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 Chicago Bears agreed to terms on a one-year deal with tight end Demetrius Harris on Wednesday, according to sources. Harris was cut by the Browns recently and spent time with head coach Matt Nagy when they were both with the Chiefs. The 28-year-old caught just 15 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 despite David Njoku missing most of the year with an injury in Cleveland. Chicago was looking to upgrade their tight end room after both Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen missed large chunks of last season due to injuries. Harris will have an opportunity with his new team, but it's still unlikely he has a huge pass-catching role is Burton and Shaheen are on the field.
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) has cleared the league's concussion protocol and intends to continue his playing career in 2020, according to sources. Reed suffered a reported seventh concussion of his career in the preseason and didn't play at all in 2019. He expects to be released by the Redskins in the coming days, but he wants to continue playing. Washington would save $8.5 million against the salary cap if they release Reed by June 1, and he would count $10.3 million toward the cap if he stays. Only 29 years old, it remains to be seen if he has anything left if he keeps playing after the 'Skins inevitably release him. It will depend on where he lands, but Reed probably won't even be touched as a TE2 in fall drafts.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen is likely to remain with the team heading into the 2020 season. However, his future in Miami doesn't look bright with Ryan Fitzpatrick coming back for another year and the Dolphins widely expected to take a franchise signal-caller with the fifth overall pick in the first round of the draft. It's clear that the team doesn't view Rosen, 23, as the future under center at this point. The former 2018 first-round pick was acquired from the Cardinals before last season, but he couldn't beat out Fitzpatrick and will have to learn another new offense, one that Fitzpatrick is familiar with. Unless something unexpected happens this summer, Rosen will open up the 2020 season holding a clipboard again.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Dissly (Achilles), who is coming off a torn Achilles that ended his 2019 season prematurely, is expected to be ready for Week 1. Dissly was on the fantasy map as a TE1 with 23 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns in six games before his injury, but he's played in just 10 games in his two seasons with Seattle because of injuries. On top of that, the Seahawks signed veteran Greg Olsen on Wednesday. Olsen and Dissly could form a strong one-two punch at tight end in 2020, but Dissly is unlikely to be a consistent fantasy performer unless Olsen misses time with an injury, which is entirely possible.
The Minnesota Vikings aren't releasing wide receiver Stefon Diggs, although they could get calls from other teams to see if they are interested in trading him. But the odds remain long that Diggs would be traded, as he's under contract through 2023 with reasonable salaries. This comes after Diggs removed Vikings photos from his social media. Minnesota is also in win-now mode, so they'll need Diggs to remain a contender going into the 2020 season and beyond. The 26-year-old can be a bit much at times, but he put up his second straight 1,000-yard season last year and added six touchdowns and a career-high 17.9 yards per catch. He produced for fantasy owners with Adam Thielen (hamstring) nursing an injury last year and should be a solid WR2 target going into fall drafts.
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said the team will be changing some things in quarterback Baker Mayfield's footwork this offseason "to help him." One specific thing is that they will have Mayfield put his left foot in front instead of his right foot out of the shotgun when he takes the snap. Van Pelt thinks it will help Mayfield be more fluid in his three-stop drop out of the shotgun formation. High expectations were placed on Mayfield and the Browns in his second season, and he failed to live up to them, especially with Odell Beckham Jr. as his No. 1 receiver. There's still time for the 24-year-old to bounce back in a new offensive scheme, but fantasy owners will be drafting him as a QB2 this fall.
The Washington Redskins exercised the 2020 team option on running back Adrian Peterson on Wednesday. Peterson led the team in attempts (211), rushing yards (898) and rushing touchdowns (five) in 2019 and will enter the 2020 season having started in 154 of the 164 games he's appeared in. The veteran is ranked eighth in NFL history in rushing attempts (3,036) and sixth in yards per game (86.7). He needs 1,054 rushing yards to pass Barry Sanders for fourth on the all-time list and needs 13 rushing TDs to pass Marcus Allen for No. 3. Peterson is a seven-time Pro Bowler and four time first-team All-Pro, but he'll take a back seat to Derrius Guice next year if Guice can stay healthy.
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.
