Team Notes week 18 2019
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
Lamar Jackson wasn't playing Sunday, but the Ravens still set an NFL record.
On Gus Edwards' 9-yard run early in the second quarter, the Ravens surpassed the 1978 New England Patriots for most rushing yards in a single season. The Patriots ran for 3,165 yards that season, a record that stood for 41 years. The Ravens finish the 2019 season with 3,296 rushing yards.
Needing 93 yards entering Sunday's game, Baltimore kept it on the ground and totaled 223 rushing yards in the 28-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL's No. 11 run defense. The Ravens established the milestone on third-and-1 when Edwards powered his way up the middle.
The Ravens became the third team in league history to eclipse 3,000 yards rushing in a season on the strength of an unconventional offense. Using a deceptive run-option style, Jackson used his speed to beat teams to the edges and running back Mark Ingram II powered his way between the tackles.
Baltimore has run for more than 200 yards nine times this season, including five of its past seven games.
Speaking of history, the Ravens are the first NFL team to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a season.
In Week 15, Jackson broke Michael Vick's single-season record for most rushing yards by a quarterback. In Week 16, Jackson and Ingram became the seventh pair of teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
On Sunday, Baltimore didn't play Jackson or Ingram because it had wrapped up the top seed in the AFC. That left Edwards and Robert Griffin III to finish off the Ravens' record-setting run to history.
Turns out Edwards didn't waste his opportunity.
He exploded through holes, sidestepped tackles and led the Ravens' rushing attack with a career-high 130 yards on 21 carries.
Now comes the part of the season that the Ravens have worked so hard for, entering the postseason as the AFC's No. 1 seed. Edwards could play a key role in the Ravens' postseason, with Ingram recovering from a calf injury suffered Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns.
Ingram is confident he will be ready for Baltimore's first playoff game, and the Ravens having a bye next weekend gives Ingram an additional week to heal. In fact, head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday that Ingram is "on schedule" in his return from a calf injury sustained on Dec. 22 at Cleveland.
However, Edwards showed he is ready to fill whatever role the Ravens need.
He was the workhorse back down the stretch for Baltimore last season, starting the last seven games and helping the Ravens make a successful push to the playoffs. This season as Ingram's backup, Edwards had fewer carries (127) than last season (137), but Sunday showed that Edwards is still ready to rumble.
"Gus, to me, is a starting running back in this league," Harbaugh said. "He continues to prove it. He proved it last year. To see him in there carrying the load like that, not surprising. Nobody thought for one second it would look any different."
It was fitting that Edwards was the ball carrier when the Ravens set the NFL record for team rushing yards in a season.
"It was in the back of everyone's mind -- I'm just proud we were able to do that," Edwards said. "It's something that we'll be able to look back on and have forever."
Jackson (1,206 yards) and Ingram (1,018 yards) led Baltimore's rushing attack this season, but everyone knew what Edwards was capable of if he got more carries. This was Edwards' turn to lead the rushing attack, with help from Griffin (50 yards, eight carries) and rookie running back Justice Hill (39 yards, 10 carries).
The win was Baltimore's 12th in a row. The Ravens haven't lost since Sept. 29 -- 91 days ago.
It's the longest winning streak in the NFL since the Carolina Panthers won 18 straight in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information. It's the most consecutive wins to end a regular season since the New England Patriots won all 16 of their games in 2007, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Ravens (14-2) take that momentum into the postseason, where they will play host to the worst-seeded remaining team (the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans) in the AFC divisional round on Jan. 11 or 12 after a first-round bye.
The impressive part is Baltimore dominated Pittsburgh despite making six Pro Bowl players inactive. In addition to Jackson and Ingram, Baltimore sat guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, tight end Mark Andrews, safety Earl Thomas III and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. ..
Again, the expectation is Ingram as well as the other nicked up players, including Andrews, will be available next week. We will follow up on that as need in the News and Views section of the site in coming days and I'll have more on it in next week's Team Notes as well. ...
Meanwhile, the NFL coaching carousel is spinning, and it has reportedly pointed toward the Ravens' staff. The Browns have requested permission to speak with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Cleveland fired Freddie Kitchens on Sunday after a disappointing 6-10 campaign during his one season as head coach. In a statement, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said they're focused on "hiring an exceptional leader."
In Roman's first season as Baltimore's offensive coordinator, the Ravens emerged as the NFL's highest-scoring team, in addition to setting the previously-mentioned rushing record. He's helped groom Jackson into the likely MVP in his second season.
Roman isn't the only candidate being linked to the Browns job. Other names to watch reportedly include New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, according Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has also emerged as a top potential head coaching candidate around the league, according to Rapoport. On Tuesday, the Giants requested permission to speak to him.
While Rapoport did not link Martindale with a team, but he reported that Martindale would want Joe Brady to come along as his offensive coordinator. Brady is LSU's 30-year-old passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach, who has been praised for his role in the Tigers' high-scoring offense and his influence on Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow.
Baltimore's defense has given up the fewest point in the NFL since Week 6 and finished the regular season ranked No. 5 overall after being ranked No. 1 in 2018. Martindale has smoothly integrated players acquired during the season into his defensive scheme such as linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, and defensive linemen Domata Peko and Jihad Ward.
Harbaugh has said repeatedly that he will support any coach on staff who pursues a head coaching opportunity. With the Ravens having a bye this week before their Jan. 11 divisional playoff game, interested teams would be allowed to interview Roman and Martindale this week.
"I'm very supportive of those guys and whatever opportunities they get," Harbaugh said Friday. ...
A few final notes. ... Rookie receiver Marquise Brown had two catches for 15 yards against Pittsburgh and has only three receptions in his last two games. In his defense, he caught both passes thrown in his direction Sunday.
What coach wouldn't cherish the security Justin Tucker provides?
He made 24 of 25 attempts during the regular season, and his only miss bounced off the upright. Tucker has the highest career conversion rate (90.6 percent) of any active kicker, and there is no better choice to take a game-winning kick in the playoffs.
Believe it or not, Tucker has scored exactly 141 points in each of the last four seasons, tied for the Ravens' single-season record. He rallied to get his 141 this season with a 14-point effort on Sunday. ...
And finally. ... The Ravens will seek to avoid gathering rust by practicing this week. By the time they play their playoff opener, the seven players rested on Sunday will have gone three weeks without game action.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Jaleel Scott, De'Anthony Thomas, Chris Moore
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
Buffalo's AFC Wild Card playoff matchup was officially determined on Sunday. The Bills will travel to Houston to play the Texans Saturday.
It will be the first time in franchise history that the Bills play in Houston for a playoff game.
The Texans were locked into the AFC's No. 4 seed by virtue of Kansas City's win over the L.A. Chargers on Sunday.
Buffalo last played the Texans in the 2018 season in Week 5 at Houston suffering a 20-13 loss.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques noted, the ability to rest your starters in Week 17 is a relief for playoff-bound teams. That feeling wears off, however, when players get hurt even in limited action.
The Buffalo Bills rested several starters Sunday in their 13-6 loss to the New York Jets, including wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, running back Devin Singletary and cornerback Tre'Davious White. But they didn't escape unscathed, as starting cornerback Levi Wallace was ruled out after injuring his ankle in the first quarter.
Offensive lineman Ty Nsekhe, playing in his first game since injuring his ankle in Week 11, also left the game with an injury to the same ankle.
