Mon Jan 21 7:22pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) makes a catch against Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Daniel Sorensen (49) during the first half of the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) runs to the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates during the trophy presentation after the AFC Championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds the AFC Championship trophy as he talks with Jim Nantz after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Tom Brady smiled his way through the week leading up to Sunday's AFC championship game, mostly brushing aside questions about being an underdog for one of the few times during the Patriots' unprecedented run of titles.
But when Rex Burkhead crossed the goal line for a 2-yard touchdown to give New England a 37-31 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady let joy alter his usual coy demeanor.
He ripped off his helmet and leapt wildly in the air as his teammates rushed the field around him. The Patriots were heading back to another Super Bowl.
It will mark their third straight appearance for the Patriots and ninth overall for Brady, who again will be chasing a record sixth ring.
A victory over the NFC champion Los Angeles Rams would also put an emphatic stamp on what may have been the Patriots' toughest road to a Super Bowl since Brady and Bill Belichick earned their first ring together in 2001.
''The odds were stacked against us. It hasn't been that way in a while and it certainly was this year,'' Brady said.
The obstacles that Brady referred to occurred both on and off the field for this latest incarnation of the Patriots.
The offseason saw the departure of several key players from last year's team that came up short in a Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia. Receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams and cornerback Malcolm Butler, running back Dion Lewis, receiver Danny Amendola, and offensive linemen Nate Solder and Cam Fleming all left in free agency.
Then came news that stalwart receiver Julian Edelman would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league's policy on performance enhancers.
It helped contribute to a surprise 1-2 start and the first - albeit small - signs of age for the 41-year-old Brady.
New England took a chance and traded for receiver Josh Gordon after Cleveland decided it was time to part ways with him. His arrival helped calm things and contributed to six consecutive victories.
But questions returned after a lopsided Week 10 loss at Tennessee that exposed vulnerabilities on both sides of the ball. The Patriots won their next two, but then suffered a fluky last-second loss at Miami.
That was followed by a loss at Pittsburgh and the abrupt loss of Gordon when he was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating an agreement that allowed him to play after multiple drug suspensions.
Still, despite facing the prospect of not having their usual home-field advantage in the postseason, the Patriots rediscovered their run game and offensive efficiency during wins over the Bills and Jets to close the regular season.
Brady threw for four touchdowns and had his highest quarterback rating of the season in the 38-3 victory over the Jets. It set the stage for a vintage performance by Brady in their divisional-round playoff win over the Chargers. And on Sunday against Kansas City, he had 348 yards passing despite throwing two interceptions.
He also got support from a resurgent defense and revamped rushing attack on offense. The latter has gotten back-to-back 100-yard rushing games from rookie Sony Michel, who set a rookie NFL playoff record with five touchdowns in his first two postseason games.
Also making huge contributions in the fourth quarter and OT against the Chiefs were both Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk's regular season was mostly underwhelming as he dealt with nagging injuries, but he was surehanded at the perfect time against Kansas City, catching six passes for 79 yards. Edelman had seven catches for 96 yards as both came through with huge third-down catches late in the game.
Gronk said he took his cues from Brady.
''You're always comfortable with Tom going down on drives,'' said Gronkowski, who is the first tight end with 1,000 postseason receiving yards. ''He's always ready for these moments. And that's why he's the best quarterback - hands down.
''It was one of the sweeter victories definitely of my career.''
The Patriots will have a chance to top it in two weeks in Atlanta.
Safety Devin McCourty said it's a position they always thought they'd be in.
''We're not worried about stats. We're not worried about Pro Bowls, All-Pros,'' he said. ''When we come back in April each year, it's about getting to this game no matter what it takes.
''This year was a tough one. We battled some things. We've been questioned and doubted by a lot of people. But I think the great thing is we trust in what we believe. Our faith never wavered inside the locker room.''
Houston Texans tight end Jordan Thomas recently suggested that Houston will use a committee approach at tight end with Thomas, Jordan Akins, and rookie Kahale Warring, but Thomas is expected to be the leader of that committee and the player most likely to be a weapon in Houston's passing game. Thomas caught four touchdowns last season, but he saw his snap percentage fade as the season went along. Even if Thomas gets the most snaps, quarterback Deshaun Watson doesn't target tight ends at a rate that would make Thomas a sustainable fantasy starter.
Washington Redskins LB Josh Harvey-Clemons is expected to serve as the team's nickel linebacker this year, after bulking up in the offseason.
Washington Redskins LB Mason Foster is expected to be used as a starter at one of the team's inside linebacker spots, although it remains uncertain if he will appear in nickel sets.
Former Washington Redskins LB Preston Smith had attracted interest from the Indianapolis Colts during free agency before he ultimately signed with the Green Bay Packers.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (knee) is expected to be completely recovered from his torn anterior cruciate ligament in time to play against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller missed the entirety of spring workouts and figures to be limited at best early in training camp, but he will be roughly 10 months removed from surgery by the time the Texans visit the Saints on Sept. 9. Of course, his biggest challenge will be staying on the field - something he has struggled to do as a pro. He's a high-end WR3 who owners need to have a backup plan for, as he has missed 17 of a possible 48 games in his three-year NFL career.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill could be traded early next season if a contract extension can't be worked out, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com.
