In this Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019 file photo, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) lines up against the Chicago Bears during the second half of an NFL football game in Denver. Star linebacker Von Miller says his sprained left MCL that ended his 95-game starting streak might sideline him again Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 when the Denver Broncos visit the Houston Texans. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after he scored a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) dives past New England Patriots outside linebacker Elandon Roberts (52) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON (AP) It wasn't that long ago that Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was in the position Denver's Drew Lock is in now.
Watson was thrust into the starting role after the season was underway as a rookie in 2017, just as Lock was last week for the Broncos. Watson made his debut in the middle of a game and won his first start the following week. Lock became Denver's third starter this season following Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen and led the Broncos to a win over the Chargers.
Watson knows how important it is for a quarterback to get that first win on his resume.
''It's huge,'' Watson said. ''It builds a lot of confidence within that locker room, within yourself, and that's where it has to start, that confidence with yourself knowing that you can play at this level, you can win at this level, because it's hard to do, especially on a consistent basis. So, yeah, it just changes everything and everyone is in good spirits.''
Lock, a second-round pick in this year's draft out of Missouri, threw for 134 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on Sunday. Now that he knows he's the starter he feels like he can begin to take a more active role as a leader on the team.
''I can just ... start being the face of these guys around here, especially in the huddle,'' he said. ''Just being able to show them a little bit more of me as a leader. Even out there on the field in the game, not necessarily practice, but even out on the field they saw a little bit of my confidence last week. I'm hoping that we can come out and play extremely well, and hopefully we can keep building confidence for everyone.''
The Texans are also feeling confident after getting their first win over the Patriots since 2010, a 28-22 victory last week. Watson threw three touchdown passes and had his first career TD reception on a trick play to lead Houston and earn his third AFC offensive player of the week award this season.
Though Houston is feeling good after the big win, the Texans know they can't be overconfident as they chase their fourth AFC South title in five seasons.
''We don't want to have a letdown,'' Watson said. ''That's not the type of guys we have in that locker room, the leadership we have, we're not going to allow it. Denver is a great 4-8 team, if you want to look at the record, but we don't look at the record ... you can't have no letups, because you will get embarrassed.''
MOBILITY AND MOXIE
The Broncos finally feel like they have a modern, mobile QB like Watson or Patrick Mahomes in Lock. Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay suggest Lock not only brings the ability to freelance on broken plays but also a swag to the position that's been missing since Peyton Manning was under center four years ago. Lock is the seventh starting QB since Manning retired after Super Bowl 50.
''Drew can move us with his arm, he can move us with his legs. And that gives all of us confidence because when a play's broken, he can create something,'' Lindsay said. ''Actually, he created a couple (last) game that kept the drive alive. And that's what makes someone like Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson so great. They can make broken plays and they can score touchdowns or get first downs.''
The Texans have one of the league's best pass-catching running backs in Duke Johnson. The fifth-year player has 2,464 yards receiving and 1,671 yards rushing in his career and had a season-high five receptions for 54 yards last week.
Watson said Johnson's versatility makes things difficult for the defense.
''You have to pick either you're going dime personnel and have a DB on him or you have to put one of the linebackers on him, and linebackers don't do too much covering,'' he said. ''They like to run fit and play zone coverage, they don't play a lot of man. So, he's a guy that's really a receiver playing running back, and he can do a lot of different things that can help us.''
KICKING & SCREAMING
Coach Vic Fangio says he and kicker Brandon McManus are good after his kicker threw a tantrum last week when he wasn't allowed to try an NFL-record 65-yard field goal just before halftime. McManus was summoned back to the sideline after trotting out for the try, ripped off his helmet and slammed it to the ground.
''At the time, I didn't know it went on until after the game. He wanted to go out there and try it, and I didn't think it was the right thing to do at that time,'' Fangio said. ''Part of the reason - a big part of the reason - was because it's been proven in the past with other kickers and possibly him, too, that if you take a big swing at one of those early in the game, it could affect your swing later in the game. I'm saying that's why he made the 52-and the (winning) 53-yarder because he didn't alter his swing for a 65-yarder. And the air was a little heavier than normal.''
McManus countered after the game: ''Does a Hail Mary change the way a quarterback throws the ball?'' That drew this retort from Fangio: ''There's proof in his career that it happened to him already.''
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.
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.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert gained 158 of his 220 rushing yards after contact in the NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Jan. 19. It was the most yards after contact by a running back in the postseason since 2006.
Fantasy Spin: Next up is a Chiefs run defense that surrendered 128.2 yards per game during the regular season -- seventh most in the league -- but the larger fantasy question is whether Mostert will enter 2020 as the Niners' lead back. A standout game on the Super Bowl stage surely will go a long way toward cementing that.
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.
Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr is tiring of the quarterback rumors surrounding the team -- the latest resulting from a photo taken of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, a pending free agent, and Raiders owner Mark Davis talking at Jan. 18 UFC fight in Las Vegas. 'C'mon man, when's it going to end?' Carr asked.
Fantasy Spin: Carr, who set career highs in passing yards (4,054) and completion percentage (70.4) in 2019, is entering the third year of a five-year, $125 million contract but his release would save the Raiders $16.5 million against the 2020 salary cap. It's likely he sticks with the Raiders for another season -- the franchise's first in Las Vegas -- but he remains an up-and-down QB2 for fantasy purposes.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees isn't rushing his decision on whether he'll return for another season. I wanted to give it at least a few weeks, months, postseason, just to take a deep breath and decompress a little bit and get some time with the family and then just reassess,' Brees said Wednesday, Jan. 22, during an interview at the Pro Bowl.
Fantasy Spin: Brees just turned 41 and is coming off a season where he missed five games due to a thumb injury, but he still finished eighth among fantasy QBs with an average of 23.9 fantasy points per game while helping guide the Saints to another NFC South title. He'll be in the low-end QB1 discussion once again if he's back for his 15th season in the Big Easy.
Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green, a pending free agent, could receive the franchise tag from the Bengals this offseason. 'The franchise tag is not the best thing,' Green said in a TV interview. 'But like I said, I'm not turning down 18 million dollars. It just happens. When you run a business, you have to make difficult decisions. But I feel like when you put that on me, then that's what you're showing me, you only want me for one year. And I always play with a chip on my shoulder.'
Fantasy Spin: Green's situation will be one of the intriguing offseason storylines -- in fantasy and reality -- to follow, but keep in mind he'll turn 31 in July and, more importantly, has played a total of 17 actual snaps since Week 8 of the 2018 season. That sets up a fantasy sleeper situation, rife with boom or bust potential.