Starting right tackle Cody Ford missed time to injury, as did special teams stalwart Siran Neal and starting nickel corner Taron Johnson -- although Ford, Neal and Johnson did re-enter the game.
With Shaq Lawson and Andre Roberts already nursing injuries that kept them out of Sunday's contest, Buffalo is not quite at full strength entering next weekend's AFC playoff game against the Houston Texans.
It is a big deal if Wallace can't play this week, considering the Texans' exceptional passing game, which features quarterback Deshaun Watson and receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, Keke Coutee and possibly an oft-injured Will Fuller.
However, Kevin Johnson is a starting-caliber cornerback and should fill in seamlessly in Wallace's place. White's presence alongside safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde also keeps this Buffalo secondary quite formidable.
In fact, as ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert suggested this week, if you're in the "defense wins championships" crowd, you probably consider the Bills a legitimate contender. They entered Week 17 ranked No. 5 in Football Outsiders' defensive DVOA and No. 2 in points allowed. They have an active front, multiple playmakers in the back end and make opponents work for everything.
This is a team built to stifle opponents and hope that the offense can find a way to score enough to win.
Of all the Bills' defensive playmakers, Hyde might be the most versatile and perhaps the one most likely to make a surprising, game-changing play. He is a strong tackler, has some burst as a blitzer and always finds a way to get near the ball.
So we have a defense that's allowed just one 300-yard passing game (Ryan Fitzpatrick had 323 yards in Miami's 37-20 loss) this season, while generating 44 sacks -- the most by Buffalo since 2014. In a 20-13 loss at Houston in October 2018, Buffalo limited the Texans to a season-low 216 yards offense and sacked Deshaun Watson seven times.
It's no surprise the Bills head into this week's game feeling positive about their chances.
According to Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow, that confidence stems from how the Bills performed down the stretch in both wins and losses. Buffalo raised eyebrows by beating the Cowboys at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and then clinching a playoff berth with a Sunday night win at Pittsburgh.
And the Bills are buoyed by how each of their losses to Baltimore and New England over the past month weren't decided until the final 70 seconds.
Both times, the Josh Allen-led offense failed to produce a game-tying touchdown inside the red zone and instead turned the ball over on downs.
The second-year quarterback has made strides in various areas, including winning five games this season with Buffalo trailing or tied in the fourth quarter.
And yet, Allen has overseen an offense that has been held to under 20 points eight times and limited to scoring two or fewer touchdowns 11 times -- not including the mean-nothing season finale. Overall, the offense finished 24th in yards gained and 23rd in points scored in the NFL.
The inconsistent production places an emphasis on Buffalo's defense to continue effectively containing opponents. A unit that returned 10 starters from a year ago, finished this season ranked third in the NFL in yards allowed and second in points.
Two years ago, Tyrod Taylor was Buffalo's quarterback, and the offense came up short in a 10-3 wild-card loss at Jacksonville.
The Bills made the decision the following offseason to start over at quarterback by dealing Taylor to Cleveland and accumulate draft picks to trade up to eventually draft Allen with the No. 7 pick.
Allen's performance Saturday will provide an indication of how far the Bills have come in two years -- or, perhaps, how far they still need to go.
In a related note. ... Per ESPN Stats and Information (via Louis-Jacques), Allen (third) and Deshaun Watson (fourth) were among the top quarterbacks in rush yards this season, but one might find it easier to run Saturday.
The Texans allowed the second-most yards per rush to opposing QBs this season (5.6) while the Bills allowed the fewest (2.8). Allen (90-801-7) also has the most rushing yards and TDs off scrambles in the NFL since the start of the 2018 season. Watson (102-688-5) ranks second in both categories. ...
One area in need of improvement?
Finishing drives. Buffalo has scored 25 touchdowns on 44 drives inside an opponent's 20, with the 56.8 percent touchdown rate ranking 17th in the NFL, and ninth among playoff teams.
We'll see if they can improve on that against one of the playoff's most generous defenses. ...
For what it's worth, it's been 25 years since Bills' last playoff victory, 37-22 home win against Miami in AFC wild-card on Dec. 30, 1994. Buffalo has lost its past five postseason games. ...
In addition, the Texans defense is a break for the Buffalo offense which has been up against the NFL's top defenses the last five weeks.
Each of the Bills last five opponents put a top-10 NFL defense on the field (Jets 7th, Patriots 1st, Steelers 5th, Ravens 4th, Cowboys 5th) and it showed. The Bills went 2-3 down the stretch and averaged only 16 points per game.
Now, the Bills go up against Houston's defense, ranked 28th in the league and giving up 24 points per game. It's a chance for the Buffalo offensive attack to regain its footing after a tough stretch. ...
Other notes of interest this week. ... Duke Williams got the start at wide receiver in his third game on the Bills' active roster, reeling in six catches for 108 yards on a team-high 12 targets.
It was the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
"I wish we would've got the victory, but we're in the playoffs," said Williams. "I did my part. Tried to make plays when the ball came my way and was determined to get dirty in the blocking game and I was able to do that too."
His biggest play came late in the game when Matt Barkley found him for a 41-yard pass play that led to a field goal drive.
"He's a tough football player," said head coach Sean McDermott. "He's obviously popular with the fans and he brought us juice, brought us energy. He's a young player though and I know there are plays he wants back. Some fundamentals in there that we've got to improve on, but I thought he brought us some energy."
McDermott didn't rule out players who performed in Sunday's game earning consideration for playing time in Houston this weekend.
"Yes, absolutely there is (opportunity to earn consideration) and we believe we had a good week of practice," said McDermott. "We got some good work in there with some guys working against each other and so give us again an opportunity to evaluate and watch our guys handle the week and then how they handled the game. Again, it's all about us growing as a football team who can help us the most."
Williams isn't expecting anything coming out of his Week 17 performance. He's just focused on being prepared.
"I kind of established my name, but I've still got more in the tank," said Williams of his performance Sunday. "I'm just waiting for the opportunity. I'm just working hard every day, staying ready, so when opportunities like this present themselves I'll be able to perform. ..."
Receiver Isaiah McKenzie showed another dimension to his versatility by playing three snaps on defense against the Jets. McKenzie filled in at defensive back after Levi Wallace and Siran Neal were sidelined by injuries. Aside from his role as receiver, he has been used in running situations and plays special teams. ...
Of course, Brown and Beasley will be back as the top outside threats in this one. ...
One last item here. ... Add Brian Daboll's name to a growing list of candidates for the Browns' head coaching vacancy.
Tom Pelissero of the NFL reports that the Browns requested permission to interview the Bills offensive coordinator.
Cleveland also has Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski on its list of candidates to replace Freddie Kitchens via various sources.
Daboll became the Bills' offensive coordinator for two seasons. He has spent time on the staff of Nick Saban at Alabama and Bill Belichick at New England.
Daboll had two stints as an assistant with the Patriots, winning five Super Bowl rings. He was co-offensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide in 2017.
In 2009-10, Daboll was the Browns' offensive coordinator.
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Davis Webb
RBs: Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones
WRs: John Brown, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Andre Roberts, Robert Foster
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Tommy Sweeney, Jason Croom
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
The Green Bay Packers have a week off to get ready for their first playoff game, and, as ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, by the looks of things at Ford Field on Sunday, they're going to need it.
A week after they looked like a Super Bowl contender, the Packers played like a team unworthy of a first-round bye for a good part of the afternoon.
