San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrates after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The 49ers won 48-46. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks during a news conference after loosing to the Baltimore Ravens in a NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. Ravens won 20-17. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) When Kyle Shanahan looks back on the two years he spent as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, it's the positives he remembers much more than the disappointing ending.
After a couple of tough stops in Washington and Cleveland, Shanahan's coaching career took off after joining the Falcons when he helped Matt Ryan and Atlanta reach record heights on the way to a Super Bowl appearance. That performance helped land him a head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers even if he fell short of a Super Bowl title when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead before losing in overtime to New England.
''Not at all,'' Shanahan said when asked if the Super Bowl collapse lessened his memories of his tenure with the Falcons.
''I loved my time in Atlanta, loved the people I was there with. I went there at a tough time in my career and just the two previous places I had been. ... It was good to be in a good place like that, and really enjoyed the players, too.''
Shanahan gets a chance to face his old team, including Ryan and head coach Dan Quinn, when the 49ers (11-2) host the Falcons (4-9) on Sunday.
Atlanta set a franchise record by scoring 540 points in 2016 with Shanahan calling plays. Ryan had career bests in yards passing (4,944), TD passes (38) and passer rating (117.1) on the way to winning the league MVP.
''Kyle had a huge impact on my career,'' Ryan said. ''He challenged me to get better, improve in certain areas and taught me a lot about offensive football. Just seeing things from a different perspective, I feel like I made big jumps in the two years we were together and I'm happy for him that he's having great success. ... It's no surprise that he has their offense playing well because he's excellent at knowing what to do.''
While Shanahan is thriving in his third year in San Francisco with the Niners alone atop the NFC standings and in line for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Falcons have struggled.
Atlanta started the year 1-7 and has little left to play for other than pride heading into a matchup with a coach the Falcons know well and respect greatly.
''Kyle makes it extremely difficult. He's a fantastic play caller,'' Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. ''When the season has not gone as well as you'd like it, you covet these opportunities to show people what you could've been, what you should've been.''
The ties between the two franchises run deeper than Shanahan's relationships in Atlanta. Ryan and 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey are first cousins. McGlinchey's mother, Janet, and Ryan's mom, Bernice, who are sisters, are leading a contingent of about 50-60 people coming out from Pennsylvania for the game. For McGlinchey, it's an opportunity to play against someone he looked up to growing up.
''When I was a kid, all I ever did was try to be like Matt in every way I could,'' he said. ''I would watch his interviews. I would watch everything about Matt. Maybe I just adopted the way he did things because he always did them the right way. It's pretty easy to learn from a guy like him, how well he has done.''
The 49ers rank third in the NFL with 45 sacks. The Falcons will have to keep Ryan upright to have any chance of pulling off a major upset.
Atlanta, with two rookies starting on the offensive line, has surrendered 41 sacks. But, after giving up a total of 15 in the two previous games, the unit showed major improvement last week against a Carolina team that ranked second in the league. Ryan was sacked only one time by the Panthers, while the Falcons had five sacks.
RUN RAHEEM, RUN
Raheem Mostert spent most of his first four season in the NFL as a special-teams standout. The past two weeks, he's shown the ability to be a featured back. Mostert has gotten the bulk of the work for San Francisco the past two games and delivered. He ran for 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also caught two passes for 40 yards and a TD in last week's win at New Orleans. Mostert has 263 yards from scrimmage and three TDs the past two weeks and figures to keep getting a heavy load as he has averaged 6.0 yards per carry for the season.
''What Raheem has done these last few weeks and has continued to do, we need to give him more opportunities,'' Shanahan said. ''He's given us no choice. I'm happy for him and it's been great. He's been extremely impressive.''
Kicker Younghoe Koo has become a big weapon for the Falcons since replacing Matt Bryant.
Koo was selected as NFC special teams player of the week for the second time after making four field goals, four extra points and recovering a fumble on a kickoff in last Sunday's 40-20 victory over Carolina. The 25-year-old Korean has connected on 16 of 18 field goals and 9 of 10 extra points.
''He's gaining confidence as he's going,'' Quinn said. ''We're pleased where he's at.''
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The 49ers suffered a major loss last week when starting center Weston Richburg went down with a season-ending knee injury. Richburg anchored a line that excelled in both run blocking and protection, and will be replaced by untested Ben Garland. Garland has spent most of his career since entering the NFL as a reserve and his only seven starts came at guard for Atlanta in 2017 and '18.
The Falcons will be looking at some new receivers over the final three games after losing Calvin Ridley to a season-ending abdominal injury.
Ridley, a first-round draft pick in 2018, had become a major weapon alongside Julio Jones - especially after the trade of Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots.
Now, some other young receivers will get a chance, most notably Christian Blake (11 catches, 91 yards) and Olamide Zaccheaus, whose first career catch was a 93-yard touchdown against the Panthers.
''We have a number of playmakers,'' Quinn said.
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.
The Kansas City Chiefs have declared OG Andrew Wylie, OL Ryan Hunter, RB LeSean McCoy, LB Darron Lee, QB Matt Moore, OT Jackson Barton and CB Morris Claiborne inactive for Conference Championships.
Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith hauled in a beautiful one-handed touchdown grab in last week's win over the Ravens, showcasing his elite athleticism at the position. That being said, he only has four targets and 21 receiving yards in the playoffs, which is nothing to write home about. The entire offense has taken a backseat to Derrick Henry as the running back has carried the offense in their playoff victories. The Chiefs Defense has not been great at stopping tight ends this year but projecting any kind of significant volume for Smith seems to be a reach as he's only topped four targets four times this season. The Titans being 7.5-point underdogs on the road could mean more passing attempts from Ryan Tannehill, but Smith is still just a touchdown-or-bust, low-owned tournament option at a top-heavy tight end position during Conference Championship Weekend.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis has barely been a whisper this postseason and isnt an appealing fantasy option in the AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs. The third-year pros only catch in the playoffs was a three-yard touchdown and he hasnt eclipsed 80 yards since Week 7. While game flow has been a critical factor in his low usage, Davis has also fallen behind rookie wideout A.J. Brown in snaps and targets. The Titans will likely utilize a more balanced offensive approach against Kansas City, but Davis will need a few splashy pay to return dividends to DFS investors against the sixth-best pass defense by DVOA.