Panthers expect Jonathan Stewart back against Seahawks’ top-ranked rush defense

Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart will likely return in time to face the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. Stewart has been dealing with a foot injury that forced him out of the team’s Week 17 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stewart became the primary running back for the Panthers when DeAngelo Williams departed in free agency this offseason, and he treated the 15-1 Panthers to 989 yards, six touchdowns and a per-carry average of 4.1 yards. Stewart missed three games in the regular season and has only played a complete 16-game season three times in his eight-year career.

The Panthers will be glad to have Stewart back against Seattle’s top-ranked rushing defense, as opponents average 3.6 yards per carry and 81.5 yards per game against the Seahawks. Seattle held Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards on 23 carries and kept the Vikings to just 58 total yards on the ground in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

While the NFL has been criticized for the quality of Thursday games by fans and players alike, the ratings for the league suggest things are going just fine for the league. According to Sports Illustrated, ratings again reached an all-time high in 2015, with Fox, CBS, NBC all reporting a year-over-year increase in average per-game NFL viewership.

The NFL has also been experimenting with digital broadcasts and will sell its full slate of Thursday games separately from the TV rights, per Ourand. Sites like Amazon, Apple, Google and Yahoo! could all become broadcast partners with the NFL during the 2016 season after the NFL contacted each for bids. In 2015, the NFL sold exclusive streaming rights of a London game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills to Yahoo!.

Decisions for broadcast partners are expected to be made by the NFL before Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, according to TheStreet.

I can’t imagine trusting Rawls as anything more than a flex play this week against the Panthers

Jonathan Stewart, Panthers: As I mentioned in the Cam note, this is a Seattle defense that is at home, angry and getting a lot healthier for this game. The Seahawks have allowed a running back rushing touchdown in just three of 11 games so far this season, and if J-Stew isn’t getting into the end zone, that’s an issue. He’s failed to gain more than 42 yards in three of the past four; he ranks 31st (out of 40 qualified RBs) in yards before contact per carry this season; and the Seahawks are in the top six in the NFL in yards before and after contact per carry. Stewart is merely a touchdown-dependent flex play this week.

Thomas Rawls, Seahawks: Like the rest of the Seahawks, he didn’t look great last week, and it’s hard to get up much confidence this week, too. Ranking just 27th in time of possession this season (last season they were 11th), the Seahawks aren’t grinding out drives the way they used to.

Hilton is a player who has received a consistent target share even in weeks when he has been playing through injury. Naturally, there is always concern about an in-game setback, but given his practice sessions thus far, this doesn’t feel any riskier than prior weeks. Fantasy owners should always have a backup plan given the game is Monday night, but the odds are in favor of Hilton suiting up as usual.

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles, ankle, (Q): Hmmm. Matthews’ injury was worrisome Monday night when it forced him out of the game (twice), eventually to the point where he could not return. But coach Doug Pederson sounded confident as early as Tuesday that Matthews would be able to play in Week 13. A day off Wednesday came as no surprise, and Matthews’ return to limited practice Thursday suggested things were going the right direction. On Friday, however, Matthews was absent, ultimately being listed on the game status injury report as questionable. It appears a final decision as to his status won’t come until pregame, but with that much uncertainty, fantasy owners are probably better off finding a healthier option.

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions, thigh, (Q): Jones appeared on the injury report with a thigh injury, and as is typical of the Lions, there have been very few details with regard to his injury. He did not miss any practice sessions but was limited daily. Jones has had other injuries this season (hamstring, foot) but has not missed any games. However, his production has been inconsistent. It’s worth noting the Lions did sign wide receiver T.J. Jones from the practice squad, which could signal Marvin Jones being inactive. Fantasy owners who are considering using Jones should double check his status before kickoff.

Patriots’ approach with Rob Gronkowski has trickle-down effect

The New England Patriots have had experience playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski because of injuries in recent years, most recently coming two weeks ago in a win over the San Francisco 49ers.

The club knew in advance it would be without Gronkowski that day, just as it did the first two weeks of the 2016 regular season when the All-Pro was still rehabbing a hamstring injury. While Gronkowski was naturally missed, the advance notice of being able to plan around his absence helped the team overcome it with little turbulence as Martellus Bennett capably filled the void.

What unfolded Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets was a different scenario, and a bit more of a bumpy ride for the offense.

But Hill’s behavior in the seven months since he has been with the Chiefs is also a factor.

“He’s handled himself in a good way,” Reid said Wednesday. “There haven’t been any issues, which is a positive. He has the things he has to do for the incident. He doesn’t miss anything. He does everything he’s supposed to do and that’s a plus.”

Hill is going to counseling, which the Chiefs cited as one of the reasons they felt comfortable drafting him. General manager John Dorsey and other club officials said when Hill was drafted, they spent a considerable amount of time investigating him and didn’t believe he was much of a risk for repeat behavior.

“They’re more like therapy and stuff, like getting stuff off of my chest,” Hill said of his counseling sessions. “Those things require a lot of things, like going to class and stuff. I do those things. I make sure I do those things in order for me to be a better person.

“I’m real dedicated. I’m going to stick to it so I can be a better man and a better citizen for this community and a better father to my son.”

This season, Hill is arguably the Chiefs’ best offensive player. He has seven touchdowns; no other Kansas City player has more than three.

Hill scored against the Broncos not only on a rushing play and a pass reception, but also on an 86-yard kickoff return. He is the first player to score a touchdown in those three ways in a game since Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears in 1965.