Their 13th win of the season -- 23-20 on Mason Crosby's last-second, 33-yard field goal -- was one of their ugliest, and that's saying something considering they've been winning that way for the better part of December.
After they squeaked out a win over the Redskins in Week 14, Aaron Rodgers said he "wouldn't mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl."
At least the Packers' road to Miami got easier.
They secured a first-round bye and will host a divisional-round playoff game at Lambeau Field on the second weekend of January. Win that game, and they will play for the NFC championship and a berth in the Super Bowl.
A loss to the Lions would have dropped the Packers to the No. 3 seed, which would have forced them to play on wild-card weekend with that game possibly being their only home playoff game.
Still, Sunday's performance was hardly the convincing win that was the Packers' Monday night victory in Minnesota six days earlier.
Those who have thought Rodgers is on the decline had plenty of supporting evidence. Rodgers was an overthrow machine: In the first half alone, he overthrew eight of his 12 incompletions. He had 16 overthrows for incompletions total. Not only was that a career high, but it's the most by a quarterback in a game since ESPN began tracking them in 2006.
"Too many missed throws," Rodgers said. "Felt good about the throws, that's the crazy thing. Felt good about some of those I overthrew by a couple yards. Just a little bit off at times. But when we had to make some plays we made some plays.
"I think right from the first play we were a little bit off the entire first half, but we came back with some simpler stuff in the second half. Still didn't connect on some ones we had chances to, but no, just a little bit off today."
Rodgers' cast of receivers, outside of Davante Adams, did little to help him, but Rodgers rarely adjusted well enough to put the ball on the money. On his first throw of the second half, Rodgers sailed one over an open Allen Lazard on a deep post.
The game turned late in the third quarter when Rodgers finally put a deep throw on the money to Adams for a 20-yard touchdown on a ball thrown across the field.
That seemed to dial Rodgers in. He led Lazard to the goal line on a 28-yard touchdown pass down to the seam to tie the game at 20 with 5:19 to play, and then Aaron Jones slithered for 31 yards on a screen to set up Crosby's winning kick.
Rodgers finished 27-of-55 for 323 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The Packers avoided a loss as a 13-point favorite against a Lions team (3-12-1) that had not won in more than two months. According to Elias, it's only the second time in NFL history a team went 2-0 against an opponent despite not holding a lead in regulation. The other instance was the 1977 49ers over the Saints. Crosby made the game winner at the end of regulation in the Packers' Week 6 win over the Lions.
"We haven't always made it easy, we haven't always made it pretty, but for the most part we've found a way pretty much every game," Adams said.
For what it's worth, Demovsky wondered why the Packers didn't go with the short passing game to get Rodgers in a rhythm, and where was the pressure on a rookie backup quarterback?
Yes, Rodgers played his worst half of the season, but Packers coach Matt LaFleur didn't appear to help him with many short-to-intermediate throws.
Rodgers was 1-for-7 in the first quarter, his second-worst completion percentage in an opening quarter in his career behind only his 0-for-2 first quarter against the Lions in Week 17 of the 2014 season, according to ESPN Stats and Info. This Lions pass defense came in ranked last in the NFL.
Also worth noting. ... The Packers beat only two teams that will finish the season with a winning record: the Vikings (twice) and the Chiefs when they were playing without quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Packers have offered no excuses about "winning ugly," nor should they. Thirteen wins is no joke. But not all wins are created equal. In the one game they faced a championship contender at full strength, in Week 12 at San Francisco, they lost by 29 points. In short, a 13-win team has entered the playoffs without showing us that they are a dominant team.
Not to be overlooked is Green Bay's close-game prowess.
Few teams can match the Packers' 8-1 record in games decided by eight points or fewer. Green Bay survived three first-half turnovers a week ago at Minnesota and a two-touchdown deficit at halftime at Detroit to extend its winning streak to five games, win the NFC North and gain a first-round bye.
The Packers swept the Lions despite not leading for a single second of regulation in those games.
"It's definitely belief," Rodgers said. "There's an expectation that if we get the ball in two-minute (offense), we're going to score. That belief carries a lot of weight in those situations. The calmness with which we operate in those situations, I think, allows us to really focus and personally allows me to get in my zone as far as what plays I want to get to."
As for the pieces not named Rodgers. ... Jones eclipsed the 1,000-yard-rushing mark for the first time in his career, and he's under contract for one more season on his rookie deal. Jones came into the game needing just 16 yards to reach that mark and finished with 100 yards on 25 carries along with two catches for 43 yards. He avoided an injury scare in the second quarter when he got his right hand stepped on, but he returned to the game after a brief medical exam. The only thing missing was a score. He finished on 19 touchdowns -- one short of the Packers' single-season record.
In addition, Adams missed another 1,000-yard season by 3 yards. It's the second time in his career he's finished a year at 997, but his seven-catch, 93-yard, one-touchdown game has him headed into the postseason on a roll. He had games with 116 and 103 yards the previous two weeks.
The bye will allow the players to get healthy and the team to get ready for one of three playoff opponents. No. 2 running back Jamaal Williams missed the Detroit game with a shoulder injury and center Corey Linsley (back) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (head) left the game. Lucas Patrick (for Linsley) and Jared Veldheer (for Bulaga) played well, which is why the Packers signed Patrick to a contract extension on Saturday and claimed the veteran Veldheer off waivers on Nov. 27.
If third-seeded New Orleans beats sixth-seeded Minnesota, the Saints would come to Lambeau Field. If the Vikings pull off the upset, Green Bay would face the winner of Seattle at Philadelphia.
The team will practice on Thursday and Friday, get the weekend off, then get back to work on Monday. "How many plays we played in this last game and how came out health-wise, I just don't think our guys are going to be ready to practice on Wednesday," LaFleur said. "I want them to get some work in. That's the most important. There's a lot of stuff that we can clean up on the field."
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Manny Wilkins
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Tyler Ervin, John Crockett
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Devin Funchess, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd, Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
The Texans decided that resting some banged-up players before next week's playoff game was more important than winning on Sunday.
Derrick Henry rushed for a season-high 211 yards and three touchdowns and the Tennessee Titans beat the Texans 35-14 to clinch a playoff spot. The Texans beat the Titans two weeks ago to take control of the AFC South and locked up the division last week, allowing Houston to sit quarterback Deshaun Watson and other key players.
"Once we were getting closer to the beginning of the game, it was pretty obvious that our seeding wasn't going to change," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "So we decided to do those things in the best interest of the team."
Watson was active on Sunday, but O'Brien started AJ McCarron instead. Watson was listed as questionable with a back injury this week but said he was OK. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins (illness) was also active, but did not play and several starters, including receiver Kenny Stills (knee), left tackle Laremy Tunsil (ankle) and nose tackle D.J. Reader, were inactive.
"The most important thing when you get to this part of the season is the health of the team," safety Justin Reid said. "So everybody that got a chance to get healthy and be back next week, that's what's most important."
Houston was locked into the AFC's fourth seed after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers earlier Sunday. The Texans will host Buffalo next week.
"I think we're as healthy as we can possibly be at this time," O'Brien said. "We need to come in here ready to go. ... And have a good week of preparation."
The Texans are expected to get three time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt back against the Bills. Watt, who tore a pectoral muscle in October, returned to practice last week, but couldn't be added to the active roster until after Sunday's game.
