Thu Dec 12 4:40pm ET
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is pressured by Denver Broncos linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (97) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) breaks up a pass intended for Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel watches during the first half of an NFL football game between the Oakland Raiders and the Titans in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the Oakland Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) scores past Oakland Raiders free safety Erik Harris (25) during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans have some very simple math to clinch their first AFC South title since 2008 and second playoff berth in three seasons.
Sweep the Houston Texans.
The Titans (8-5) have won four straight and six of seven to have a chance at the postseason after a 2-4 start in a season salvaged after the switch at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. How much better this season becomes depends on what they do Sunday when they host the Texans, the first of two games between these teams in the final three weeks.
Titans cornerback Logan Ryan says the old cliche of one week at a time has helped them put together a nice streak. Ryan says that string won't help against Houston (8-5).
“We got to handle Houston," Ryan said. "Just like in years past we never could win in Indy, and we won in Indy. We're due to have a bad upset in Oakland, and we didn't. So I just think we're taking it one week at a time, and we've got a big matchup with their receiving corps coming to town, and Deshaun Watson, so I think that's enough on our plate.”
Beating the Raiders 42-2 1, combined with Houston's surprise 38-24 loss to Denver last week is what allowed Tennessee to tie the Texans atop the division. The Texans currently have the tiebreaker thanks to a better conference record. The Titans' first sweep in this rivalry since 2007 would give Tennessee the division title.
The stakes are equally as big for Houston, with the Texans trying to win their fourth AFC South title in six seasons under coach Bill O'Brien. The Texans host Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
���You just always want to be in your own driver's seat and control your own destiny,” Texans linebacker D.J. Reader said. “That's all you can ask for.”
Derrick Henry is second in the NFL with a career-high 1,243 yards rushing, and he's tied for the league lead with 13 TDs rushing. He also has a pair of TD catches. But his left hamstring has had him on the injury report now three straight weeks. Even though Henry said Thursday he will be ready Sunday, he obviously was affected last week even as he notched his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.
Henry's longest run was a 24-yarder, the type he might threaten to take to the end zone in previous weeks. Did the hamstring slow him down?
“I was just trying to be nice,” Henry said.
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is coming off a season-high 120 yards receiving last week along with a touchdown. He has the NFL's second-longest streak with 16 straight games with at least five or more receptions. The Titans will be trying to defend Hopkins with a banged-up secondary.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro currently is in the concussion protocol after being knocked out of last week's game. Starting cornerback Adoree' Jackson missed that game with an injured foot. Cornerback LeShaun Sims practiced fully Thursday after his right ankle kept him out of the last two games. Look for Ryan to stick closely to Hopkins.
PILING UP TACKLES
Houston linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the team with a career-high 114 tackles and his 79 solo tackles are also first among the Texans. The third-year player tied a career-high with 16 tackles last week and has five games this season with at least 10 tackles. Cunningham has 39 tackles since Week 12, most in the NFL in that span.
“He's really an outstanding player,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Cunningham, a rookie when Vrabel was Houston's defensive coordinator in 2017. “Just to see him grow, he's done a fantastic job.”
The Titans rank second in the NFL averaging 31.4 points a game over the past eight weeks, and they're also tied with San Francisco for the most big plays with 62 in that span. The Titans have 32 runs of 10 or more yards and 30 pass completions of 20 yards or longer. The 49ers have their 62 such plays in eight games compared to seven for the Titans.
NOT THIS WEEK
O'Brien gave Vrabel his first coaching job in the NFL, hiring him to work with the linebackers in 2014. Vrabel credits O'Brien with helping him prepare to be an NFL head coach. Not only are the men friends, but their wives are friends. O'Brien said he watches Vrabel's son, Tyler, play weekly at Boston College, and they talk regularly about family.
Not this week.
���I tried to call him this morning, but he didn't call me back,” O'Brien said.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who will be a free agent in March, emotionally admitted that he would fail a drug test to a police officer during a traffic stop recently. This was caught on video of the police officer's dash cam during the traffic stop. Hunt also admitted that the small amounts of marijuana found in the car were his, but the officer let Hunt off with just the speeding ticket. It remains to be seen if the NFL will consider a suspension for the 24-year-old from this incident. Hunt was released by the Chiefs during the 2018 season due to a domestic-violence incident, and he served a suspension before making his Browns debut in 2019. If he signs with another team this offseason and is given bell-cow duties in the backfield, Hunt could have RB1 upside.
The Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on from Philip Rivers," according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. Rivers is set to become a free agent in March, and the writing was on the wall when he recently moved his entire family from San Diego to Florida. Rivers will end a 16-year run with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen where he'll land on the free-agent market this offseason. The Buccaneers are a popular expected destination, but that'll only be if they move on from Jameis Winston. Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019 for a QB rating of 88.5. He might have a few more seasons left in him, but at 38 years old his arm strength is clearly deteriorating, and he'll probably be more of a QB2 in 2020, depending on where he winds up.
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.
Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.
Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.
Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will become a free agent in March, said he is still waiting to decide if he will play a 20th season in the NFL. "Then, I'll kind of lay low for a little bit, get away and then assess. I kind of have a process in mind. And I'll give it a month or so," Brees said. If the 41-year-old does decide to return, it'll be for the Saints. General manager Mickey Loomis also said that the team would welcome him back if he decides to keep playing. Brees' arm strength is starting to deteriorate, but he still put up great numbers when he came back from a fractured thumb last season, and he should remain in play as a QB1 if he returns for the 2020 season.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hernia) underwent sports hernia surgery recently to fix a lingering groin injury that he suffered during the season, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly. The 25-year-old aggravated the injury in the Divisional loss to the Chiefs. Fuller missed five games with a chronic hamstring injury in 2019, and the Texans were 8-3 with him and 2-3 without him. He has 94 catches for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 22 regular season games with quarterback Deshaun Watson, yet Fuller continues to struggle to stay on the field with regularity. Fuller is an excellent deep threat but is a frustrating player to own as a boom-or-bust WR3. He should be fully recovered in time for training camp this summer.