Thu Dec 12 1:29pm ET
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, center, argues a call in the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lands on the turf after being sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
CINCINNATI (AP) Zac Taylor watched helplessly on the Rams' sideline as Bill Belichick's defense thwarted everything they tried to do in the Super Bowl. The first-year Bengals coach has even fewer options at hand when they go head-to-head again.
The Patriots can clinch their 11th straight playoff appearance Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium by thwarting Taylor's best designs. He was the Rams' quarterbacks coach when New England won the title.
This time he'll be calling the plays and knowing what to expect from that deflating Super Bowl experience.
''That was a heck of a day in a lot of ways,'' Taylor said. ''They do a great job adapting to their opponent. They always have a great plan in place, and that's what makes them difficult.
''They do a great job evolving because they've been together for so long.''
Taylor's Bengals (1-12) haven't done much against lesser defenses this season. They're reliant on running back Joe Mixon to get yards. The NFL's only one-win team has to play nearly perfect to pull off the upset.
''They're very opportunistic,'' said Andy Dalton, who threw a pick-6 in a loss at Cleveland last weekend. ''When they see a tipped ball that's up in the air, they're coming down with interceptions. They're great at forcing fumbles, and all that stuff.''
The Patriots (10-3) see few similarities between the Bengals' offense and the one they mastered in the Super Bowl.
''It's not really the same offense,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ''There's some crossover in there, but I would say you gotta kind of watch Cincinnati for Cincinnati.''
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
The matchup got a little extra intrigue when a video crew affiliated with the Patriots was caught taping the Bengals' sideline from the press box during their loss at Cleveland. The Patriots acknowledged the crew improperly videotaped while doing a feature on a scout. The Bengals were curious to see how the NFL responds.
New England's persistent issues on offense have gotten worse in the last five games. The Patriots are 2-3 over that stretch, averaging only 17.6 points. They've also had big problems on third down and in the red zone. For the season the Patriots rank 17th in third-down conversion percentage (37.4%). They are also scoring on only 48% of their trips inside the 20-yard line, which ranks 27th in the league. The Bengals' defense has improved significantly the last four games, giving up 20 points or less, and it's been particularly good in the red zone, allowing only 19 touchdowns this season.
Of the seven 2019 draft picks currently on the Patriots' roster, only punter Jake Bailey and edge rusher Chase Winovich have received significant playing time. Receiver N'Keal Harry, chosen 32nd overall, is slowly being integrated into the offense after sitting out the first eight games with an ankle injury. Since returning in November he has appeared in the past four games with two starts.
Belichick said he has been pleased with the contributions of Bailey and Winovich, who is second on the team with 5 1/2 sacks. He said the lack of playing time for other rookies isn't an indication of a lack of trust in them.
''Things change week to week based on game-plan situations,'' Belichick said. ''We're 10-3, I wouldn't say we're a terrible team. But there's a lot of other good players out there.''
The Bengals' best chance for the upset is to make some space for Mixon. He has been by far their best player on offense and is coming off a career-best 146 yards rushing in the 27-19 loss in Cleveland. The Bengals changed their blocking schemes and started running toss plays with Mixon at midseason, and he's become a threat again. In the past five games, he's picked up 469 yards - third-most in the league - and he leads all running backs with 105 carries over that span.
''I think we are starting to build an identity,'' Mixon said.
Bengals receiver John Ross III returned last week after missing eight games with a shoulder injury. He had only two catches for 28 yards and dropped the other pass thrown his way. The Bengals have lacked a deep threat with Ross hurt and A.J. Green recovering from ankle surgery. They could use a big game from Ross against the Patriots. Injuries have limited him all three years in the NFL, so he wants to have a strong finish to this one.
