Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid talks during a news conference for this weeks AFC conference championship NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
In this Jan. 11, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel works against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, in Baltimore. Its taken first-time head coach Mike Vrabel two seasons, but the hands on former linebacker with three Super Bowl rings himself has them a win away from the franchises second Super Bowl berth. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates with fans after tight end Blake Bell scored a touchdown against the Houston Texans, during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) celebrates during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. The Titans won 28-12. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Andy Reid rarely digs into his own past, preferring to stay in the moment or focus squarely on the future. It's an approach that has served him well during a coaching career that might someday land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Yet when his Kansas City Chiefs faced a seemingly insurmountable hole in the divisional round of the playoffs, Reid caught himself thinking back almost four decades to his final game as an offensive lineman at BYU. It was the Holiday Bowl and SMU had taken a 45-25 lead in the fourth quarter. Just about everybody in Jack Murphy Stadium that night thought it was over, only to watch, stunned, as the Cougars scored three late touchdowns to win the game.
''That kind of stuck in there. You had that hope,'' Reid said this week when asked what gave him confidence Kansas City could rally to a 51-31 win over the Texans for a spot in the AFC championship game. ''You had that hope. Then it's the feel of your team. You're on the sideline, you've been down there long enough, you can sense what they're thinking, where their mind is at. These guys weren't flinching. Let's get it right.''
The Chiefs (13-4) got everything right the rest of the way. And the comeback from a 24-0 deficit propelled them into a matchup Sunday with Tennessee (11-7), which has merely knocked off the Patriots and top-seeded Ravens - on the road, no less - to reach the precipice of the Super Bowl.
It will be the first time coaching this deep in the playoffs for the Titans' Mike Vrabel, but it's certainly familiar territory to his counterpart. Reid had the Chiefs in the same position a year ago, when they lost in overtime to New England - the Patriots won the coin toss and marched downfield for a touchdown - and he led the Eagles to five NFC championship games during his 14 years in Philadelphia.
''I have done a few of these,'' Reid said, ''and you know, we try to keep it as normal as we possibly can as far as the schedule goes for the players, so they can get their work done. One thing that changes is how fast the game is. I can tell you from experience, the magnitude, every time you take a step up in the playoffs - it's single elimination.''
Experience is great. Successful experience is better, and that is where Reid falls short. His only conference title came during the 2004 season, when the Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots. And who should be on the New England roster that night but a game-wrecking linebacker named Vrabel, who even caught a touchdown pass.
Vrabel may not have any experience in this position as a coach, but has plenty as a player. He lifted the Lombardi Trophy three times with New England before finishing his career - coincidentally - with two seasons in Kansas City.
''I spent 14 years in the National Football League,'' Vrabel said, ''and I don't even know how many playoff games, but those were good experiences about preparation and really focusing on what got us to this point from where we were at different points in the season. And then, there's also things that I have to do as a coach to make sure that we're ready.''
On offense, that means pounding away with running back Derrick Henry and getting just enough production from Ryan Tannehill, just as the Titans did during a back-and-forth Week 10 win over the Chiefs.
On defense, it means slowing down the aerial assault of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his fleet of game-changing playmakers: running back Damien Williams, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
''I think there is a belief in one another, first and foremost,'' Tannehill said. ''We've been through a lot this season, ups and downs, and won games in a lot of different ways. With that comes a lot of belief and a lot of confidence in one another.''
The Chiefs have plenty of confidence in their own right. They haven't lost since that game in Tennessee, and their comeback last week gave them the belief they can overcome anything. Their offense is still shattering records and a retooled defense under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been playing as well as any in the league.
''I think that with the Titans, the physicality and determination they play with is big,'' Mahomes said. ''They're going to get after it and fight for every single yard. Their defense is going to fly around to the ball and not give up on anything. We're just trying to match that. We're going to go out there and give it everything we have to come out with a victory.''
Henry already made history as the first player in the Super Bowl era to run for at least 180 yards in three consecutive games, and nobody has more yards rushing over the first four postseason games than his 561. He also has the three best games in Titans history for yards from scrimmage, set the franchise's single-game postseason rushing mark in each of the past two weeks, and he even threw a jump pass for a touchdown in their 28-12 win in Baltimore.
''We always knew he was a beast,'' Titans safety Kevin Byard said. ''I'm just glad the whole world knows as well.''
Seemingly forgotten during the brilliant season of the Ravens' Lamar Jackson, Mahomes has again put together an MVP-caliber resume. He kept it going in the playoffs, too, becoming the first player to throw for at least 300 yards, run for at least 50 and throw five TD passes in a single playoff game last week against Houston. He's also healthy after ankle and knee injuries this season, including one that hobbled him in Week 10 against Tennessee.
The Titans have gotten back to the stingy defense they played much of the season, including the first seven games, when they didn't allow an opponent to score more than 20 points. They've allowed only two touchdowns on seven chances inside their 20, thanks in part to the return of injured cornerback Adoree' Jackson. Defensive captain and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey says they wanted to make sure and try to match what the offense has been doing.
''And it's just guys locking back in,'' Casey said.
