Thu Dec 12 4:40pm ET
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is pressured by Denver Broncos linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (97) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) breaks up a pass intended for Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel watches during the first half of an NFL football game between the Oakland Raiders and the Titans in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the Oakland Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) scores past Oakland Raiders free safety Erik Harris (25) during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans have some very simple math to clinch their first AFC South title since 2008 and second playoff berth in three seasons.
Sweep the Houston Texans.
The Titans (8-5) have won four straight and six of seven to have a chance at the postseason after a 2-4 start in a season salvaged after the switch at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. How much better this season becomes depends on what they do Sunday when they host the Texans, the first of two games between these teams in the final three weeks.
Titans cornerback Logan Ryan says the old cliche of one week at a time has helped them put together a nice streak. Ryan says that string won't help against Houston (8-5).
“We got to handle Houston," Ryan said. "Just like in years past we never could win in Indy, and we won in Indy. We're due to have a bad upset in Oakland, and we didn't. So I just think we're taking it one week at a time, and we've got a big matchup with their receiving corps coming to town, and Deshaun Watson, so I think that's enough on our plate.”
Beating the Raiders 42-2 1, combined with Houston's surprise 38-24 loss to Denver last week is what allowed Tennessee to tie the Texans atop the division. The Texans currently have the tiebreaker thanks to a better conference record. The Titans' first sweep in this rivalry since 2007 would give Tennessee the division title.
The stakes are equally as big for Houston, with the Texans trying to win their fourth AFC South title in six seasons under coach Bill O'Brien. The Texans host Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
���You just always want to be in your own driver's seat and control your own destiny,” Texans linebacker D.J. Reader said. “That's all you can ask for.”
Derrick Henry is second in the NFL with a career-high 1,243 yards rushing, and he's tied for the league lead with 13 TDs rushing. He also has a pair of TD catches. But his left hamstring has had him on the injury report now three straight weeks. Even though Henry said Thursday he will be ready Sunday, he obviously was affected last week even as he notched his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.
Henry's longest run was a 24-yarder, the type he might threaten to take to the end zone in previous weeks. Did the hamstring slow him down?
“I was just trying to be nice,” Henry said.
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is coming off a season-high 120 yards receiving last week along with a touchdown. He has the NFL's second-longest streak with 16 straight games with at least five or more receptions. The Titans will be trying to defend Hopkins with a banged-up secondary.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro currently is in the concussion protocol after being knocked out of last week's game. Starting cornerback Adoree' Jackson missed that game with an injured foot. Cornerback LeShaun Sims practiced fully Thursday after his right ankle kept him out of the last two games. Look for Ryan to stick closely to Hopkins.
PILING UP TACKLES
Houston linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the team with a career-high 114 tackles and his 79 solo tackles are also first among the Texans. The third-year player tied a career-high with 16 tackles last week and has five games this season with at least 10 tackles. Cunningham has 39 tackles since Week 12, most in the NFL in that span.
“He's really an outstanding player,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Cunningham, a rookie when Vrabel was Houston's defensive coordinator in 2017. “Just to see him grow, he's done a fantastic job.”
The Titans rank second in the NFL averaging 31.4 points a game over the past eight weeks, and they're also tied with San Francisco for the most big plays with 62 in that span. The Titans have 32 runs of 10 or more yards and 30 pass completions of 20 yards or longer. The 49ers have their 62 such plays in eight games compared to seven for the Titans.
NOT THIS WEEK
O'Brien gave Vrabel his first coaching job in the NFL, hiring him to work with the linebackers in 2014. Vrabel credits O'Brien with helping him prepare to be an NFL head coach. Not only are the men friends, but their wives are friends. O'Brien said he watches Vrabel's son, Tyler, play weekly at Boston College, and they talk regularly about family.
Not this week.
