Fantasy Fallout: Adrian Peterson is back, but he’s got nothin’ on Kenneth Farrow

What a story it would be: Adrian Peterson, one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs, makes an unlikely return from a knee injury in Week 15 — and leads your team to a fantasy championship.

Unfortunately, that scenario seems a little far-fetched even in a fantasy world. Yes, Peterson declared Friday that he is “ready to roll” and plans to return for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. And ESPN’s Bob Holtzman reported that one of Peterson’s teammates said he “looks like Adrian” in practice.

But expectations have to be low for a guy who has not played since Week 2 and who was averaging only 1.6 yards per carry at the time for a rushing offense that ranks last in the NFL with 73.4 yards per game.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling said that if Peterson does in fact play this week, the Vikings will likely work him in slowly. He could play more in Week 16, but that might depend on whether the Vikings are still in playoff contention.

“Peterson says he’s playing Sunday, but the Vikings have cautioned this week that he’s got some things to get reacquainted with, particularly considering the fact Pat Shurmur wasn’t the offensive coordinator the last time Peterson played,” Goessling said. “The Vikings have been in the shotgun two-thirds of the time since Shurmur took over for Norv Turner, and shotgun sets haven’t exactly been Peterson’s preferred method of getting the ball. Still, the Vikings are likely to use him for the potential of explosive plays.”

The Bears are getting top receiver Alshon Jeffery back from a four-game suspension. ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson said the cold weather also could limit Chicago’s passing attack. Other than that, he would trust Jeffery to make an immediate impact. Jeffery also needs to develop a rapport with backup QB Matt Barkley — who estimated that he had never thrown a practice pass to Jeffery before this week. But Jeffery predicted this week that, “It won’t take long. We’ll get it together.”

The Miami Dolphins also have to get used to life with a new quarterback in the wake of Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury. ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker said he thinks almost all of Miami’s skill-position players will be negatively impacted, because the team will likely throw the ball less and because teams will likely stack eight men in the box even more than they already have against RB Jay Ajayi — “which is saying something.” But one player Walker said he could see benefitting is WR Kenny Stills. “He is Miami’s deep threat, and the long ball is [new QB Matt] Moore’s best throw,” Walker said. “I don’t see Moore throwing it 40 times, but there will be a few opportunities to hit big plays over the top.”

ESPN Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell warned fantasy owners against rushing to put receiver A.J. Green back in their lineups. Green is listed as doubtful after returning to practice this week from his hamstring injury. A source told ESPN’s Holtzman that Green is targeting next week for his return. Terrell said Bengals rookie WR Tyler Boyd would be a better option this week — though it’s not a great matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Alabama hires Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator

Saban announced on Friday that Steve Sarkisian will serve as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He’ll replace the outgoing OC, Lane Kiffin, who was hired as Florida Atlantic’s head coach earlier this week.

Sarkisian had served as an analyst for Alabama this season after being fired by USC at midseason in 2015.

Alabama will have its leading passer (Jalen Hurts, a true freshman) and leading rusher (Damien Harris, sophomore) returning in 2017, as well as star WR Calvin Ridley (a sophomore). WR ArDarius Stewart, a redshirt junior, has not announced his intentions for 2017, but even if he decides to apply for early draft eligiblity, Sarkisian will inherit a young offense loaded with potential. Making an in-house hire to replace Kiffin should provide some welcome offensive stability for those players.

In a preview video released Friday, Fisher — who was fired Monday after five dangerously mediocre seasons with the team — pulled no punches when asked why he was let go.

“He didn’t win enough games, and the organization has a much bigger picture,” Fisher said of himself. “And I don’t think I was ever part of seeing the new stadium.”

Fisher’s jab about “beating the Rams” came in response to being asked what his “perfect scenario” would include if he winds up coaching again.

It’s fair to wonder, though, if that chance will ever arrive. Notched alongside Dan Reeves with an NFL-“best” 165 career losses, Fisher is no sure bet to land another job.

