.

“Three of their last five games are against teams with run defenses ranked in the bottom half of the league. Two are in the top 10. But how confident would you be in the ability to run the ball behind a line of Brandon Knight, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Connor McGovern and Terence Steele?”

Another week, another leading receiver for the Jaguars. This time, it was rookie fifth-round draft pick Collin Johnson, who caught four passes for 96 yards and a TD — essentially doubling his totals to 11-165-2 on the season. But when I asked Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco if the team is just messing with fantasy managers at this point, he wasn’t so quick to dismiss Johnson’s breakout. Especially if veteran backup Mike Glennon gets more starts at QB.

“Johnson is an intriguing guy and might be worth a pickup in deep leagues if Glennon continues as the starter,” said DiRocco, who pointed out that coach Doug Marrone hasn’t named a QB yet for this week. “Johnson said those two worked together on the scout team this season and developed a pretty good chemistry. DJ Chark [ribs] and Chris Conley [hip] are banged up, and their availability is unclear. Johnson will get more reps if either is down, and he will be targeted more if Glennon is in the lineup.”

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Stephania Bell voices her concerns over Josh Jacobs’ ankle injury and Field Yates asserts that Devontae Booker should be a top waiver-wire add this week.

Good news for Jacobs’ fantasy investors: Coach Jon Gruden told reporters Monday that Jacobs was “confident he’s going to be able to play” this week at the New York Jets after he suffered a sprained ankle Sunday at Atlanta. Unfortunately, Jacobs didn’t produce much while playing hurt this past week (seven carries for 27 yards and three catches for 17 yards).

“Hopefully, our man Josh Jacobs is ready to roll,” Gruden said, though he acknowledged that, “I don’t think he was 100 percent yesterday. I think he tried to fight through it.”

That included a hip issue that popped up on the Raiders’ injury report late last week, according to Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez.

Backup RB Devontae Booker could be a smart waiver-wire pickup because of the uncertainty — and because of Booker’s growing role in recent weeks. But Gutierrez said Gruden also intimated the Raiders could get backups Jalen Richard (illness) and Theo Riddick (COVID-reserve) back in the lineup this week.

Akers hasn’t exactly gotten the same kind of breakthrough opportunity as other rookie RBs in recent weeks. But this is as close as we’ve seen in Los Angeles’ three-headed timeshare.

Akers ran for a career-high 84 yards on nine carries Sunday and scored his first rushing TD after catching his first TD pass a week earlier. He still ranked third in snaps behind Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson, but it was a closer split of 25-20-17.

“Akers’ recent usage in the red zone proves that the second-round pick from Florida State is earning trust from Rams coach Sean McVay in critical situations,” Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry said. “And after Akers broke off a 61-yard run late in the game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McVay continue to increase his touches to maximize his potential late in his rookie season.”

Speaking of backfields that are hard to decipher, Wolfe said there is “so much unknown” in Miami, where both Gaskin (knee) and Ahmed (shoulder) could return to the lineup soon.

“My early expectation is for it to be Gaskin returning to the starting lineup and getting the first bite of the running-back-by-committee load, with Ahmed and DeAndre Washington sharing the other bites,” Wolfe said. “But I do think they will have more trust in Ahmed/Washington than they did with veteran backups Jordan Howard and Matt Breida early in season — which feels weird to say. That might mean more of split, rather than Gaskin just being the no-doubt guy.”

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Field Yates and Stephania Bell agree that Alvin Kamara is being underutilized in the Saints’ offense with Taysom Hill at QB.

As ESPN’s Saints reporter, I wouldn’t worry about a timeshare developing in New Orleans’ backfield (Latavius Murray‘s first 100-yard rushing game of the season came as a direct result of the Saints’ switch to a run-heavy game plan after they found out Denver would have no quarterbacks available). I also don’t think Kamara’s lingering foot injury is a major issue.

However, there is legitimate reason to worry about Kamara’s volume in the passing game while Drew Brees remains sidelined. Kamara has just one catch for minus-2 yards in two games with Taysom Hill at QB — partly because Hill has attempted a total of 39 passes in those two games and partly because Hill looks to throw downfield more than Brees. Hill is also more likely to vulture TD runs away from Kamara (Hill has four of them over the past two weeks). So while Kamara is still a must-start in every league format, he might not be worth the same elite price in daily leagues until Brees comes back.

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DK Metcalf posts career high in receiving yards as Seattle Seahawks soar in Philadelphia

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There’s something about Russell Wilson playing in primetime.

And there’s something about DK Metcalf playing in Philadelphia.

The Wilson-to-Metcalf combination — plus another strong performance from the Seattle Seahawks‘ resurgent defense — was enough for a 23-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

Metcalf caught 10 passes for a career-high 177 yards while doing most of his damage against All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay. That topped his 160-yard performance at the same stadium in January, when he set an NFL rookie postseason record in Seattle’s wild-card win over the Eagles.

Monday night’s victory gives Seattle (8-3) a one-game lead in the NFC West over the Los Angeles Rams, and it gives the Seahawks seven straight wins over Philadelphia (including playoffs) dating back to 2011.

It also continues Wilson’s dominance under the lights. He’s now 29-8-1 in primetime games (defined as starting at 7 p.m. ET or later) for a .776 winning percentage. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s the best by any starting quarterback since 1950 with at least 20 starts. Steve Young (.767, 23-7) is second.

Wilson improved to 10-2 on Monday Night Football for an .833 winning percentage that is also first in MNF history.

Wilson completed 22 of 31 attempts for 230 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. It was his second-straight game without an interception or lost fumble after the worst turnover funk of his career.

The Seahawks’ defense that was getting gashed at a historic rate over the first half of the season turned in its second straight strong performance. It forced three-and-outs on the Eagles’ first five possessions, sacked Carson Wentz six times and held Philadelphia to nine points until a late Hail Mary.

Metcalf sealed Seattle’s win by recovering the ensuing onside kick.

He topped 1,000 yards for the season Monday night and became the faster in Seahawks history (11th game) to hit that milestone.

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