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FFL: Preseason | NFL: Week 1

Patriots try to overcome road woes in AFC championship game

Thu Jan 17 5:18pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer

Players: Tom Brady, Julian Edelman

In this Dec. 30, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots have dominated the AFC for nearly two decades _ if not the entire NFL _ and the coach-quarterback combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be playing in their eighth conference title game Sunday when New England visits the Chiefs at frigid, hostile Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)


In this Sept. 9, 2018, file photo, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick looks over notes, near quarterback Tom Brady, during the team's NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in the AFC championship game. New England has won five Super Bowls during the Belichick-Brady era, setting all kinds of records along the way. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)


In this Dec. 14, 2014, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, left, celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick after defeating the Miami Dolphins 41-13 in an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots have dominated the AFC for nearly two decades _ if not the entire NFL _ and the coach-quarterback combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be playing in their eighth conference title game Sunday when New England visits the Chiefs at frigid, hostile Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots are going on the road again in the playoffs, a place that hasn't always been kind to them during the Tom Brady era.

New England was unbeatable at home this season, going 8-0 during the regular season and rolling past the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round.

Playing outside of Massachusetts has provided different outcomes. Brady is 8-4 in AFC championship games with a 6-1 record at home. But he's just 2-3 on the road in the conference title game, with both wins coming at Pittsburgh during 2001 and 2004 seasons. New England was 3-5 in games away from Gillette Stadium during the 2018 regular season.

The Patriots enter Sunday's AFC title game at Kansas City trying to become the first team since the 1990s Bills to reach the Super Bowl after losing it the previous season. They haven't won a road playoff game since beating the Chargers 24-21 in the divisional round of the 2006 season.

The Patriots lost to the Colts on the road in the 2006 AFC title game and twice at Denver - in the AFC championship game during the 2013 season and again in the 2015 AFC title game. New England has played the rest of its 22 playoff games since 2006 at home or a neutral field in the Super Bowl.

''It's tough to beat the No. 1 seed on the road. That's the reality, just like we're tough to beat at home when we're the No. 1 seed,'' Brady said this week. ''It takes a lot. It takes a lot of good football. It takes a great complementary game. All three phases have to be on point. We're going against a team that scores a lot of points.''

They will also have to deal with what could be the coldest temperature for a game in Arrowhead Stadium history. An arctic blast is forecast for Kansas City.

Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said his focus will be on trying to contain the NFL's top scoring offense and not the thermometer.

''It's definitely one of the hardest places to play. But, at the end of the day, it just comes down to executing It comes down to football and executing plays,'' Hightower said. ''They're a high-powered offense and they're real good on defense, so obviously defensively, we're going to have to eliminate big plays.''

The Patriots opened the week as a three-point underdog, the first time in 68 games, including playoffs, that Brady didn't enter a week as the favorite.

The previous time Brady wasn't the favorite was on Sept. 20, 2015, at Buffalo. The Pats were two-point underdogs that day and won the game 40-32.

It's why Chiefs coach Andy Reid is expecting Brady and the Patriots' best effort on Sunday.

''They're a heck of a team, so I don't get caught up in all that,'' Reid said. ''You're talking about a dynasty, if there is such a thing, in the National Football League. They've been that. You're talking about a head coach that I think the world of him, I think he's a great coach. He's done a phenomenal job keeping that thing together. We're getting ready to get their best shot, offense, defense and special teams.''

Brady didn't hide his thoughts for the Patriots' critics in the aftermath of their divisional-round win over the Chargers, commenting, ''I know everybody thinks we suck and, you know, we can't win any games.'' But he tried to downplay being officially cast in the role of underdog this week.

''It doesn't change much for us, but it just kind of shows you what people think about what our chances are. That's about it,'' Brady said.

At least one of his teammates didn't play it quite as coyly.

Receiver Julian Edelman posted #BetAgainstUs on his Twitter account accompanied with a video that featured highlights of the Chiefs' season. The montage ends with shots of Brady and Edelman from New England's comeback win in overtime from a 25-point deficit in the Super Bowl against Atlanta in the 2016 season.

So, is being an underdog motivation or not for the Patriots?

''If you're not motivated this week you've got a major problem,'' Brady said. ''This is the week where you shouldn't have to put anything extra in. This is what it's all about. You sign up any chance you get to play in the AFC championship game, so I don't care where, when, time, cold weather, rain, blood. It don't matter.''

Player Notes
Rodney Anderson Jul 17 5:10pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back Rodney Anderson (knee) is expected to open the 2019 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If he does, Anderson will have to miss the first six games of the season and will be significantly behind in the battle for backup minutes in Cincinnati. This news likely means that Anderson's rookie season is going to be a fantasy nonfactor, though he still has value in dynasty leagues, where he has a chance to be the future number-two back behind Joe Mixon.