''That's the biggest thing I want do to, to be able to finish, and I've got the chance these last couple games,'' Ross said.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be a free agent in March, plans to return to the Saints if he comes back for a 20th season in the NFL. "I have never been in the situation where I was mulling over the thought of [returning]," Brees said. "To me, each one of these contracts, I don't know how many it's been with the Saints, I've played with them 14 years, it's not a matter of if it gets done, it's when. At this stage of my career, it's not a given that I'm coming back every year, but when that time comes, I'll always be a Saint." Despite diminished arm strength, Brees was one of the best quarterbacks when he returned from his thumb injury last season. He may no longer have sky-high QB1 upside for fantasy owners, but Brees will at least be a midrange QB1 target next season if he returns to New Orleans, which is what is expected.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt was pulled over and cited during a traffic stop in Rocky River, Ohio on Tuesday. Police pulled Hunt over for going 77 MPH in a 60 MPH zone and found small amounts of marijuana in three different locations in the car. The car was registered in Hunt's mother's name and he told officers that the drugs belonged to his brother. While the running back did not receive a drug charge during the stop, he could still be subject to discipline from the NFL. Hunt is a restricted free agent this offseason and has a chance to land elsewhere as a team's starting running back. This incident is only likely to be an issue in fantasy if the NFL decides to get involved.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was back at practice on Friday. The Chiefs played it safe with Kelce and gave him some rest on Thursday, but he should be ready to rock in the Super Bowl against the 49ers on Feb. 2. He had a quiet game in the AFC Championship against the Titans but exploded for three touchdowns in the Divisional Round. Kelce was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and could put up big numbers in the passing game against San Francisco in the Super Bowl if this game turns into a shootout.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said it's his understanding that tight end Jimmy Graham wants to play in 2020. Graham is under contract for one more year for $8 million, which is the final year of his three-year contract. The 33-year-old has clearly lost a step at this point in his career, catching just 38 passes (60 targets) for 447 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 with the Packers. He's no longer the focal point in the passing game, and he's more of a low-end, touchdown-dependent TE2 in fantasy circles.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was granted bail by a Broward County judge on Friday morning at $110,000 for a felony burglary with battery charge. Brown will be monitored by GPS and be required to release his passport and guns, go through drug and alcohol testing and get a mental-health evaluation. He's facing charges of felony burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief stemming from an alleged assault of a moving-truck driver earlier this week. This isn't Brown's first run-in with the law, and all of his off-field issues virtually assure that no NFL team will take a chance on him moving forward.
Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to fix torn ligaments in his wrist. Hughes revealed the injury after the playoff loss to the Texans in the wild-card round, and the league launched an investigation as to whether the Bills had violated the injury reporting policy since Hughes never appeared on the team's injury report with a wrist injury. Despite his wrist injury, Hughes didn't miss a game in 2019 and hasn't missed a single game since 2012. He recorded 23 total tackles (14 solo), 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for Buffalo's stout defense last season. Hughes should be recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his wrist this week.
Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen hasn't been written off, according to general manager Chris Grier, and Grier said he saw improvement in Rosen during practice throughout the year.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) did not practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Mid-week downgrades aren't good, but we still have another full week before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, so Kelce should be just fine to play in the big game against the 49ers. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice after sitting out on Wednesday. Although Kelce had just three catches for 30 yards in the AFC Championship against Tennessee, he busted out for 10 grabs, 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round against Houston. Kelce was the top-scoring fantasy tight end in 2019 and could easily have a big game in the Super Bowl against San Francisco.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) is expected to turn himself in to police but hadn't done so as of the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 23, according to a public information officer for the Hollywood Police Department in Florida. 'I believe they've given him ample opportunity to turn himself in,'' Christian Lata told USA TODAY Sports. An arrest warrant was issued against Brown following an incident with a moving truck driver Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'I'm sure it's going to be within today or tomorrow, but I'm not sure exactly when,'' Lata said late Thursday afternoon. 'I would assume it would be sooner than later.''
Fantasy Spin: There's less and less reason to hold out hope of Brown finding his way onto an NFL roster and becoming fantasy relevant in 2020. Dynasty owners should be looking to move on.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman did some solo work as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder. Expect him to play in Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2.
Kansas City Chiefs DT Chris Jones (calf) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) practiced in full. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (hand) was removed from the injury report. S Jordan Lucas (illness) didn't practice.
San Francisco 49ers WR Dante Pettis (illness) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DL Dee Ford (quad, hamstring) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce and the Chiefs have a long way to go until Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2. He should be fully expected to be on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson has scored just one touchdown since Week 3, and he hasn't recorded 100 or more receiving yards since Week 2. He's a risky flier without a guaranteed role in the offense.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was seen running on a side field ahead of the team's practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: It appears Coleman will be able to suit up for Super Bowl LIV after dislocating his shoulder in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He'll continue splitting work with Raheem Mostert and, to a lesser degree, Matt Breida. Any or all of the three could have a big game, but it's Mostert with the hot hand following the NFC Championship.
Houston Texans CB Gareon Conley (ankle) recently underwent a procedure to have a screw removed from his right ankle but is expected to be recovered in full for the beginning of the team's offseason workout program, according to a league source Thursday, Jan. 23.
Oakland Raiders CB Nevin Lawson signed a one-year contract extension Thursday, Jan. 23. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) is doing some running on a side field at the team's practice on Thursday. Despite sitting out of practice, Coleman appears very much in play to suit up for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers, but Coleman has an extra week to heal up and should be good to go for the big game. He will continue to serve as a change-of-pace back for Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers.
The Atlanta Falcons plan to tender a contract to impending exclusive-rights free-agent kicker Younghoe Koo. The 25-year-old place kicker solidified the team's kicking position in the final eight games of the season, making 23 of his 26 field-goal tries and 15 of his 16 extra points. Koo went 7-for-9 on kicks from 40-49 yards and hit his only attempt of 50-plus yards. While he should enter the 2020 season as the favorite to kick for Atlanta, the Falcons will also bring in some competition to push him. With an offense that can be explosive and put up points, Koo will have some fantasy appeal if he sticks around.