Indianapolis Colts' Adam Vinatieri (4) kicks a field goal from the hold of Rigoberto Sanchez during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich throws the challenge flag during the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) takes a snap against the Pittsburgh Steelers after Jacoby Brissett was injured in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Houston Texans inside linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) tackles Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) during the second half of an NFL football game at Wembley Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in London. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone walks the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans at Wembley Stadium, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in London. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
Jaguars QB Nick Foles holds a ball during a NFL training session of the Jacksonville Jaguars at the at Allianz Park in London, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The Jacksonville Jaguars are preparing for an NFL regular season game against the Houston Texans in London on Sunday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Nick Foles’ long-awaited return will come with all the typical emotions Sunday.
The Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback is excited to play, eager to prove he’s healthy and optimistic about keeping his team in the playoff hunt. And, the most anticipated part for Foles might be his brief reunion with Colts coach Frank Reich, the man who helped revive his career.
“He’s a guy that I admire more than anything,” Foles said. “He’s a guy that has impacted my life so much, and he’s going to be on the opposing sideline, so that’s going to be fun.”
Foles entered the league as a third-round pick, full of promise. But after four seasons and 35 starts in Philadelphia and St. Louis, Foles found himself in the backup role in Kansas City and then Philadelphia, where Reich was in his second season as offensive coordinator.
Then, when MVP front-runner Carson Wentz went down with a late-season injury and the Eagles’ offense started to sputter, Reich made an adjustment for the playoffs and everything changed.
Foles led the Eagles to the Super Bowl title, was named Super Bowl MVP and Reich took the job in Indianapolis.
On Sunday, they’ll be on opposite sidelines in Indianapolis.
“I think it will be emotional seeing him because of what he means to me,” Foles said. “He’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever met, so when he went there, I was so excited for him. But I’m going to go out there and play.”
The Colts (5-4) don’t have much film on Foles.
He took only 11 snaps before breaking his left collarbone then turned the job over to rookie Gardner Minshew who became an instant sensation because of his moustache and his ability to win.
Now with the Jags (4-5) needing a division win, Foles returns - just in time for Reich to help give his defensive coaches a scouting report.
“I sat down and spoke with (defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) about Nick’s abilities, mindset and that kind of thing - not a whole lot to be honest with you,” Reich said. “I told him what I thought about a few things, in detail about a few things.”
Indy is dealing with its own issues.
For the first time in 13 months, they’ve lost back-to-back games. They’ve fallen out of the AFC South lead and are dealing with their own quarterback situation as Jacoby Brissett tries to play with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Brian Hoyer replaced Brissett each of the past two weeks but Brissett was a full participant in practice and is expected to reclaim his starting job Sunday.
But for Foles, this game comes with a personal touch.
“He’d get up in front of the team after a loss or tough time and he just kept it real and he kept it light, he was joyful,” Foles said of Reich. “There was something different in his heart. But seeing him handle his everyday life like he did, with the joy he had, and how he spoke to people and loved everyone, was the most impactful thing and it was really special to be around. And obviously, he’s an amazing coach, he knows football.”
Adam Vinatieri has missed six extra points and five field goals this season, and it was a hot topic all week in Indy.
The Colts brought in free agents for tryouts Tuesday before opting to stick with the 24-year veteran who is the league’s career scoring leader. Reich continues to insist he has full confidence in his kicker.
“I believe whatever we’re going through is just a phase and he is going to help us win games and get to where we want to go,” Reich said.
Indy won 11 of the first 14 games in this series, but lately Jacksonville has had the upper hand.
The Jags have won three of four under coach Doug Marrone and have not allowed a point in the past three halves against the Colts. Indy has only been shut out twice since 2003 - and both came against Jacksonville during Marrone’s tenure.
“We still have to keep developing, we still have to get these guys better,” Marrone said. “We need to get better and better each week.”
While Indy’s offense has languished the past few weeks, the defense has played well.
In the past five games, Indy is allowing an average of 18.2 points - a number that is even lower when an interception return for a touchdown is subtracted. But the difference isn’t just showing up on the scoreboard.
Reich and Eberflus say they see it on tape, play after play.
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas acknowledged that wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (neck) remains a "big question mark" heading into the 2020 season and beyond. Enunwa played in just one game in 2019 before being shut down for the year, and he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. He also played in just 1 games in 2018 due to neck and back issues, and it's unknown if he'll ever be 100 percent again, which makes it hard for the Jets to rely on him behind Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder. If healthy, the 27-year-old (28 in May) wideout would likely be the team's No. 3 receiver, but he'll have to compete with Josh Doctson and Vyncint Smith and prove he's healthy in training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs have had contract talks with defensive tackle Chris Jones, but there haven't been any offers up to this point. The Chiefs will also be trying to work out a long-term extension with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that is unlikely to happen until sometime after the draft. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Jones earlier this offseason, but they'll have until July 15 to figure out an extension. The 25-year-old made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2019, registering nine sacks, 36 tackles (23 solo), eight tackles for loss and 20 QB hits. Jones has become an essential inside presence on KC's defensive line and has 33 sacks in his four seasons in the league.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith should see an increased role in the offense in 2020 now that Stefon Diggs is playing for the Bills. When wide receiver Adam Thielen was out for almost two months with an injury last year, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's offense also relies heavily on tight ends under coach Gary Kubiak; tight ends have received an average of 23 percent of targets per season in Kubiak's 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Even battling for targets with Kyle Rudolph, Smith could become worth rostering as a TE2 in standard leagues in his second season in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup had 39 catches for 686 yards and five touchdowns in November and December last season compared to 27 catches, 421 yards and one touchdown in the first two months of the year.