Of course, NFL coaches are recycled at a ridiculous rate. All it takes is another league owner willing to buy what Fisher is selling.

Peterson’s return had been targeted for Week 16 versus the Green Bay Packers.

It’s not the first time Peterson has returned earlier than expected. Clearly, the quick-healing colossus is from a different planet than the rest of us.

Week 15 will come and go without the services of Julio Jones.

Charles Woodson changed the way the NFL thinks about defensive backs

It was over and Charles Woodson was ready to ride the game bus for the final time. He exited Arrowhead Stadium and found his family, chatted with them, gave hearty hugs, took warm pictures and then turned and looked for his final Oakland Raiders ride. It was over and on this final day, everything that he had routinely done for nearly two decades in professional football became moments to instantly memorialize. OK, got to the stadium … completed warm-ups … absorbed everything at halftime … played the rest of the game … shook hands … surveyed the crowd …

All of it a snapshot, yet a blur for Charles Woodson.

Washington: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
Washington’s run to the playoffs has been done with a defense that ranks near the bottom of the league against the run. Clark, who can play over the nose, is a powerhouse against the run.

Houston Texans: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
It seems a little cliché to give Texans quarterback Christian Hackenberg of Penn State. The fit works, but he hasn’t played like a first-round pick in a couple years. Wentz is similar in many ways to Lynch, but doesn’t get the fanfare because of where he plays.

Seattle Seahawks: Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
Russell Okung is a free agent after the season, and if he happens to leave Spriggs would be a solid replacement. He’s an athletic left tackle who will undoubtedly rise during the offseason process.

New York Jets: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
The only running back under contract for the Jets next season is Zac Stacy, who is currently on injured reserve. Elliott is an instant-impact running back when he’s given the opportunity, which he strangely didn’t get enough at Ohio State.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
Pittsburgh still needs to find talent in the secondary, and White is easily the best cornerback available. He offers good length and playmaking at the position.

This may have been one of the weirdest seasons ever, but it has resulted in an eclectic and unpredictable playoff field that should make January weekends a lot of fun.

Robertson left the Yankees after a 39-save season in 2014

He was solid in 2008, but he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in August, necessitating Tommy John surgery that sidelined him the rest of the season (they finished one game out of the wild card, losing on the season’s final day) and almost all of 2009. The Mets then made a deal with the Red Sox, netting back 2 minor leaguers. Wagner pitched 17 games with the Mets and Red Sox but did not have a save in the final year of his contract.

When considering Papelbon’s performance strictly on the field, it’s hard to deny he was a successful signing for the Phillies, even though he never pitched a postseason inning with the club. The question is how successful he was when you consider that he signed the largest free-agent contract for a reliever at the time of his deal.

Among relievers to pitch at least 150 innings from 2012-2016, the time Papelbon was pitching on his free agent contract, he ranked 18th in ERA+ (150) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.3).

Robertson left the Yankees after a 39-save season in 2014 (the Yankees’ first post-Mariano Rivera season). In two seasons with the White Sox, he has 71 saves (34 and 37), but he’s also blown 14 (one shy of the MLB high of 15 by Santiago Casilla). Robertson’s numbers declined in 2016, particularly with regard to strikeouts and walks. He’s reportedly on the trade block as the White Sox are in the midst of a full-scale rebuild.

History suggests, however, that doing so might lead to bad things for those teams. Sometimes these mega deals work out, but sometimes they backfire significantly. Below are a few examples of long deals given to free-agent closers and how they worked out. We’ll look at these deals mostly through a traditional lens of valuation while also considering win probability added (WPA).

As the going rate for closers only seemed to rise, the Dodgers appeared in a position to have to choose between Turner and Jansen after re-signing Hill last week. Now they might get all three; Turner is close to a deal as well.

Jeff Fisher says it was ‘hilarious’ when he couldn’t find his challenge flag

Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher couldn’t find his challenge flag in the third quarter of a 26-10 loss against the New England Patriots in Week 13.

