San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrates after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The 49ers won 48-46. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks during a news conference after loosing to the Baltimore Ravens in a NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. Ravens won 20-17. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) When Kyle Shanahan looks back on the two years he spent as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, it's the positives he remembers much more than the disappointing ending.
After a couple of tough stops in Washington and Cleveland, Shanahan's coaching career took off after joining the Falcons when he helped Matt Ryan and Atlanta reach record heights on the way to a Super Bowl appearance. That performance helped land him a head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers even if he fell short of a Super Bowl title when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead before losing in overtime to New England.
''Not at all,'' Shanahan said when asked if the Super Bowl collapse lessened his memories of his tenure with the Falcons.
''I loved my time in Atlanta, loved the people I was there with. I went there at a tough time in my career and just the two previous places I had been. ... It was good to be in a good place like that, and really enjoyed the players, too.''
Shanahan gets a chance to face his old team, including Ryan and head coach Dan Quinn, when the 49ers (11-2) host the Falcons (4-9) on Sunday.
Atlanta set a franchise record by scoring 540 points in 2016 with Shanahan calling plays. Ryan had career bests in yards passing (4,944), TD passes (38) and passer rating (117.1) on the way to winning the league MVP.
''Kyle had a huge impact on my career,'' Ryan said. ''He challenged me to get better, improve in certain areas and taught me a lot about offensive football. Just seeing things from a different perspective, I feel like I made big jumps in the two years we were together and I'm happy for him that he's having great success. ... It's no surprise that he has their offense playing well because he's excellent at knowing what to do.''
While Shanahan is thriving in his third year in San Francisco with the Niners alone atop the NFC standings and in line for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Falcons have struggled.
Atlanta started the year 1-7 and has little left to play for other than pride heading into a matchup with a coach the Falcons know well and respect greatly.
''Kyle makes it extremely difficult. He's a fantastic play caller,'' Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. ''When the season has not gone as well as you'd like it, you covet these opportunities to show people what you could've been, what you should've been.''
The ties between the two franchises run deeper than Shanahan's relationships in Atlanta. Ryan and 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey are first cousins. McGlinchey's mother, Janet, and Ryan's mom, Bernice, who are sisters, are leading a contingent of about 50-60 people coming out from Pennsylvania for the game. For McGlinchey, it's an opportunity to play against someone he looked up to growing up.
''When I was a kid, all I ever did was try to be like Matt in every way I could,'' he said. ''I would watch his interviews. I would watch everything about Matt. Maybe I just adopted the way he did things because he always did them the right way. It's pretty easy to learn from a guy like him, how well he has done.''
The 49ers rank third in the NFL with 45 sacks. The Falcons will have to keep Ryan upright to have any chance of pulling off a major upset.
Atlanta, with two rookies starting on the offensive line, has surrendered 41 sacks. But, after giving up a total of 15 in the two previous games, the unit showed major improvement last week against a Carolina team that ranked second in the league. Ryan was sacked only one time by the Panthers, while the Falcons had five sacks.
RUN RAHEEM, RUN
Raheem Mostert spent most of his first four season in the NFL as a special-teams standout. The past two weeks, he's shown the ability to be a featured back. Mostert has gotten the bulk of the work for San Francisco the past two games and delivered. He ran for 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also caught two passes for 40 yards and a TD in last week's win at New Orleans. Mostert has 263 yards from scrimmage and three TDs the past two weeks and figures to keep getting a heavy load as he has averaged 6.0 yards per carry for the season.
''What Raheem has done these last few weeks and has continued to do, we need to give him more opportunities,'' Shanahan said. ''He's given us no choice. I'm happy for him and it's been great. He's been extremely impressive.''
Kicker Younghoe Koo has become a big weapon for the Falcons since replacing Matt Bryant.
Koo was selected as NFC special teams player of the week for the second time after making four field goals, four extra points and recovering a fumble on a kickoff in last Sunday's 40-20 victory over Carolina. The 25-year-old Korean has connected on 16 of 18 field goals and 9 of 10 extra points.
''He's gaining confidence as he's going,'' Quinn said. ''We're pleased where he's at.''
