Thu Dec 12 2:04pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, center, celebrates after intercepting a pass by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) intercepts a deflected Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson pass intended for Willie Snead (83) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) pumps his fist after a first down completion during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) celebrates his touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) lines up against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) looks to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)
PITTSBURGH (AP) Sean McDermott remembers lining up across from Mike Tomlin and wanting to do everything he could to impress everyone watching, from the William & Mary coaches to his teammates to Tomlin himself. It comes with the territory when you're a freshman defensive back and the wide receiver you're facing happens to be an upperclassman and a team captain.
''We had our battles,'' said McDermott, who played with Tomlin for two seasons in 1993-94. ''I was a walk-on, he was a scholarship athlete. He was established and I was just trying to get a pair of cleats.''
A quarter century later, the stage is a much different one.
Like McDermott during his early college days, the Buffalo Bills are the upstart in search of some street cred heading into a rare prime-time visit to Pittsburgh to face Tomlin and the Steelers. A win and the Bills (9-4) clinch their second playoff berth in McDermott's three seasons. A victory by the surging Steelers (8-5) and Pittsburgh leapfrogs Buffalo for the AFC's top wild-card spot.
McDermott and Tomlin have remained in touch during their respective professional careers, with McDermott occasionally reaching out to Tomlin in search of advice. All of which is kind of funny to Tomlin, who remembers McDermott as the more focused of the two when their playing careers for the Tribe overlapped in 1993 and 1994.
''I was just trying to have fun,'' Tomlin said with a laugh.
He still is. Tomlin might be in the midst of the most remarkable coaching job of his 13-year tenure. Last week's victory over Arizona assured the Steelers of a 16th straight season season finishing .500 or better - the second-longest active streak in the league behind New England - and they've done it despite an avalanche of injuries on offense that has forced Pittsburgh to reinvent itself on the fly.
Undrafted rookie free agent and budding cult hero Devlin ''Duck'' Hodges is the quarterback. Two other rookies - Benny Snell and Kerrith Whyte - have carried the bulk of the running game since James Conner injured his right shoulder before Halloween. Third-round pick Diontae Johnson electrified while accounting for both of Pittsburgh's touchdowns against the Cardinals. Pittsburgh isn't lighting up scoreboards as it did during the ''Killer B'' era led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Yet the Steelers are still in the thick of things in mid-December, just like always.
''In the locker room, no one doubted him one bit, ever,'' Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree said. ''The outside world probably doubted him because he didn't win the Super Bowl every year. But it's the Steelers. People expect the Steelers to win the Super Bowl every year. But if he was on another team, he would be coach of the year plenty of times. But being here, expectations are a little higher. He really handled the pressure.''
Something McDermott is learning how to do in Buffalo. From the moment he and general manager Brandon Beane were hired in 2017, they've talked about building the franchise into consistent contenders. A victory over McDermott's college teammate turned mentor would be another symbolic step in the process.
''I think we've moved that needle drastically since we've got here and in the entire building,'' McDermott said. ''It's been a long time since this organization has been in a position like this, this late in the season, and we don't take it lightly.''
Hodges won over Tomlin and the rest of Pittsburgh's coaching staff with his pragmatic approach. He has thrown just two interceptions and taken just six sacks in his five appearances. Yet he's starting to evolve from caretaker to difference-maker. Hodges made a handful of clutch plays against the Cardinals, including an improvised third-down completion to Johnson that helped set up the game-sealing field goal.
Still, the Alabama native might face a new challenge against the Bills: playing in the cold. The forecast calls for snow showers in the morning with gusty winds and temperatures in the 20s at kickoff. Hodges, however, doesn't expect to be bothered. The avid hunter says trips to Saskatchewan, Canada, have left him well-prepared for whatever comes.
READY FOR PRIME TIME?
Buffalo's rise has caught the attention of the television networks. The league flexed the meeting with Pittsburgh from the early afternoon window to prime time a couple weeks ago and moved the team's visit to New England next weekend from Sunday to Saturday. The Bills haven't played on Sunday night in 12 years, when they were dismantled by the Patriots 56-10.