However, he eventually found the flag and won the challenge. Fisher explained why he couldn’t locate his flag. He explained that it was “hilarious,” via NESN.com.

Johnson, who retired earlier this season after eight games with the Tennessee Titans, continued his tradition of taking children on a huge shopping spree.

At Smith’s annual Christmas event, the children were given $200 Target gift cards while Papa John’s donated a pre-shopping pizza party for the children. Each child also received a gift bag, a Holiday Helpers T-shirt, and items from Target and the Ravens.

A reminder, though: Even if Smith likes to play Santa Claus, he does not want St. Nick coming to his house.

Last year, Smith asked for “a healthy Achilles” for Christmas, and he got his wish. The 37-year-old returned to the field this season and has caught 54 catches for 589 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.

Both Smith and Johnson are future Hall of Fame wide receivers, but their impact has been felt well beyond the football field.

If not, props to Joe’s sibling. That’s some good younger brother-ing right there.

The Ravens visit the Patriots on Monday Night Football this week. Someone should probably check the walls in Flacco’s hotel room to see if he’s trying to gain an extra advantage.

the Raiders and Chiefs have played each other 25 times in the regular season in December or January

See what the latest playoff picture looks like and simulate your own playoff scenarios.

Since 1973, the Raiders and Chiefs have played each other 25 times in the regular season in December or January. Only in that 1995 game has the division title been the prize.

The rivalry lived on not only by some notable games between the teams, but through the stories of Bell and others involved. The Chiefs and Raiders over the years have asked former players to speak to the current team before games, and that helps keep the history alive.

“We always have old players come in and talk to us and tell us how violent the games used to be and how physical they used to be,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “That’s really the main thing that sticks out — how violent and physical the games were. They would always talk about that.”

The last time Philip Rivers played in North Carolina was in 2003 — during his final year at NC State.

“It’s just something I’ll never forget. Here he is still talking to his dad about the game, what happened and what he could have done better.’’

He relished talking about anything but a season that has gone awry at 4-8.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy also seemed to relish taking a trip down memory lane of his time at Carolina instead of a 5-7 season marred by about as many close losses as the Panthers have experienced.

Sunday’s game will be a lot about memories for the head coaches.

Rivera was the linebackers coach at San Diego in 2007 and defensive coordinator from 2008 until 2010. He saw firsthand how badly Rivers wants to win, remembering the disappointment after losing the AFC Championship Game following the 2007 season.

‘Thursday Night Football’ rights in 2016 could be split among as many as 3 TV networks

The NFL is shopping the rights to Thursday Night Football and could split them up between two, or even three, television networks in 2016, according to John Ourand of SportsBusinessDaily.

What is known for sure is that at least eight of the Thursday games have to be televised exclusively on NFL Network. As long as eight regular season games are televised exclusively on NFL Network, it is able to keep its affiliate rate for distributors above $1 and avoid a significant drop-off.

But with the possibility of 17 Thursday Night Football games in 2016, that leaves nine games to be purchased by television networks and a looming bidding war between CBS, NBC and Fox.

According to Ourand, the NFL is considering splitting its remaining nine television broadcasts up into three-game deals each for CBS, NBC and Fox. Ourand said cable networks like ESPN and Turner Sports have bowed out due to the smaller packages and one-year deals that the NFL is pursuing, but according to Ronald Grover of TheStreet, that hasn’t stopped Fox from aggressively pursuing the rights and attempting to outbid CBS for the rights.

When the Panthers beat the Seahawks in the regular season, Stewart rushed for 78 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries. The team rushed for 135 yards as a whole.

In Carolina’s last game, Mike Tolbert led the way with 59 yards rushing, while Cameron Artis-Payne was the top rusher with 49 yards the week before. Quarterback Cam Newton is second on the team in rushing yardage with 636 yards.

Fozzy Whittaker is dealing with an ankle injury and his status for the game is unclear.