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The 49ers suffered a major loss last week when starting center Weston Richburg went down with a season-ending knee injury. Richburg anchored a line that excelled in both run blocking and protection, and will be replaced by untested Ben Garland. Garland has spent most of his career since entering the NFL as a reserve and his only seven starts came at guard for Atlanta in 2017 and '18.
The Falcons will be looking at some new receivers over the final three games after losing Calvin Ridley to a season-ending abdominal injury.
Ridley, a first-round draft pick in 2018, had become a major weapon alongside Julio Jones - especially after the trade of Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots.
Now, some other young receivers will get a chance, most notably Christian Blake (11 catches, 91 yards) and Olamide Zaccheaus, whose first career catch was a 93-yard touchdown against the Panthers.
''We have a number of playmakers,'' Quinn said.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (groin) underwent sports hernia surgery, according to sources Saturday, Jan. 25. He's expected to make a full recovery.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller was limited to 11 games in 2019. He managed to catch 49 of 71 targets for 670 yards and three touchdowns, but he's now four years into his career and has yet to play more than 14 games. He'll again be a risky but high-upside WR3 in 2020 drafts.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle in 2019 received the highest-ever full-season grade given to a tight end by Pro Football Focus, and has been named the site's 2019 Dwight Stephenson Award winner as the best player regardless of position.
Fantasy Spin: In catching 85 of 107 targets for 1,053 yards and five TDs, Kittle finished as fantasy's No. 3 tight end in both standard and PPR leagues. He's made more of an impact with his run blocking so far this postseason, but he'll be near the top of fantasy TE wish lists this summer once again.
Free-agent S Eric Berry (Chiefs) sat out the 2019 season but plans to play in 2020.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston is coming off an up-and-down season in which he hit career highs in yards (5,109) and touchdowns (33) but also interceptions (30), including seven pick-sixes, and former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said it's time the Bucs and Winston part ways. 'I would be surprised if they pay him,' Dominik told PewterReport.com. 'Maybe they will. It's their decision, but I would be shocked if the Bucs franchised Winston -- or transitioned him. I think the decision they have is certainly difficult because there has been some production there, but I don't know how you could justify paying Jameis Winston more money this year than he made last year.'
Fantasy Spin: Unless your league deducts heavy penalties for turnovers, Winston was fantasy gold last season, finishing only behind Lamar Jackson in total fantasy points. The interceptions and miscues, though, are a little more unforgivable in real football, and whether or not Winston is retained by the Bucs promises to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark doesn't expect his role to change going into next season under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Chark became the team's No. 1 receiver under John DeFilippo in 2019, and he expects Gruden to do the same to utilize his playmaking abilities. The second-round pick of 2018 had a breakout year in 2019 and thinks Gruden's West Coast offense is a good fit for him. Chark is in his first Pro Bowl after catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 14 catches for 174 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie. He'll have WR2 upside going into 2020, but the uncertainty at quarterback will make him a bit volatile in fantasy drafts.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson won't have any of his $9.5 million salary guaranteed for the 2020 season unless he's on the roster for Week 1 of the regular season. The Dolphins are likely to discuss a restructuring of his contract in the weeks ahead. There will be $1.3 million in dead money but $9.5 million in salary cap savings if the Dolphins cut him. The 27-year-old slot receiver missed three games due to injury last season and caught 43 passes for 351 yards and just one touchdown in his second year in Miami. He could never really get on track after his slow start because of injury, and Wilson will be an afterthought in redraft leagues going into the 2020 season.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes reminds retired QB Brett Favre of himself with some of the traits he has displayed on the field. 'I see the comparison,â?³ Favre said. 'He may not admit this but he probably feels there is no throw he can't make or no angle he can't make it from. Whether he's flushed left or to the right, his vision always is down the field. I was always looking for the big play first and knew I could always react underneath if I needed, too. You have to have a certain confidence or air about you that you can make any throw, and it has been proven he can make any throw.'
Fantasy Spin: Mahomes is off to a particularly impressive start in the postseason with 13 total touchdowns (including two rushing), 1,313 total yards (125 rushing) and no interceptions in four playoff contests over two seasons. He'll challenge Lamar Jackson for first-QB-off the-board fantasy honors this summer.
