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NFL Nation Fantasy Fallout – What to make of Zay Jones

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Our NFL Nation reporters answer fantasy football questions every Tuesday during the NFL season. Here’s what they had to say following Week 12.

How do you think the target distribution between DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore and Marquise Brown looks when all three are active?

If I had to rank them off the bat, it’d go Hopkins, Brown and Moore. It might not look like that in real time because of how defenses tend to roll coverage to Hopkins from the onset, leaving Brown and Moore open earlier. It’s tough to attach a percentage to the three of them, but Hopkins and Brown would have closer percentages than Moore, who plays behind the line of scrimmage more than the other two. Brown is more capable of making bigger plays than the other two, so he might not see as many balls as Hopkins or Moore, but his impact might be greater. And then there’s Hopkins, who’s unquestionably the Cardinals’ go-to WR1. He can carry an offense by himself (which he has) and that can easily lead to 10 or 12 targets (even more at times), especially if the other two get going. — Josh Weinfuss

Something or nothing: Isaiah McKenzie sees twice as many targets as Gabe Davis and leads the team in receiving (96 yards) on Thanksgiving in Detroit.

It’s something, but more for McKenzie than Davis. McKenzie went through a slower stretch, going six straight games without over 50 receiving yards, but his 96 receiving yards on 10 targets and six receptions, in addition to a touchdown, against the Lions was a step in the right direction. Coach Sean McDermott said McKenzie put in two good weeks of practice prior to the game, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bills try to continue to involve him against a Patriots team he had success against last year. Davis has seen consistent targets and will continue to, especially with a number of injuries at the position. — Alaina Getzenberg

Tight end is a tough spot to fill. Are you buying Hayden Hurst (nine targets, tied for the team lead) as a viable option when Ja’Marr Chase returns?

I’m selling. Hurst’s target share has been volatile throughout the season. Over the past six weeks, Hurst has surpassed five targets on just two occasions. With QB Joe Burrow playing better against Cover 2 looks than he was earlier in the season, it’s hard to start Hurst with any production reliability. He is a vertical threat and can make plays in the passing game, though, so anyone in a pinch looking for a TE can find worse options on the waiver wire. — Leg Baby

Michael Gallup saw a season-high eight targets on Thanksgiving. Can he regain something close to his 2019 form that saw him go over 1,100 receiving yards?

After the Thanksgiving win vs. the New York Giants, Gallup said he is past the mental hurdle in his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. His play the past two games certainly suggests that. He is making difficult catches when draped by defenders. And Dak Prescott trusts him. He is the Cowboys’ best deep-ball threat with his ability to go up over a defender. It has taken him some time to get back in shape, but his timing couldn’t be better. Whether the Cowboys add Odell Beckham Jr. or not, they need this play from Gallup, especially as CeeDee Lamb, who has two 100-yard games in the past three outings, starts to warm up. — Todd Archer

With 19 catches over the past two games for Zay Jones, is it safe to call him a PPR factor the rest of the way?

Sure, as long as you’re not expecting nine catches every week. Jones has a career-high 58 catches so far this season, but 28 of those catches have come in three games. Still, he has had at least five targets in 10 of the Jaguars’ 11 games and has surpassed Marvin Jones Jr. as the Jaguars’ No. 2 receiver behind Christian Kirk (even though Jones actually has two more catches than Kirk). — Michael DiRocco

If Rhamondre Stevenson has a full season as the lead back, what would you project for carry and catch totals (six-plus catches in four of his past five games)?

Stevenson has played 68.4% of the offensive snaps. Since Week 2, he has played 40 or more snaps in every game but one. So this provides a good foundation to project his numbers over a full season — give him in the range of 240 carries, 1,200 rushing yards and 75-80 receptions. Bill Belichick has gushed about the dramatic rate of growth since he arrived in April 2021. — Mike Reiss

With under 55 rushing yards in three of four and under 15 receiving yards in four straight for Saquon Barkley, do you think the heavy usage early in the season is a concern for the fantasy playoffs?

Not really. Barkley’s recent dip probably has more to do with shuffling on the offensive line than his heavy work rate. If anything, Barkley should have seen a little spike post-bye. Instead, it has been a struggle, but not because he lacks explosion. It’s because he lacks room to run with teams selling out to stop him. — Jordan Raanan

Let’s assume it’s Mike White for the rest of the regular season. Give us a Garrett Wilson projection (catches, yards, TDs) for the final six games.

The Jets’ six remaining opponents rank from 19th to 32nd in pass defense, including three teams in the bottom-8. With that in mind, Wilson should be able to finish with a flurry — let’s say 35 catches for 450 yards and five TDs. — Rich Cimini

Mike Evans has three straight games under 55 receiving yards, and seven straight without a score. Should fantasy managers hesitate before locking Evans into lineups moving forward?

Bucs coach Todd Bowles said Monday, “We’ve got to get them back on the same page. That struggle, it showed up yesterday. I’m not saying it was anybody’s fault, but it did show up yesterday and it showed up a few games before that. We’ve got to get that taken care of. That’s crucial for our success.” It boils down to the other receivers needing to step up — which we have seen from Chris Godwin in recent games, and Julio Jones if he can stay consistently healthy — but also Tom Brady and Mike Evans needed to fine-tune their connection because something’s been off. Whether or not that gets corrected this week will be largely predicated on if Evans has to face Marshon Lattimore, who has missed the last seven games with an abdominal injury. — Jenna Laine

It’s now three straight games with underwhelming efficiency for Derrick Henry (64 carries for 178 yards). Is that cause for concern or just a bump in the road?

