Wed Oct 16 3:58pm ET
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Oct. 6, 2019, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws a pass during the first half of the team's NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Kansas City, Mo. Mahomes has thrown 202 consecutive passes without an interception. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga, File)
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) scores a touchdown next to tight end Jordan Akins (88) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) reacts with teammates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) does a flip as he celebrates a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
DENVER (AP) Keeping Patrick Mahomes on the sideline has worked wonders for Kansas City's opponents, providing a blueprint for the Broncos on Thursday night as they seek their first win over the Chiefs in four years.
''Every game has its own personality,'' cautioned Broncos coach Vic Fangio .
Every team also builds its own reputation, and the Chiefs (4-2) have a dud of a defense to go along with that firecracker offense. Exploit that and the Broncos (2-4) can jump right back into the AFC West race after their September stumble.
Over the past four weeks, the Chiefs, who have lost two in a row after a 4-0 start, have allowed an average of 190 rushing yards and 4.97 yards a carry as their opponents piled up eight TD runs.
''We have to fix it,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
The Chiefs have allowed a 100-yard rusher in four consecutive weeks, and it would have been five if not for the Raiders' Josh Jacobs' hydration problems - he finished with 99 yards on just 12 carries.
''I mean, look, there's just one area we don't feel great about and it's stopping the run,'' said first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has transitioned the Chiefs from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense. ''We don't want to be looking at the number of run plays, the yardage they're putting up with runs - somehow, some way we have to figure it out. Until we stop it, we're going to see it.''
Up next are the Broncos, winners of two straight and the NFL's only team that sports two running backs each with at least 400 scrimmage yards. But if Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay, who have accounted for 973 yards so far, are relishing the matchup, they're masking it pretty good.
''Every game in the NFL is tough,'' Lindsay said.
Freeman looked at the rushing totals the Chiefs have allowed the past four weeks: Ravens (203), Lions (186), Colts (180) and Texans (192), and shrugged.
''Every team goes out there and they make their adjustments week to week,'' Freeman said. ''You've got to assume they're going to go out there and try to switch things up. Plus, we have a short week, so you never know what to expect.''
Just look at Denver's defense , which found a quick fix to its run game problems. After allowing Leonard Fournette to go wild as the Jaguars piled up 269 yards on them, the Broncos allowed just 35 yards to the Chargers and 39 to the Titans.
''It's the NFL. Guys change things every week,'' Freeman said. ''Our defense has done a great job flipping the script.''
It's time for Denver's offense to do likewise, he added.
The Broncos are averaging just 17.6 points. Even during their two-game skid, the Chiefs averaged 18.5 points despite losing the time of possession by an average of 38 minutes to 22 minutes.
Other subplots as the Broncos try to snap a seven-game skid and beat Kansas City for the first time since Sept. 17, 2015:
Tyreek Hill had two TD grabs last week in his return from a broken collarbone. The Chiefs were without Sammy Watkins because of a hamstring injury, and they'll be missing him again against Denver, where DB Kendall Fuller (thumb), DT Chris Jones (core muscle), LT Eric Fisher (core muscle) and LG Andrew Wylie (ankle) are all out.
SANDERS GOOD TO GO
Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders returns from a sore knee that knocked him out last week. Sanders has caught just two passes for 9 yards the past two weeks. Sanders' injury in his third in a year (ACL, ankle).
Reid and Fangio are the same age - 61. Reid is in his 28th NFL season, 21 as a head coach and is seeking his 200th regular-season win. Fangio is in his 33rd NFL season but first as a head coach. ''He's one of the special defensive minds of the game,'' said Reid, who knows all about Fangio's reputation.
Mahomes is 2-0 in Denver, winning his first career start on Dec. 31, 2017, when he left a 24-10 lead to No. 3 QB Tyler Bray but returned to salvage a 27-24 win with a last-minute field-goal drive. Last year, he led the Chiefs to a 27-23 win with more fourth-quarter heroics and his famous left-handed throw to avoid a sack.
Von Miller isn't the Broncos' sacks leader. It's backup DE DeMarcus Walker, who has three sacks after getting just one in each of his first two seasons. His first came against Mahomes when both were rookies.
The Detroit Lions have talked with multiple teams about a potential trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, according to sources. However, any team that trades for Slay must compensate the Lions and Slay with a new deal, and Detroit is determined to get fair value for Slay. The 29-year-old former second-round pick in 2013 has been to three straight Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2017 when he had a career-high eight interceptions and 26 passes defensed. He had 46 total tackles in 2019 (36 solo), two interceptions and one fumble recovery in his 14 games played. If the Lions trade Slay, they will certainly need to address the position in free agency or the draft.
The Miami Dolphins don't view Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as a slam-dunk pick with the fifth overall selection in this year's draft. On the flip side, the team has an increasingly positive view of Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert after he impressed at the Senior Bowl, according to sources familiar with the team's thinking. One source said the Dolphins are concerned about Tagovailoa's return from a fractured and dislocated hip he suffered last November, and his durability in the long-term. Ive been down there to see him. Tua is a great player. I just worry about his health, owner Stephen Ross said. The Dolphins like Herbert's size (6-foot-6, 237 pounds), his arm talent and his mobility. Miami could change their mind on Tagovailoa once they meet with him at the Combine, but he certainly shouldn't be considered a lock to be taken by the Dolphins at fifth overall.
The Cleveland Browns released tight end Demetrius Harris, cornerback T.J. Carrie, offensive guard Eric Kush and linebacker Adarius Taylor on Monday. Harris played in 15 games (six starts) in 2019 and caught 15 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Mostly known for his blocking prowess, Harris couldn't even take advantage when David Njoku was lost for most of the year due to an injury. The 28-year-old should land on his feet, but we wouldn't expect him to enter the 2020 season with much fantasy appeal, even as a backup tight end.
