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.''
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill had an incredible performance against the Tennessee Titans during their Week 10 matchup. He caught 11 of his 19 targets for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Tennessee. He'll get another chance to run over the same team in the AFC Championship matchup on Sunday. Hill hasn't been able to get over 100 yards receiving in a single game since that matchup. DFS players know that Hill has a chance to be a complete bust, but the fact he destroyed Tennessee the first time is hard to ignore. Hill has given DFS players a lot to think about before Sunday's kickoff.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is coming off a three touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. He hauled in 10 receptions for 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round victory. The Tennessee Titans main focus has to be slowing down Kelce. They allowed seven receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown to Kelce earlier in the season. Kelce isn't going to be cheap for DFS contests, but he's proven all season long that he's worth the risk.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been tough to watch all season long. He started off the year with a three touchdown performance, but it was downhill after that. Watkins was only targeted more than five times in a game once over the last five games. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have taken over the passing attack in Kansas City. Watkins was able to haul in five receptions for 39 yards during his regular season matchup against the Titans. DFS players shouldn't expect a better performance out of Watkins this time around.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is set to battle with the Tennessee Titans for the AFC Championship on Sunday. Mahomes is coming off a five touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. He's already faced off against the Titans once this season and Mahomes didn't disappoint. He threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns in that game. DFS players should be able to lean on Mahomes to at least be efficient on Sunday. He has a solid chance of being the best quarterback out of the bunch in the division title games.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams is coming off a three touchdown performance against the Houston Texans last week. He rushed 12 times for 47 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards through the air. LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson have been absent from the backfield lately. The Chiefs have been leaning on Williams and it's been paying off. He's been able to find the end zone when he's called upon and piled up 109 yards against the Titans earlier in the season. Fantasy owners are aware that Williams has been up and down this season, but he's red-hot right now. He'll be used in both the rushing and passing attack, so DFS players should give Williams a long look for Sunday's slate.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has the confidence of former 49ers QB and Hall of Famer Steve Young. 'When they've asked him to raise up and go win it, he did it,' Young said. 'Those are hard things to do. That just doesn't happen. When you see it in the NFL and someone is able to do it, you go, once you've done it, you can do it again. You can keep doing it.'
Fantasy Spin: Jimmy G wasn't a fantasy factor with his 11-of-19, 131-yards, one-TD, one-interception game in the divisional-round playoff win over the Vikings, but that's largely due to the Niners' overwhelming success on the ground (47 rushes-186 yards). When Garoppolo has been forced to pass, he's delivered the majority of the time, and his fantasy numbers Sunday likely will depend on how much the opposing Packers are able to get done against the San Fran defense.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert is the only player since special-teams tackles were first tracked in 2001 to lead his team in rushing yards and special-teams tackles in the same season.
Fantasy Spin: While Mostert is a breakout talent who led the Niners in rushing in each of their last six regular-season games, keep in mind that it was Tevin Coleman who led the squad in rushing attempts (22), yards (105) and touchdown runs (2) in the divisional-round playoff win over the Vikings as Mostert (12-58-0) battled a calf cramp which he said was an after affect of an illness he dealt with the week leading up to the game. In the meantime, it's a plus matchup Sunday against a Packers defense which allowed the ninth-most rushing yards (120.1) per game during the regular season.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry has rushed for 377 yards on 64 carries in two wins this postseason, but Kansas City Chiefs DE Frank Clark says he isn't intimidated heading into the AFC Championship matchup with the Titans on Sunday, Jan. 19. 'He's not hard to hit,' Clark was quoted as saying on NFL Network. 'He's just a big guy -- 240, 245, 250 (pounds). Honestly he should be running harder at his weight and size. I don't see no difficulty in tackling him. ... He's just easy to me up front because I don't look at any running back like they can't be tackled. He's not one of the best guys at breaking tackles to me, honestly.'
Fantasy Spin: Henry is on a truly historic run -- with only Terrell Davis owning more 150-yard postseason games (four) than Henry's three -- and it will be challenge for Clark and the K.C. D, which ranked in the bottom fourth of the league in allowing 128.2 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, to slow down -- let alone shut down -- Henry and the run-first Titans.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. likely won't face simple-assault charges for slapping a security officer's buttocks Monday, Jan. 13, as the officer has declined to press charges, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: The Browns -- and OBJ's fantasy dynasty-league owners -- are hoping this the final negative offseason headline the wideout generates for a good while and he starts focusing his energies on improving on his disappointing debut season with Cleveland.
Confirming a previous report, the Dallas Cowboys have hired New Orleans Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan to be their new defensive coordinator. Head coach Mike McCarthy said he plans to run a defense with four down linemen.
New England Patriots CB Jason McCourty (groin) recently underwent surgery on the groin injury that hampered him throughout the 2019 season.
Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has agreed to become the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, according to a source.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (elbow) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman is coming off one of his best games of the season last week and should continue to receive most of the carries in the running game. He should be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (ankle) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle is one of the top options in the passing game for the 49ers and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (calf) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert will have a solid role in the running game against the Green Bay Packers and could see a few targets in the passing game. He has a chance to be a flex option in fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 17, but is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game. DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) fully participated in practice and is not on the injury report.
Green Bay Packers FB Danny Vitale (knee) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is listed as questionable for the NFC Championship game. TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury), LB Preston Smith (ankle) and CB Tramon Williams (non-injury) were limited during practice but are not on the injury report. S Adrian Amos (chest), OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), DT Kenny Clark (back), WR Ryan Grant (non-injury), LB Blake Martinez (hand) and OT Billy Turner (ankle) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Green Bay Packers WR Geronimo Allison (illness) fully participated in practice Friday, Jan. 17, and is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Allison has only been targeted 12 times over the last five games and was held to nine yards in his last game against the San Francisco 49ers. He can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham (non-injury) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 17, but is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Graham likely will see a handful of targets in the passing game against the San Francisco 49ers and could be a stating option in some fantasy leagues.
The Green Bay Packers Defense faces a tough task this weekend in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. In their regular-season meeting, the Packers gave up 37 points and only dropped Jimmy Garoppolo only three times. They also failed to generate any turnovers. Green Bay's defense may need to lend their offense a helping hand by creating a turnover or two to swing the field position game. If Za-Darius and Preston Smith can ramp up the pressure, the Packers will have a good chance of generating a turnover or two and winning the game. It certainly won't be easy, considering how formidable the 49ers offense has been this season.