Thu Jan 9 6:18pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen (49) intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, left, during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates with fans after an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after throwing a pass to setup the game-winning field goal during overtime of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. The Texans won 22-19 in overtime. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates with fans after an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. The Texans won 22-19 in overtime.(AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Houston Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn (7) celebrates with Bryan Anger (9) after kicking the game-winning field goal against the Buffalo Bills during overtime of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Houston. The Texans won 22-19. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Kansas City Chiefs knew they were in the market for a quarterback a couple of years ago and, with several first-round talents available, they invited Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes for visits.
Both were put through their paces.
They scribbled plays on white boards to test their recall and dissected game film to test their mental aptitude and situational awareness. They went onto the practice field and ran a series of drills to test their athleticism, then were asked to throw every pass in the book, from deft screen passes to intricate timing routes to deep, downfield heaves.
The Chiefs liked everything Watson did over those couple of days.
They loved what Mahomes did.
So the Chiefs traded up to select Mahomes with the 10th overall pick. The Houston Texans jumped on Watson two picks later. And the start of their professional careers have continued to run side by side, with Mahomes leading the Chiefs to back-to-back AFC West titles and the brink of a Super Bowl appearance last season, and Watson guiding the Texans to consecutive playoff appearances for the third time in franchise history.
Now, their parallel paths will intersect when the Texans visit the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday.
''How great is that for the National Football League, first of all, these good young quarterbacks?'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''We actually brought Deshaun up here, too, before the draft and had a nice visit with him. We have a ton of respect for him. He's a great player, he was great in college, he is great now. He's going to do nothing but get better as time goes on.''
Watson was especially impressive last week, leading the Texans (11-6) back from a 16-0 second-half deficit to beat the Bills 22-19 in overtime. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another in a performance reminiscent of his Week 6 game against the Chiefs, when Watson threw for a score and ran for two more in a 31-24 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
''When you have guys like Deshaun and Patrick, you don't want to over-coach them,'' said Texans coach Bill O'Brien, who also had both quarterbacks in Houston for pre-draft visits in 2017. ''They have such great instincts. They see the field very well. With Deshaun, you might be able to point out a few things, but his guy has a huge heart and he's doing what is best for the team and trying to win games, and you don't want to over-coach that.''
That win was especially sweet for Watson, who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about Kansas City choosing Mahomes over him. And the win should give the underdog Texans a boost of confidence knowing they have beaten the Chiefs (11-5) and their star QB once this season.
''It's cool to see a fellow friend of mine and a guy that's playing the same position as me have so much success and see it in live action. So it's definitely dope,'' Watson said. ''It's going to be a good experience. Like you said, we played earlier this year. It was a good game, went back and forth. But yeah, it's just two good teams going head to head and we're just trying to be the best we can for our team and help our team win.''
Trying to figure out what has changed since that October matchup - and how to counter it - could be one of the biggest story lines Sunday. Here are a few more to watch as the Texans and Chiefs play for a spot in the AFC championship.
The Texans' J.J. Watt was in for about 50 plays and had a sack against the Bills in his first game since missing eight with a torn pectoral muscle that required surgery. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year wouldn't say whether he expected to play more Sunday.
''Just because I played one game doesn't mean my pec magically healed. It's still in basically the same situation it was in before this game,'' he said. ''After not playing football for two months, then playing 50-plus plays, you're going to be sore, you're going to be a little beat up. It was a quick reminder of how difficult the game of football is when I woke up on Sunday morning. That extra day was nice to be able to rest and recover and get back to work now with the guys.''
WATTS UP, PART 2
On the opposite sideline, the Chiefs will be turning to backup safety Armani Watts to help fill the void created by the loss of standout rookie Juan Thornhill to a torn ACL in Week 17. Watts has primarily played on special teams this season, but he showed plenty of promise as a rookie last season before a season-ending groin injury in October.
FULLER (TO THE) HOUSE
The Texans' offense could be buoyed by the return of Will Fuller V, who has been out with a groin injury. The wide receiver was close to playing against Buffalo, and O'Brien said he's been ''trending in the right direction'' but was noncommittal about whether Fuller would play against the Chiefs.
Fuller gives the Texans a big downfield threat and the opportunity to score regardless of down and distance.
GROUNDED IN REALITY
A big reason why Houston beat the Chiefs in Week 6 was Carlos Hyde, who rumbled for 116 yards and scored two touchdowns against his former team. The Texans also ran the ball well last week against Buffalo, while Kansas City's own offense has struggled to find balance behind running backs Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson and LeSean McCoy.
The Chiefs have tried to keep McCoy's workload in check, even making him a healthy scratch late in the year, and now it's time to see whether the veteran running back still has a couple of big games in him.
Houston's third-string running back, Taiwan Jones, appeared in 11 games during the regular season but was used almost exclusively on special teams before the regular-season finale, when many players rested with the team's playoff spot secured. But against the Bills, when Watson escaped two sacks and rolled out to make a play in overtime, it was Jones who he found for a 34-yard reception to set up the winning field goal.
''I've been patient and I've been working all off-season, all season and it means a lot for the coaches to call my number in a crucial moment like that,'' Jones said. ''It reminds me that they do believe in me like I believe in myself.''
Five Sleepers: Week 8
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.
Miami Dolphins tight end Adam Shaheen (shoulder) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Rams. Shaheen was a limited participant in practice all week, so he has a good shot at playing this Sunday. Just signed to a two-year extension worth up to $7.85 million this week, the 26-year-old has scored in each of his last two games. He had his best performance of the season in Week 6, catching all three of his targets for 51 yards and the score. But Shaheen has just seven targets and five catches for 58 yards in six games this year and remains behind Mike Gesicki in the tight end pecking order in Miami. Shaheen shouldn't be considered for starting fantasy lineups in Week 8.