Wed Jan 15 4:40pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) scrambles under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark were watching the AFC championship game on television a year ago, their teams knocked out of the playoffs, never thinking for a moment what the following 12 months might bring them.
Or more accurately, where it might bring them.
But after the Chiefs watched their defense fold in overtime against the Patriots, costing them a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly five decades, coach Andy Reid embarked on a massive overhaul of the unit. He replaced longtime coordinator Bob Sutton with Steve Spagnuolo, jettisoned aging and unproductive players, then asked general manager Brett Veach to bring in some legitimate playmakers to better fit their new scheme.
That's how Mathieu and Clark wound up in Kansas City.
The Chiefs signed the ball-hawking safety to a $42 million, three-year deal to bring his talent and swagger to the back end of their defense. A month later, they traded a package of draft picks to the Seahawks for Clark, then signed him to a $105.5 million, five-year contract before the bruising pass rusher had even played a down for them.
Now, the pair not only reside in Kansas City, they're playing for an AFC championship there.
''A great opportunity to play in Kansas City and in front of the world,'' Mathieu said Wednesday, before their first practice to prepare for Sunday's game against Tennessee. ''To be on this stage is everything you work for, especially myself, being in my seventh year, going through what I've gone through in my career. To be in this position is a blessing.''
Mathieu is making more money per year than in any other season of his career, and Clark is now among the highest-paid defensive players in the league, yet they both seem like wise investments for a club with a lousy history of big contracts.
Eric Berry never lived up to the $78 million, six-year deal the safety signed in 2017, playing three games total over the next two seasons due to injuries. Justin Houston appeared in only 32 games over three seasons after signing a $101 million, six-year contract in 2015, at the time the second richest for a defensive player in NFL history. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had 117 catches but just five touchdowns in two seasons after his $56 million, five-year contract in 2013, and quarterback Matt Cassel went a mere 19-28 in four years as the starter after his $63 million, six-year deal in 2009.
No wonder the Chiefs are so happy with the production Mathieu and Clark have provided.
Yet their road to Kansas City - and all those riches - was fraught with obstacles.
Mathieu was a standout safety at LSU before a series of drug arrests torpedoed his college career. At one point, after an arrest in 2012, he told an Arizona television station that he contemplated suicide. And when Mathieu got his life in order, and the Cardinals had taken a chance on him, injuries threatened his professional career.
He turned that around, too. Mathieu helped the Texans reach the playoffs last season, then landed his contract in Kansas City, where he immediately became the go-to leader not only of the secondary but the entire Chiefs defense.
''That's who he is,'' quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. ''He doesn't have to be anything other than himself. He goes out there every single day and just by his attitude, his mindset, he's leading other guys. His play speaks for itself, but the way he's every single day able to be great, it spreads through the team.''
Clark has a remarkably similar story in finding his way to Kansas City.
He also was kicked off his college team, though Michigan did so following a domestic violence incident. And when Seattle gave him a chance, Clark avoided drama until an ugly social media incident involving a female TV reporter.
The Chiefs insist they did their due diligence before trading for him, though, and Clark has steered clear of trouble while helping Mathieu steer their revamped defense deep into the postseason. Clark had three sacks of Deshaun Watson in their comeback win over Houston last week, including one in which he whiffed twice and ran about 40 yards before he finally brought down the Texans quarterback from behind.
''He's relentless. That one sack kind of tells you the whole story,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''He was running around chasing him, missed him twice, got back up and sacked him. That's how he is wired.''
That's how Mathieu and Clark are both wired. It's a big reason they have bucked the NFL trend - so far - by living up to their massive contracts, and in doing so, helping the Chiefs return to the AFC championship game.
This time, they won't be watching it on TV.
''It's awesome,'' Clark said, ''but our goal isn't just to make it there, it's to win it all. It's one game at a time. But it would feel good to go ahead and bring home that trophy, the AFC championship trophy - that would mean the world to us.''
NOTES: Pro Bowl DT Chris Jones (calf) did not practice Wednesday, though Reid said he was improving. Jones missed last week's game against Houston and is likely to be questionable Sunday. ''He's a tough kid,'' Reid said. ''It's not a pain thing. It's however he can play to the best of his ability. That's what we're looking at.'' ... RB LeSean McCoy and QB Matt Moore also did not practice Wednesday because of illnesses.