Impending free-agent DE Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks) once to be one of the highest-paid defensive players - if not the highest-paid - with a contract that will set the market for his position, according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
Impending free-agent TE Jason Witten (Cowboys) made it clear to reporters Tuesday, Feb. 18, that he intends to play next season and hopes to do so with the Dallas Cowboys, although he is not opposed to finishing his career somewhere else. He is hoping to make a more concrete decision about his future following the NFL Scouting Combine next week.
Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who will be a free agent next month, wants to play another season and hopes he can remain with the Cowboys. However, Witten understands that he might have to go elsewhere if he wants to play in a 17th NFL season. The veteran tight end has met with new head coach Mike McCarthy and has talked with owners Jerry Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones. Witten hauled in 63 catches for 529 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 in his return from a one-year absence from the game. He's headed into his age-38 season, and while he can still give something to a team, he won't be anything more than a touchdown-dependent, low-end TE2 if he plays again in 2020 for the Cowboys or another squad.
Impending free-agent LB Shaquil Barrett (Buccaneers) could receive in upwards of $20 million per season on his next contract, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may ultimately decide to use the franchise tag on him if the two sides are unable to come to a long-term agreement before the start of free agency.
Denver Broncos QB Joe Flacco (neck) recently got good news after undergoing an MRI. As a result, he is expected to be physically cleared to return to action this season, although there is some question as to whether or not he will be back with Denver, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
Impending free-agent RB Kareem Hunt 'expects to be in the (Cleveland) Browns' plans next year,' according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make an attempt to re-sign linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who led the NFL in 2019 with 19.5 sacks in his first year with the team. Barrett, who is scheduled to be a free agent in March, would be looking at potentially $20 million per season on the open market, so it won't be easy for the Buccaneers to retain him. If they choose to, Tampa could place the franchise tag on Barrett to ensure that he's around for at least one more season. In addition to the 19.5 sacks, the 27-year-old pass rusher had a career-high 58 tackles (45 solo), six forced fumbles and one interception. In his four seasons with Denver prior to 2019, Barrett had a combined 14 sacks.
An MRI exam taken on Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (back) last week showed encouraging results, but his agent, Joe Linta, is seeking a second opinion from spine specialist Dr. Andrew Dossett. "Joe has every intention to play but not at the risk of his long-term health," Linta said Tuesday. Flacco went on season-ending Injured Reserve with a bulging disc in his neck after the team's eighth game of last season. The veteran QB has two years at $20.25 million and $24.25 million left on his contract, which will be way too high as a backup quarterback. The Broncos could either restructure Flacco's contract, trade him or release him. The 35-year-old would be Drew Lock's backup in Denver if he stays, and he'd be auditioning for a backup job on the open market as well, most likely.
The Atlanta Falcons signed kicker Younghoe Koo and punter Ryan Allen to one-year contract extensions on Tuesday. Koo, 25, played in the team's final eight games in 2019 after the club parted ways with veteran Matt Bryant. He made 23 of his 26 field-goal attempts and made 15 of his 16 extra points. Koo made his only field-goal try from 50-plus yards and was also pretty successful with onside kicks in the second half of the season. In an Atlanta offense that could easily bounce back in 2020, Koo could be a fantasy sleeper at the kicking position heading into drafts.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt expects to be in the team's plans for 2020 despite admitting that he would fail a drug test during a routine traffic stop. Hunt is a restricted free agent, so he's hoping Cleveland will place a first-round tender on him or try to sign him to a long-term deal. The 24-year-old was suspended for the first eight games last year for a domestic-violence incident, and he took a back seat to Nick Chubb in the ground game. However, he was used consistently as a passer out of the backfield with 37 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown through the air. If he returns, he'll continue to have RB3/flex appeal in PPR leagues behind Chubb.
Free-agent TE Greg Olsen (Panthers) is signing a one-year, $7 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks, according to a source. The deal includes $5.5 million in guaranteed money.
Fantasy Spin: Olsen turns 35 in March and has a history of injuries in recent seasons, which makes him a risky option in any fantasy setting. The addition helps QB Russell Wilson the most and hurts TE Will Dissly (Achilles), whose outlook already was questionable after consecutive seasons ending due to major injuries. Olsen is a fringe starter in 12-team fantasy leagues but has limited upside, substantial risk, and figures to be inconsistent given all of Seattle's other ways to attack.
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.