From RotoBaller

Jake Butt Jul 17 2:13pm ET

Denver Broncos TE Jake Butt (knee) will be eased back into practice during the early portion of training camp, according to head coach Vic Fangio.

Mike Williams Jul 17 2:10pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams burst onto the scene last season with his team-leading 10 touchdowns, but he's just getting started. Williams and teammate Keenan Allen were named the third-best receiver duo by NFL.com analyst James Jones, and Jones pointed out that 2019 might be a huge year for Williams thanks to a bit of subtraction. Tyrell Williams departed for Oakland, and his 65 targets from last season will now be spread out amongst those who are left, most likely Mike Williams. Assuming Melvin Gordon returns to the lineup, Williams could be one of the very best "third" options in the league this year and could easily turn into an undercover superstar.

From RotoBaller

Emmanuel Sanders Jul 17 2:03pm ET

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles') will not open camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, according to team president John Elway.

Fantasy Spin: Sanders is a tough decision later in drafts this year. He's aging, and he's coming off an Achilles' injury. He's a risky WR4 or a WR5 flyer.

Melvin Gordon Jul 17 2:00pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon clarified over the weekend that even though he is pushing for a new contract, he still wants to stay with the Chargers if he can. Gordon spoke out because he was upset that people were saying that he didn't want to go back to the Chargers, but he still reiterated, "You know, I want to get paid." Gordon is entering the final year of his five-year rookie contract, and his agent has already openly expressed that Gordon will hold out and demand a trade if he is not given a new deal. Gordon's got some leverage as the team's primary running back, but the recent drop in value amongst running backs and cross-town troubles between the Rams and Todd Gurley will likely play a major role in the offers made to him. It would be surprising if this issue was solved before training camp.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Burbridge Jul 17 1:13pm ET

Denver Broncos WR Aaron Burbridge announced his retirement Wednesday, July 17.

Austin Hooper Jul 17 11:03am ET

Atlanta Falcons TE Austin Hooper caught 71 of 88 targets last season for an 80.7 percent catch ratio. In comparison, former TE Tony Gonzalez's best catch ratio was 75 percent in 2012. 'Hooper, the improvement just keeps getting better,' Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. 'Now, he's ready to go to another level, and I'm looking forward to seeing him make that growth.'

Fantasy Spin: That catch ratio can be looked at in different lenses and could be an aberration. Hooper delivered a 71-660-4 season, and he could improve upon that or level off. He's a solid midrange TE1 in PPR formats.

Yannick Ngakoue Jul 17 10:53am ET

Jacksonville Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue will have to report to training camp no later than Aug. 5 in order to accrue his fourth season and avoid becoming a restricted free-agent after the season.

Myles Garrett Jul 17 9:43am ET

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett said that he was limited to a couple of moves at the line under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and he feels he has more freedom this year. Garrett was known for using a long-arm technique to create space and neutralize an opposing lineman's ability to set their feet deep. 'You can be as strong or fast as you want, but speed chop and power move aren't always going to work,' Garrett said. 'You have to mix up what you're doing. Sometimes you have to stutter step, sometimes you have to spin inside, you have to run some games. You have to have some freedom to throw different looks at them, and we didn't always have that.'

Rob Gronkowski Jul 17 9:18am ET

A source close to retired tight end Rob Gronkowski places his potential for unretiring at 40 percent in 2019. Gronkowski isn't thinking of football right now and is enjoying his retirement, but he could decide to return once the season starts. If quarterback Tom Brady makes an appeal to Gronk, the future Hall of Famer could come back. Gronkowski has said that he's lost only 18 pounds since retiring, and it's believed that head coach Bill Belichick wouldn't stop Gronkowski if he wanted to return. This is probably still more of a long shot, but it shouldn't be ruled out. Gronk battled injuries throughout his career and seemed to slow down in 2018, but his return would send shock waves through the fantasy industry. He had 47 receptions for 682 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last year. You'd be better off using a roster spot on someone else this fall, even if it's intriguing to think about.

Grady Jarrett Jul 17 9:17am ET

The Atlanta Falcons and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett agreed to a four-year contract extension on Monday. The contract is expected to be worth $68 million with $38 million guaranteed, according to a source. He was initially set to receive the $15.209 million franchise tag if a deal wasn't worked out by Monday. The team can now move on to extensions for receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Deion Jones. The Falcons and Deion Jones' representation will meet face-to-face on Wednesday. Jarrett, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has been a top defender for Atlanta and had 53 total pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. He also had six sacks, three forced fumbles and a team-high 16 QB hits.