Henry had a tough couple of games while center Ben Jones dealt with a concussion over the past two weeks. Without Jones, Henry averaged 0.8 yards per rush before first contact against the Bengals on Sunday, his second-lowest average in the past three seasons. Two weeks ago Henry averaged 0.9 yards per rush before contact last week against the Packers. He finished with only 38 yards on 17 carries against the Bengals. That was the second-lowest total for Henry when he had at least 15 carries in a game. Henry is now averaging a career-low 1.70 yards per rush before contact this season, ranking him 49th out of 53 qualified rushers in average yards before contact this season. — Turron Davenport

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Eagles’ CJ Gardner-Johnson has lacerated kidney

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PHILADELPHIA — Eagles safety CJ Gardner-Johnson will be sidelined indefinitely with a lacerated kidney, a league source confirmed.

A decision on whether to place him on injured reserve has not yet been made, the source added, as they work to establish a timetable for his return.

Gardner-Johnson was injured late in the first quarter of the Eagles’ Sunday night game against the Packers following a collision across the middle with Green Bay receiver Christian Watson. He was doubled over in pain as he left the field before being carted inside and did not return to the game.

Gardner-Johnson was replaced in the lineup by undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship, who intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the red zone early in the second quarter of the Eagles’ 40-33 victory.

The NFL Network was first to report on Gardner-Johnson’s injury.

Blankenship earned a spot on the team after a strong summer and filled in admirably Sunday night. Still, the loss of Gardner-Johnson is a significant one for the Eagles. He is the league leader in interceptions with six, serving as one of the top playmakers for an Eagles defense that is No. 1 in the NFL in takeaways with 23.

The Eagles acquired Gardner-Johnson from the New Orleans Saints in August along with a 2025 seventh-round draft pick, for a 2023 fifth-round draft pick and the latter of their two sixth-round draft picks in 2024.

Prior to that acquisition, safety was widely considered to be the most questionable position on an otherwise loaded roster.

Gardner-Johnson, 24, made a successful transition from slot corner to safety upon arriving in Philadelphia. He has 11 interceptions and 36 passes defended over three-plus seasons with the Saints and Eagles.

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Denver Broncos facing the toughest stretch of their 2022 schedule – Denver Broncos Blog

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — With plenty of woes already weighing them down after a 3-8 start to the Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett era, the Denver Broncos’ schedule is about to get even more difficult.

Over the last six weeks of the season, the Broncos have two games remaining with the Kansas City Chiefs, who lead the league in scoring at 29.6 points per game, to go with a game against the league’s No. 2 rushing teams in the Baltimore Ravens (Sunday). The Broncos also have the holiday double-dip with away games on Christmas (at Los Angeles Rams) and New Year’s Day (at Kansas City).

That doesn’t even include visits from the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15 and Week 18, respectively.

Denver remains the lowest-scoring offense (14.3 PPG) at this point in a season since the 2000 Cleveland Browns, who were shut out four times that season and one year removed from their expansion return to the league. Denver has just 157 points through 11 games.

“It’s unacceptable,” Wilson said. “This organisation, there’s tradition here… we’ve got to honor it. We’ve got to honor it by winning.”

The Broncos head into the final stretch with an offense perilously close to the lowest-scoring non-strike team in franchise history — the 1966 AFL Broncos that scored 196 points in a 14-game season (14.0 points per game).

“We are where we are, we’re 3-8,” said safety Justin Simmons after their seventh loss in the last eight games. “Not even close to where we thought we would be. It’s draining, but nobody cares… We’ve got to find ways to win football games.

“… It sucks to lose, it definitely wears on you, but no one cares. We get paid to win, we’re not winning, it’s that simple.”

Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers brought the latest, and one of the most visible outbursts, when defensive tackle Mike Purcell and Wilson had a heated sideline exchange that was caught on the broadcast.

“We are all here to do a job,” running back Latavius ​​Murray said. “Everybody wants to win and it’s frustrating, you have a job to do regardless of what the outcome is. You’ve got to take that into consideration when you’re showing frustration, whatever that is.”

“It’s about accountability, everybody’s got to see what they can do themselves to get better,” Hackett said. “ … All three phases and that starts with me.”

The Broncos have been, and still may be, a prime candidate for the age-old offense versus defense locker room split if the team’s offense doesn’t find a way to pick up the pace at least some. However, the Broncos defense has now surrendered a 100-yard rushing performance as well as a 100-yard receiving performance in each of the last two games.

They failed to close the deal against the Titans and Raiders in back-to-back games and have dropped to No. 3 in scoring defense with two dates with Patrick Mahomes still on the docket in the next five weeks to go with another former league MVP in Lamar Jackson this Sunday.

It’s why Simmons said of the team’s defense “honestly we don’t care about the numbers, the stat that goes out, the point thing, we didn’t play good enough to win.”

The postseason window is getting smaller and smaller, but players know the job’s not done until the final down is played this season.

“We’ve still got to come in and do our job every single day and if you don’t want to come in and do your job you probably shouldn’t be here anyway,” said linebacker Josey Jewell. “It’s a good time to determine who wants to be here and who doesn’t. It will show you who’s tough.”

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Najee Harris injured on MNF

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Read ESPN’s fantasy football Daily Notes every weekday to stay caught up on the news you need to know and get a head start on the fantasy football content coming today and tomorrow to ESPN.com and the ESPN Fantasy App.

The news: Steelers RB Najee Harris was ruled out of Monday night’s game with an abdominal injury.

What it means in fantasy: Harris walked off the field and spoke with medical personnel during the second quarter. He returned to the field after several plays but left again after a hard hit. He sat out a couple of plays before finishing the drive with a six-yard touchdown run. Soon after leaving the field on the Steelers’ next drive, Harris went to the locker room and was ruled out. He finished with 10.6 fantasy points. With Jaylen Warren out due to a hamstring injury, the Steelers turned to Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell to fill the void. Snell finished the game with 12 rushing attempts for 62 yards and a touchdown. McFarland had six rushing attempts for 30 yards. Harris’ practice status will be important to monitor before the Steelers’ game against a Falcons team that allows the ninth most fantasy points per game to running backs. Monitor Warren’s status as well.


The news: Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Patriots RB Damien Harris is not expected to play Thursday night against the Bills.

