Thu Dec 12 4:40pm ET
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is pressured by Denver Broncos linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (97) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson (22) breaks up a pass intended for Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel watches during the first half of an NFL football game between the Oakland Raiders and the Titans in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the Oakland Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) scores past Oakland Raiders free safety Erik Harris (25) during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans have some very simple math to clinch their first AFC South title since 2008 and second playoff berth in three seasons.
Sweep the Houston Texans.
The Titans (8-5) have won four straight and six of seven to have a chance at the postseason after a 2-4 start in a season salvaged after the switch at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. How much better this season becomes depends on what they do Sunday when they host the Texans, the first of two games between these teams in the final three weeks.
Titans cornerback Logan Ryan says the old cliche of one week at a time has helped them put together a nice streak. Ryan says that string won't help against Houston (8-5).
“We got to handle Houston," Ryan said. "Just like in years past we never could win in Indy, and we won in Indy. We're due to have a bad upset in Oakland, and we didn't. So I just think we're taking it one week at a time, and we've got a big matchup with their receiving corps coming to town, and Deshaun Watson, so I think that's enough on our plate.”
Beating the Raiders 42-2 1, combined with Houston's surprise 38-24 loss to Denver last week is what allowed Tennessee to tie the Texans atop the division. The Texans currently have the tiebreaker thanks to a better conference record. The Titans' first sweep in this rivalry since 2007 would give Tennessee the division title.
The stakes are equally as big for Houston, with the Texans trying to win their fourth AFC South title in six seasons under coach Bill O'Brien. The Texans host Tennessee in the regular-season finale.
���You just always want to be in your own driver's seat and control your own destiny,” Texans linebacker D.J. Reader said. “That's all you can ask for.”
Derrick Henry is second in the NFL with a career-high 1,243 yards rushing, and he's tied for the league lead with 13 TDs rushing. He also has a pair of TD catches. But his left hamstring has had him on the injury report now three straight weeks. Even though Henry said Thursday he will be ready Sunday, he obviously was affected last week even as he notched his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.
Henry's longest run was a 24-yarder, the type he might threaten to take to the end zone in previous weeks. Did the hamstring slow him down?
“I was just trying to be nice,” Henry said.
Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is coming off a season-high 120 yards receiving last week along with a touchdown. He has the NFL's second-longest streak with 16 straight games with at least five or more receptions. The Titans will be trying to defend Hopkins with a banged-up secondary.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro currently is in the concussion protocol after being knocked out of last week's game. Starting cornerback Adoree' Jackson missed that game with an injured foot. Cornerback LeShaun Sims practiced fully Thursday after his right ankle kept him out of the last two games. Look for Ryan to stick closely to Hopkins.
PILING UP TACKLES
Houston linebacker Zach Cunningham leads the team with a career-high 114 tackles and his 79 solo tackles are also first among the Texans. The third-year player tied a career-high with 16 tackles last week and has five games this season with at least 10 tackles. Cunningham has 39 tackles since Week 12, most in the NFL in that span.
“He's really an outstanding player,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Cunningham, a rookie when Vrabel was Houston's defensive coordinator in 2017. “Just to see him grow, he's done a fantastic job.”
The Titans rank second in the NFL averaging 31.4 points a game over the past eight weeks, and they're also tied with San Francisco for the most big plays with 62 in that span. The Titans have 32 runs of 10 or more yards and 30 pass completions of 20 yards or longer. The 49ers have their 62 such plays in eight games compared to seven for the Titans.
NOT THIS WEEK
O'Brien gave Vrabel his first coaching job in the NFL, hiring him to work with the linebackers in 2014. Vrabel credits O'Brien with helping him prepare to be an NFL head coach. Not only are the men friends, but their wives are friends. O'Brien said he watches Vrabel's son, Tyler, play weekly at Boston College, and they talk regularly about family.
Not this week.
���I tried to call him this morning, but he didn't call me back,” O'Brien said.
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.
Houston Texans left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2020, said he'd be happy to stay with the team for the long-term. "Whatever coach decides to do, I'm happy. I'd be happy to stay there with Deshaun (Watson) and help win games," Tunsil said. He was traded to the Texans from the Dolphins last season and was a massive upgrade for Houston's offensive line and quarterback Deshaun Watson. It remains to be seen if the team will offer Tunsil a long-term deal, but one thing that is certain is that Tunsil's presence on Watson's blind side is great news heading into next season as the Texans look to get back to the postseason.
The Dallas Cowboys haven't had contract discussions with wide receiver Amari Cooper, but he said that he wants to be in Dallas for a long time. Cooper will become a free agent in March, but he is the team's No. 2 priority this offseason behind quarterback Dak Prescott. Despite dealing with nagging injuries for most of the season, Cooper had 79 receptions for a career-high 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns over a full season in 2019. It's hard to imagine Dallas letting him walk in free agency, and his fantasy value would remain the highest as a high-end WR1 if he stays with the Cowboys moving forward. If he goes elsewhere, Michael Gallup would become the team's No. 1 wideout.
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said that outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (knee), who tore his ACL on Sept. 30 against the Jaguars, is making "really good (progress)." "He looks great. I (jokingly) asked with about five weeks left in the season if he was ready to go. He should be ready to go for OTAs (in May) or even the offseason program (in April)," Elway said. Losing the pass rusher for most of the 2019 season was a big loss for Denver's defense. The 23-year-old was a force in his rookie season with 60 total tackles (41 solo), 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He should be able to bounce back across from Von Miller in 2020 and give Denver a formidable pass rush once again.