Joe Mixon Jul 17 6:00am ET

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will look to improve after a solid 2018 season. After accruing just 626 yards on the ground during his rookie campaign, Mixon eclipsed the millennium mark last season to finish with 1,168 yards to go along with nine total trips to the end zone. Though it has been argued that he isn't a top-five back, he will begin his first season under the tutelage of new head coach Zac Taylor, who served as an assistant under Sean McVay. Taylor, who will mirror some parts of the Rams' playbook initially, will utilize the same packages that helped running back Todd Gurley become a fantasy success. As a result, Mixon has a better chance than most to have a dominant season despite being behind a weaker offensive line, and as long as he can remain healthy.

From RotoBaller

Alfred Blue Jul 17 3:03am ET

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Alfred Blue is the 'frontrunner' for the No. 2 spot behind RB Leonard Fournette, in the opinion of The Florida Times-Union's John Reid.

Fantasy Spin: There are some other recognizable names on the depth chart, including Thomas Rawls and rookie Ryquell Armstead, but Blue has been penciled in as RB2 since he signed with the Jags. He remains a decent late-round handcuff for Fournette owners.

Delanie Walker Jul 16 11:40pm ET

Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, in the opinion of Titans Online's Jim Wyatt. Tight end Jonnu Smith (knee), whose season ended in Week 14, isn't a lock to be ready after having missed all of the offseason workouts. Walker could be on the Physically Unable to Perform list during training camp, but the veteran should be ready for Week 1. The 34-year-old is more of a risk now than ever as a TE1, but he could come at a nice value later in drafts if he can stay healthy. After all, he has had at least 800 receiving yards since 2014 if you take out last year's injury.

From RotoBaller

Emmanuel Sanders Jul 16 11:20pm ET

Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) said he's "definitely not going to be full-go from the jump" at the start of training camp. He will gradually work into full activities and wants "to be ready for Week 1." It's no lock that the 32-year-old will be ready for Week 1, so that definitely makes him a risky fantasy proposition going into the 2019 season. Sanders started his Denver tenure with three straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2014-16, but he's underwhelmed since. He bounced back some with 71 receptions for 868 yards and four touchdowns in only 12 games last season. Sanders hasn't played in a full season since 2016 and will obviously have injury concerns again this year.

From RotoBaller

Jake Butt Jul 16 10:53pm ET

Denver Broncos TE Jake Butt (knee) was limited to individual drills for most of the offseason as he continued to recover from surgery on his torn anterior cruciate ligament. He believes he will do more 'team things' at start of camp while the team slowly works his reps back to where they were, according to Aric DiLalla of the team's website.

Larry Fitzgerald Jul 16 10:50pm ET

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been impressed with the tempo of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense. The Cardinals ranked 20th in the league in pace (time between plays) in neutral situations last year, but that is expected to change drastically in 2019. Fitzgerald said the new offense contains less verbiage that when Bruce Arians was the head coach, and players are expected to process pre-snap adjustments faster. It means that Arizona's skill players should see more bulk this year, which is good for their fantasy value. The offense will ebb and flow based on how rookie quarterback Kyler Murray fares, but the early returns are very promising.

From RotoBaller

Drew Lock Jul 16 10:50pm ET

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, a second-round pick, remains the only unsigned rookie on the team. Offensive guard Drew Risner, who was selected a pick before Lock at 41 overall, signed a deal worth $7.14 million on Tuesday. According to multiple sources, Lock's representatives are seeking a "quarterback premium." There is hope that he'll sign before the team's first meeting on Wednesday and first practice on Thursday, but there's also the chance that Lock isn't present for the start of training camp. The Broncos made assurances to Risner that Lock won't receive a richer contract. Lock has long-term upside in dynasty/keeper leagues, but he won't have much redraft value as the expected backup to veteran Joe Flacco to begin the season.

From RotoBaller

Javon Wims Jul 16 10:43pm ET

Chicago Bears WR Javon Wims is a player who 'probably deserves more attention' after performing well during offseason workouts and appears primed to compete for a role on offense in training camp, according to Larry Mayer of the team's website.

Derrick Henry Jul 16 9:33pm ET

Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry ran for 625 yards and eight touchdowns on 97 carries in five December games last season. New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith intends to ride Henry in 2019, according to Jim Wyatt of the team's website.

Fantasy Spin: Henry is entering the final year of his contract and has a solid offensive line in front of him, which may be the two most important reasons why the Titans may not care about running him into the ground. Other reasons may include Smith not knowing if Marcus Mariota can hold up his end of the deal. If Smith stays true to his word, Henry has as good of a chance to lead the league in carries and rushing yards as any back.