It's unclear how much Watt will be able to play next weekend, but regardless of his snap count, everyone is thrilled about his return after he was thought to be done for the season.
"Anything he can give us from a playing standpoint will be great, but I just think that his presence alone is big," veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said. "Just going out there with a guy like that, rushing to get back, beating the timetable, putting it on the line for his team, anytime you have a guy doing that, it's going to lift everybody else up, give them some extra juice and pump them up as well."
Joseph injured a hamstring in the first half and didn't return, but said after the game that he is OK and expects to play next week.
McCarron scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter that cut Tennessee's lead to 21-14.
"He made some good plays out there, made some good decisions," O'Brien said. "It was tough sledding at time, but for a guy that had not played, this was a good opportunity for him to play."
In fact, as ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop put it, McCarron "showed he is a capable backup quarterback," a role the Texans have struggled to fill in recent years. McCarron completed 21 of 36 passes for 225 yards and an interception and dove into the end zone in the third quarter for Houston's second touchdown.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was McCarron's first rushing touchdown since 2012, his junior season at Alabama.
Also per Barshop, Duke Johnson's touchdown run was the Texans' first on their opening possession this season and their first in 23 games, which ended the longest active drought in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Before to Week 17, the Texans had scored only six points on their first possessions.
Bigger picture positives here?
The Texans have successfully addressed one of their biggest problems from 2018: Lost yardage from Watson taking 62 sacks (for a league-high 384 yards). This season, Watson cut the sacks by nearly 30 percent. The Texans are going to have a hard time distinguishing themselves in a loaded conference, but sacks are one way they have objectively improved after previous playoff flameouts.
The biggest concern?
As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert pointed out, the Texans' defense entered Week 17 ranked No. 22 in Football Outsiders' DVOA, worst among any team that had qualified for the playoffs. Most concerning is that it had given up an average of 270.3 passing yards per game, third-worst in the NFL, through 16 weeks.
That's a big worry in a conference with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. ...
According to BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown, the best individual matchup on the field Saturday may be the one featuring Buffalo's Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White and Hopkins.
The Bills have had success this year matching up White with the opponent's best wideout, including Cleveland's Odell Beckham, Jr.
Hopkins is a four-time Pro Bowl performer coming off another sensational year. He caught 104 passes; seven of them for touchdowns for the Texans this year. He even threw a touchdown pass this season, a six-yard score against the Patriots five weeks ago.
The Bills aren't offering any clues about their plans to have White trail Hopkins around the field this Saturday, but it makes sense. ...
On the injury front. ... The Texans hope get Fuller back this week. Fuller injured his groin in Week 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but there is a chance he could play against the Bills. Last week, O'Brien said Fuller is "day-to-day" with the injury. On Monday, O'Brien said Fuller is "progressing and headed in the right direction," but he's not sure whether he will be able to play against the Bills.
If Fuller can't play, expect a bigger role for second-year receiver DeAndre Carter, who had a team-best six catches for 65 yards in Sunday's loss to the Titans but has 11 catches on the season.
"Really, just the next guy [needs to] step up," Watson said. "So, if that's whoever is playing a position or has the opportunity to step in and play that role, you definitely can't be Will Fuller but you can be the best of yourself, and we're definitely going to do that."
But clearly, as Barshop noted, that has not been the case for the Texans this season. When Fuller is not on the field, his absence is notable.
In games Fuller played in the 2019 regular season, Houston averaged 26.3 points per game, compared to 19.6 when he did not. They had an 8-3 record when he played and 2-3 when he didn't.
We'll have more on his status in the News and Views section of the site in coming days.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell
WRs: Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Kahale Warring
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
Andy Reid has an 18-3 career record coming off a bye. The Kansas City Chiefs will have the benefit of that extra week of rest and preparation before their first playoff game.
The 12-4 Chiefs saw to that by holding off the Los Angeles Chargers 31-21 on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. That result, coupled with the New England Patriots' loss to the Miami Dolphins, gives the Chiefs the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye.
The Chiefs will open the postseason in two weeks at Arrowhead against an opponent to be determined. They finished the regular season with a six-game winning streak.
With the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye on the line, the Chiefs opted not to show the score of the game between the Patriots and Dolphins at Arrowhead
Reid didn't want his team distracted. So instead of scoreboard watching, the Chiefs searched for clues about the result in New England.
Some listened for cheers from Chiefs fans unrelated to the game they were playing. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes said at one point he saw Tom Brady's stats in a fantasy update on the scoreboard and tried to use them to figure out whether the Patriots were winning or losing.
It wasn't until the Chiefs closed out their victory that they finally learned that the Patriots' loss had given Kansas City that coveted No. 2 seed. The Dolphins finished their win over the Patriots at about the same time thanks to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw a touchdown pass with 24 seconds left for a 27-24 victory.
"It's Fitzmagic, man," Mahomes said. "He does things that are awesome to watch."
Reid said he would happily send Fitzpatrick some Kansas City steaks as a token of his gratitude, but added "I can't do that, though, because that's tampering.
"Hail to the Dolphins."
The prospect of a week off in the playoffs was a major incentive for the Chiefs as they prepared to play the Chargers.
"It's basically like winning a playoff game," Mahomes said.
The difficult part of the equation seemed to be a Dolphins win over the Patriots. New England was favored by more than two touchdowns and had lost only once at home this season -- to the Chiefs.
"Playing in Gillette [Stadium], it was going to be hard for them to get a win," Mahomes said.
Of course, as ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, the Chiefs had plenty to worry about on their own. The Chargers came into the game just 5-10 but had given the Chiefs a major scare when the teams met Week 11 in Mexico City. The Chiefs needed every one of four interceptions in that game against Philip Rivers to hold on for the victory that started their six-game winning streak.
"I was more worried about us beating the Chargers than [the Patriots losing]," linebacker Anthony Hitchens said.
On Sunday, the Chiefs fell behind 14-10 in the third quarter, with their offense again struggling to move the ball.
Then the Chiefs scored back-to-back touchdowns covering 188 yards. Mecole Hardman ran back a kickoff 104 yards for one score and Damien Williams rushed 84 yards for a touchdown to give the Chiefs a 10-point lead.
Still, the Chiefs needed a third-down conversion on a 47-yard pass to Tyreek Hill, who was covered by a linebacker, to finally put the Chargers away.
"When I saw him covered by a linebacker, I knew I was putting it up to him," Mahomes said.
That play led to the clinching touchdown, a 7-yard run by Williams, and all that was left was awaiting the favorable news from New England.
The Chiefs know having a bye guarantees them nothing. They had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs last season but lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. But they entered those playoffs having lost two of three games.
This year, with their winning streak, they're on a roll.
"We are the hottest team," Hill said. "We have the most swag in the AFC. I know the Ravens got Lamar [Jackson]. The Patriots have Tom [Brady]. But we've got Patrick Mahomes, baby."
That said, Mahomes didn't finish the season with a flourish. He was 16-of-25 for 174 yards and a touchdown. His 7.0 yards per attempt was his lowest of the season since throwing for a 5.7 average against the Chargers in Week 11 in Mexico City.
Still, were it not for the emergence of the Ravens' Lamar Jackson, Mahomes might have repeated as MVP -- despite a knee injury that cost him two games.
Mahomes has roared back in the second half of the season, leading the Chiefs to victories in five of the six games since his return, and is playing at the same level at which he finished 2018. There is nothing that could give the Chiefs more confidence as they enter the playoffs.
