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Patrick Willis will carry on Lewis' No. 52 legacy

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Patrick Willis will carry on Lewis' No. 52 legacy

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Two of the league's most imposing inside linebackers both happen to wear No. 52.

This story is about the other one.

Patrick Willis of the San Francisco 49ers already has done plenty to prove his is the dominant 52 on the left coast and beyond, having been an All-Pro in five of his six NFL seasons. After enduring years of losing, he finally gets to flaunt his talent on the NFL's biggest stage at Sunday's Super Bowl, where he'll meet up with ... you guessed it. ...

No. 52 of the Baltimore Ravens, retiring Ray Lewis.

``I think in a couple years, people are going to come along and say, `Is that 52 Patrick Willis?''' 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said. ``He's his own guy. He's making his own name.''

Aside from the number, Lewis and Willis are as different as they come. Lewis is emotional, loud and brash. Willis is soft-spoken and happy to stay behind the scenes.

``That's a whole different guy. That's Patrick Willis,'' Smith said. ``No disrespect to Ray Lewis. Ray's a great guy and he's done so much for this league and it's much-appreciated, but that's Patrick Willis.''

On the field, they each deliver pain the same way.

They make quarterbacks quiver. Ask 49ers backup Alex Smith. He doesn't even like seeing Willis on the practice field.

And alongside San Francisco's 52 is No. 53 NaVorro Bowman. Together, they deliver an All-Pro 1-2 linebacking punch.

``That 52 and 53 are going to be around a long time,'' Ravens running back Ray Rice said. ``They're going to be a force to reckon with. Sort of like our guys.''

Nobody has to remind Lewis what Willis brings on game day.

``I think he is one of the up-and-coming young stars who plays the game the right way,'' Lewis said. ``He plays the game with a certain passion, and plays with a certain discipline. Honestly, I really enjoy watching the young man play.''

Willis, the 11th overall draft pick in 2007 out of Mississippi, is the centerpiece of a San Francisco defense that returned everyone from the 2011 team that came so close to making the Super Bowl. The Niners lost 20-17 in overtime of the NFC title game to the eventual champion New York Giants.

Willis and his teammates used that loss as motivation and ultimately got the franchise back to the NFL title game for the first time in 18 years.

Getting back to No. 52, Willis said he was given a choice of numbers when he was drafted - 51, 57, 59 or 52.

``I said to myself: `Why don't I get the number 52? I know a guy right now who wears that number who is one of the best. It will be a great number to play up to.' That's kind of how it came about.''

He's actually pretty friendly with Lewis, a bond that has grown with time together at Pro Bowls and regular text messages.

``That's a young one, a young lion I talk to a lot,'' Lewis said. ``I've been talking to Patrick since his rookie year, and I got into his story a little bit, why he wears 52 and all that. It is actually humbling to know him as a man because when we started talking at Pro Bowls, he would always tell me all of these stories, and we would just have conversations. My job is now, every time I call him, every time I tell him something, I always try to give him good advice, whether it's to stretch more or to do more to have the longevity that you are trying to have in this game.''

Willis calls it an honor to share a field with Lewis.

``I see a man that plays with passion. I see a man that plays with enthusiasm every play,'' he said. ``I see a man who's a leader. I see a man who made a difference by the way he played the middle linebacker position. That's one of those things that someday, when a young kid looks at me, when another teammate looks at me, and they watch the film, I hope to have that kind of feel to the game. I hope to have that kind of eye. He's the Mufasa of this league right now.''

For now, yes.

Willis' teammates already consider this his time. They have for a while.

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Fantasy Football: Finding Playoff Help In Week 14 Waiver Wire

Fantasy Football: Finding Playoff Help In Week 14 Waiver Wire

Week 14 of the fantasy football season means owners are entering the playofs or battling for a berth. Well, some are shakng their heads at Adrian Peterson, DeAndre Hopkins and Eddie Lacy and wondering how it all went so wrong, but let's focus on those still alive or glory. Week 14 also means it's time for two lineup reminders:

1) Don't overthink things: Just because Brock Osweiler has by far the easier matchup on paper don't you dare start him over Andrew Luck.

2) Leave stubborn behind: Yes, you drafted Todd Gurley in the first round. Yes, you're feeling like a boss for stashing Dion Lewis. Yes, Dak Prescott is awesome and only you believed in him from Jump Street. That doesn't mean you MUST start them. Use that brain of yours to assess the scene in terms of production and matchup.