The Chiefs' Travis Kelce became the first player with three postseason touchdown catches in one quarter in last week's comeback win over Houston. It was another highlight in another Pro Bowl season for the tight end, who has been dealing with some minor knee pain during the postseason but should be ready to go Sunday.
''Just got to keep your foot on the gas pedal,'' he said. ''You can't get too excited; you can't get a sense of relief like, `Oh, we're back in the game.' You got to keep going forward and know that you've got a lot of unfinished business.''
The Titans haven't won a conference championship since 1999 and haven't appeared in a title game since 2002, though to the Chiefs that probably seems like yesterday. It has been 50 years since they played in the Super Bowl, and they ache to give owner Clark Hunt the AFC championship trophy that bears the name of his father, team founder Lamar Hunt.
''We're going to put the pressure on ourselves to find a way to win it,'' Mahomes said. ''When you fall that short and that close last year, the next step is to get to the Super Bowl. We understood that going into this season and we know it's a long season. We know it's a process. We know that day by day we have to get better. I think that's what this team is great at, just getting better every single day and then going out and fighting until the end in every single opportunity we get.''
The Seattle Seahawks are signing former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen to a one-year, $7 million deal on Tuesday, according to a source. The deal includes $5.5 million in guarantees. Olsen visited with the Bills and Redskins before making the decision to go to Seattle. Will Dissly ruptured his Achilles in 2019, Ed Dickson is a candidate to be released and Luke Willson (unrestricted) and Jacob Hollister (restricted) are free agents. Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowler in 13 NFL seasons, should be the team's primary pass-catching tight end and will have low-end TE1 value with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing him passes. He was the first tight end in history to have 1,000 yards receiving in three straight seasons from 2014-16, but the 34-year-old (35 in March) has dealt with injuries in recent seasons.
The New Orleans Saints seem likely to give quarterback Taysom Hill, who will be a restricted free agent in March, at least a first- or second-round tender offer now that Drew Brees has announced he will return for at least one more season. Teddy Bridgewater is expected to have a big market in free agency and seems destined to leave town now that Brees is returning, so Hill would be in line as the heir apparent if Brees hangs up his cleats after the 2020 season. Hill attempted just six passes last year despite Brees missing time with injury, and it remains to be seen if they really believe he can be a franchise signal-caller in the long-term. He's a great Swiss Army knife for the Saints, but he probably won't have much fantasy appeal in redraft leagues next season unless Bridgewater leaves and Brees misses more games due to injury.
Houston Texans middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney (ankle) underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery, according to league sources. McKinney is expected to make a full recovery before next season. The 27-year-old just finished up his fifth season in the NFL with Houston and recorded 101 tackles (54 solo), one sack, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries in 14 games played in 2019. He was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and has recorded 100-plus combined tackles in three of his five seasons in the league. McKinney has also missed just four games in five seasons, and he's an integral part of the middle of Houston's defense.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees announced that he will be returning for his 15th season as Saints quarterback. There was some uncertainty about whether Brees would retire this offseason, but his return was the widely expected result. This leaves Teddy Bridgewater very likely to become a free agent instead, where recent rumors say he may get $30 million a year offers. Brees should remain a solid fantasy option in all formats, although he has stated his willingness to give Taysom Hill more snaps under center.
Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., whose name was thrown around before last year's draft and at the October trade deadline, thinks that the team will allow him to test the open market once he officially becomes a free agent next month. "If they want me back, then Ill be back," Harris said. The 30-year-old has become one of the better cover cornerbacks in the NFL after nine years in the league, earning four Pro Bowl nods and a first-team All-Pro selection in 2016. This past year, Harris had 56 tackles (44 solo), one interception and one forced fumble over a full season. With Denver's D looking to take a step forward in Year 2 under head coach Vic Fangio, losing Harris would be a big setback to the secondary.
The Arizona Cardinals agreed with left tackle D.J. Humphries on a three-year, $45 million deal on Monday, according to sources. Humphries will make $30 million over the first two years, and the deal includes $29 million guaranteed. The 26-year-old played in a full season in 2019 for the first time since going 24th overall in the first round in 2015. Humphries isn't the most talented left tackle in the league, but he'll bring stability at the position and help protect quarterback Kyler Murray's blind side moving forward.
Multiple teams expect New Orleans Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to have a strong free-agent market as a starting or bridge quarterback for a team in transition this offseason. Bridgewater is expected to sign with another team unless Drew Brees retires. The 27-year-old Louisville alumni played in nine games in 2019 and held his own with Brees missing time due to an injury, but he wasn't asked to be much more than a game manager. He hasn't been a starter in the NFL since 2015 with the Vikings, but Bridgewater could certainly become fantasy relevant at least as a high-end QB2 if he's starting elsewhere in 2020. How much upside he'll have will depend on where he lands.