And that's good news.
Despite Williams' big game against the Chargers, if the Chiefs need to run the ball, as teams often do during the playoffs, do we trust that part of their offense?
As ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert pointed out, the Chiefs entered Week 17 with the lowest per-game average of rushing yards (93.8) of any team that had qualified for the playoffs. Leading rusher LeSean McCoy, who is 31, has been deactivated for multiple games -- presumably to ensure he is healthy for the playoffs. We'll see if he cuts into Williams' workload now that we're there. ...
On the injury front. ... The Chiefs will be without rookie free safety Juan Thornhill for the playoffs after learning he tore his left ACL against the Chargers.
"He's had a heck of a year," Reid said of Thornhill, a second-round draft pick who started all 16 games. "He's a good football player and has a great future ahead of him. This will slow him down a little bit but he'll be back and ready to go."
Thornhill finished the season with three interceptions, which was second on the Chiefs. He returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in a Week 13 win over the Oakland Raiders.
Reid said the Chiefs would choose between cornerback Kendall Fuller and backup Armani Watts to replace Thornhill. The Chiefs have used Fuller in a variety of roles this season, including some at safety.
The Chiefs after meeting as a team on Monday morning won't gather again for practice until Thursday. They'll also work on Friday, take Saturday off and then regroup on Sunday once they know their opponent for their divisional round playoff game.
The Chiefs will play either the Patriots, Bills or Texans on Jan. 12 at Arrowhead Stadium.
And finally. ... Reid said there's a "good chance" offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will leave for a head coaching position.
Reid confirmed the Giants and Panthers have requested permission to speak with Bieniemy about their openings. On Tuesday, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported that the Browns also jumped in and requested permission to speak to Bieniemy.
He’s free to interview this week with the Chiefs off until the divisional round of the playoffs.
"There's a team out there. ... That could really use him, being the leader of men that he is," Reid said. "You're not going to find people better than that in that category. And then he's a sharp offensive mind on top of that."
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Jordan Ta'amu, Kyle Shurmur
RBs: Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Elijah McGuire, Darrel Williams
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Gehrig Dieter
TEs: Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer, Ricky Seals-Jones
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin reported, at times Sunday, the vibe inside U.S. Bank Stadium more closely resembled that of preseason game No. 3 than the 2019 regular-season finale.
Week 17 and its outcome were effectively meaningless for the Minnesota Vikings, who were handed a 21-19 loss by the Chicago Bears, their second defeat this season by their NFC North rival.
Having secured a postseason bid eight days ago and with no room to advance past the No. 6 seed after a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football, the Vikings opted to sit the majority of their starters and roll with their backups against the Bears. A group that included Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook (shoulder), Eric Kendricks (quad) and Anthony Barr were able to scoreboard watch from the sideline as the Vikings eagerly waited to see if they'd find out their first-round opponent by the end of the game.
With the Packers pulling off a last-second win over the Detroit Lions, the Vikings had to wait until the conclusion of San Francisco-Seattle to find out where they're headed for the wild-card round.
The outcome wasn't necessarily a best-case scenario.
Minnesota will visit New Orleans in the Wild Card round, as the Saints are the No. 3 seed after going 13-3 and winning the NFC South. The last time Minnesota won a road playoff game was 2004.
Despite ending the regular season on a two-game losing streak, the Vikings aim to buck that trend Saturday.
The teams have met four previous times in the postseason, most recently in January of 2018. The Vikings pulled out a 29-24 win in the Divisional round when Diggs scampered into Vikings lore with the Minneapolis Miracle.
Minnesota is 3-1 all-time against New Orleans in the postseason. The last meeting in the Big Easy occurred in the 2009 NFC title game, which was won by the Saints.
The teams did not meet in 2019, but played each other in the 2017 and 2018 regular seasons. Each team won one of those meetings.
Including the four postseason games, Minnesota is 22-12 all-time against New Orleans.
When you're one of only 12 teams left, the stakes get higher. And they only intensify as the playoff rounds move along.
Thielen talked in the Vikings locker room Monday about how the team already has a sense of urgency heading into a week of preparation and practice.
The Pro Bowl wide receiver said that everyone has to be sharp during a playoff week, and that the small details matter more than ever.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said he wants his players to be locked in all week, while also being creatures of habit and sticking to their routines.
Come Sunday, Zimmer said, the game will likely boil down to a few plays here or there.
"Well, it's important that when you get in games like this, number one, you have to be able to execute," Zimmer said. "Do it like he said, do what you've been doing all along.
"But mistakes are magnified now, every little thing becomes a lot more magnified because of the consequences of winning and losing," Zimmer added. "So, everybody has to do a little bit extra in preparation so that we don't make those mistakes. We line up, play hard and play fast."
Cousins' play will obviously be key.
After sitting out the closer, Cousins completed 307 of 444 passes (69.1 percent) for 3,603 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions in 15 games in 2019. His passer rating of 107.4 was a career high and ranked fourth in the NFL. Cousins will now get ready to start his second-career playoff game. He is 0-1, making his lone start with Washington in 2015.
He is 1-2 in his career against the Saints, but has put up solid numbers in those three games. Cousins has completed 73 of 98 passes (74.5 percent) for 1,005 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception.
As Cronin reminded readers, the Vikings brought Cousins to Minnesota to win a Super Bowl.
The quarterback had a handful of great moments this season, emerging as an MVP candidate for a period in November, but almost equally as many instances that make Minnesota question whether he's deserving of an extension that could come this offseason. Cousins has one last the chance to change the narrative around him. The quarterback's lasting impression from the regular season was his stat line of 16-of-31 passing for 122 yards, one touchdown and one interception against Green Bay that extended his Monday night record to 0-9.
This weekend, the Vikings will find out whether Cousins can succeed in uncharted territory by winning his first playoff game.
Dating to the offseason, the message from Vikings' brass was that gaudy statistics don't amount to anything if they don't result in wins. If Cousins leads Minnesota to the divisional round, he has done a portion of what was expected of him when he signed his three-year, $84 million contract in March 2018.
Of some concern. ... There were only five defensive players who notched at least 14.5 sacks during the 2019 season, and a pair of them will be in action Sunday afternoon.
One of them, of course, is Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. The former third-round pick matched his career high with 14.5 sacks, and that essentially came in 15 games as he played just one defensive snap in Week 17.
But the other is Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who set a career-high with 15.5 sacks in 2019. The son of former Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, Cam Jordan has reached double-digit sack numbers in five of the past seven seasons.
"He's a very violent rusher. Plays extremely hard, tough guy," Zimmer said. "He uses his hands well. He's a good matchup."
A strong rushing attack would help.
It certainly has been a factor in Cousins' success on play-action passes.
The good news, Minnesota hopes Cook and Mattison, the duo that combined for 1,597 yards and 14 touchdowns is healthy for Sunday.
Cook and Mattison helped the Vikings finish the season ranked sixth in the league with 133.3 rushing yards per game.
Cook led Minnesota with 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games in 2019. Mattison added 462 yards and a score. Mike Boone had 273 yards and three scores as his workload increased in the final month of the season.
For what it's worth, Cook spoke to media members on Monday afternoon.
"Two weeks of rest and got treatment. ... I've been putting the time in, and I feel good," Cook said.
"It's a long season. You go through a lot, your body takes a lot," he added. "I got some rest, and I'm ready to go."
