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.
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.
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.
Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2020, said he'd be happy to stay with the team for the long-term. "Whatever coach decides to do, I'm happy. I'd be happy to stay there with Deshaun (Watson) and help win games," Tunsil said. He was traded to the Texans from the Dolphins last season and was a massive upgrade for Houston's offensive line and quarterback Deshaun Watson. It remains to be seen if the team will offer Tunsil a long-term deal, but one thing that is certain is that Tunsil's presence on Watson's blind side is great news heading into next season as the Texans look to get back to the postseason.
The Dallas Cowboys haven't had contract discussions with wide receiver Amari Cooper, but he said that he wants to be in Dallas for a long time. Cooper will become a free agent in March, but he is the team's No. 2 priority this offseason behind quarterback Dak Prescott. Despite dealing with nagging injuries for most of the season, Cooper had 79 receptions for a career-high 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns over a full season in 2019. It's hard to imagine Dallas letting him walk in free agency, and his fantasy value would remain the highest as a high-end WR1 if he stays with the Cowboys moving forward. If he goes elsewhere, Michael Gallup would become the team's No. 1 wideout.
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said that outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (knee), who tore his ACL on Sept. 30 against the Jaguars, is making "really good (progress)." "He looks great. I (jokingly) asked with about five weeks left in the season if he was ready to go. He should be ready to go for OTAs (in May) or even the offseason program (in April)," Elway said. Losing the pass rusher for most of the 2019 season was a big loss for Denver's defense. The 23-year-old was a force in his rookie season with 60 total tackles (41 solo), 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He should be able to bounce back across from Von Miller in 2020 and give Denver a formidable pass rush once again.
The Minnesota Vikings are turning to Gary Kubiak, who has been an assistant head coach and offensive advisor, as their next offensive coordinator, according to sources. Minnesota's previous offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski, has left to become the Browns head coach. Not much will change in Minnesota with Kubiak at the helm of the offense, but it is mostly good news for running back Dalvin Cook, who will continue to be the focal point of this offense moving forward. Quarterback Kirk Cousins also benefited from plenty of play-action passing plays while Kubiak was an offensive advisor.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham is expected to be released during the offseason, in the opinion of The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty, who called the prospective move a 'given.' Graham has one year remaining on his deal. Releasing him would free up $8 million in cap room.
Fantasy Spin: Graham posted a 38-447-3 line in his age-33 season, and despite playing well in the playoffs he has been a disappointment since signing with the Packers. Wherever he plays (if he does) in 2020, Graham's days as a TE1 seem far in the rear view.
Green Bay Packers S Adrian Amos (pectoral) is unlikely to require surgery on his injured pec, according to head coach Matt LaFleur. Amos suffered the injury during the NFC Championship Game.
Updating a previous report, impending free-agent Austin Hooper (Falcons) is expected to receive overtures from the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins if he is allowed to reach the open market, according to sources via Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline.
Impending free-agent DE Robert Quinn (Cowboys) would prefer to remain with the Dallas Cowboys, and sources have told Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline that team owner/general manager Jerry Jones has been 'aggressive' in letting Quinn know he wants him to return.
Atlanta Falcons TE Austin Hooper is not close to a contract extension with the team, according to general manager Thomas Dimitroff Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'The reality right now is that we are trudging along,' Dimitroff said. 'Once we get back from the Super Bowl, after the Super Bowl week we'll continue to look and see how we are moving forward. But at this point there are no updates on Austin.'
Fantasy Spin: Hooper is coming off a career year in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns. He's an excellent third option behind WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in Atlanta, but his play this year may have priced him out of the Falcons' budget for 2020 and beyond. His potential free-agent destination would have a big impact on his 2020 draft stock.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Josh McCown spoke with head coach Doug Pederson about a potential role on the coaching staff, but McCown isn't ready to retire just yet. The veteran QB came out of retirement last August to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles. He's currently recovering from a torn hamstring that he suffered in the wild-card loss to the Seahawks. McCown threw only five passes during the regular season and served as a de facto player/coach as Carson Wentz's backup. He has some potential as a future offensive coordinator, but it's unlikely he would immediately be considered as Mike Groh's successor in Philly. Wherever McCown is playing in 2020, he'll strictly be a backup and won't have any fantasy value.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) had an arrest warrant on a felony charge of burglary and battery issued against him Wednesday, Jan. 22, by Hollywood, Fla. police. A moving truck driver claimed he was assaulted by Brown and his trainer. Brown also was charged with one count of burglary of an occupied conveyance and one count of criminal mischief.
Fantasy Spin: Dynasty owners should be preparing to move on from Brown before finalizing their rosters ahead of 2020 drafts.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. will sit down with new head coach Kevin Stefanski Thursday, Jan. 23, to discuss Stefanski's plan for personal conduct. 'I'm looking forward to sitting down with Odell face to face,' Stefanski said. 'I haven't had the chance to do that yet and I get the chance to do that (Thursday). And at that point, that's when I can start laying out my expectations for Odell and all of our players.' Beckham was caught on video at the College Football Playoff Championship Game earlier this month appearing to hand out cash to LSU Tigers players, as well as appearing to slap a security officer on the butt in the locker room. Charges had been filed against Beckham for the latter incident, but they were later dropped.
Fantasy Spin: Beckham totaled 1,035 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his first season in Cleveland. Bigger things were expected, and the hiring of Stefanski should help lead to improvements for 2020. He remains a top-end WR1.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Kelce will be just fine to suit up on Feb. 2 against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. He was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and hasn't slowed down in the postseason, catching 13 of 16 targets for 164 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans and Titans. Most of that production came in the Divisional Round when he had 10 grabs for 134 yards and three scores, but Kelce can go off at any time and could be the X-factor in the Super Bowl in two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was unable to practice on Wednesday, but the team remains hopeful that he will be available for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. The team didn't practice on Wednesday, but they were required to submit an estimated practice report. Coleman dislocated his right shoulder in the first half of the NFC Championship against the Packers and played just eight snaps. If he's active for the Super Bowl, Coleman will split snaps with Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers. Matt Breida will be the No. 3 back.
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder) indicated that he will be ready for the start of offseason workouts. Cook is entering the final year of his contract and is a candidate for an extension this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Cook was one of the top running backs in the NFL this season with 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. He will continue to be a focal point on offense for the Vikings next season and will be an early round pick in fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) fully participated in practice. The 49ers did not hold a practice Wednesday, so the injury report is an estimation.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. The 49ers did not hold a practice Wednesday, so this is an estimation.
Fantasy Spin: The 49ers are optimistic about Coleman's status for Super Bowl LIV, but he may be a game-time decision. He will share snaps with Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida if he plays and could be a flex option in fantasy leagues.