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.''
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said that the team's coaches are "more than excited" about what tight end O.J. Howard can do in his second year in head coach Bruce Arians' offense in 2020. The Bucs are "very high" on him despite Howard catching 34 passes for 459 yards and a career-low one touchdown in 14 games in 2019. The 25-year-old caught the same number of passes in 2018 in only 10 games played. He was the biggest tight end bust in fantasy last year after being a breakout candidate over the summer. There's a chance that Tampa makes it a point to involve Howard more, especially in the red zone, but with Cameron Brate still around, fantasy owners will want to see it before they believe it.
Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock left open the possibility that the team will look to upgrade over quarterback Derek Carr this offseason. "Every position gets evaluated every year, and if we can upgrade it, we will," Mayock said. Carr had a career-high 70.4 completion percentage and a career-high 4,054 passing yards, but he underwhelmed with just 21 touchdown passes over a full season. With Tom Brady potentially becoming available on the free-agent market next month, the Raiders could look to make a splash in their first season in Las Vegas and land the future Hall of Famer. Even if they don't and Carr remains the starter for the Black and Silver, he'll be a low-ceiling QB2 in fantasy.
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace thinks running back David Montgomery can be the team's featured running back and carry a bigger workload in his sophomore season in 2020. That is if the Bears decide to run more next season. Montgomery was pretty average in his rookie campaign, rushing 242 times for 889 yards and six touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry. There's obviously room for improvement if the 22-year-old sees more of a workload in 2020, but the quarterback situation in Chicago could hold Montgomery and the offense as a whole back. Montgomery will be more of an RB3 entering fall drafts.
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said that tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell will hit the free-agent market. With Atlanta up against the salary cap, it's widely believed that they won't have enough salary cap space to re-sign Hooper, who is expected to reset the tight end market after he posted career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite missing three games with an injury in 2019. Along with potentially Hunter Henry, Hooper will be the top tight end available in free agency. He was a high-end fantasy tight end in Atlanta and he could still be that with another team, but staying with the Falcons would be the best scenario for his long-term fantasy value.
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot) had offseason surgery to remove the screw from his foot, according to sources. Brown might be limited in the offseason program because of the surgery, but he's expected to be fine by training camp. Hollywood was bothered by his foot throughout his rookie season, which is why Baltimore kept his snaps limited on game day. The 22-year-old first-round pick showed flashes in his first year in the NFL, catching 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. He's a boom-or-bust fantasy commodity as a deep threat, but his ceiling is still very high in this Ravens offense led by quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said that the team will "do everything we can" to keep running back Derrick Henry around. Henry, who will become a free agent next month, led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and tied Aaron Jones with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2019. The bruising back finished second to only Christian McCaffrey in total fantasy points. In a run-first offense under head coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans would be crazy to let Henry walk. Between Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Tannehill is much more likely to move on in free agency. If Henry returns to Tennessee, he'll obviously be a high-end RB1 in fall drafts.
As of now, the Carolina Panthers have decided that they will move forward with quarterback Cam Newton (foot) as their starting quarterback, according to sources. Newton's foot is healing, but it will be a couple of months before he's game-ready, a timeline that complicates any potential trade. Newton will turn 31 in May and has missed 16 games in the last two seasons with shoulder and foot injuries. He played in just two games in 2019 before being shut down for the season. Newton's fantasy stock is the lowest it has been since he entered the league, but he could bounce back and be serviceable as a QB1 if he can get past his foot issues. Because of the injury risk, fantasy managers will be wary of taking him as their QB1 going into the 2020 season, but he could be a nice value if he can stay on the field.
The Cleveland Browns will likely be looking to replace defensive end Olivier Vernon this offseason, as he's due to make $15.25 million in 2020. Vernon will either be released or will need to take a pay cut to stay in Cleveland. If Vernon is released, the Browns could look to defensive end Everson Griffen or free safety Anthony Harris on the open market. New head coach Kevin Stefanski is familiar with both players from his time with the Vikings. The Browns will be looking to upgrade their pass-rushers and safeties in the offseason. Vernon, 30 this October, played in just 10 games in 2019 with the Browns and recorded just 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
There's a real chance that the Baltimore Ravens move tight end Hayden Hurst this offseason, and the Patriots could be involved, according to sources. The Patriots were heavily linked to Hurst prior to the 2018 draft. Hurst was selected with the 25th overall pick in the first round that year, but he's underwhelmed with 43 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns in his two seasons in the NFL and has fallen down Baltimore's depth chart behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle. New England will be looking to beef up their receiver depth, including at tight end, so Hurst could be a player on the rise if he's dealt to New England. Of course, the Patriots might not have Tom Brady under center in 2020 either.
Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Monday that he expects to receive the franchise tag. Over the Cap estimates that the tag for safeties this year will be worth $12.7 million. Simmons is hoping that he'll be able to work out a long-term deal by the deadline of July 15 if the Broncos put the tag on him. The former third-round pick on 2016 is developing into one of the better safeties in the league. The 26-year-old had 93 tackles (65 solo)and a career-high four interceptions over a full season in 2019. Simmons has had 90-plus total tackles each of the last two seasons and should remain in Denver for the long-term.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said that the team hasn't met or negotiated with quarterback Dak Prescott's agent Todd France since September of last year. There haven't been talks between the two sides this offseason, but they may meet during the scouting combine this week. Jones also said that no contracts with Prescott or wide receiver Amari Cooper will be agreed upon until the new collective-bargaining rules for 2020 are decided. The Cowboys had a "very upbeat" conversation with Cooper's representation during Super Bowl week. The Cowboys continue to say that Prescott is their quarterback of the future. Expect talks to heat up this week, with Prescott ultimately staying in Dallas as a high-end QB1 for fantasy owners.
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) is expected to take part in spring workouts to some degree. "Once we see him, we'll have a better feel for it. But he'll have some limitations up until training camp before we really turn him loose," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. Vander Esch was a stud in his rookie season, but he played in just nine games in 2019 because of his neck injury, recording 72 tackles (43 solo), half a sack and one forced fumble. If fully healthy entering the 2020 season, LVE can be an IPD force because of his tackling ability from sideline to sideline. The Cowboys need him in the middle of the field on defense.
In a discussion between ESPN reporters Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter on the Rich Eisen show last week, Darlington said that he expects the Tennessee Titans to "be in the mix" to sign New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who will become a free agent next month. The Raiders might also try to make a splash and sign Brady if the Patriots let him reach the open market. It would be a surprise if Brady left New England, but he's considering other options and could choose a playoff contender like the Titans after they reached the AFC Championship last year. Brady also played with Titans head coach Mike Vrabel in New England. Brady lacked weapons in the passing game in 2019, but he also looked a little washed up. If he were to go to Tennessee's run-first offense, Brady would be squarely in the QB2 mix with limited fantasy upside.
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue wants a long-term deal and is looking for $22 million annually. Ngakoue said he would be unlikely to show up until Aug. 11 if he had to play under the franchise tag. The young pass-rusher has compiled 37.5 sacks (second on the all-time franchise list) since being drafted in the third round of 2016. He also has 14 forced fumbles in that time. If the Jags place the tag on Ngakoue, which ESPN's Mike DiRocco expects, it would be for around $19.3 million in 2020. The 24-year-old (25 next month) had eight sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception last year and is firmly in the mix in IDP leagues with what he's done the last four seasons.
The Indianapolis Colts are unsure if kicker Adam Vinatieri, who will be a free agent next month, will return in 2020. The 47-year-old future Hall of Famer is rehabbing the knee injury that he dealt with last season, and he hasn't decided yet on if he will retire. The 2019 season was the worst year of Vinatieri's long career, as he missed 14 kicks total -- eight field goals and six extra points -- and landed on Injured Reserve in Week 13. The Colts also signed Chase McLaughlin to a one-year extension in January, so Vinatieri might not be back even if he decides to keep playing.
The Atlanta Falcons are expected to pick up quarterback Matt Schaub's $2 million option for the 2020 season, according to a source. Schaub made just one start in 2019 and was underwhelming in place of Matt Ryan. The veteran signal-caller attempted 67 passes for 580 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in parts of six games last season. He'll be 39 in June and is a shaky backup option if Matty Ice were to miss any more games next season due to injury. Even if Schaub is starting games at some point next year, he'd be a shaky second QB in two-quarterback leagues.
Free-agent LB Vontaze Burfict (Raiders) was reinstated by the league in January and has reportedly been working out at his alma mater (Arizona State) in an effort to returning to the NFL in 2020. Burfict was suspended for the final 12 games of the 2019 season after delivering a helmet-to-helmet hit to Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle.
Jacksonville Jaguars impending free-agent DE Yannick Ngakoue is seeking a long-term deal that pays $22 million annually. The franchise tag would be worth around $19.3 million if used on him.
Fantasy Spin: Ngakoue was tied for fifth in fantasy points at the position last season in 15 games. It was a down year that he only had eight sacks, and there is certainly is more in the tank.
Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler needs to see 15 to 20 touches per game, according to head coach Anthony Lynn.
Fantasy Spin: Ekeler is one of the more versatile backs in the NFL, and he finished 2019 with 92 catches and eight receiving touchdowns. There's a good chance he will be he unquestioned top back and a potential RB1 in 2020 if Melvin Gordon doesn't return, but even if Gordon is back, Ekeler can be a RB2 in PPR formats.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said on Sunday that the team isn't pursuing a long-term contract extension with running back Marlon Mack currently. It doesn't mean that it's not on the table or that the Colts don't want to keep Mack around for the long-term, but it's not a pressing issue. The 23-year-old (24 next month) is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2020 season. He's been the starter the last two years and had 247 carries for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. However, he's also missed eight games the last two seasons, so Indy might be hesitant in thinking he'll continue to be a lead back for years to come. Mack does have a strong offensive line in front of him, but he'll be more of a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 going into the final year of his contract in 2020.