Cook plans to be on the field Sunday in New Orleans. I'll follow up on Cook and Mattison as needed in the News and Views section of the site in coming days. ...
One last note here. ... One year ago, the future of Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was up in the air. After the failed John DeFilippo experiment in 2018, Stefanski had a three-game audition for the full-time coordinator job and after things went well, he wound up as a finalist for the Cleveland Browns' head coaching position along with Freddie Kitchens.
The Browns went with Kitchens and Stefanski stayed in Minnesota as the full-time offensive coordinator. The latter went well for the Vikings as Stefanski helped breathe life into their offense while Kitchens struggled to a 6-10 record in Cleveland.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns would like a mulligan after firing Kitchens on Sunday evening by requesting an interview with Stefanski for their now-vacant head coaching position. Cabot also noted that the Browns were also interested in Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy (who reportedly has turned down the Browns' interview request).
Of course, Stefanski helped the Vikings rebound by leading them to rank 16th in the NFL in total offense despite missing Thielen for half the season with a hamstring injury.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Tajae Sharpe, Olabisi Johnson, Chad Beebe, Davion Davis
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss framed it, "In a shocking turn of events," the New England Patriots squandered the No. 2 seed and a bye in the AFC playoffs with a 27-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
The Patriots' much-vaunted defense couldn't stop Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a final drive that lasted 13 plays and covered 75 yards, culminating with tight end Mike Gesicki's 5-yard touchdown catch with 24 seconds remaining.
"We needed our best football. We didn't have it today," head coach Bill Belichick said. "Hopefully it will be there next week."
The Dolphins, who entered the game with four wins and were a 17-point underdog, pulled off the largest upset of the NFL season, according to ESPN's Stats and Information.
The bye has been critical to the Patriots' Super Bowl success in the Belichick/Tom Brady era. Each of the six Super Bowls the Patriots won came when they had a first-round playoff bye. The last time they played in a wild-card game was 2009.
"It was a great chance for us to not play next week, so we didn't take advantage of it," Brady said. "We just didn't play good enough. We all wish we should have done a better job. Certainly I do."
Since 2001, the Patriots are 27-7 with the bye, with nine Super Bowl appearance and six championships. They are 3-3 without the bye.
The Patriots will host the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
"We got beat, and now we got to play next week," Brady said. "We got to play a lot better next week."
The result is the largest upset loss of Brady's career, as he was 30-0 as at least a 14-point favorite, according to ESPN's Stats and Information. Entering the game, Brady's worst career upset was as a 13.5-point favorite against Arizona in the second week of the 2012 season.
Overall, it is the Patriots' largest upset loss since Sept 18, 1978, when they were a 17-point favorite over Baltimore.
The Patriots still could have earned a No. 2 seed and playoff bye if the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Los Angeles Chargers, but they wanted to take matters into their own hands. That's why they referred to the game against the Dolphins as a playoff contest.
But they didn't play with a postseason type of urgency, falling behind 10-0 in the second quarter after Brady threw an interception that cornerback Eric Rowe returned 35 yards for a touchdown. It was Brady's first pick-six since the 2017 season.
Brady was uncharacteristically inaccurate, going just 5-of-12 for 92 yards in the first half. He finished the game 15-of-28 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
His 13-yard touchdown pass to running back James White on a screen pass with 3:53 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Patriots a 24-20 lead, but the defense couldn't hold.
"That's what we want, a chance to play defense to end the game and we didn't get it done," veteran safety Devin McCourty said. "When you don't do that on the last drive of the game and you let the team drive the field and score, that's what you get. We didn't execute really any situations out there, especially the last drive."
New England's defense was picked apart by Fitzpatrick, allowing a season-high 326 passing yards. It ended a streak of 25 straight regular-season games that the Patriots hadn't allowed a 300-yard passer, which was the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Titans ended the season ranked 21st in the NFL, averaging 224 yards per game through the air.
Of course, as ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert suggested this week, The Patriots always find a way.
Even after one of the more trying and frustrating seasons of the Belichick/Brady era, they are just three games away from the Super Bowl. If they could win 12 regular-season games while Brady produced his lowest-ever QBR, then what can't they do? (QBR was first tabulated in 2006.)
Their league-leading defense has carried it through the year, and defense is never more valuable than in the playoffs.
In addition, the Patriots have generally been one of the best teams in the NFL coming off a loss. Since 2003, New England is 46-9 (.836) in regular-season games following a loss. As a starter, Brady is 48-13 in games after a loss.
For what it's worth. ... Brady insists that his elbow is an issue.
During his weekly WEEI interview, Brady said that he is physically fine, despite being on the injury report lately and showing signs that he is something less than completely well.
"It's feeling good. I don't have any problems," Brady said, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "I have no injuries. I've said it, like, a lot. I feel good. There's no injury, no nothing. I wish I would've played better, and that's about it."
Of course, as Profootballtalk.com notes, Brady has been spotted shaking his arm on the sidelines as if he was in some discomfort, and with ice bags on his arm, and with a 60.8 completion percentage this year which is unlike him.
"It's football. You get hit," he said. "I've gotten hit a few times on the elbow and it's part of football. I'm sure basically every player in the league has ice bags after games and feeling different things. It's just part of the sport. I'm feeling good. I'm feeling really good."
That's a good thing, because they have a short week to prepare for Saturday's game against the Titans. ...
In what might be a related note. ... The Dolphins' defense effectively took receiver Julian Edelman out of the game, holding him to just three catches for 26 yards on seven targets. It was his second-fewest receptions of the season. Edelman was questionable heading into the game with knee and shoulder injuries and has been bothered by various ailments this season.
It's not a welcome development for a Patriots offense that has battled inconsistency this season. ...
We'll be following up on Brady, Edelman and any other injured skill players in the News and Views section of the site in advance of Saturday night's game. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Linebacker Elandon Roberts again came through in a big way in his dual role at fullback with James Develin on injured reserve with a neck injury.
Roberts' 38-yard receiving touchdown on Sunday was the longest by a linebacker since the merger in 1970. It was also the first receiving TD by a Patriots linebacker since Vrabel scored one in Week 8 of the 2007 season. ...
Despite the Patriots' merry-go-round at kicker this season, Nick Folk has brought some steadiness to the position. Since his one-week absence following an appendectomy, Folk has been spot-on, connecting on 7 of 8 field goals and going 9 of 9 on extra points. He made his lone field-goal attempt -- a 25-yarder -- on Sunday. ...
And finally. ... Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' name has been linked to three openings at head coach. But even though the Panthers, Giants, and Browns want to interview him, he still works for the Patriots, which means he has to say that his entire focus is on the next thing in front of him.
In this case, that means Saturday night's playoff game against the Titans.
"I'm 100 percent fully invested in getting ready for Tennessee and trying to put our best performance of the season out there on Saturday night," McDaniels told Nick Goss of NBCSportsBoston.com. "We have a lot of work to do. That's where my focus will be. That's where it's at now, and it'll stay there. That's the best thing for our team. It's the best thing for me. We're one of 12 teams that have an opportunity to compete in the postseason. And that's the only way I'll ever do it."
Perhaps the way they sagged down the stretch, losing to the Dolphins in the finale soured his mood. Or perhaps it was the fact they ranked 15th in the league in total offense (but seventh in scoring), as they never met the standards they've set for themselves in the past.
Or he just doesn't want to talk about job interviews now.