Carolina’s rushing attack has been one of the best in the league, though that does have a lot to do with Newton’s ability to get around the outside and surprise defenses. The Panthers rank second in the league in rushing yards this season, with 142.6 yards per game on the ground.

Washington has struggled with the slot quite a bit recently

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: I know, I know. He’s been struggling recently with back-to-back games of fewer than 65 yards and single-digit fantasy points in five of the past six, but I like his chances at a bounce-back this week. Washington has struggled with the slot quite a bit recently, allowing 109 yards or a touchdown to the position in five of the past six games, allowing an average of more than nine catches for 113 yards per game to the slot.

You know Fitz will get targets in this one, and given the matchup at home against Washington’s 25th-ranked pass defense the past four weeks (as well as CB Josh Norman not defending the slot), expect a lot of love to come Fitz’s way.

Doug Baldwin, Seahawks: Much like the rest of the Seahawks, he was on the “love” list last week and flopped mightily. Yeesh. I really misread that game last week. And yet, here I am back on Seattle and especially Baldwin. Only two players have more fantasy points from the slot than Baldwin this season, and this is a good matchup for him.

Eddie Royal, Chicago Bears, toe, (Q): Royal remains listed as questionable because of his toe. He played last week … for 12 offensive snaps. He is not yet healthy, and there is no more Jay Cutler. This is not a good option for fantasy owners.

Players off game status injury report:

Brandon Marshall, foot /knee, New York Jets: Marshall was listed as a nonparticipant both Thursday and Friday of this week as he managed some leg soreness. After a full participation in Saturday’s practice, Marshall is ready to face the Colts on Monday night.

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers, shoulder: Benjamin injured his shoulder in Week 11 but has played since. Still, his absence from Wednesday’s practice made some fantasy owners nervous. He returned to limited work Thursday and a full practice Friday. He is off the game status injury report and is expected to play Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks.

DeSean Jackson, Washington Redskins, shoulder: Jackson has been on the injury report for several weeks because of his rotator cuff but appears to be making progress. A full participant in practice throughout the week, Jackson is off the game status injury report heading into Sunday’s contest against the Arizona Cardinals.

Patriots QB Tom Brady, TE Rob Gronkowski miss practice

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (knee) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back) were not present for the team’s practice Wednesday, as both are still recovering from injuries.

This marks the second straight week that Brady was not present for the opening practice of the week. He missed practices both Wednesday and Thursday last week before returning with limited participation Friday. He played all 73 snaps Sunday in a 22-17 win over the New York Jets.

“It’s better than last Monday, so I’m very happy about that,” Brady said of his health during his weekly interview Monday on sports radio WEEI. “… Hopefully I’ll be feeling a lot better come Sunday.”

Said Brady later Monday to Westwood One Radio: “I expect it to heal. I’m a pretty fast healer. I hope I don’t have to deal with it much longer.”

Meanwhile, Gronkowski left the game late in the first quarter after injuring his back. He had returned to action after missing the team’s game the week before because of a chest injury.

As quarterback Tom Brady said Monday on sports radio WEEI, the Patriots had a good feeling that they would have Gronkowski, and built a significant part of their red-zone game-plan around him.

Gronkowski’s late first-quarter departure forced plans to be scrapped and somewhat re-drawn on the fly, leading to some uncharacteristic clock management late in the second quarter.

“With Gronk injured, you have all these plays you like and then all of a sudden he goes out and a lot of things change,” Brady said on the “Kirk and Callahan” program.

“You’re trying to figure out situationally what you’re going to do when you lose him. I think that’s always a little bit of a challenge when you lose someone like that early in the game, just trying to adjust, especially when it comes to situational football. You’re trying to still know the plays you have confidence in based on the coverages you’re getting. They game-planned us, we game-planned them, and then all of a sudden your whole game-plan changes when one player goes out.”

Hill punctuated the kick return by high-fiving with teammate De’Anthony Thomas as the two approached the end zone with no Broncos within reach.

“We’ve been working on that in practice,” Hill said.