What it means in fantasy: A thigh injury forced Harris to leave last Thursday’s game against the Vikings after only 11 snaps. He finished with 16 rushing yards on five attempts. There is a possibility Harris could miss more time since he is considered week-to-week. Rhamondre Stevenson will remain the Patriots’ lead running back while Harris is sidelined. He’s scored 10 or more fantasy points in nine consecutive games, including five with 20 or more.


The news: Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase is expected to return on Sunday against the Chiefs.

What it means in fantasy: Chase has been out since a 33-fantasy points performance against the Falcons in Week 7. Fantasy managers were excited about the possibility of Chase returning in Week 12 against the Titans following quarterback Joe Burrow’s comments at last Wednesday’s press conference. Even though Chase was ultimately ruled out, it appears that he will be able to return this week. In his second season, Chase has averaged 9.2 targets and 20.2 fantasy points per game. His practice status will be important to monitor as it will indicate whether he can expect to play a full role against the Chiefs, where the Bengals will need to keep up with Kansas City’s high-octane offense.


The news: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is better on Monday than he was on Sunday.

What it means in fantasy: After Sunday night’s loss to the Eagles, Rodgers said he would attempt to play against the Bears in Week 13 if scans of the injury show no serious damage. The full evaluation of Rodgers’ tests is not yet complete, but he will start against Chicago if cleared by the medical staff according to head coach Matt LaFleur. The Packers have a 4-8 record, and fantasy managers should monitor Rodgers’ situation throughout the week to see if Jordan Love starts against the Bears in Week 13. It is worth noting that the Packers have a Week 14 bye. Rodgers had two consecutive games with 19 fantasy points before he was forced to exit against the Eagles. Fantasy managers who are relying on Rodgers should consider adding Jordan Love after he put together two solid drives against the Eagles in relief of Rodgers.


The news: 49ers RB Elijah Mitchell is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a sprained MCL.

What it means in fantasy: Further testing revealed on Mitchell’s knee revealed a sprained MCL that was eerily similar to the one he sustained in his right knee in Week 1 against the Bears. Jordan Mason took over as the backup and split snaps with Christian McCaffrey. Head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed confidence in Mason and rookie Tyrion Davis-Price, a pregame inactive, to fill the void left by Mitchell. Davis-Price and Mason will act as change-of-pace backs while McCaffrey leads in touches. Monitor McCaffrey’s practice status since he is suffering from what Shanahan calls “irritation” in his left knee.


The news: ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that RB Melvin Gordon III was signed to the Chiefs practice squad.

What it means in fantasy: Gordon’s fumbling woes resulted in his release from a dismal Broncos offense that ranks 21st in total yards and 32nd in points per game. Now he joins a Chiefs offense that ranks first in total yards and points scored per game. Fantasy managers who buy into revenge narratives should note that the Chiefs and Broncos still play twice this season, in Denver in Week 14 and Kansas City in Week 17. Rookie Isiah Pacheco leads the Chiefs with 455 rushing yards and should continue to dominate the early downs for Kansas City with Jerick McKinnon handling the passing downs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is currently on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain, but was already losing snaps before the injury. Gordon will be difficult to trust for fantasy even if he makes the active roster.


The news: Ravens RB JK Dobbins is set to return to practice this week.

What it means in fantasy: Dobbins will return to practice after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to remove scar tissue related to his previous knee procedure. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted that Dobbins would practice “to some degree,” but I’d be surprised if he plays in Week 13 against the Broncos. It would be wise for the Ravens not to rush him back since they have Gus Edwards and Kenyan Drake on the roster. The Ravens rank sixth with 30.8 rushing attempts per game. In four games, Dobbins had only one game with 10 or more fantasy points and rushing attempts. Getting exposure to the Ravens backfield is easy with Edwards, who is available in almost 60% of ESPN leagues.


The news: Jets RB Michael Carter is considered day-to-day with a low ankle sprain.

What it means in fantasy: Head coach Robert Saleh said Carter could play against the Vikings on Sunday. A low ankle sprain is better than a high ankle sprain. Carter would likely have been out for at least a month if the latter were the case. Since Zonovan Knight and Ty Johnson combined for 131 rushing yards on 19 attempts against the Bears on Sunday, the Jets should not rush him back. Fantasy managers will know more about Carter’s status on Wednesday with practice reports.


The news: Bears WR Darnell Mooney is out for the season with torn ligaments in his left ankle.

What it means in fantasy: The injury occurred in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Jets. Athletic trainers helped Mooney off the field after he was unable to bear weight on his ankle. He was the Bears’ leading receiver with 493 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Chase Claypool could see more usage in Mooney’s absence — he led all Bears’ wide receivers on Sunday with five targets — but he did leave the game as well with an apparent leg injury. The Bears’ head coach Matt Eberflus has said that Claypool is “day to day,” but has not revealed what the injury is. Claypool is rostered in 58.7% of ESPN leagues and is expected to operate as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver moving forward. If you need a wide receiver, pick him up.


Today on ESPN.com/Fantasy and in the ESPN Fantasy App

• Week 13 fantasy football rankings at every position (PPR and NPPR)

Matt Bowen’s streaming pickups: deeper picks for deeper leagues and emergency needs

Eric Karabell’s Flex and Superflex rankings for Week 13

• NFL Nation’s Fantasy Fallout: beat reporters on Zay Jones, Mike Evans and others

• Eric Karabell’s trade index and rest-of-season rankings for Week 13 and beyond

• “Fantasy Focus” podcast (10 a.m. ET)

Wednesday:

Mike Clay’s Shadow Report: wide receiver vs defensive back matchups analysis

Seth Walder’s Next Gen Stats Advantage: Mismatches to exploit

DFS Cheat sheets for DraftKings and FanDuel

• Rankings for Individual Defensive Player leagues

• “Fantasy Focus” podcast (10 a.m. ET)

In Case You Missed It:

• Eric Moody’s waiver wire pickups identify the top players to claim for your team

• Fantasy Focus podcast: Field Yates, Daniel Dopp and Liz Loza recap everything you need to know from Week 12 of the NFL season including the significance of a massive performance. Plus, Liz and Daniel give an audio exclusive reaction to SNF including a wild finish with some players to watch out for. The list | Watch

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NFL Week 13 Power Rankings 2022: 1-32 poll, expectations

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Welcome to Week 13 of the NFL regular season — we are now two-thirds of the way through.

Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — has evaluated how teams are stacking up through 12 weeks.

After the Jacksonville Jaguars took home the dramatic come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Ravens, where does that leave the Ravens in the rankings? The Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Commanders won on Sunday, so how close are they to the top 10? And of course, the most important question, is there a new No. 1?

In addition to our updated rankings, we checked in with NFL Nation reporters across the league and asked them what the expectations for the rest of the season are going forward for each team entering December.

Now, let’s take a look at the updated rankings.

Jump to a team:
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

Realistic expectation: Winning the AFC’s top playoff seed.

At 9-2, the Chiefs have the best record in the conference and a schedule conducive to holding on to their lead over the rest of the field. Winning another Super Bowl is also a realistic goal with QB Patrick Mahomes having an MVP-like season. He has thrown for over 300 yards in six straight games. — Adam Teicher


Week 12 ranking: 2

Realistic expectation: Representing the NFC in Super Bowl LVII.

They have the best record in the league at 10-1, an MVP candidate in Jalen Hurts and a cold-weather-friendly offense that can suck the life out of you on the ground and rip it up through the air when need be. The defense is opportunistic and leads the league in takeaways (23). The Eagles are as deep and well-rounded as any team in football, and have already beaten the conference’s top contenders in the Vikings and Cowboys, though the Cowboys were without Dak Prescott in that Week 6 matchup. The rematch on Christmas Eve in Dallas should be fun. — Tim McManus


Week 12 ranking: 3

Realistic expectation: Winning a Super Bowl.

It’s realistic even though the Bills are not looking as sharp since the team’s bye. These next three weeks will go a long way in impacting just how possible winning it all will be for Buffalo. Securing home-field advantage in the playoffs will be a priority. The team is currently 0-2 in AFC East play and has three straight games against division opponents — at Patriots, vs. Jets and vs. Dolphins — next. If the Bills can come out on top in those games, there’s no reason they couldn’t go all the way. — Alaina Getzenberg

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Joe Fortenbaugh explains why he is taking the Patriots plus the points for their Thursday night matchup against the Bills.


Week 12 ranking: 5

Realistic expectation: Getting to the Super Bowl.

Why not? The Cowboys are 8-3. They beat both of last year’s Super Bowl teams. They won at Minnesota. They get a chance to show how good they can be with a Christmas Eve meeting against the Eagles. They have a top defense. They have a running game that can control the tempo of a game. They have a passing game that has improved. What they don’t have is a history of rising to the occasion. That doesn’t mean they can’t. There is no reason to fear any of the heavy hitters in the NFC. — Todd Archer


Week 12 ranking: 4

Realistic expectation: Winning the AFC East.

The Dolphins are in the driver’s seat to win their first division title since 2008, and right now, they’re playing better than the Bills — against whom they currently own a tiebreaker. Their Week 15 showdown could end up deciding the division, although Miami does have two more division games in Weeks 16 and 17. Fans in western New York aren’t going to like hearing it, but the Dolphins have placed themselves in position to win the division, and it’s what they should expect moving forward. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Week 12 ranking: 6

Realistic expectation: Split their final six games, win the NFC North and host two playoff games.

It is realistic to think the Vikings will have a record of at least 12-5 (or better). It’s true the Vikings have the seventh-easiest remaining schedule, and that there are only two teams on it with winning records (Jets and Giants). But they still have to play all three NFC North rivals on the road, and it’s tough to project a sweep there even in a down year for the division. — Kevin Seifert


Week 12 ranking: 8

Realistic expectation: Going to the Super Bowl.

The Niners haven’t shied away from this being the objective, even going so far as to tell the world they believe they can when they traded for running back Christian McCaffrey. Anything less would be considered a disappointment, with the question then becoming whether they can actually win it. Whether they can knock off a team like the Kansas City Chiefs is a different issue, but realistically, this team has everything it needs to at least be in the big game. — Nick Wagoner


Week 12 ranking: 11

Realistic expectation: Repeating as AFC champions.

While it might seem like a stretch for a team currently seeded sixth in the AFC standings, the defending conference champions are really finding their form as they enter December. The defense remains a solid unit, and the offense is one of the best in the league. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the NFL in points per drive and offensive points per game — despite the fact that WR Ja’Marr Chase has missed the past four games with a hip injury. The team also owns the AFC’s best net touchdown differential (plus-13). — Ben Baby


Week 12 ranking: 9

Realistic expectation: Winning the AFC South.

Despite a frustrating loss to the Bengals, the Titans have a two-game lead over the Colts in the AFC South. All things are pointing toward the Titans winning the division although they have two games against the Jaguars on the horizon. Tennessee’s passing game is starting to come alive, but the rushing attack hasn’t been the same over the past three weeks. The Titans will be a dangerous team if they can find some kind of balance on offense. And the defense hasn’t allowed an opposing team to score more than 20 points in eight weeks. — Turron Davenport


Week 12 ranking: 7

Realistic expectation: Winning the AFC North.

Despite getting upset by the Jaguars, the Ravens still have a favorable schedule the rest of the way. Baltimore plays five straight games against teams with losing records before playing at the Bengals in the regular-season finale. That’s why Baltimore has a 78.2% chance to win its first division title since 2019. The bigger question is how far the Ravens can advance in the postseason. Lamar Jackson is 1-3 in the playoffs for his career, throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions. — Jamison Hensley


Week 12 ranking: 15

Realistic expectation: Finishing 10-7 to snag a wild-card spot.