"With all due respect to the question, I'm not even aware of any of that stuff at this point," McDaniels said. "When that stuff is presented to me or discussed with me or whatever, then we'll deal with it appropriately. But honestly, it's pretty easy for me in terms of my formula -- I'm the offensive coordinator of the Patriots. We have a lot of work to do. We can improve in a lot of areas to try to get ready for this week. It's our biggest game of the year against certainly the best team we've played. This is a postseason game, so our players deserve that, our coaches deserve that, and that's what they're going to get from me."
And at which point he becomes available, then those interviews will be the thing he focuses on, if the jobs aren't filled by then.
QBs: Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris
WRs: Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
The New Orleans Saints missed out on the holiday gift they desperately wanted when the Detroit Lions failed to pull off the upset Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Nor did they get any help from the Seattle Seahawks, who could have handed the Saints a first-round playoff by with a win over or by tying the 49ers.
Instead, the Saints will take on the Vikings this Saturday.
Fortunately, as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett notes, the Saints, the No. 3 seed after going 13-3 to win the NFC South, have to feel great about the way their offense has been clicking as they head into the playoffs.
"I feel like we're an ascending team. And that's been something that we've talked about a lot over the last month, especially," said quarterback Drew Brees, who said it was important for the Saints to keep the "pedal to the metal" down the stretch to create some momentum. "The teams that really do well in the playoffs I think are the teams that are playing their best football at that time. I think when you look at our stretch of the last five, six weeks, I think that's the way it's been each and every week."
The Saints averaged 40 points per game over the final four weeks of the season, capped by their 42-10 laugher at Carolina on Sunday. It's almost hard to remember that the Saints' offense was battling some inconsistency during the first 10 weeks of the season because they have led the league with 36.3 points per game since Week 11.
Running back Alvin Kamara has broken out of his touchdown slump in a huge way. He has four TD runs over the past two weeks after he had just two touchdowns in the first 15 weeks. Tight end Jared Cook has five TD catches over the past four weeks. Brees has been at his peak with a total of 15 TD passes and zero interceptions over the past four weeks. Swiss army knife quarterback Taysom Hill caught his sixth TD pass of the year Sunday on a 45-yard catch-and-run.
And you know all about Michael Thomas, who finished his record-breaking season with 149 receptions.
Although the Saints kicked the tires on free agent receiver Antonio Brown last week, sources have indicated both on and off the record that they're just updating their "ready list" in case their needs change. As long as they're playing like this, that's a risk they might not have to take.
On top of everything else, the Saints set a NFL record by turning the ball over just eight times all season -- with zero over the past three games.
Remember, the Saints overcame the biggest obstacle a team can face -- the extended loss of a starting quarterback -- and still finished with one of the top records in the NFL. Former Vikings first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater is the backup in New Orleans. He went 5-0 as the starter with Brees sidelined.
Going undefeated in all five games Brees (thumb) missed is not only an enormous confidence-booster, but also a demonstration of the team's depth, balance and ability to adjust.
All three qualities are critical to making a playoff run.
But there's reason for concern as well.
On the other side of Thomas' record-setting season lies a fair question: What would the Saints' offense look like if he was injured or otherwise sidelined. Any team would be set back by the loss of a No. 1 receiver, but the Saints' offense runs more directly through him than any other receiver in the game. Thomas led the league in targets by a mile and had at least 120 more targets than every other Saints receiver.
Regardless of their ability to adapt, the Saints don't want to have to answer this question.
Receiver Ted Ginn had one catch for 10 yards on Sunday, giving him 10 catches for 125 yards and one TD in his last eight games combined.
That said, Cook now has a career-high nine touchdown catches this year after a spectacular one-handed back-shoulder grab in the second quarter of the regular-season closer. The 6-5, 254-pounder has always been an athletic marvel, and now he seems to have found the perfect offense for his skill set.
All nine TDs have come over Cook's past 10 games as he continues to look more and more comfortable in New Orleans' offense.
For what it's worth, Brees completed 281 of 378 passes in 11 games in 2019. His completion percentage of 74.3 percent fell 0.1 percent shy matching of Brees' own single-season NFL record from 2018. He threw for 2,979 yards with 27 touchdowns, four picks and had a passer rating of 116.3 that ranked second in the league.
Brees is 8-6 in his playoff career with New Orleans, which includes a victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV. He is 1-1 in the postseason against the Vikings.
The last time the Vikings and Saints met in the postseason two years ago, Minnesota boasted the NFL's No. 1 defense in terms of both points (15.8) and yards (275.9) allowed per game.
That isn't the case this time around, as the Vikings finished 14th in the league by allowing 341.6 total yards per game, and tied for fifth with 18.9 points allowed per game. ...
A bye week would have really helped New Orleans' ailing secondary. Starting cornerback Eli Apple (ankle) and starting safeties Vonn Bell (knee) and Marcus Williams (groin) all missed Sunday's game with injuries. It's possible that one or more of them can be back in time for the playoff opener, though.
And the Saints do have good depth in the secondary -- including newly acquired cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who cemented Sunday's win at Carolina with an interception.
QBs: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus reported, an avalanche of injuries has left the Philadelphia Eagles barely recognizable, but that was no issue for Carson Wentz and his teammates, who muscled past the New York Giants 34-17 on Sunday to capture the NFC East title.
The Eagles (9-7) advance to the playoffs and will host the Seahawks in the wild-card round.
The Eagles seek their first win over Seattle since Nov. 2, 2008. The Seahawks have won five straight and are 10-7 overall against Philadelphia.
Of course, all this after the Eagles entered Sunday's must-win game without star tight end Zach Ertz, all three of its original starting receivers, right tackle Lane Johnson and both starting cornerbacks was further depleted when running back Miles Sanders (ankle) and guard Brandon Brooks (shoulder) were knocked out of the game in the first half.
Jordan Howard only played one snap in his return after missing six games.
The offense has been in a rhythm despite missing all those key starters.
Indeed, Wentz made it work with a piecemeal offense that included five skill position players who spent time on the practice squad this season, including running back Boston Scott (138 yards, 3 TD) and Josh Perkins (4 catches, 50 yards, TD).
Scott, Perkins and wideouts Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis were released a combined eight times by four teams since Aug. 31.
They totaled 16 catches on 25 targets, 225 yards receiving, 54 yards rushing and four TDs in an elimination game. Wentz finished 23-of-40 for 289 yards and a touchdown.
In the process, he became the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season without a 500-yard wide receiver, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
He also set a franchise record for single-season completions (388) and became the first quarterback in team history to reach 4,000 yards (4,039).
Pederson and offensive coordinator Mike Groh have simplified the scheme, the play design is much improved and the play calling is working off the team's strengths.
Wentz is playing loose and free. He's focused, determined and taking care of the ball.
"I'm grateful for my health, I'm grateful to be out here with the guys in these big meaningful games, playing into January," Wentz said. "The last few weeks have been backs against the wall for us. Guys have responded and stepped up and kept making play after play. Just kept believing and here we are playing into January and hopefully do something special."
Of course, Wentz's most recent outing against Seattle -- a 17-9 Week 11 Eagles loss -- was arguably the worst of his career, as he turned the ball over four times while averaging a season-low 4.13 air yards per attempt. He's also never won a playoff game.
So as McManus notes, the QB needs to shake a pair of monkeys off his back -- both of the postseason and opponent variety -- Sunday, when the Eagles host the Seahawks, while also carrying the offense on it.