Five Sleepers: Week 8
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee) has been placed on the injured reserve. Edelman had surgery on his knee and is expected to miss at least the next three games, though head coach Bill Belichick seemed optimistic about the veteran receiver returning at some point. It's safe to drop Edelman in all formats. With starter N'Keal Harry (concussion) also out, the Patriots will have to turn to Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, and Gunner Olszewski for three-wide receiver sets. Meyers and Byrd can only be used by the most desperate of fantasy managers, as the matchup against Buffalo is tough.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (shoulder, toe) doesn't have an injury designation and will take the field heading into a tough matchup against the Buccaneers. Shepard was limited all week in practice after sustaining a turf toe injury in Week 7 against Philadelphia in addition to the shoulder ailment- though he's evidently shown the Giants enough to be confident in his health. It won't be an easy matchup for Shepard against Tampa Bay, as they've allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wideouts. Still, Shepard's eight targets from Week 7 indicate that he'll be a big part of the offense moving forward. Look at him as a solid WR3 option in Week 8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (shoulder) and wide receiver Scotty Miller (hip, groin) are both good to go for Sunday. Both Gronkowski and Miller were limited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, though they have no injury designations after both were full participants on Friday. Without Chris Godwin (finger), both players could potentially see more looks in the passing game. Look at Gronkowski as a solid TE1 and Miller as a risky WR4 against the Giants Defense on Monday night.
New York Giants running back Devonta Freeman (ankle) has been ruled out for Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was expected, as Freeman was not able to take the practice field all week. He suffered the injury during the Giants' Week 7 contest against the Eagles on Thursday night, though the added time didn't help him heal any quicker. The Giants will turn to Wayne Gallman- who looked good in spurts against Philadelphia- as their lead back. He'll get enough touches to be started as a flex option, though it's hard to envision him finding much success against Tampa's league-best run defense.
New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (knee) is out for a key Week 8 divisional clash against the Bills. There was a glimmer of hope on Thursday when Gilmore was able to get a limited practice session in, though Friday's DNP made his status for Sunday grim. New England doesn't have much depth behind last year's Defensive Player of the Year and is inconveniently about to face Stefon Diggs. Diggs was already a must-start based on his previous production and is now arguably a top-five wide receiver this week.
Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said that running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion) will go for one more post-concussion evaluation on Saturday, but the team expects him to play in Week 8 against the Chargers, barring a setback in that test. It's bad news for Melvin Gordon, who will now share touches in the backfield with Lindsay, making him more of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3/flex. Lindsay was the better runner in Week 7, too, racking up 79 yards on nine carries. He's averaging just under five yards a carry and Gordon lost two costly fumbles against the Chiefs. Lindsay will be an RB3/flex option in PPR leagues if he can pass his final concussion test.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) has been downgraded from doubtful to out for the Sunday night game against the division-rival Eagles in Week 8. This was the expectation all along after Dalton was unable to clear the concussion protocol or practice all week. Owner Jerry Jones thinks that the signal-caller will be ready to go for Week 9 against the Steelers, but we'll have to keep a close eye on his progress in the league's protocol. If he is available next week, he'd be a low-end QB2 against a tough Steelers Defense. Rookie Ben DiNucci will make his first career start against Philadelphia this Sunday, but he's also a low-end desperation QB2 in superflex leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Ryan Succop makes for a good play in a Week 8 matchup against the New York Giants. Succop has made at least five kicks in four straight games and has at least five extra points in two straight. There's no reason to doubt Tampa Bay's offense against the Giants, even though their defense has shown signs of improvement. Fire up Succop as a solid starting option this week.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense has been one of the best options for fantasy this year. They get their best matchup of the year in Week 8 against the Giants, who have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Giants' offensive line ranks dead-last in adjusted sack rate while Tampa Bay's defensive front ranks second in sack rate. This is a dream matchup for the Buccaneers' defense, so expect more than a few sacks and a couple of turnovers forced at the expense of Daniel Jones. The Buccaneers are probably going to be the highest-scoring defense of the week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski faces a semi-tough matchup in Week 8 against the Giants. Gronkowski has at least six targets and 50 yards receiving in each of his last three contests and has scored a touchdown in two straight games. The Giants are not the soft spot they used to be for tight ends- they've allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to the position. Still, Gronkowski is too hot to bench right now, especially with how thin the tight end position is for fantasy. He has a good chance of putting up top-12 numbers at his position in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf) has been ruled out for Week 8's Sunday night matchup with the division-rival Cowboys. Jeffery still has yet to make his 2020 season debut and missed practice all week. The 30-year-old miss the start of the season after having offseason foot surgery, but the calf injury is what's holding him back of late. The oft-injured veteran might not even have much of a role once he finally does return, so he's not a very attractive stash in standard-sized leagues at this point. The Eagles will be getting tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle) and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb) back in Week 8 as well. Jeffery has become a fantasy afterthought.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tyler Johnson will take the place of the injured Chris Godwin (finger) in Week 8 against the Giants. Johnson got the start in Week 5, playing a season-high 79 percent of the snaps and putting up a 4-61-0 line. With Brady currently rolling, it's fair to consider starting a player such as Johnson. There is some risk here, as the game script may tilt this towards a more run-heavy gameplan for the Buccaneers. Still, Johnson can be started by managers who are struggling with injuries or bye weeks.