It won’t be easy, especially with four of the remaining six on the road, but the Jets are 4-1 on the road this season and defense travels. They’re ranked fourth in scoring defense, and if the Mike White-led offense can be middle-of-the-road, the Jets should be fine because they’re 6-0 when scoring at least 18 points. — Rich Cimini


Week 12 ranking: 13

Realistic expectation: Making the postseason.

Washington holds the seventh spot, which is remarkable considering the Commanders were 1-4 after five games this season. It won’t be easy as four of their final five games are against teams with winning records — the New York Giants (7-4) twice, San Francisco (7-4) and Dallas (8-3). The Commanders also play Cleveland (4-7) — Washington is 6-1 vs. teams currently under .500. It’s likely that the Commanders will have to go at least 2-3, so splitting with the Giants and winning one other game, especially vs. an NFC opponent for tiebreaker purposes. Three wins in five games? Book the postseason. — John Keim


Week 12 ranking: 10

Realistic expectation: Making the playoffs.

The Giants are currently sitting sixth in the NFC. It’s shaping up to be a three-team race between them, the Commanders and the Seahawks. The Giants already lost to Seattle but have two games in a three-week stretch against Washington. Winning one of two puts them in pretty solid position. It’s entirely possible to get into the postseason with nine wins in the NFC, but splitting the final six would get the Giants to a healthy 10 wins — and complete a wildly overachieving season. — Jordan Raanan


Week 12 ranking: 12

Realistic expectation: Getting to 10 wins.

The Seahawks were cruising toward at least that many when they were riding a four-game win streak, but they’ve come back down to earth with back-to-back losses, including a disappointing overtime defeat to the Raiders in Week 12. Ten wins is still a reasonable expectation, though it will require beating at least one good team (either the 49ers, Chiefs or Jets) in addition to taking care of business in the three games in which they’ll likely be favored (Rams twice and Panthers). It should help that four of their final six are at Lumen Field. Then again, they just lost to the previously three-win Raiders at home. — Brady Henderson


Week 12 ranking: 14

Realistic expectation: Finishing above .500.

Bill Belichick’s 6-5 team has the following remaining schedule: vs. Buffalo, at Arizona, at Las Vegas, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Miami and at Buffalo. Squeezing out three wins would ensure a finish over .500, but the Patriots might need four to qualify for the postseason. — Mike Reiss


Week 12 ranking: 16

Realistic expectation: Winning the NFC South.

Winning the division is in jeopardy after slipping one game below .500 and holding just a half-game lead over the Falcons. The Bucs’ offense can’t seem to clear the 17-point threshold, and the defense is still struggling to put together complete games. On top of that, the coaching staff has made questionable decisions with playcalling, game management and personnel — most notably the decision not to use all timeouts prior to the end of regulation against Cleveland. If the Bucs reach the postseason, it’s hard to see them being more than a “one and done.” — Jenna Laine

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Ryan Clark weighs in on Tom Brady and Buccaneers’ underwhelming performance this season.


Week 12 ranking: 17

Realistic expectation: Making the playoffs.

The Chargers bolstered the roster over the offseason with the intention of making a deep postseason run. However, that goal has largely been derailed because of an overwhelming number of injuries that have resulted in edge rusher Joey Bosa, cornerback J.C. Jackson, left tackle Rashawn Slater and defensive lineman Austin Johnson being placed on injured reserve. However, the Bolts still have a shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2018, with their chances improving to 60% following a gutsy decision — as coach Brandon Staley opted to go for the 2-point conversion rather than kick an extra point and go to overtime in a Week 12 win over the Cardinals. — Lindsey Thiry


Week 12 ranking: 18

Realistic expectation: Being in the playoff conversation entering Week 17.

Atlanta is a half-game out of first place in the NFC South and faces one team with a winning record — Baltimore — the rest of the season. Plus, the Falcons still have games against the Saints (Week 15) and Bucs (Week 18), which could spell the difference between being NFC South champs and out of the playoffs. The fact that we’re still talking about this speaks to how Atlanta has overachieved this season and put together strong game plans to maximize what the team does well (run the ball, control clock). — Michael Rothstein


Week 12 ranking: 19

Realistic expectation: Getting a closer look at what they have in Jordan Love.

After Love came on in relief for Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night vs. the Eagles, it opened the conversation of what the Packers should do the rest of their season, given their record. It could be a delicate situation depending on what Rodgers wants to do next season, but his injuries (to his thumb and ribs) make it a little easier to sit him. The bottom line is the Packers need to see what they have in Love, and playing several weeks in a row will help make that clearer. — Rob Demovsky


Week 12 ranking: 27

Realistic expectation: A six-game win streak.

The Raiders, coming off two straight OT wins, seem to have rediscovered the lucky charm they had in closing last season with four straight wins to get into the playoffs. The Raiders’ next four games are against teams with a combined record of 18-25 in the Chargers (6-5), Rams (3-8), Patriots (6-5) and Steelers (3-7), before closing out against the 49ers (7-4) and Chiefs (9-2). — Paul Gutierrez


Week 12 ranking: 21

Realistic expectation: Evaluating young players.

The Saints mathematically have a shot at the NFC South like everyone else, but they’ve squandered every opportunity they’ve gotten to make any progress in the division by beating themselves with poor play. While a best-case scenario has them winning out to finish with a winning season, a more realistic one has them getting more snaps for players like Trevor Penning, Rashid Shaheed and Alontae Taylor to get them ready for next season. — Katherine Terrell


Week 12 ranking: 26

Realistic expectation: Getting to six victories.

It doesn’t sound like a lofty goal, but that would be the most games the franchise has won in a season since 2019. Since then, they’ve won a total of eight. The Jaguars have won two of their past three, including an upset of Baltimore this past Sunday, and if they somehow go on a roll — and that’s asking a lot since they play four playoff contenders — they could even have a chance to finish 8-9 — which would mark only the second time in the past 12 seasons that they didn’t finish with double-digit losses. — Michael DiRocco


Week 12 ranking: 23

Realistic expectation: Doubling their win total from last season.