Tennessee Titans running back Dion Lewis could be a salary cap casualty this year. Lewis carries a $5.1 million salary for 2020, and the Titans can save $4 million if they cut him, with $1.1 million in dead money. He basically served in a change-of-pace role behind bell-cow Derrick Henry in 2019, carrying the ball only 54 times for 209 yards while adding 25 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. The 29-year-old was important on third downs and can help pass protect, but the Titans may decide to move to a younger and less expensive option in the draft. Other potential cap casualties include kicker Ryan Succop, veteran tight end Delanie Walker and outside linebacker/defensive end Cameron Wake.
Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) remains in the concussion protocol six months after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit in the preseason. It was the seventh documented concussion of his career, and it caused him to miss all of the 2019 season. His future in the league and with Washington is up in the air. At this point, it seems likely that the Redskins will cut him to save $8.5 million in 2020. The 29-year-old has never played an entire season in the NFL because of injuries and has played in 19 games combined from 2017 to 2018. Even if Reed is playing somewhere this season, he'll be a high-risk, low-reward TE2.
The New York Jets won't cut running back Le'Veon Bell because of the $19 million in dead salary cap money if they do so, and because of his massive salary, a trade is remote as well. If they really wanted to trade Bell, they'd have to be willing to pay a portion of his 2020 salary, which is $13.5 million in total guarantees. And the Jets would probably only be able to get a Day 3 draft pick in return. After taking a year off in 2018, The 27-year-old (28 on Tuesday) looked slow and heavy in his first year in New York. Bell ran 245 times for only 789 yards (a career-low 3.2 yards per carry) and only three touchdowns. His receiving contributions help, but Bell's fantasy stock will obviously be down entering 2020 fall drafts. Consider him more of an RB2 with some upside if he comes into camp motivated to bounce back.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he has "no hesitation" that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) will be ready for Week 1. "This guy is the ultimate competitor. He dropped the gauntlet down. He made the statement he's coming back," Tomlin said. Roethlisberger played in just two games last year before needing season-ending right elbow surgery. He should be ready to go this summer, barring any setbacks, but he'll be entering his age-38 season and will be an injury risk as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2. But don't sleep on Big Ben, as he threw for a career-high 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns in 2018.
Tennessee Titans PK Ryan Succop is likely to be released in the offseason, in the opinion of ESPN's Turron Davenport. The move would save the team $2 million against the salary cap.
Tennessee Titans RB Dion Lewis is expected to be released in the offseason, in the opinion of ESPN's Turron Davenport. The move would save the team $4 million against the salary cap.
Fantasy Spin: Lewis can still be worthwhile in PPR, but he's not going to receive the touches in Tennessee to do it. He's someone to watch this offseason to see if he can land a bigger split to be an RB4 or RB5.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton needs more depth behind him at the receiver position, according to general manager Chris Ballard. 'Do we need to add more explosive elements to our offense? Yeah, we do,' Ballard said. 'Just want somebody who can catch the ball and go score.'
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent WR Tavon Austin is unlikely to be re-signed, according to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com.
Chicago Bears TE Adam Shaheen will be on the roster for the start of training camp, according to general manager Ryan Pace, but expectations for Shaheen are 'low' for 2020, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
Atlanta Falcons impending free-agent TE Austin Hooper could be a target for the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to John Reid of The Florida Times-Union.
Fantasy Spin: The Jaguars tight ends combined for just three touchdowns in 2019. Meanwhile, Hooper has emerged as one of the steadier options at the position, topping 70 catches in each of the past two seasons and recording a career-high 787 receiving yards last year. Moving from Atlanta's offense to Jacksonville's offense would be a downgrade, but Hooper will likely be a low-end TE1 regardless of where he plays in 2020.
San Francisco 49ers DT Solomon Thomas may join the starting lineup next season if the team is not able to bring back impending free-agent DE Arik Armstead, in the opinion of NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
Cleveland Browns impending free-agent LB Joe Schobert said he has talked with general manager Andrew Berry and has been told that the Browns will talk to his agent about his contract situation in the near future. Schobert is more optimistic about his chances to re-sign since he has a better relationship with Berry than he did with former general manager John Dorsey.
Carolina Panthers impending free-agent CB James Bradberry and Kansas City Chiefs impending free-agent CB Bashaud Breeland are expected to be targets for the Washington Redskins during free agency.
New York Giants impending free-agent DT Leonard Williams recently met with former NFL DT Richard Seymour in order to improve his play. They watched game film and also worked out together. Seymour said he believes Williams has all the tools to be a great player.
There remains no timetable for a potential return for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) as he rehabs from spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier has not played for the last two seasons, and it remains to be seen if he'll ever play again. His contract from the 2019 season will not toll over to 2020, but the Steelers continue to support his comeback efforts. If Shazier's contract expires, he will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18. The 27-year-old was a force in the middle of the field for the Steelers in the four seasons before his injury. We wouldn't bet against Shazier making a comeback, but it might not be for the Steelers.
New England Patriots impending free-agent QB Tom Brady has not made any progress in contract talks with the Patriots at this point.
Fantasy Spin: The two sides have about a month to negotiate until Brady becomes a free agent. Several of teams will pursue Brady if he hits the free-agent market, so the Patriots may need to sign Brady in the next few weeks. He likely will be considered a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback in 2020.
Pittsburgh Steelers LB Ryan Shazier (spine) does not have a timetable for his return, according to general manager Kevin Colbert. He is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, but the two sides are expected to discuss his contract situation.