Either way, the Waiver Wire remains a viable tool, even if just to prevent others owners from getting help. Here's a look at some of that potential help.

Quarterbacks 

1.  Joe Flacco, BAL vs. Patriots
 
2.  Trevor Siemien, DEN vs. Titans
 
* More than likely you're set at QB so consider this just the writer doing his due dillegance. I'll assume Andy Dalton (vs. Browns) isn't available, which leaves two other AFC options as your best hope if in need. Flacco is coming off a monster and now faces a situation where he could be in catch-up mode during the second half against New England. As for Siemien, who missed last week with an injury, he gets a Tennessee defense allowing the sixth most points to fantasy quarterbacks and at least two touchdown tosses for seven straight weeks.

Running Backs

1. Mike Gillislee, BUF vs. Steelers

2. Jacquizz Rodgers, TB vs. Saints

3.  Kenneth Dixon, BAL vs. Patriots

4. Rex Burkhead, CIN vs. Browns

Others: Charles Sims, TB;  Justin Forsett, DEN, Shane Vereen, NYG

* No screaming must adds, intrigue exists. Gillislee has four rushing touchdowns over the last four weeks with rushing totals of  85, 32, 72 and 49 yards in that span. ...The Bucs backfield is possibly for grabs after Doug Martin sat out the final three drives in Week 13. ... Jeremy Hill likely leads Cincinnati in attempts against Cleveland, but Burkhead should be all kinds of active in the regular game plan and possible garbage time. 
 
Wide Receivers 

1.  Pierre Garcon, WAS at Eagles
 
2.  Malcolm Mitchell, NE vs. Ravens

3. Adam Thielen, MIN vs. Jaguars
 
4.  Dontrelle Inman, SD at Panthers

5. Tyler Lockett, SEA at Packers
 
5.  Ted Ginn, CAR vs. Chargers
 
* If you like your otther lineup options and need safe help at receiver, look at Garcon (At least 6-67 in four of last five weeks) and Thielen (7 for 89 in Week 13). Mitchell (17 catches, 222 yards and three touchdowns over last three games), Inman, Lockett and Ginn, have higher ceilings.

Tight Ends 

1.  Gary Barnidge, CLE vs. Bengals
 
2.  Dennis Pitta, BAL at Patriots
 
3.  Lance Kendricks, LA vs. Falcons
 
* The Barnidge recommednation isn't about the expected return of Robert Griffin II -- as if -- but facing a Bengals defense allowing the second most points to fantasy tight ends.
 
Defenses – Because you stream this position

1. 49ers (vs. Jets)

2. Colts (vs.Texans)

3. Jets (at 49ers)

* For those already in the playoffs, look ahead to Week 15 and 16 for possible additions.

MORE NFL: Hungry Flacco can almost taste the playoffs

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Joe Flacco leading by example as he tries to lead Ravens to playoffs

Joe Flacco leading by example as he tries to lead Ravens to playoffs

Joe Flacco is trying to make the playoffs for the seventh time in nine NFL seasons, and you can tell he smells the postseason.

Judging from Sunday’s sparkling performance against the Dolphins (36 for 47, 381 yards, four TD’s), the Ravens’ quarterback is ready for the stretch run. The next challenge is Ravens at Patriots on Monday Night Football, which will have the intensity of a playoff game.

Ravens veterans like Flacco, Terrell Suggs, and Marshal Yanda have been through epic battles in New England before, and have delivered in clutch situations. Part of their job this week is to prepare younger teammates, not only for Monday night, but for a December run that the Ravens (7-5) hope will carry them to the playoffs.

“You try to look around you and see who’s been through it with you before, and you see a couple of guys, really,” said quarterback Joe Flacco. “The biggest thing is just trying to somehow get it through to the young guys how unique of an opportunity we have. Getting to the playoffs is a big-time accomplishment, and to position yourself in December to play these meaningful games is also a big-time accomplishment, and you can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to keep your focus 100 percent of the time.’’

To beat the Patriots, the Ravens will need contributions from several young players who have never played against the Patriots, like left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Tavon Young, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and outside linebacker Matt Judon. Flacco isn’t one for rah-rah speeches, but he’ll be delivering messages this week.

“When you’re a young player, sometimes you might think, ‘Oh, there’s always tomorrow,’ and in this league, you never know when you’re going to get your golden opportunity,” Flacco said. “So you have to take every little thing as a big opportunity and make the most of it.”

MORE RAVENS: Ravens fan-favorite on the move again