The expectations were higher in Year 2 of the Dan Campbell era. Although they got off to a rough 1-6 start, lately the Lions have been among the hottest teams in the league, winning three of their past four games. The Lions might not finish at .500 this year, but they do have an opportunity to double their win total from 3-13-1 in 2021 to at least six wins this season, which is a big improvement as they continue to take steps toward their rebuild. Detroit has not won six games since 2018. — Eric Woodyard


Week 12 ranking: 29

Realistic expectation: Hanging around the playoff conversation.

Expecting to make the AFC playoffs might be too much for a team with a record of 4-7. But it’s not unthinkable that Cleveland could at least hang in the playoff picture. The Browns can afford only one more loss in their final six games, at most. Even then, they might need help elsewhere from a loaded AFC. But if the Browns can avoid being mathematically eliminated in December, that would constitute a success at this point for a team that remains a long shot to make the postseason. — Jake Trotter


Week 12 ranking: 20

Realistic expectation: Winning one, maybe two games.

The final five games are no joke for the Cardinals, who fell to 4-8 on Sunday. With the Patriots, Broncos, Bucs, Falcons and 49ers left, two of those seem winnable on paper after how this season has played out. The turnaround that coach Kliff Kingsbury talked about happening hasn’t materialized and likely won’t. But the question down the stretch will be whether his job is safe in 2023. — Josh Weinfuss

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Keyshawn Johnson breaks down why it would be hard for the Broncos to part ways with Russell Wilson or coach Nathaniel Hackett.


Week 12 ranking: 28

Realistic expectation: Developing Kenny Pickett.

The Steelers aren’t making the playoffs this year. Even though the AFC North is in a down year, that’s the reality they face after starting 4-7. But the back half of the season can be all about developing the rookie quarterback, who was unceremoniously inserted at halftime of the Week 4 loss to the Jets. The final weeks are Pickett’s on-the-job training and can establish a baseline for him to build from for his second season. — Brooke Pryor


Week 12 ranking: 22

Realistic expectation: Evaluate the roster for next season.

This is the second consecutive year the Colts have fallen short of their own preseason expectations. It might be time to take a step back and reevaluate where this roster is heading into 2023. The Colts have already fired their head coach and are expected to conduct a legitimate coaching search when the season ends. The changes won’t stop there, considering their apparent needs and the lack of production the Colts are getting from an offensive line that is the NFL’s most expensive. Something the Colts might also have to consider is whether they want to keep Matt Ryan on the roster next season to mentor another QB. The last five games could help determine that. — Stephen Holder


Week 12 ranking: 31

Realistic expectation: Staying in the NFC South mix.

Only one of the Carolina’s last five opponents has a winning record, and the Panthers already have beaten two of them (Tampa Bay, New Orleans). The defense is playing well enough to keep Carolina in games if quarterback Sam Darnold can simply manage the offense without making catastrophic mistakes. The Panthers are a long shot for sure, but they also were in 2014 when they won the last four games to win the division at 7-8-1. — David Newton


Week 12 ranking: 25

Realistic expectation: Focusing on Justin Fields’ development.

The Bears should put all their efforts toward building for 2023. When Fields returns from an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, everything should be geared toward helping him develop his skills as a passer and being able to win from the pocket. Fields has yet to attempt more than 28 passes or throw for more than 208 yards in a game this season. Therefore, the Bears’ goal of creating a sustainable offense for their future franchise quarterback needs to be the focal point the rest of the way. — Courtney Cronin


Week 12 ranking: 24

Realistic expectation: Finding future contributors on this roster.

One of the few bright spots to the number of injuries the Rams have had this season is that the team is getting an extended look at the depth it has. Now at 3-8, the Rams’ focus can be on figuring out if some of these players can contribute going forward and even play a bigger role next season. Coach Sean McVay said Sunday that the evaluation has “got to occur,” and as a result of those injuries, “guys are going to get some opportunities like you’ve seen each of the last couple weeks.” That group could include running back Kyren Williams, and the group of wide receivers behind the injured Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson II: Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek and Brandon Powell. — Sarah Barshop


Week 12 ranking: 30

Realistic expectation: Not being the lowest-scoring team in franchise history.

The Broncos, who are last in the league, averaging 14.3 points per game, need to stop their current tumble. They have scored fewer than 10 points in four games this season. Their lowest-scoring (non-strike year) team in history scored 196 points; that’s 14 points per game in a 14-game AFL season. Their lowest-scoring team of the 16-game era (post 1978) was in 1992, when they scored 262 points, or 16.38 points per game. The Broncos, with 157 points, are currently the lowest-scoring team since the 2000 Browns. — Jeff Legwold


Week 12 ranking: 32

Realistic expectation: Dameon Pierce getting to 1,000 rushing yards.

Pierce has 788 yards rushing so far this season. The fourth-round rookie is averaging 71 yards a game, but recently defenses have centered their game plan around stopping him. In the past two games against the Commanders and Dolphins, Pierce has totaled 16 yards. If that continues, he won’t hit 1,000 yards. The offensive line must return to creating holes for Pierce, and the passing attack must take the pressure off him for Pierce to have a chance to hit that milestone. — DJ Bien-Aime

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Jeff Saturday defends clock management at the end of the Colts’ loss

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INDIANAPOLIS — Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday defended his clock management in the final minutes of Monday night’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, saying he decided against taking a timeout until 30 seconds remained because he “didn’t feel like time was really of the essence at that moment.”

The Colts, trailing by seven, were in a bit of a frantic situation, facing fourth-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 37-yard line at the two-minute warning. After converting, Indianapolis quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked for a 7-yard loss on first down then scrambled for 14 yards on second down.

The second-down play was snapped with 59 seconds remaining, but the Colts elected not to call a timeout despite possessing all three of their timeouts. They instead used a slow approach, snapping the ball late into the play clock then handing the ball to running back Jonathan Taylor, who was stopped for no gain on a third-and-3. The Colts finally called timeout after the Taylor run, with 30 seconds left.

