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.''
The Jacksonville Jaguars plan to hire former Redskins head coach Jay Gruden as their next offensive coordinator, according to sources. A deal isn't officially done, but the Jaguars are very close to adding Gruden in the role. The biggest question for Jacksonville's offense heading into the 2020 season will be who is the starter under center, Nick Foles or Gardner Minshew. Leonard Fournette can be an effective bell-cow back in the backfield if he can stay healthy, while the Jags have a nice three-receiver mix in place of D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. The Jaguars finished 2019 with 341.8 yards per game, 235 passing yards per game, 106.8 rushing yards per game and only 18.8 points per game. Gruden's addition is good news for this very mediocre offense across the board.
Free-agent TE Evan Baylis (Packers), OT Cody Conway (Packers), RB Damarea Crockett (Packers), CB Kabion Ento (Packers), TE James Looney (Packers), LB Randy Ramsey (Packers), WR Darrius Shepherd (Packers), QB Manny Wilkins (Packers) and LB Tim Williams (Packers) signed Reserve/Future contracts with the Green Bay Packers Tuesday, Jan. 21. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell seems confident that the team will re-sign defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March. Jacksonville wants Ngakoue back, and Caldwell said something "should be done hopefully relatively easily." He'd become one of the top pass rushers available if he hits the open market after logging 37.5 sacks, 85 quarterback hits and 42 tackles for loss in 63 games since being a third-round pick in 2016. Retaining Ngakoue is the top priority for the Jaguars this offseason as they look to build their defense back up around the ferocious pass rusher.
Jacksonville Jaguars impending free-agent DE Yannick Ngakoue is the top priority for the Jaguars this offseason, and general manager David Caldwell said he hopes the two sides will be able to reach an agreement relatively easily.
Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner (ankle, knee) will not need surgery on his ankle or knee this offseason, according to head coach Pete Carroll.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said that linebacker Leighton Vander Esch's (neck) surgery "went well." "I feel really good about it. I feel really good about him making a full recovery and being ready to participate in everything," Jones said. The second-year linebacker should be good to go for the team's offseason workouts after missing the final five games of the 2019 season. He recorded a total of 72 tackles (43 solo), half a sack and one forced fumble in his nine games played. LVE was a beast his rookie season with 140 total tackles, and he could return to being an IDP force again in 2020 if he can just stay on the field.
Dallas Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones said that quarterback Dak Prescott is the team's "No. 1 priority as we go into the offseason." Despite the Cowboys missing the playoffs in 2019, Prescott wasn't the problem. He had his best season with 4,902 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his fourth year in the NFL. The Cowboys continue to reiterate that Prescott is their QB of the future, so expect a contract extension to come soon. If that doesn't happen, the franchise tag is another option to retain him for 2020. Prescott finished as the No. 3 fantasy signal-caller last season, and he'll head into the 2020 campaign as a strong high-end QB1.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (shoulder) underwent a shoulder procedure last week that is said to involve "not a lengthy rehab," and Edelman is expected to be ready for the team's offseason program, according to a league source. The 33-year-old was noticeably hindered by his shoulder to close out the year, but overall it was a very successful 2019 season. Edelman had 100 receptions for a career-high 1,117 yards and six touchdowns over a full season. It was the second time in his career that he reached the 100-catch mark as quarterback Tom Brady's only real trusted receiving option. Edelman's outlook may change if Brady isn't under center in 2020, but he should at least be a solid WR2 in PPR leagues.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman (shoulder) had a minor shoulder surgery last week, but he's expected to be ready for the offseason program.
Fantasy Spin: Edelman's fantasy value will hinge largely on whether Tom Brady returns to the team. Edelman should be a low-end WR2 in PPR formats.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (hamstring) will be unable to participate in the Pro Bowl due to a lingering hamstring injury. He'll be replaced by Detroit Lions WR Kenny Golladay.
Cleveland Browns WR Jarvis Landry (hip) isn't expected to have surgery this offseason and will play in the Pro Bowl.
Fantasy Spin: Landry had a career-high 1,174 receiving yards to go with 83 grabs and six scores. The 27-year-old played in all 16 games for the sixth straight year and will be a low-end WR2 option in drafts next year.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (abdomen) underwent successful surgery on Tuesday to fix a core muscle injury. A full recovery is expected. OBJ didn't miss a game in his first season with Cleveland despite fighting through injuries. He caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards and only four touchdowns in what was a very disappointing first year with the Browns. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was extremely inconsistent behind a terrible offensive line, which didn't help matters for Beckham's fantasy owners. Another offseason to gain chemistry with Mayfield should help Beckham rebound in 2020, and he could be a nice value pick as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip) is not expected to undergo surgery, and he will play in the Pro Bowl. It's great news for a Browns offense that will be looking to shake off the disappointment of the 2019 season heading into 2020. Landry was the team's most consistent wideout last year, catching 83 passes for a career-high 1,174 yards and six touchdowns over a full season. In his six NFL seasons, Landry has had at least 81 receptions and four touchdowns and has never missed a game. He's a very consistent WR2/3 in PPR leagues, and the presence of Odell Beckham Jr. should continue to take attention away from him.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. (abdomen) underwent surgery to repair his core muscle Tuesday, Jan. 21, in Philadelphia. He dealt with the injury for multiple weeks during the season.
Fantasy Spin: OBJ had a miserable season by his standards after most likely being a top-five pick. It's not a lock that he returns to the Browns after considerable drama that comes along with his immense talent. He's a risky fantasy asset because of that, but he'll be a WR1 in drafts again next year.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel combined for just three catches for 65 yards in the NFC Championship victory against the Green Bay Packers. Samuel added two rushes for 43 yards. The Niners opened up the game with a dominant running attack and a 27-0 lead, resulting in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes. While the stat sheet was underwhelming, both aerial playmakers made the most of their opportunities, picking up chunk gains on each touch. With the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs offense on deck, the Niners will conceivably need to throw the ball more in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders failed to record a catch in the NFC Championship blowout win against the Green Bay Packers. With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes, Sanders saw only a single target. The clear third option in a low-volume passing game behind standout rookie wideout Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, Sanders has just two catches in the playoffs. Hell likely be tasked with more work in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert exploded for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. He also caught two passes for six yards. Mostert was unstoppable on Sunday, converting three rushing scores of 36, nine and 18 in the first half. He capped his evening with a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The fifth-year breakout player was the star in the Niners easy 37-20 victory and will again lead the backfield into the Super Bowl in two weeks against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed just six of eight passes for 77 yards and no scores in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Garoppolo had little to do but watch running back Raheem Mostert annihilate the Packers rush defense for 220 yards and four scores. With two consecutive easy victories in the playoffs, Jimmy G has attempted just 27 passes this postseason. Sledding will surely get tougher in the Super Bowl against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) aggravated his injured ribs during the NFC Championship game but should be available for Super Bowl LIV.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers on Sunday. Coleman had his shoulder popped back into place and Shanahan thinks that Coleman has a chance to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks. Only time will tell if the 26-year-old will be able to play against Kansas City. He ran the ball six times for 21 yards before his injury and had a season-high 22 totes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Divisional win over the Vikings. Even if Coleman plays, he'll be second fiddle to Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four scores against Green Bay. Matt Breida would spell Mostert in the backfield if Coleman doesn't gain clearance.