The Minnesota Vikings are turning to Gary Kubiak, who has been an assistant head coach and offensive advisor, as their next offensive coordinator, according to sources. Minnesota's previous offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski, has left to become the Browns head coach. Not much will change in Minnesota with Kubiak at the helm of the offense, but it is mostly good news for running back Dalvin Cook, who will continue to be the focal point of this offense moving forward. Quarterback Kirk Cousins also benefited from plenty of play-action passing plays while Kubiak was an offensive advisor.
Green Bay Packers TE Jimmy Graham is expected to be released during the offseason, in the opinion of The Green Bay Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty, who called the prospective move a 'given.' Graham has one year remaining on his deal. Releasing him would free up $8 million in cap room.
Fantasy Spin: Graham posted a 38-447-3 line in his age-33 season, and despite playing well in the playoffs he has been a disappointment since signing with the Packers. Wherever he plays (if he does) in 2020, Graham's days as a TE1 seem far in the rear view.
Green Bay Packers S Adrian Amos (pectoral) is unlikely to require surgery on his injured pec, according to head coach Matt LaFleur. Amos suffered the injury during the NFC Championship Game.
Updating a previous report, impending free-agent Austin Hooper (Falcons) is expected to receive overtures from the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins if he is allowed to reach the open market, according to sources via Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline.
Impending free-agent DE Robert Quinn (Cowboys) would prefer to remain with the Dallas Cowboys, and sources have told Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline that team owner/general manager Jerry Jones has been 'aggressive' in letting Quinn know he wants him to return.
Atlanta Falcons TE Austin Hooper is not close to a contract extension with the team, according to general manager Thomas Dimitroff Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'The reality right now is that we are trudging along,' Dimitroff said. 'Once we get back from the Super Bowl, after the Super Bowl week we'll continue to look and see how we are moving forward. But at this point there are no updates on Austin.'
Fantasy Spin: Hooper is coming off a career year in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns. He's an excellent third option behind WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in Atlanta, but his play this year may have priced him out of the Falcons' budget for 2020 and beyond. His potential free-agent destination would have a big impact on his 2020 draft stock.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Josh McCown spoke with head coach Doug Pederson about a potential role on the coaching staff, but McCown isn't ready to retire just yet. The veteran QB came out of retirement last August to sign a one-year deal with the Eagles. He's currently recovering from a torn hamstring that he suffered in the wild-card loss to the Seahawks. McCown threw only five passes during the regular season and served as a de facto player/coach as Carson Wentz's backup. He has some potential as a future offensive coordinator, but it's unlikely he would immediately be considered as Mike Groh's successor in Philly. Wherever McCown is playing in 2020, he'll strictly be a backup and won't have any fantasy value.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) had an arrest warrant on a felony charge of burglary and battery issued against him Wednesday, Jan. 22, by Hollywood, Fla. police. A moving truck driver claimed he was assaulted by Brown and his trainer. Brown also was charged with one count of burglary of an occupied conveyance and one count of criminal mischief.
Fantasy Spin: Dynasty owners should be preparing to move on from Brown before finalizing their rosters ahead of 2020 drafts.
Cleveland Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. will sit down with new head coach Kevin Stefanski Thursday, Jan. 23, to discuss Stefanski's plan for personal conduct. 'I'm looking forward to sitting down with Odell face to face,' Stefanski said. 'I haven't had the chance to do that yet and I get the chance to do that (Thursday). And at that point, that's when I can start laying out my expectations for Odell and all of our players.' Beckham was caught on video at the College Football Playoff Championship Game earlier this month appearing to hand out cash to LSU Tigers players, as well as appearing to slap a security officer on the butt in the locker room. Charges had been filed against Beckham for the latter incident, but they were later dropped.
Fantasy Spin: Beckham totaled 1,035 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his first season in Cleveland. Bigger things were expected, and the hiring of Stefanski should help lead to improvements for 2020. He remains a top-end WR1.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Kelce will be just fine to suit up on Feb. 2 against the 49ers in the Super Bowl. He was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and hasn't slowed down in the postseason, catching 13 of 16 targets for 164 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans and Titans. Most of that production came in the Divisional Round when he had 10 grabs for 134 yards and three scores, but Kelce can go off at any time and could be the X-factor in the Super Bowl in two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was unable to practice on Wednesday, but the team remains hopeful that he will be available for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. The team didn't practice on Wednesday, but they were required to submit an estimated practice report. Coleman dislocated his right shoulder in the first half of the NFC Championship against the Packers and played just eight snaps. If he's active for the Super Bowl, Coleman will split snaps with Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers. Matt Breida will be the No. 3 back.
Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder) indicated that he will be ready for the start of offseason workouts. Cook is entering the final year of his contract and is a candidate for an extension this offseason.
Fantasy Spin: Cook was one of the top running backs in the NFL this season with 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season. He will continue to be a focal point on offense for the Vikings next season and will be an early round pick in fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) fully participated in practice. The 49ers did not hold a practice Wednesday, so the injury report is an estimation.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 22. The 49ers did not hold a practice Wednesday, so this is an estimation.
Fantasy Spin: The 49ers are optimistic about Coleman's status for Super Bowl LIV, but he may be a game-time decision. He will share snaps with Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida if he plays and could be a flex option in fantasy leagues.
New Orleans Saints impending free-agent QB Drew Brees is a player that the Saints want to keep as long as he wants to keep playing, according to general manager Mickey Loomis.
Fantasy Spin: Brees will be a free agent this offseason, but the Saints will try to re-sign him. He finished with 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns in the regular season and can be considered a No. 1 quarterback in most fantasy leagues in 2020.