With Saturday and playcaller Parks Frazier working just their third game in their new roles, it could be argued the Colts would have benefited from a reset in that circumstance, but Saturday said the staff already had the run play dialed up and liked its chances of success .

“I thought we had a good play,” he said. “And I felt like we would get it. Obviously, we didn’t do a great job [blocking] on the backside, so it’s worse. But I felt good about the call before. Felt like we had time, we would have timeouts afterwards. We were in striking distance. So, I never felt like the pressure of needing the timeout.

“We just didn’t execute it.”

Saturday seemed to suggest the Colts snapped the ball later than he desired on the third-down play, saying, “Would I have liked [Ryan] to snap it a little bit earlier? Sure. But, again, never felt pressed for time.”

It’s unclear whether there was a miscommunication between the staff and Ryan.

On fourth down, the Colts attempted a throw to well-covered Parris Campbell that was incomplete. The Steelers (4-7) took over on downs and ran out the clock to preserve a 24-17 win.

The Colts (4-7-1) are 1-2 since Saturday took the helm after Frank Reich’s firing last month.

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Robert Saleh – Mike White’s huge game hasn’t altered the Jets’ QB plan

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FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Mike White delivered one of the best passing days in New York Jets history on Sunday, but it wasn’t enough to alter the team’s plan at quarterback.

Coach Robert Saleh reiterated Monday that he still hopes to play demoted starter Zach Wilson, setting the stage for a weekly quarterback soap opera as the Jets (7-4) bid to end their 11-year playoff drought.

“It’s exactly what I talked about last week in my press conference,” Saleh said. “It’s a week-to-week deal. The full intent is to get Zach ready to play football again. I’ll make that decision when I’m ready. While we’re going through this process, it’s Mike White’s opportunity to take advantage of every last play he gets.

“I’m going to leave it at that. We’re going to figure it out as we go.”

The Jets called Wilson’s benching a “reset,” a chance to sharpen his fundamentals as the scout-team quarterback in practice. The 2021 No. 2 overall pick was inactive in Sunday’s 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears, watching from the sideline as White — in his season debut — passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns on 22-for-28 efficiency.

The home fans chanted his name and teammates sang his praises, but the organization isn’t ready to cast aside Wilson — at least not publicly. Saleh declined to speculate on what it would take for White to secure the position.

“Mike’s got an opportunity to stack another great day up this week,” Saleh said. “When we feel like Zach is ready to roll, he’s going to roll.”

The Jets travel to face the Minnesota Vikings (9-2), who rank 20th in scoring defense and 30th in total yards allowed. With White at quarterback, the Jets enjoyed their most prolific offensive day in years, amassing 466 total yards. White finished with a 149.3 passer rating, the highest by a Jets quarterback since Geno Smith’s perfect 158.3 in 2014.

Saleh said White delivered the ball quickly and made subtle movements in the pocket to avoid pressure. He did “a really, really good job,” Saleh said.

Players praised White’s poise, how he was able to step into a pressure situation without flinching. It had been a full calendar year since his last regular-season appearance. He galvanized a team that was reeling from a last-second loss to the New England Patriots.

“He was a smooth operator,” running back Ty Johnson said. “He was just doing Mike White things, you know what I’m saying?”

The Jets might face the Vikings this Sunday with a new look in the backfield.

Running back Michael Carter (low-ankle sprain) is a question mark as the Jets prepare for the game at US Bank Stadium. He left Sunday’s game and didn’t return; he’s considered day-to-day. They lost top back Breece Hall to a season-ending knee injury in Week 7, leaving Johnson, James Robinson and rookie Zonovan Knight available if Carter can’t play.

Robinson, acquired in a recent trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was a healthy scratch against the Bears. He was replaced by Knight, who rushed for 69 yards — the most by a Jets player in his debut since Matt Snell’s 82 yards in 1964.

Knight and Johnson rushed for a combined 131 yards, with Johnson scoring on a 32-yard run.

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Aaron Donald believed to have high ankle sprain, Sean McVay says

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LOS ANGELES — Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has an ankle sprain, coach Sean McVay said Monday.

McVay said he isn’t sure of the severity of the injury, saying Donald was still meeting with doctors and undergoing testing. However, McVay said the medical staff believes it is a high ankle sprain.

“Obviously we’ll take the appropriate steps for Aaron in terms of how we move forward and what that means as far as his availability for this week and the weeks to come,” McVay said.

Donald is the latest star Rams player to deal with an injury. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has missed two games this season while in the concussion protocol, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp is on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain. On Sunday, McVay announced wide receiver Allen Robinson II will be out for the rest of the season after a CT scan revealed a stress fracture in his injured foot.

The Rams have also dealt with significant injuries to their offensive line. According to Elias Sports Bureau data, Los Angeles is the only team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to use a different starting five-man offensive line combination in each of its first 11 games of a season.

McVay was asked whether he has considered holding out several of his star players for the rest of the season because of the injuries the team has dealt with. He said he looks at each case differently, but that the team will be smart about each player’s health.

“It certainly has been something that I don’t think anybody could have ever predicted,” McVay said. “And when it rains, it pours.”

In 11 games this season, Donald has five sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, 11 quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

When listing injuries from the Sunday game, McVay also joked that he would be limited for the rest of the week after he took a hit to the side of the face when Rams tight end Roger Carter Jr. ran into him on the sideline.

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Brett Favre files motion to dismiss Mississippi lawsuit

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Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, one of 38 defendants being sued by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), filed a motion through his lawyers Monday in Mississippi judicial court to dismiss the complaint against himself and Favre Enterprises.

“It is apparent that MDHS has sued Favre, a Mississippi and national celebrity, in an effort to deflect responsibility for its own egregious wrongdoing,” the motion read in part.

According to a Mississippi state audit, at least $77 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, which originated from MDHS before flowing to nonprofits, were diverted from the poorest people in America’s poorest state toward rich and powerful Mississippians. Six people have been arrested in the case, five of whom have pleaded guilty to state charges. Favre has not been charged criminally but was named in the civil suit on May 9.