Fantasy Spin: Hill should be headed for another year of WR1 production as one of the main weapons in Kansas City's high-powered offense, but his ceiling could change dramatically if he switches teams. The trade talk is just speculation for now, but it is one more reason to try to acquire Mecole Hardman in keeper formats.
Seattle Seahawks WR Jaron Brown will likely enter the 2019 season as a starter in three-receiver sets, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
Seattle Seahawks WR Amara Darboh could 'steal a roster spot' if he can build on his performance from OTAs, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
Seattle Seahawks WR David Moore will open the season as a top-three receiver, according to Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times.
Fantasy Spin: Tyler Lockett is likely to be the top target in the passing attack, but the pecking order is wide open from there. With Seattle looking to replace Doug Baldwin, Moore could be worth a flier as a WR5.
Houston Texans RB D'Onta Foreman's performance this year will be a 'season-long audition' to show he deserves to be the lead back in 2020, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Fantasy Spin: Lamar Miller enters 2019 as the starter, but he is also in a contract year. Foreman is a high-end handcuff in redraft leagues for now, but his upside in keeper formats is enormous. By next season, he could be the featured back in a potent offense.
Houston Texans TE Jordan Akins said he is prepping to play a variety of positions this season. 'I would say slot receiver,' Akins said. 'Special teams as well, up-back, punt return as well as fullback.'
Denver Broncos RB Royce Freeman could see a 'bigger market share of carries' this season, specifically near the goal line and in short-yardage situations, according to Benjamin Allbright of 104.7 FM Denver.
Fantasy Spin: It sounds like Freeman could essentially serve as a power back, giving him some value in touchdown-only formats. Overall, Phillip Lindsay is still the Denver back to own, but his owners should target Freeman as an insurance policy.
Denver Broncos QB Kevin Hogan was 'overshooting open receivers on multiple occasions' during practice Saturday, July 20, according to Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com.
The battle to be the backup quarterback rages this offseason for the Seattle Seahawks, but Geno Smith is getting a lot of compliments from the coaching staff so far. Head coach Pete Carroll made specific mention of Smith's comfort with handling the huddle and making adjustments at the line, and he compared Smith's savvy to that of longtime backup Tarvaris Jackson. That's high praise from the coach since it's incredibly rare that a backup QB is held in high a regard as Jackson was, but Smith has to win his competition with Paxton Lynch first. Lynch signed with Seattle early in the offseason, but the coaching staff hasn't made any indications about who is winning the job yet. For now, it looks to be a battle that will go on throughout all of training camp.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaron Brown filled a red-zone niche for the team last year, but head coach Pete Carroll seems to already be scheming for him in 2019. Carroll told reporters that he felt the team had "underused" him last season and expects to get more out of his this year. Brown only caught 14 passes last year, five for touchdowns, but he's still incredibly fast. With D.K. Metcalf in the mix, Brown could see more utilization in a dual deep threat type of set, and fantasy owners shouldn't forget that Russell Wilson is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league on deep balls. If Carroll is telling the truth about the team's plans, Brown could be a surprise star in Seattle.
The Seattle Seahawks see big things in wide receiver Tyler Lockett, even if he's not very large. With the retirement of their steady No. 1 receiver Doug Baldwin over the offseason, Seattle will be trying to fill big shoes in the passing game. It all begins with Lockett. Lockett had a breakout season in 2018 as Baldwin dealt with injuries that would eventually end his career, and it looks like the torch can be passed in most ways. Both are small, quick receivers who run excellent routes and have steady hands, so the feel of the offense shouldn't change dramatically. The real question will be how much use Lockett will get, even if he is the go-to guy. Seattle is notorious for spreading the ball around and not letting Russell Wilson do too much of the work, but there's no clear-cut No. 2 receiver behind Lockett, so he will likely see the vast majority of the looks, especially on third down.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver David Moore burst onto the scene in 2018 by making a host of acrobatic, highlight-reel catches to announce his presence. Unfortunately, he slowed down with time, and it turned out that his acrobatics covered up for the fact that he struggled to get open on a consistent basis. His highs have been outstanding and stick in peoples' minds, but he also fades into the background during most games. Entering camp in 2019, Moore will be competing against Jaron Brown and D.K. Metcalf to try to lock up the No. 2 spot in the wide receiver pecking order. His competition is talented, but all three receivers have their warts. If Moore can improve his ability to get separation on a regular basis, he could easily run away from the others (metaphorically speaking).
Arizona Cardinals TE Charles Clay (knee) was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Saturday, July 20.
Fantasy Spin: Clay has a good chance to be the starter for the Cardinals this season but may not have a big role in the passing game. He probably can be avoided in most leagues.
Arizona Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche (knee), OT Max Garcia (knee), LB Brooks Reed (hip) and CB Brandon X. Williams (back) were placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list Saturday, July 20.
The Eagles are bringing back running back Darren Sproles for one more season. After playing in just six games last year, it looked like Sproles might be done in the NFL, but the Eagles decided to bring Sproles back to an already crowded backfield that features Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, and Miles Sanders. Clement might be in the most trouble from the Sproles signing, but overall it's looking more and more like this is a running back committee that fantasy owners should stay away from. This move does almost guarantee that either Josh Adams or Wendell Smallwood are cut before the season opens.