New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (ankle) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the division-rival Bills. Harris was a limited practice participant all week, so he should be able to suit up on Sunday against Buffalo, barring any setbacks. New England will need as much help as possible from their backfield this weekend with both receivers Julian Edelman (knee) and N'Keal Harry (concussion) out, but the Patriots crowded backfield and their stagnant offense are both big concerns for Harris' potential upside. Harris has seen double-digit carries in two of his three games this year, but he'll need positive game script to reach his ceiling this weekend, and that might be tough going against a strong Buffalo offense. With just two catches in three games as well, Harris is an uninspiring RB3/flex in this crowded backfield picture.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox (knee) and center Ryan Kelly (knee) are both questionable for Week 8 against the Lions. Alie-Cox didn't practice on Wednesday, but he was limited both Thursday and Friday. He sat out of the team's Week 6 game and rested up during the bye last week. The 27-year-old has a decent shot at playing this Sunday against Detroit, but his moment in the fantasy sun appears to have come and gone in 2020. Alie-Cox went over 100 yards receiving in Week 2 and scored in back-to-back games in Weeks 3 and 4, but he failed to haul in his only target in Week 5 when he was injured, and he's expected to take a back seat to Trey Burton moving forward.
Las Vegas Raiders rookie wide receiver Bryan Edwards (ankle, foot) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Browns. Edwards was limited in practice all week, so he definitely has a chance to return for the first time since Week 3. The third-rounder has caught five of his six targets for 99 yards in the first three games of his career, but he won't carry any fantasy appeal if he returns to action against Cleveland, as rookie Henry Ruggs III, Hunter Renfrow and Nelson Agholor should operate in three-receiver sets this Sunday. The Browns are an enticing matchup for wideouts; they've allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to them this year. Edwards might be able to make a splash play if he's active, but you can't trust him in fantasy lineups.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II (concussion) has cleared the league's concussion protocol and is expected to play in Week 8 against the Saints. Robinson missed practice all week, making it seem unlikely on Friday that he would be able to suit up on Sunday. But it looks like fantasy managers can return him to their starting lineups for this weekend. Chicago's offense has been stagnant the last two weeks, though, which has limited A-Rob to nine receptions for 123 yards on 13 targets in that span. The Bears need to make their top receiver a bigger part of the game plan to get back in the win column, but the 27-year-old will be a WR2 for fantasy managers against New Orleans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scotty Miller could have a chance at more targets in Week 8 without Chris Godwin (finger) on the field. Miller has started two games without Godwin, producing a 2-11-0 line in Week 2 and a 5-83-1 line in Week 4. Brady certainly seems to trust him, which bodes well for his outlook. However, the game script might be working against him, as the Giants aren't likely to keep this a close contest. He's a risky WR4 for this game, though he's a player that can be rolled out there if you're up against it with injuries or bye weeks.
New York Jets running back Frank Gore (hand) is listed as questionable to play in Week 8 against the Chiefs. Gore was limited in practice on both Wednesday and Friday but sat out on Thursday. You really shouldn't trust anyone in this atrocious Jets offense not named Jamison Crowder, and he's not expected to play this Sunday. The 37-year-old Gore is now dealing with an injury and has been splitting repetitions with rookie La'Mical Perine recently, further cratering his fantasy value. In what will likely be a blowout loss to the defending Super Bowl champions this weekend, trusting any of Gang Green's runners would be foolish. Gore is an RB4/flex that shouldn't be trusted in 12-team leagues if he's active.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans should see an increased target share without teammate Chris Godwin (finger) in Week 8. Evans has averaged nine targets per game in three starts without a healthy Godwin and has delivered WR2 numbers or better in all three of those contests. The matchup will be tough this week- he'll go up against a familiar foe in James Bradberry, who has been playing phenomenal football for New York. Still, Evans will get plenty of looks from Brady and has a good chance of finding the end zone in Week 8. Start him as a high-end WR2 this week who could very well finish among the top-12 at his position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette gets the Giants in Week 8 fresh off of leading his team's backfield in touches. Fournette played a season-high 56 percent of the snaps en route to 97 scrimmage yards on 17 touches back in Week 7. He'll face a Giants Defense that has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing halfbacks, including the fifth-most receiving yards. Tampa Bay is likely to operate with a lead, though Fournette seems to have the trust of the coaching staff as the third-down back. Expect a near-even split in touches with Ronald Jones II, with the former Jaguar handling much of the receiving work. He's a good flex play with RB2 upside, particularly in PPR formats.