The New England Patriots want to know if impending free-agent QB Tom Brady will return to the team for the 2020 season before the legal tampering period for free agency begins March 16, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Fantasy Spin: Schefter reasoned that the Patriots want a quick decision so they can pursue other quarterbacks in free agency in case Brady chooses to leave the only organization he has ever played for. New England wants to avoid a situation similar to last season when Rob Gronkowski waited until late-March to announce his retirement, meaning that the best free-agent tight ends had already been signed by other clubs. From a fantasy standpoint, Brady should be viewed as a QB2 in most formats at this stage of his career but he could merit consideration as a low-end QB1 if he has plenty of offensive weapons surrounding him.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) and DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) were limited during practice Friday, Jan. 24, but are not listed on the injury report for Super Bowl LIV. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle), S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and WR Dante Pettis (illness) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. said he expects to have a similar role in the offense next season under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Fantasy Spin: Chark was one of the breakout players this season and finished with 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He likely will be the main target in the passing game again next season and could be at least a No. 3 fantasy receiver.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is considered questionable for Super Bowl LIV.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman probably will need to practice at some point next week if he wants to play in the Super Bowl. He will share playing time with Raheem Mostert and Maatt Breida if he is active and could be a flex option.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman's (shoulder) MRI results were positive, but Coleman did not participate in any practices this week, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to keep an eye on Coleman's practice participate next week to see if he has a chance to play in Super Bowl LIV. Coleman will be part of a committee if he is active and should see some touches during the game. He can be considered a flex option.
Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson likely will be asked to restructure his contract this offseason if he wants to remain with the team. The Dolphins would save $9.5 million in salary cap space if they release Wilson.
Fantasy Spin: Wilson had a disappointing 2019 season with 351 yards and one touchdown. The Dolphins likely will look to upgrade at the position so Wilson probably would drop down the depth chart if he stays. He probably can be avoided in fantasy leagues next season.
Kansas City Chiefs S Jordan Lucas (illness) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is considered questionable for Super Bowl LIV. DT Chris D. Jones (calf) was limited during practice and is considered questionable. WR Demarcus Robinson (illness), WR Mecole Hardman (back), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is not on the injury report for Super Bowl LIV.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce appears to be on track to play and probably will see more practice time next week. He is a must-start option in fantasy leagues.
New Orleans Saints impending free-agent QB Drew Brees said he will only play for the Saints in 2020 if he decides to continue his playing career.
Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to monitor the situation to see if Brees returns to the Saints next season. He posted solid numbers this season even though he missed some time because of an injury and could be a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback if he plays.
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.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had a 'really, really good ' first year in head coach Matt LaFleur's offense, general manager Brian Gutekunst said Friday, Jan. 24, and the GM is looking forward to the encore in 2020. I'm really excited to see what he can do in Year Two,' Gutekunst said. 'I know Matt talks a lot about what Matt Ryan did in Year Two, the comparatives there. I'm really excited to see where him and the offense can go.'
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers threw for one more TD (26-25) than he did in 2018 but his passing yards declined by 440 yards as he finished 12th among fantasy QBs in terms of total points. Rodgers will turn 37 before next season ends but don't be surprised if he takes a jump into solid QB1 territory with a year in the system under his belt and the Packers expecting to add wide receiver and, possibly, tight end help this offseason.
Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, a pending free agent, will be re-signed and remain the team's quarterback, Cowboys vice president Will McClay said Thursday, Jan. 23. 'We expect Dak to be our quarterback,' McClay said. 'If the owner/GM says we're going to get it done, he signs the checks. So we'll get that done.'
Fantasy Spin: Even though the Cowboys were an overall disappointment at 8-8, Prescott had a career year with 4,902 yards and 30 passing TDs to finish as fantasy's No. 3 QB. Barring an shocking turn of developments, Prescott will land a lucrative new deal from the Cowboys and be back in the QB1 mix this offseason.
Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt's car was found to contain marijuana following a traffic stop Tuesday, Jan. 21, in which Hunt was issued a speeding citation in Ohio.
Fantasy Spin: Although Hunt wasn't cited for possession, he could face scrutiny from the league after sitting out the first half of the 2019 season due to a personal-conduct suspension. Without a ban, Hunt projects as a low-end RB2 entering next season.