In this Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019 file photo, Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) lines up against the Chicago Bears during the second half of an NFL football game in Denver. Star linebacker Von Miller says his sprained left MCL that ended his 95-game starting streak might sideline him again Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 when the Denver Broncos visit the Houston Texans. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after he scored a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) dives past New England Patriots outside linebacker Elandon Roberts (52) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON (AP) It wasn't that long ago that Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was in the position Denver's Drew Lock is in now.
Watson was thrust into the starting role after the season was underway as a rookie in 2017, just as Lock was last week for the Broncos. Watson made his debut in the middle of a game and won his first start the following week. Lock became Denver's third starter this season following Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen and led the Broncos to a win over the Chargers.
Watson knows how important it is for a quarterback to get that first win on his resume.
''It's huge,'' Watson said. ''It builds a lot of confidence within that locker room, within yourself, and that's where it has to start, that confidence with yourself knowing that you can play at this level, you can win at this level, because it's hard to do, especially on a consistent basis. So, yeah, it just changes everything and everyone is in good spirits.''
Lock, a second-round pick in this year's draft out of Missouri, threw for 134 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on Sunday. Now that he knows he's the starter he feels like he can begin to take a more active role as a leader on the team.
''I can just ... start being the face of these guys around here, especially in the huddle,'' he said. ''Just being able to show them a little bit more of me as a leader. Even out there on the field in the game, not necessarily practice, but even out on the field they saw a little bit of my confidence last week. I'm hoping that we can come out and play extremely well, and hopefully we can keep building confidence for everyone.''
The Texans are also feeling confident after getting their first win over the Patriots since 2010, a 28-22 victory last week. Watson threw three touchdown passes and had his first career TD reception on a trick play to lead Houston and earn his third AFC offensive player of the week award this season.
Though Houston is feeling good after the big win, the Texans know they can't be overconfident as they chase their fourth AFC South title in five seasons.
''We don't want to have a letdown,'' Watson said. ''That's not the type of guys we have in that locker room, the leadership we have, we're not going to allow it. Denver is a great 4-8 team, if you want to look at the record, but we don't look at the record ... you can't have no letups, because you will get embarrassed.''
MOBILITY AND MOXIE
The Broncos finally feel like they have a modern, mobile QB like Watson or Patrick Mahomes in Lock. Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay suggest Lock not only brings the ability to freelance on broken plays but also a swag to the position that's been missing since Peyton Manning was under center four years ago. Lock is the seventh starting QB since Manning retired after Super Bowl 50.
''Drew can move us with his arm, he can move us with his legs. And that gives all of us confidence because when a play's broken, he can create something,'' Lindsay said. ''Actually, he created a couple (last) game that kept the drive alive. And that's what makes someone like Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson so great. They can make broken plays and they can score touchdowns or get first downs.''
The Texans have one of the league's best pass-catching running backs in Duke Johnson. The fifth-year player has 2,464 yards receiving and 1,671 yards rushing in his career and had a season-high five receptions for 54 yards last week.
Watson said Johnson's versatility makes things difficult for the defense.
''You have to pick either you're going dime personnel and have a DB on him or you have to put one of the linebackers on him, and linebackers don't do too much covering,'' he said. ''They like to run fit and play zone coverage, they don't play a lot of man. So, he's a guy that's really a receiver playing running back, and he can do a lot of different things that can help us.''
KICKING & SCREAMING
Coach Vic Fangio says he and kicker Brandon McManus are good after his kicker threw a tantrum last week when he wasn't allowed to try an NFL-record 65-yard field goal just before halftime. McManus was summoned back to the sideline after trotting out for the try, ripped off his helmet and slammed it to the ground.
''At the time, I didn't know it went on until after the game. He wanted to go out there and try it, and I didn't think it was the right thing to do at that time,'' Fangio said. ''Part of the reason - a big part of the reason - was because it's been proven in the past with other kickers and possibly him, too, that if you take a big swing at one of those early in the game, it could affect your swing later in the game. I'm saying that's why he made the 52-and the (winning) 53-yarder because he didn't alter his swing for a 65-yarder. And the air was a little heavier than normal.''
McManus countered after the game: ''Does a Hail Mary change the way a quarterback throws the ball?'' That drew this retort from Fangio: ''There's proof in his career that it happened to him already.''