Fantasy Spin: Gallup had more receptions, yards and touchdowns in the final two months of 2019 than he did in his entire rookie season, and he and Amari Cooper suddenly look like one of the better receiver duos heading into 2020. For his part, Gallup should be a WR3 with upside.
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee had 43 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns in the month of December last season compared to 26 catches, 212 yards and one score over the first three months combined.
Fantasy Spin: Jared Goff actually led the NFL in pass attempts last year, and now that Todd Gurley is not in the mix, Higbee's strong finish to 2019 could be a sign of things to come if the Rams continue to embrace a pass-heavy attack. Target him as a TE1 in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews caught 31 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns at home in 2019 and had 33 receptions for 412 yards and five scores in road contests.
Fantasy Spin: It didn't matter where the Ravens were playing. Andrews was routinely Lamar Jackson's favorite target and the most consistent member of the passing attack in an otherwise run-heavy offense. He's locked in as a TE1 heading into 2020.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller played in 11 games in 2019, and the team averaged 26.3 points in those contests compared to 19.6 in the five games he missed. Houston had an 8-3 record when Fuller played and went 2-3 without him in the lineup.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller will be asked to be the No. 1 receiver for Houston in 2020 following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, and while good things tend to happen when he is on the field, he has yet to play a full season. In fact, Fuller has played 11 or fewer games in each of the past three seasons. Fuller will have WR2 upside, but fantasy owners need to make sure to have depth at the receiver position if they choose to take a chance on him.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson threw for 14 touchdowns versus only three interceptions in seven home games last season. In eight road outings, he accounted for 12 passing scores versus nine interceptions.
Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb averaged 100.4 yards rushing, 0.75 touchdowns and 3.1 catches in eight games while Kareem Hunt served his eight-game suspension to begin last season. After Hunt was activated, Chubb averaged 86.4 yards rushing, 0.25 TDs and 1.4 catches.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt was very successful in his backup running back/slot role over the second half of the season, so it's fair to wonder if new head coach Kevin Stefanski has any designs on changing something that worked so well under the previous regime. Working in Chubb's favor is the likelihood Cleveland will be holding leads more often this season, meaning he could in a position to break off some more long scoring runs against tired defenses late in games. With Hunt around, however, Chubb should be considered a high-end RB2.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner broke a tackle once only every 23.2 rush attempts last season. In 2018, he broke a tackle once every 10.8 carries.
Baltimore Ravens RB Gus Edwards averaged 2.5 yards per carry before contact and 2.8 yards per carry after contact in 2019, slightly outperforming starter and backfield teammate Mark Ingram (2.4 and 2.6, respectively) in each category.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker finished third in the league with 939 yards before the catch last season, while his 13 yards before catch per reception was good for sixth among qualified players.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel averaged 19 carries for 73 yards and scored four touchdowns in three games with Rex Burkhead injured last season. In those same contests, Michel compiled six of his 12 catches for the year. In the 13 games Burkhead was active, Michel averaged 14.6 carries for 53 yards and scored only three times.
Free-agent WR Jaron Brown (Seahawks) likely will not re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks this offseason since the Seahawks signed WR Phillip Dorsett earlier in the offseason.
New York Jets WR Quincy Enunwa (neck) is not considering retirement even though he is recovering from a neck injury. He is scheduled to receive $10.1 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Enunwa has been limited to 12 games over the last three seasons because of injury and his status for the 2020 season is still uncertain. Fantasy players should keep an eye on his situation, but he should be considered a risky option in all leagues.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida didn't have much of a role on offense to end last season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. If Jerick McKinnon is actually healthy in 2020, he gives the 49ers a legitimate route-runner and third-down option out of the backfield. San Fran could be willing to trade Breida's rights for a low-round draft pick. Of all the backs in this crowded backfield, Breida is the most likely to be playing for another team come the start of the season. The 25-year-old from Georgia Southern has been productive with 5.0 yards per carry on 381 career rushing attempts in his three years with the Niners, but he's also consistently battled nagging injuries and is now buried on the depth chart. A move out of this crowded backfield and onto another team with more opportunity would be best for Breida's real-life and fantasy value.
The Seattle Seahawks may only be willing to pay free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney $13 million to $15 million annually to return, according to 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton. Clowney is reportedly seeking a deal which will pay him at least $17 million per year.
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Eric Ebron is one of six tight ends with at least 20 red zone touchdowns over the last five seasons, and he joins a Pittsburgh offense that ranked last in red zone scoring in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: A healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center should also go a long way to helping the Pittsburgh offense, but Ebron addresses a big need. He's a lower-end TE1 candidate, even if he could be a little touchdown dependent.
Free-agent CB Prince Amukamara (Bears) likely will not re-sign with the Bears this offseason, in the opinion of The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson probably will be looking for around $20 million per season in his next contract, in the opinion of The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson had a bounce back season in 2019 and finished with 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. He will continue to be the main option in the passing game for the Bears and should be a weekly starting option in fantasy leagues.