The Carolina Panthers think that quarterback Cam Newton (foot) is likely to pass a physical and be cleared for some football activities in March, according to a source. However, they will still likely use caution with him in spring workouts if he remains on the team. Newton continues to rehab a surgically repaired Lisfranc injury to his left foot, one that kept him out for most of the 2019 season. But if Newton proves he's not past his injury, the Panthers could decide to move on from the 30-year-old. The former first overall pick in 2011 is a high-end QB1 for his ability to use his legs, but he may not run as much as he ages and is now an injury risk as more of a high-end QB2 leading up to the 2020 season. He might be even more unattractive to fantasy owners if he's playing somewhere other than Carolina next season, too.
The Detroit Lions have talked with multiple teams about a potential trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, according to sources. However, any team that trades for Slay must compensate the Lions and Slay with a new deal, and Detroit is determined to get fair value for Slay. The 29-year-old former second-round pick in 2013 has been to three straight Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2017 when he had a career-high eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed. He had 46 total tackles in 2019 (36 solo), two interceptions and one fumble recovery in his 14 games played. If the Lions trade Slay, they will certainly need to address the position in free agency or the draft.
The Miami Dolphins don't view Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as a slam-dunk pick with the fifth overall selection in this year's draft. On the flip side, the team has an increasingly positive view of Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert after he impressed at the Senior Bowl, according to sources familiar with the team's thinking. One source said the Dolphins are concerned about Tagovailoa's return from a fractured and dislocated hip he suffered last November, and his durability in the long-term. Ive been down there to see him. Tua is a great player. I just worry about his health, owner Stephen Ross said. The Dolphins like Herbert's size (6-foot-6, 237 pounds), his arm talent and his mobility. Miami could change their mind on Tagovailoa once they meet with him at the Combine, but he certainly shouldn't be considered a lock to be taken by the Dolphins at fifth overall.
The Cleveland Browns released tight end Demetrius Harris, cornerback T.J. Carrie, offensive guard Eric Kush and linebacker Adarius Taylor on Monday. Harris played in 15 games (six starts) in 2019 and caught 15 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Mostly known for his blocking prowess, Harris couldn't even take advantage when David Njoku was lost for most of the year due to an injury. The 28-year-old should land on his feet, but we wouldn't expect him to enter the 2020 season with much fantasy appeal, even as a backup tight end.
Tennessee Titans running back Dion Lewis could be a salary cap casualty this year. Lewis carries a $5.1 million salary for 2020, and the Titans can save $4 million if they cut him, with $1.1 million in dead money. He basically served in a change-of-pace role behind bell-cow Derrick Henry in 2019, carrying the ball only 54 times for 209 yards while adding 25 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. The 29-year-old was important on third downs and can help pass protect, but the Titans may decide to move to a younger and less expensive option in the draft. Other potential cap casualties include kicker Ryan Succop, veteran tight end Delanie Walker and outside linebacker/defensive end Cameron Wake.
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) remains in the concussion protocol six months after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit in the preseason. It was the seventh documented concussion of his career, and it caused him to miss all of the 2019 season. His future in the league and with Washington is up in the air. At this point, it seems likely that the Redskins will cut him to save $8.5 million in 2020. The 29-year-old has never played an entire season in the NFL because of injuries and has played in 19 games combined from 2017 to 2018. Even if Reed is playing somewhere this season, he'll be a high-risk, low-reward TE2.
The New York Jets won't cut running back Le'Veon Bell because of the $19 million in dead salary cap money if they do so, and because of his massive salary, a trade is remote as well. If they really wanted to trade Bell, they'd have to be willing to pay a portion of his 2020 salary, which is $13.5 million in total guarantees. And the Jets would probably only be able to get a Day 3 draft pick in return. After taking a year off in 2018, The 27-year-old (28 on Tuesday) looked slow and heavy in his first year in New York. Bell ran 245 times for only 789 yards (a career-low 3.2 yards per carry) and only three touchdowns. His receiving contributions help, but Bell's fantasy stock will obviously be down entering 2020 fall drafts. Consider him more of an RB2 with some upside if he comes into camp motivated to bounce back.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he has "no hesitation" that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) will be ready for Week 1. "This guy is the ultimate competitor. He dropped the gauntlet down. He made the statement he's coming back," Tomlin said. Roethlisberger played in just two games last year before needing season-ending right elbow surgery. He should be ready to go this summer, barring any setbacks, but he'll be entering his age-38 season and will be an injury risk as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2. But don't sleep on Big Ben, as he threw for a career-high 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2018.
Tennessee Titans PK Ryan Succop is likely to be released in the offseason, in the opinion of ESPN's Turron Davenport. The move would save the team $2 million against the salary cap.
Tennessee Titans RB Dion Lewis is expected to be released in the offseason, in the opinion of ESPN's Turron Davenport. The move would save the team $4 million against the salary cap.
Fantasy Spin: Lewis can still be worthwhile in PPR, but he's not going to receive the touches in Tennessee to do it. He's someone to watch this offseason to see if he can land a bigger split to be an RB4 or RB5.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton needs more depth behind him at the receiver position, according to general manager Chris Ballard. 'Do we need to add more explosive elements to our offense? Yeah, we do,' Ballard said. 'Just want somebody who can catch the ball and go score.'
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent WR Tavon Austin is unlikely to be re-signed, according to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com.