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be a free agent in March, plans to return to the Saints if he comes back for a 20th season in the NFL. "I have never been in the situation where I was mulling over the thought of [returning]," Brees said. "To me, each one of these contracts, I don't know how many it's been with the Saints, I've played with them 14 years, it's not a matter of if it gets done, it's when. At this stage of my career, it's not a given that I'm coming back every year, but when that time comes, I'll always be a Saint." Despite diminished arm strength, Brees was one of the best quarterbacks when he returned from his thumb injury last season. He may no longer have sky-high QB1 upside for fantasy owners, but Brees will at least be a midrange QB1 target next season if he returns to New Orleans, which is what is expected.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt was pulled over and cited during a traffic stop in Rocky River, Ohio on Tuesday. Police pulled Hunt over for going 77 MPH in a 60 MPH zone and found small amounts of marijuana in three different locations in the car. The car was registered in Hunt's mother's name and he told officers that the drugs belonged to his brother. While the running back did not receive a drug charge during the stop, he could still be subject to discipline from the NFL. Hunt is a restricted free agent this offseason and has a chance to land elsewhere as a team's starting running back. This incident is only likely to be an issue in fantasy if the NFL decides to get involved.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was back at practice on Friday. The Chiefs played it safe with Kelce and gave him some rest on Thursday, but he should be ready to rock in the Super Bowl against the 49ers on Feb. 2. He had a quiet game in the AFC Championship against the Titans but exploded for three touchdowns in the Divisional Round. Kelce was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and could put up big numbers in the passing game against San Francisco in the Super Bowl if this game turns into a shootout.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said it's his understanding that tight end Jimmy Graham wants to play in 2020. Graham is under contract for one more year for $8 million, which is the final year of his three-year contract. The 33-year-old has clearly lost a step at this point in his career, catching just 38 passes (60 targets) for 447 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 with the Packers. He's no longer the focal point in the passing game, and he's more of a low-end, touchdown-dependent TE2 in fantasy circles.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was granted bail by a Broward County judge on Friday morning at $110,000 for a felony burglary with battery charge. Brown will be monitored by GPS and be required to release his passport and guns, go through drug and alcohol testing and get a mental-health evaluation. He's facing charges of felony burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief stemming from an alleged assault of a moving-truck driver earlier this week. This isn't Brown's first run-in with the law, and all of his off-field issues virtually assure that no NFL team will take a chance on him moving forward.
Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to fix torn ligaments in his wrist. Hughes revealed the injury after the playoff loss to the Texans in the wild-card round, and the league launched an investigation as to whether the Bills had violated the injury reporting policy since Hughes never appeared on the team's injury report with a wrist injury. Despite his wrist injury, Hughes didn't miss a game in 2019 and hasn't missed a single game since 2012. He recorded 23 total tackles (14 solo), 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for Buffalo's stout defense last season. Hughes should be recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his wrist this week.
Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen hasn't been written off, according to general manager Chris Grier, and Grier said he saw improvement in Rosen during practice throughout the year.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) did not practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Mid-week downgrades aren't good, but we still have another full week before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, so Kelce should be just fine to play in the big game against the 49ers. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice after sitting out on Wednesday. Although Kelce had just three catches for 30 yards in the AFC Championship against Tennessee, he busted out for 10 grabs, 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round against Houston. Kelce was the top-scoring fantasy tight end in 2019 and could easily have a big game in the Super Bowl against San Francisco.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) is expected to turn himself in to police but hadn't done so as of the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 23, according to a public information officer for the Hollywood Police Department in Florida. 'I believe they've given him ample opportunity to turn himself in,'' Christian Lata told USA TODAY Sports. An arrest warrant was issued against Brown following an incident with a moving truck driver Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'I'm sure it's going to be within today or tomorrow, but I'm not sure exactly when,'' Lata said late Thursday afternoon. 'I would assume it would be sooner than later.''
Fantasy Spin: There's less and less reason to hold out hope of Brown finding his way onto an NFL roster and becoming fantasy relevant in 2020. Dynasty owners should be looking to move on.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman did some solo work as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder. Expect him to play in Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2.
Kansas City Chiefs DT Chris Jones (calf) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) practiced in full. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (hand) was removed from the injury report. S Jordan Lucas (illness) didn't practice.
San Francisco 49ers WR Dante Pettis (illness) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DL Dee Ford (quad, hamstring) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce and the Chiefs have a long way to go until Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2. He should be fully expected to be on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson has scored just one touchdown since Week 3, and he hasn't recorded 100 or more receiving yards since Week 2. He's a risky flier without a guaranteed role in the offense.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was seen running on a side field ahead of the team's practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: It appears Coleman will be able to suit up for Super Bowl LIV after dislocating his shoulder in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He'll continue splitting work with Raheem Mostert and, to a lesser degree, Matt Breida. Any or all of the three could have a big game, but it's Mostert with the hot hand following the NFC Championship.
Houston Texans CB Gareon Conley (ankle) recently underwent a procedure to have a screw removed from his right ankle but is expected to be recovered in full for the beginning of the team's offseason workout program, according to a league source Thursday, Jan. 23.
Oakland Raiders CB Nevin Lawson signed a one-year contract extension Thursday, Jan. 23. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) is doing some running on a side field at the team's practice on Thursday. Despite sitting out of practice, Coleman appears very much in play to suit up for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers, but Coleman has an extra week to heal up and should be good to go for the big game. He will continue to serve as a change-of-pace back for Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers.
The Atlanta Falcons plan to tender a contract to impending exclusive-rights free-agent kicker Younghoe Koo. The 25-year-old place kicker solidified the team's kicking position in the final eight games of the season, making 23 of his 26 field-goal tries and 15 of his 16 extra points. Koo went 7-for-9 on kicks from 40-49 yards and hit his only attempt of 50-plus yards. While he should enter the 2020 season as the favorite to kick for Atlanta, the Falcons will also bring in some competition to push him. With an offense that can be explosive and put up points, Koo will have some fantasy appeal if he sticks around.