“[MDHS]’s lawsuit is nothing more than a baseless attempt to blame Brett Favre for its own failure to oversee the welfare funds placed in its trust,” Favre’s lawyer, Eric Herschmann, said in an emailed statement to ESPN. “Mr. Favre never had any control over how Mississippi spent its welfare funds. He never made any misrepresentations to anyone.”

A representative for MDHS told ESPN on Monday that, “At this point, MDHS doesn’t want to try this case in the media, and we believe that the merits of the case will stand on their own. We will leave that to a court to decide.”

Also, a representative from state auditor Shad White’s office told ESPN: “It’s ludicrous to say that Mr. Favre has been singled out in any way. And as far as our office is concerned, Mr. Favre remains liable for $228,000 in interest for nonperformance of the contract in question.”

Favre was paid $1.1 million from TANF funds for speeches White says he never made, according to the state audit and a civil lawsuit. He eventually paid the money back, but the state is seeking the amount it says he owes in interest.

Prevacus, a company developing a concussion drug in which Favre is the top investor and stockholder, also received TANF funds. The athletic foundation at Favre’s alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, received $5 million in welfare money. Text messages show Favre pushed state officials for funding for a new volleyball facility on campus during the time his daughter was on the team. The volleyball facility was not mentioned in the civil lawsuit, but the motion filed by Favre’s lawyers said that “it served as one of the false pretexts for MDHS to target Favre in this lawsuit.”

As such, the motion filed Monday concluded that “Favre has already repaid to MDHS the only funds MDHS alleges he received” and claimed that MDHS “cannot allege that Favre ever received any portion of” payments to Prevacus. The motion also reiterated Favre’s position that he did not know the source of the money he received. He told Fox News Digital in October that he had been “unjustly smeared” in the media.

Monday’s motion also stated: “Favre, unlike [MDHS director John] Davis duck [Mississippi Community Education Center founder Nancy] New and the other public officials, in fact did not know that any funds he received were TANF funds or were subject to a legal use restriction, had no responsibility or ability to audit or monitor, let alone control, the use of MDHS or MCEC funds , and did nothing wrong in connection with those funds.”

Herschmann’s statement continued: “As the State Auditor has acknowledged, Mr. Favre never knew welfare funds were involved in the first place. Once he found out, he returned all of the funds he received — six months before MDHS filed its lawsuit. the State Auditor also has acknowledged, Mr. Favre’s conduct deserves applause, not a frivolous lawsuit. We believe that after the Court reviews our motion, this case will be dismissed.”

However, according to text messages made public in the civil lawsuit, Favre asked New: “If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?”

Favre continued to press state officials for money even after being told in a text by then-governor Phil Bryant that “use of these funds [is] tightly controlled. Any improper use could result in violation of Federal Law. Auditors are currently reviewing the use of these funds.”

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‘Disappointed’ Elijah Mitchell out for 49ers with sprained MCL

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Immediately after Sunday’s win against the New Orleans Saints, the San Francisco 49ers were disappointed that running back Elijah Mitchell sprained his left knee but optimistic it wouldn’t be serious enough to keep him out for long.

That optimism vanished Monday when further testing on Mitchell’s knee revealed a sprained MCL strikingly similar to the one he sustained in his right knee in Week 1. Which is to say Mitchell will again miss six to eight weeks and land on the injured reserve list.

“It wasn’t the news we were looking for,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s pretty disappointed. Everyone knows how good Elijah has been, how hard he worked to get back from his last one, how good he’s been playing since he came back, and to kind of be right back there, I know he was real down on it. It’s unfortunate for him. He’s just had some real bad luck.”

Mitchell suffered a right knee sprain in a Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears and returned in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Chargers after he was activated from injured reserve. Under league rules, players who have been on injured reserve and brought back can go through the process again in the same season.

The Niners hope that they can extend their season long enough for Mitchell to return again.

“He knows what’s ahead of him,” Shanahan said. “He’s just going to have about six weeks of frustration, but hopefully we can do our job here so when he comes back, we’re still playing.”

Mitchell suffered the injury early in the third quarter when he got rolled up on. He attempted to continue playing but soon had to exit the game and was ruled out. He left with seven carries for 35 yards and two catches for 8 yards.

Mitchell isn’t the only Niners running back dealing with a knee issue coming out of Sunday’s game. Starter Christian McCaffrey has what Shanahan is calling “irritation” in his left knee and will have to be managed throughout this week of practice before Sunday’s meeting with the Miami Dolphins.

Those issues leave rookies Jordan Mason and Tyrion Davis-Price as the only healthy running backs on San Francisco’s active roster. Mason closed out the game Sunday with five carries for 25 yards.

“It was really impressive,” Shanahan said. “I think you could feel him like you did in the preseason when he got those carries. I know we could from the sidelines … That was real encouraging, and it’s going to open up some opportunities for him and also for Ty to get a chance to get back out there.”

Right guard Spencer Burford (sprained right ankle) was the only other 49ers injury of note Sunday. Shanahan said Burford could return to practice as soon as late this week.

In better injury news, the 49ers avoided any significant problems with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was in pain after Sunday’s game from a hit he took to his lower left leg and knee.

“It was a relief that no serious injuries came up,” Shanahan said. “I know he’s pretty sore today and stuff. So, hopefully he’ll work that out by Wednesday but nothing serious.”

The Niners could also welcome back a key defensive player this week as defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who has been out since Week 4 with foot and ankle injuries, is expected to practice Wednesday after rejoining the team last Friday.

San Francisco also made a notable roster move Monday, signing veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins to the practice squad. In 10 NFL seasons, Jenkins has played in 142 games with 575 tackles, 124 passes defended and 27 interceptions.

“To have a veteran who can play and get him on our practice squad, we love that,” Shanahan said. “We felt Janoris fell right into that line. If he would have done it earlier, we would have done it (a while) ago.”

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