���I tried to call him this morning, but he didn't call me back,” O'Brien said.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones carried the ball 12 times for 56 yards and a rushing touchdown along with five catches for 27 yards and a receiving score in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Jones was running well and would have been able to do more damage on the ground if not for the 27-0 deficit at the half. The 24-year-old finished the year tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns with 19, then added four more scores in the playoffs. He (likely) won't score this many times next year, though Jones proved he's more than just a touchdown machine, racking up career-highs in both rushing and receiving yards. He'll be among the best options in 2020 for fantasy backs in all formats.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. At first glance, Rodgers' stat line doesn't look so bad, though the first half was a complete struggle for him and the offense. Down 27-0 at the half, the veteran signal-caller effectively used up garbage time to post these numbers. It's a disappointing end to the season for Rodgers, though he still put up his eighth career 4000-yard season as well as his 10th season with at least 25 touchdown passes. The 36-year-old has plenty of juice left in his arm but will probably need another threat on the outside next year besides Davante Adams if Green Bay wants to make noise.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was not targeted often, but made it count when he was called upon. Robinson hauled in both of his targets for 31 yards during their victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. His first reception was a 24-yard catch that helped the Chiefs move upfield for their second quarter comeback. However, Robinson is normally an afterthought with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce on the roster. He could have some cheap DFS value for Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman was unable to make much of an impact during the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Hardman finished with one reception for eight yards. His reception was technically a jet sweep play that was a handoff on the second drive of the game. However, he drew a big defensive pass interference call that helped the Chiefs get into scoring position. Hardman is a fantastic special teams player, but won't bring much value to DFS contests for Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was able to find the end zone twice during Sunday's AFC Championship game. Hill caught five of his seven targets for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Tennessee Titans. His first score was a 10-yard jet sweep handoff that counted as a reception, but regardless it was a nice way for Hill to show off his ridiculous speed. The performance of Hill in Super Bowl 54 could help make or break plenty of DFS players.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was surprisingly held in check by the Tennessee Titans during Sunday's AFC Championship contest. He caught three of his four targets for 30 yards in the win over the Titans. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins were the players making the splash plays in this game. DFS players shouldn't be worried as Kelce should see plenty of opportunities during Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams was able to find the end zone three times last week in the Divisional Round battle with the Houston Texans. Williams continued his strong play against the Tennessee Titans in Sunday's AFC Championship game. Williams rushed 17 times for 45 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes for 44 yards through the air. Veteran back LeSean McCoy (illness) didn't play and rookie Darwin Thompson saw just one carry in this game. It's clear that the Chiefs trust Williams to be their lead back going forward. Look for him to make a significant impact in Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins was able to finally find the end zone for the first time since Week 1. It's been a tough season for Watkins, but at least he was able to do damage when it mattered most. Watkins hauled in seven receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Tennessee Titans. Watkins caught a 60-yard touchdown that basically sealed the Chiefs ticket to Super Bowl 54. It's been impossible to trust Watkins this season, but maybe he's finally turning the corner.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Darwin Thompson was not able to make much of an impact in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. Thompson had one rushing attempt for seven yards in the victory over the Tennessee Titans. Damien Williams continues to be the workhorse while LeSean McCoy (illness) didn't play in this one. Thompson has only two carries this postseason, so he won't be much of an option for Super Bowl 54.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was phenomenal in the AFC Championship game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. He completed 23 of 35 passing attempts for 294 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes also had eight rushing attempts for 53 yards and a touchdown. It was a fantastic performance for Mahomes and DFS players who stuck with him despite the high price are smiling now. The Chiefs are heading to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was forced from the Conference Championship game with an injury in the second quarter, and is questionable to return. After being tackled on the play, it initially looked like Coleman sustained an elbow or arm injury, but it is now being called a shoulder injury. He remained down on the field in pain, and was eventually carted to the locker room. Raheem Mostert has taken over as the lead running back, and Matt Breida will be sprinkled in as well for as long as Coleman remains sidelined.
The San Francisco 49ers have declared TE Daniel Helm, DT Kevin Givens, LB Azeez Al-Shaair, RB Jeff Wilson Jr., CB Dontae Johnson, QB C.J. Beathard and WR Jordan Matthews inactive for NFC Championship.
The Green Bay Packers have declared FB Danny Vitale, WR Ryan Grant, OL Alex Light, RB Dexter Williams, OT John Leglue, CB Ka'dar Hollman and DB Raven Greene inactive for Conference Championships.
Updating a previous report, Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans (foot) has returned to the AFC Championship game after missing time because of a foot injury.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz will be a candidate for a contract extension this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Ertz has been one of the top tight ends in the NFL over the last few seasons and should be a main option in the passing game for the Eagles again in 2020. He will be a No. 1 tight end in all fantasy leagues next season.
Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans (foot) suffered a foot injury during the AFC Championship game and is considered questionable to return.
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent TE Jason Witten has not ruled out playing in 2020 and could join the New York Giants because of his connection with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, according to sources.
Tennessee Titans WR Adam Humphries (ankle) is officially active for the AFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Humphries will return to the lineup for the first time since Week 13, but his role in the passing game is uncertain. He probably will see a few targets during the game but can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
The Tennessee Titans have declared DT Isaiah Mack, OG Kevin Pamphile, WR Rashard Davis, LB Reggie Gilbert, WR Darius Jennings, DT Joey Ivie and WR Cody Hollister inactive for Conference Championships.