Thu Jan 2 12:50pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (11) makes a touchdown catch in front of Los Angeles Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins (23) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (26) runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) intercepts a pass intended for Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81), as cornerback Rashad Fenton (27) watches, during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Kansas City Chiefs romped their way to the AFC championship game last year by leaning heavily on their high-powered offense, with Patrick Mahomes slinging the ball all over the field and a fleet of wide receivers hauling in everything in sight.
Then their defense let them down.
Now, as the Chiefs enjoy a week off before preparing for the divisional round of the playoffs, they are brimming with confidence borne of the most complete team they've had in years. The offense is still plenty potent, but that once-dismal defense has undergone a complete makeover under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, shutting down everyone during a six-game winning streak that allowed Kansas City to leapfrog New England for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
''The variety of ways of winning is the biggest thing,'' Mahomes said. ''We've won games obviously putting up points and doing those things this year, but we've also won games when the defense has stepped up and controlled games for us. For us, it's about when you get to the playoffs not every game is the same, and we've found ways to win in different ways.''
The Chiefs (12-4) scored at least 30 points seven times, twice hit 40 and were held below 20 just once. Mahomes eclipsed 4,000 yards passing despite missing most of three games with a knee injury, and he tossed 26 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. Travis Kelce became the first NFL tight end with back-to-back 1,200-yard receiving seasons while Tyreek Hill had seven touchdown catches and rookie running mate Mecole Hardman had six.
The Chiefs won shootouts against the Ravens, the top seed in the AFC, and the Lions in consecutive weeks. And they scored so quickly and efficiently in blowouts of the Broncos and Raiders that the outcomes were never in question.
On the flip side, the Chiefs put together a string of 10 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown during the final three weeks of the regular season. They allowed 52 points total in the five games following their bye, a run of dominance that came against quarterbacks that included Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.
''This team plays with tremendous swag. It's confidence,'' said veteran defensive end Terrell Suggs, who was claimed off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals for the final two weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, and now has a chance to add another Super Bowl ring to the one he won with the Baltimore Ravens.
''That's the No. 1 edge that a football player has: confidence,'' added Suggs, who has played in 18 playoff games. ''When you have a team that's playing with swagger, and the head ball coach is encouraging that and your position coach is encouraging that, that can help you in January in playoff football.''
Also helpful is having that week off.
The Chiefs lost safety Juan Thornhill to a torn ACL against the Chargers last weekend, so the bye gives Spagnuolo a chance to adjust his personnel to cover a big loss in the secondary. The Chiefs also have plenty of bumps and bruises up and down the roster, and offensive lineman Andrew Wylie could use the week off to return from an ankle injury.
''It's extremely important,'' safety Tyrann Mathieu said. ''I think you can really take that week to get healthy, and then you can scout everybody that's playing. That's not something that you'd probably be able to do if you had a game that week. It will be important for us to kind of put the work in, obviously get a little dose of the information on who we could possibly play, then hope that it shakes out for us. Whoever shows up here, we have to be ready to roll.''
The Chiefs gathered for meetings Monday before coach Andy Reid gave them the next two days off. They planned to have light padded practices Thursday and Friday, primarily starters against starters, before ratcheting back a bit this weekend.
That's when they learn whether the Patriots, Texans or Bills will visit Arrowhead Stadium for the divisional round.
''Just staying focused is the biggest thing,'' said Mahomes, who planned to watch this weekend's games with teammates at his home. ''Obviously, Coach Reid does a good job of preparing us by giving us the right amount of time off, but at the same time keeping us in the building and keeping us preparing for whoever we get to play.''
The Dallas Cowboys signed former Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Aldon Smith to a one-year, $4 million deal on Wednesday. He'll receive $2 million in base value and can earn an extra $2 million from sack incentives. Smith's contract with the team will officially begin when he's reinstated by the NFL. The former seventh overall pick by the 49ers in the 2011 draft, Smith last played in 2015 with the Raiders and has been out of the league since because of multiple off-the-field incidents. He was a first-team All-Pro with San Fran in his second season in the league and recorded 19.5 sacks and 29 QB hits that year. The Cowboys are taking a flier and hoping that he can get back at least some of that form to help Dallas' defensive line in 2020. All bets are off when it comes to Smith's play, but it's a nice comeback story nonetheless.
