SANTA CLARA, Calif. — To say the San Francisco 49ers’ schedule is about to get tougher over the next three weeks would drastically understate what’s coming.
The journey the Niners are about to begin — with games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints — could be the most difficult stretch any team has faced this late in the season in the Super Bowl era.
Through Week 11, those teams have combined for a 24-6 record (all three are 8-2), good for a winning percentage of .800. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has played three straight games against teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. If the Ravens and Saints can win their games before facing San Francisco, the Niners would be the first team to face such a stretch.
What’s more, only four teams in the Super Bowl era — the 2007 Detroit Lions, 1999 Cleveland Browns, 1990 Washington Redskins and 1990 Minnesota Vikings — have played three such games (not consecutively) in their 11th game or later.
None of those teams entered such a gantlet with as much on the line as these 49ers, who are 9-1 and in control of the NFC playoff picture.
“This is why you play football, for this kind of a stretch,” Niners right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We have put ourselves in a pretty solid position here, but it means nothing if we don’t get our jobs done over these next few weeks. … We’ve got our work cut out for us but we’ve got the right coaching staff to get us in the game plan, and I believe in this locker room to execute and get the job done.”
For much of this season, the 49ers’ turnaround has been met with raised eyebrows. Even after manhandling teams like the Rams, Panthers and Browns, the Niners’ lack of top-tier victories has left skeptics questioning how good they really are. Suffice it to say, definitive answers are coming soon.
ESPN’s Football Power Index rates the 49ers’ remaining strength of schedule the most difficult in the NFL, with the next three games providing the stiffest of tests. FPI gives the 49ers a 61% chance to beat the Packers on Sunday but those numbers drop to 34% against the Ravens and 40% against the Saints. The latter two are the lowest-percentage chances for wins remaining on San Francisco’s schedule, and a Week 17 trip to Seattle offers the only one lower than the Green Bay game.
It all starts with the Packers traveling to Levi’s Stadium as the Niners look to win the one home game of the three. At a combined 17-3, the combined .850 winning percentage is the best in a game between these historic rivals in the Super Bowl era.
At stake? A spot in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. FPI gives the 49ers a 45% chance at the NFC’s top spot with a win and just a 10% shot with a loss. Green Bay would have a 44% chance at the 1 seed with a victory and 4% with a defeat.
None of that includes juicy subplots such as the first meeting between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive battle of Mike Shanahan coaching-tree luminaries Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur.
“It will be another unique battle,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It’ll be a play style similar to what we see week in and week out with Kyle and their offense. So we’ll prepare for that. A-Rod is one of the best to ever do it. So it will be a tremendous challenge for us, and we’re excited about it.”
A win against the Packers would go a long way before heading on another weeklong stay on the other side of the country. Like they did earlier this year — when they went to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati with a week in Youngstown, Ohio, in between — the Niners will travel to Baltimore, play the Ravens, travel to Florida for the practice week and then head to New Orleans before returning to the Bay Area.
If the 49ers can pocket a victory against Green Bay, it would mean a split of the two road games would keep them in a prime position for a bye and the top seed, especially if that win came in New Orleans. It would also likely mean losing both games wouldn’t be a death knell to their hopes of advancing directly to the divisional round.
“Week in and week out, you always find out stuff about your team,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You find out about people. There’s lots of football here to play. Each game’s going to be huge, so just trying to take it one week at a time and make sure we don’t look too far down the road because everyone’s in this it seems like right now.”
Ten games into the season, the 49ers have found myriad ways to win. They’ve also shown warts that could come back to haunt them.
Could their problems defending the run cost them against Baltimore’s dynamic rushing attack? How will they hold up in raucous road environments in Baltimore and New Orleans?
Of course, those teams also have to play the Niners, who seem to have a knack for winning in new ways, with a different hero emerging every week. No matter how difficult or dramatic the game, the moment has never seemed too much, even for those 49ers in such big games for the first time.
Can they keep it up against the teams that currently stand as the NFC’s Nos. 2 and 3 seeds (the Packers and Saints, respectively) and the AFC’s No. 2 team (Baltimore)? We’re about to find out.
“I love it,” 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “Every week is a new opportunity. We’ve just got to show everybody what we’re all about.”
Chiefs regroup after starters Damien Williams, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opt out – Kansas City Chiefs Blog
The Kansas City Chiefs thought they had two advantages over most of their competition heading into training camp, one being startling continuity for the salary-cap era and the other a high-scoring offense led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Those advantages might still be there, though not in the abundance they were before the calendar turned to August. Two offensive starters, running back Damien Williams and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, opted out of playing this season amid the coronavirus pandemic, dealing the Chiefs a blow.
“It hurts,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “The guys that we have in that locker room can fill that void. I honestly believe that. We have an unbelievable roster, and I’m excited to see how this group molds together.”
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There’s no reason to believe the two player losses will unravel everything the Chiefs have going for them. Eighteen starters still return from the Super Bowl LIV win over the San Francisco 49ers. That familiarity could provide an edge in a season without offseason practice and preseason games and with an abbreviated training camp.
But Williams was the Chiefs’ leading rusher last season and a Super Bowl star. He ran for 104 yards against the 49ers and scored the final two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the 31-20 victory.