''That's something we haven't experienced as a team yet,'' said quarterback Josh Allen, who was 11 the last time Buffalo played under the Sunday night lights. ''It's definitely going to be a learning adjustment for us, but I really feel like the schedule is the only thing that changes.''
Trey, Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds will become the first trio of brothers to be active in the same NFL game in nearly 100 years when they run on to Heinz Field in front of a crowd that will include over 30 friends and family to commemorate the occasion.
Trey, the oldest, is a backup running back and special teams ace for Pittsburgh. Terrell, the middle brother, is the Steelers' starting safety. Tremaine, the youngest, is a second-year linebacker coming into his own for one of the NFL's top defenses. Terrell is curious to see where their parents - former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds and wife Felicia - place their allegiance.
''It's going to be funny to see how they're going to try and split it up,'' Terrell Edmunds said. ''Hopefully they pick the right team. It's a home game for us. We're playing at Heinz Field. Hopefully they pick the right jersey to wear.''
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be a free agent in March, plans to return to the Saints if he comes back for a 20th season in the NFL. "I have never been in the situation where I was mulling over the thought of [returning]," Brees said. "To me, each one of these contracts, I don't know how many it's been with the Saints, I've played with them 14 years, it's not a matter of if it gets done, it's when. At this stage of my career, it's not a given that I'm coming back every year, but when that time comes, I'll always be a Saint." Despite diminished arm strength, Brees was one of the best quarterbacks when he returned from his thumb injury last season. He may no longer have sky-high QB1 upside for fantasy owners, but Brees will at least be a midrange QB1 target next season if he returns to New Orleans, which is what is expected.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt was pulled over and cited during a traffic stop in Rocky River, Ohio on Tuesday. Police pulled Hunt over for going 77 MPH in a 60 MPH zone and found small amounts of marijuana in three different locations in the car. The car was registered in Hunt's mother's name and he told officers that the drugs belonged to his brother. While the running back did not receive a drug charge during the stop, he could still be subject to discipline from the NFL. Hunt is a restricted free agent this offseason and has a chance to land elsewhere as a team's starting running back. This incident is only likely to be an issue in fantasy if the NFL decides to get involved.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was back at practice on Friday. The Chiefs played it safe with Kelce and gave him some rest on Thursday, but he should be ready to rock in the Super Bowl against the 49ers on Feb. 2. He had a quiet game in the AFC Championship against the Titans but exploded for three touchdowns in the Divisional Round. Kelce was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and could put up big numbers in the passing game against San Francisco in the Super Bowl if this game turns into a shootout.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said it's his understanding that tight end Jimmy Graham wants to play in 2020. Graham is under contract for one more year for $8 million, which is the final year of his three-year contract. The 33-year-old has clearly lost a step at this point in his career, catching just 38 passes (60 targets) for 447 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 with the Packers. He's no longer the focal point in the passing game, and he's more of a low-end, touchdown-dependent TE2 in fantasy circles.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was granted bail by a Broward County judge on Friday morning at $110,000 for a felony burglary with battery charge. Brown will be monitored by GPS and be required to release his passport and guns, go through drug and alcohol testing and get a mental-health evaluation. He's facing charges of felony burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief stemming from an alleged assault of a moving-truck driver earlier this week. This isn't Brown's first run-in with the law, and all of his off-field issues virtually assure that no NFL team will take a chance on him moving forward.
Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to fix torn ligaments in his wrist. Hughes revealed the injury after the playoff loss to the Texans in the wild-card round, and the league launched an investigation as to whether the Bills had violated the injury reporting policy since Hughes never appeared on the team's injury report with a wrist injury. Despite his wrist injury, Hughes didn't miss a game in 2019 and hasn't missed a single game since 2012. He recorded 23 total tackles (14 solo), 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for Buffalo's stout defense last season. Hughes should be recovered in time for training camp this summer.
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.