The Seattle Seahawks signed former Raiders defensive end Benson Mayowa to an undisclosed deal on Wednesday, according to his agent, David Canter. Mayowa had a career-high seven sacks in his one and only season in Oakland last season in a rotational role. The 28-year-old will likely be a rotational player again in Seattle, which limits his ceiling in IDP leagues. Should Jadeveon Clowney go elsewhere on the open market, Mayowa will look to pick up the slack in rushing the passer. In seven seasons in the NFL, Mayowa has 20 sacks and 41 QB hits in 87 games played (15 starts).
Free-agent defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has dropped his asking price at least $2 million off the more than $20 million per season that he had been looking for, according to sources. Clowney is now seeking around $17-18 million per year, and the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans remain "interested" in signing the three-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher. He was traded from the Texans to the Seahawks before last season and had three sacks in 13 regular season games. Despite the lack of sacks, the 27-year-old was constantly disrupting the opponent's backfield and had two defensive touchdowns. He also dealt with a core muscle injury that required surgery, causing him to miss two games. Clowney is an injury risk but is effective when on the field. He'll be a boom/bust IDP commodity.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said he doesn't think that center Mike Pouncey (neck) has "been medically cleared to play football." Pouncey, a four-time Pro Bowler, suffered a serious neck injury in 2019 and needed season-ending surgery. He started just five games in his second season with the Bolts as a result. There's no guarantee that he can stay healthy for an entire season entering his age-31 campaign, but LA's offensive line would receive a huge boost with a healthy Pouncey joining new acquisitions Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner. Often a weak spot, the Chargers offensive line will be counted on even more with Philip Rivers now in Indy.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (hip) said on Wednesday that his surgically repaired hip is fully healed and that he could play in a game at full strength right now. "I feel 100 percent," Tagovailoa said in an exclusive interview with NFL Network. "I feel like if there was a game today, I'd be able to go out and perform the same way I was able to perform in previous years. I feel as mobile as possible. I feel 100 percent." His agent, Chris Cabott, said that Tagovailoa's doctors have cleared him without restrictions. Tagovailoa is expected to be one of the top picks in this year's draft and the second QB selected after LSU's Joe Burrow, who is expected to go first overall. Tua hasn't said which teams he's met with virtually. The left-handed thrower has some injury risks, but he's extremely accurate and athletic and could be starting games in 2020 for whichever team selects him.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said that quarterback Tyrod Taylor is "in the driver's seat" for the starting QB gig in 2020, "but nothing is finalized." The Chargers apparently aren't interested in signing Cam Newton, so Taylor should get the nod over Easton Stick, even if the Bolts take a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in this month's draft. Taylor made the Pro Bowl with the Bills in 2015 and has experience with Lynn coaching the offense in Buffalo. LA should be expected to become more of a run-first team if Taylor is running the show, but he could surprise given all the talent around him on offense. He'll have some low-end QB2 appeal in deeper leagues if he's starting the season under center in the post-Philip Rivers era.
The New England Patriots are releasing quarterback Cody Kessler on Wednesday, according to a source. The move leaves just Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer on the team's quarterback depth chart. Kessler didn't see any game action last season with the Pats, and he has played in only 17 games (12 starts) since being taken in the third round in 2016 by the Browns. The 26-year-old (27 in May) made eight starts in his rookie season with Cleveland and went 0-8 with six touchdowns and two interceptions. In New England, it will be Stidham's job to lose over the veteran Hoyer in training camp now that Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay. It remains to be seen if the Patriots look at either Cam Newton or Andy Dalton or take a QB in this month's draft.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said that the uniqueness of quarterback Taysom Hill's role requires the team to have a third quarterback active on game days, and that won't change in 2020 with Teddy Bridgewater now in Carolina. The Saints are likely to look for the best quarterback (rookie or a veteran) that is available to be the No. 3 behind Drew Brees and Hill. New Orleans thinks highly of Hill as the heir apparent to Brees, but he's attempted just 13 passes the last two seasons, including just six attempts despite Brees missing extended time in 2019 with a finger injury. The 29-year-old gadget player won't have any lasting fantasy significance in redraft leagues unless Brees gets injured again or retires.