The Chiefs also lost their second-leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, who left as a free agent. They did draft LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, but their veteran running backs have a total of five NFL starts among them.
The Chiefs already had big expectations for Edwards-Helaire as a rookie. Now he must deliver.
In an illustration of just how important he is to the Chiefs this season, a defensive player, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, said, “Our job [on defense] is to get him ready for Week 1: show him different looks, practice hard, try to strip the ball out, playing tight coverage on him.”
The Chiefs also lost Stefen Wisniewski to free agency, so they need starters at both guard positions. They had to mix and match along the offensive line last year. Injuries forced them to start five different line combinations.
So between free-agent additions Kelechi Osemele and Mike Remmers, part-time 2019 starters Andrew Wylie and Martinas Rankin and young players in Nick Allegretti and Lucas Niang, the Chiefs have plenty of candidates.
The Chiefs won’t have as much time to sort through the possibilities as they usually do.
“The older guys, the more they play, the easier it is to mesh them together,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “Obviously, [Osemele] has had an awesome career and Remmers has had a really good career too. Those are guys who understand fits and understand how to play with people, next to people. So that’s not something I’m too worried about.”
Giants lose third opt-out player with CB Sam Beal’s decision
According to the NFL’s daily transaction wire, linebacker Josiah Tauaefa was also removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list one day after being placed on it.
Beal becomes the third Giants player to take the opt-out route, joining offensive tackle Nate Solder and wide receiver/kick returner D’Mari Scott. Under the agreement reached between the NFL and NFLPA, players had the option of opting out of the upcoming season without penalty by 4 p.m. on Thursday. The opt out is irrevocable.
The Giants already had question marks at cornerback prior to Beal’s decision. Cornerback DeAndre Baker is on the commissioner’s exempt list and faces charges of armed robbery and aggravated assault with a firearm. He is unlikely to play another snap with the Giants.
Baker was a first-round pick last year. Beal was a third-round supplemental pick out of Central Michigan in 2018 who missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury. He played in six games with three starts last season and finished with 25 tackles and one pass defended. He missed the season finale with a shoulder injury.
Beal, 23, was expected to be in the mix, along with second-year cornerback Corey Ballentine, for a starting spot opposite offseason acquisition James Bradberry. Rookie fourth-round pick Darnay Holmes also appears to be in serious contention for the job.
Beal’s absence now leaves the Giants with an obvious void and a lack of depth. A source indicated recently — even before Beal’s opt out — that the team was searching for cornerback help on the waiver wire or via free agency. Among the options on the open market are veterans Logan Ryan, Aqib Talib and Dre Kirkpatrick.
New coach Joe Judge has firsthand experience with Ryan and Talib from their time in New England. Ryan appears to be the most likely option, especially since the Giants will gain $13.55 million in salary-cap space from Solder’s decision to sit out the 2020 NFL season.
Growing frustrated by suspension, Cowboys’ Randy Gregory lashes out, says he’s ‘doing everything right’ as he aims for reinstatement
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory took to social media Wednesday to say he is being treated unfairly by the NFL as he attempts to be reinstated from an indefinite suspension.
“I really miss playing football and being a player in the NFL,” Gregory wrote. “I’m doing everything that is asked of me and I’m in great shape physically, mentally and emotionally but I’m being held back from furthering my career because of Covid and testing. I’ve been ready to play and test for months but still have gotten little to no help to resolve my reinstatement. I’m asking more questions than I’m getting answered. It’s amazing that the powers that can keep passing the buck and also use this pandemic as a way to prevent me from joining my team. Telling me to just sit and wait in limbo over things I can’t control, all the while doing everything right off the field is unfair and flat out wrong!!!”
A request for comment from the NFL regarding Gregory’s status has been made.
For all of you that’s wondering… pic.twitter.com/gj7nWJpw5e
— Randy Gregory (@RandyGregory_4) August 5, 2020
Gregory applied for reinstatement in March, according to sources. Last month ESPN reported his attempt to return had not been denied but he was not cleared to return either and sources said there was some optimism he would be allowed around the team in some fashion even if he could not practice.
Gregory is on an indefinite suspension for multiple violations of the league’s substance-abuse policy dating to his rookie year in 2015.
Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, players can no longer be suspended for a positive test for marijuana, but because he was penalized under the old system he would still need to be welcomed back by commissioner Roger Goodell. A player can continue to be suspended for missing tests or not taking part in a care plan.
Gregory missed all of last season after playing in 14 games in 2018 and finishing with six sacks, which was second on the team. He missed 30 of 32 regular-season games in 2016 and ’17 because of suspensions. He has played in only 28 of a possible 80 regular-season games in his career.
The Cowboys selected Gregory in the second round in 2015 and have stood by him, including agreeing to an extension with him last year that was ultimately blocked by the league. The team had a short-term extension for Gregory blocked last year by the league because of the suspension.
Earlier this offseason, pass-rusher Aldon Smith was conditionally reinstated by the NFL after multiple suspensions that have kept him off the playing field since 2015. Smith has passed numerous tests within the last year and has agreed to a strict after-care program.
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