The New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts have been in contact with Utah State quarterback Jordan Love via FaceTime and other virtual methods, according to a source informed of the meetings. Love is projected to go anywhere from the top 10 picks to the back half of the first round in this month's draft. He has a big arm and plenty of athletic ability, but he was inconsistent in his final year in college in 2019. The Saints and Packers pick near the end of the first round and could select Love as the heir apparent to Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, respectively, if he falls that far. Some scouts think Love would benefit from sitting a year and learning behind a veteran QB.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said that the team has been in contact with free-agent cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Ryan spent the last three seasons with the Titans, but they are interested in bringing him back after he totaled a career-high 113 tackles (73) solo, eight QB hits, four interceptions, 18 passes defensed and four forced fumbles in 2019. He's one of the top IDP cornerbacks in the league. Clowney is holding out for around $20 million per season, but the Titans still have plenty of salary cap space left and are looking for another pass-rusher. He has never had a double-digit sack season and remains a big injury risk, but Clowney is disruptive against the run and the pass when he's on the field.
New England Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham appears to have the inside track on the starting job despite the signing of veteran Brian Hoyer. This all comes after Tom Brady chose to leave New England in free agency for Tampa Bay. The Patriots like Stidham, but they know he's an unknown commodity until he sees live action under center. The 23-year-old should compete with Hoyer in training camp, but it'll be Stidham's job to lose this summer. A fourth-round pick last year out of Auburn, he attempted only four passes in parts of three games in his rookie season. The Patriots don't seem interested in Andy Dalton or Cam Newton, so they may choose to sink or swim with Stidham in 2020. He won't be worth drafting except for in dynasty/keeper formats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones averaged a broken tackle once every 7.5 rushing attempts in 2019 - good for the fourth-best mark among qualified rushers in the league. His 23 total broken tackles ranked 11th among all players.
Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb was credited with 32 broken tackles in 2019 - tied with Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones for the most in the league.
Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones was credited with 32 broken tackles in 2019 - tied with Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb for the most in the league.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Damien Williams tied Peyton Barber for the third-lowest average in rushing yards before contact (1.3), but he also finished in a tie for first with Derrick Henry (3.2) for the most rushing yards after contact.
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has led the NFL in rushing first downs in each of the previous two seasons, picking up 84 in 2018 before adding 78 more in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson kept the ball and ran 92 times on 173 run-pass option (RPO) plays last season - nearly three times as often as the next closest quarterback (Kyler Murray; 33).
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees threw an on-target pass - defined as a pass that did or would have hit the receiver - on a league-high 84.1 percent of his throws in 2019.
The Minnesota Vikings have been actively discussing a possible long-term contract extension with safety Anthony Harris, according to sources. There has been speculation that the Vikings were looking to trade Harris after putting the franchise tag on him, but they may wind up keeping him after all. There is an increasing belief that the 28-year-old, the NFL's top safety in 2019 per Pro Football Focus, will play for the Vikings in 2020, whether it's on the franchise tag of $11.441 million or on a new long-term deal. Harris' preference is to stay in Minnesota. He wants a deal that would put him among the highest paid safeties in the league, which could be an average of around $14 million per year. The combination of Harris and Harrison Smith give Minnesota one of the best safety combinations in the game. That is, if Harris remains with the Vikes. They'll need a strong safety duo after losing four cornerbacks during free agency.
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway was non-committal on whether the Broncos would entertain signing running back Phillip Lindsay to a long-term contract extension. Lindsay has been playing for a bargain rate the last two seasons after going undrafted, but not the Broncos had Melvin Gordon III in the backfield as well after they landed him in free agency. In comparison, Gordon is the sixth-highest paid running back in the league. Lindsay, 26 in July, came out of nowhere in his rookie season and made the Pro Bowl, and he's rushed for over 1,000 yards in both of his two seasons. But with Gordon now in tow, Lindsay won't see as many touches, especially in the passing game. It's clear the Broncos don't see him as a three-down back in this league, but they could still keep him around long-term if they can agree on something that compensates him fairly. Fantasy-wise, Lindsay will likely become a low-ceiling RB3/flex in standard-scoring formats while sharing touches with Gordon and Royce Freeman.