The defense came up with the defining play of the game, as Malcolm Jenkins jarred the ball loose from Daniel Jones following a bad snap, and Fletcher Cox recovered deep in Giants territory to set up Scott's second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter. The Eagles ran away from there.
Philadelphia enters the postseason on a roll despite all the injuries. Head coach Doug Pederson's group has won four in a row -- all against NFC East opponents.
Whether the banged-up group can keep it going against stiffer competition in the playoffs is another matter altogether.
But for now, the Eagles will celebrate the feat of securing the division title without seven of their original starters on offense.
Scott, promoted from the practice squad in October, ran for three touchdowns against the Giants and led the team in rushing with 54 yards and receiving with 84 yards. He's only 5-6 but Scott has speed, he's shifty and he's strong.
On Tuesday, Scott was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his role in helping the Eagles clinch the NFC East title. ...
Wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick, played only 17 snaps and had no catches. Meanwhile, Ward, Davis and Burnett made significant contributions. Ward made his first career reception on Nov. 24 and Davis and Burnett only joined the active roster this month. ...
On the injury front. ... Brooks will have season-ending surgery and reserve defensive end Daeshon Hall tore his ACL on the final play of the game. Ertz (fractured rib), Johnson and cornerback Jalen Mills (ankle) could try to practice Wednesday.
Pederson said Sanders and cornerback Avonte Maddox, who exited with an undisclosed injury, both should be fine.
Specifically, Pederson said Sanders is "day-to-day."
That's not the case with Ertz.
Pederson said Ertz (ribs) "will be monitored" ahead of Philadelphia's Wild Card game against the Seahawks.
"Zach's a tough guy, but we're going to do our due-diligence before we put an injured guy back on the field," Pederson said.
As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Sunday, Ertz suffered both the fractured rib and a lacerated kidney in Week 16. The team's leading receiver has not been ruled out for next week, when Philly could host a playoff game, per Rapoport, but the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane has since reported Ertz's season is "likely over" because of the lacerated kidney.
As Rotoworld.com notes, Dallas Goedert was forced to play every snap against the Giants and would presumably receive similar usage if Ertz isn't cleared to face Seattle. Perkins would also be a factor again after getting 58 snaps in the finale.
We will, of course, being following up on Ertz, Sanders and any other injured Eagles in the News and Views section of the site in coming days.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Robert Davis
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, as the screams of the 49ers coaching staff echoed through the press box and general manager John Lynch rushed on the field and scooped up the game ball with Niners players celebrating wildly around him, head coach Kyle Shanahan stood stoic, holding his breath and waiting for a final verdict.
San Francisco rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw had just tackled Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister an inch or two short of the goal line on fourth down, apparently cementing the biggest 49ers win since the 2013 NFC Championship Game.
Not far from Shanahan's mind was what took place on Dec. 15, when a similar play initially went San Francisco's way before a review overturned the call on the field and gave the Atlanta Falcons the winning points for an upset.
"I wasn't ready to celebrate anything," Shanahan said. "[The Atlanta game] kind of ruined my celebration, to tell you the truth. I wanted to wait until I saw it on the scoreboard."
Sure enough, the scoreboard revealed what Shanahan had hoped and a lengthy review confirmed it for the officials: Hollister was short, Greenlaw had made the most important tackle in recent 49ers memory, and the Niners had escaped with a 26-21 victory in the place that had been their personal house of horrors for most of the past decade.
"I just made sure that I kept my feet on the goal line ... and just made a tackle that my coaches and teammates will be proud of," Greenlaw said. "I'm just thankful to be able to make the play."
With Greenlaw's tackle came a bevy of riches: the NFC West division crown, a first-round bye, the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. All of that just 248 days after using the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, a selection gained through a brutal 4-12 season in 2018.
Sunday night's game was the 49ers' fifth straight in which the outcome was determined in the closing seconds. The Niners lost to Baltimore and Atlanta but beat New Orleans and the Rams.
"We worked for this all year," Shanahan said. "That's always the goal going in, just to get in the tournament. To get in there with the No. 1 seed feels very good. We were going to be ready to deal with whatever we had to tomorrow, whether if we had to go play three games, but I know we're much happier that we can stay at home now when you're two games away from the big one. We're going to enjoy this bye week, but very proud of the guys.
"We've had to win a lot of different ways this year. I keep feeling like we've done it every way possible, and then we find a way to do it."
The division crown is San Francisco's 20th, the top seed in the NFC is their first since 1997, and their 7-1 road record is their best mark since 1992. This is the fifth time the 49ers have earned the No. 1 seed, advancing to the NFC championship in three of the previous four instances and winning the Super Bowl the other.
The 49ers will host their first playoff game at Levi's Stadium since it opened in 2014 on Jan. 11 or Jan. 12 in a divisional-round matchup.
San Francisco held Seattle scoreless in the opening half, the first time since Week 15 of 2017 that has happened and only the third time Seattle has been shut out at the half of a home game since Wilson became the starter. When the Seahawks' offense finally got rolling in the second half, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. repeatedly mustered strong responses. After Seattle's first two touchdowns in the second half, the Niners responded with a touchdown of their own.
Garoppolo finished 18-of-22 for 285 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 118.8. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel did a lot of that damage, posting five catches for 102 yards with a 30-yard rushing touchdown.
"This whole season has been complementary football between our offense, defense and special teams, and tonight was no different," Garoppolo said. "They'd step up and make a huge play, we'd step up and make a huge play. It was just everyone stepping up when their number was called."
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert pointed out, the 49ers obviously have an impressive win total, but their losses have actually been among their most impressive games of the year -- which bodes well for postseason competitiveness. They took the Ravens to the final play in Baltimore. They went to overtime in their first game against the Seahawks.
And in their one "letdown," they lost to the Falcons at home in the final seconds.
In other words, this team always shows up.
Now, the Niners can look ahead to a much-needed bye week, something they haven't had since Week 4. It offers a chance to get defensive end Dee Ford (quadriceps and hamstring), safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and guard Mike Person (neck) back closer to full strength and on the field. It also cracks the door open just a bit more for a potential return by linebacker Kwon Alexander from a torn left pectoral.
Because of injuries and other personnel issues, the 49ers' defense didn't replicate its first-half success in the latter stages of the season. It has ranked No. 24 in points allowed since Week 9. Most concerning was a three-game stretch between Weeks 14 and 16 in which they allowed an average of 35.3 points per game, second-most in the NFL during that period.
There are still some elite-level players and disruptors on this defense, but its overall performance has trended the wrong way over an extended period.
Fortunately, Shanahan's play calling can help the team overcome that.
As Seifert suggested, of everything the 49ers have going for them, the best might be Shanahan's ability to set up defenses and choose the perfect time for an unconventional play. It's no accident when you see 49ers receivers running wide open across the field. It's also not surprising to note that 49ers running backs have ranked among the NFL's top five all season in average yards gained before contact.
Seifert added: "Shanahan on game day might be the 49ers' best weapon of all."
A few final notes. ... As USA Today's Kyle Madson suggested, it's not a surprise that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's name surfaced early on the Monday after the end of the NFL's regular season. With head coaching jobs opening in several places, Saleh, the orchestrator of the NFL's best pass defense, was sure to become a popular name for those teams with coaching vacancies.
Reports of the Cleveland Browns' interest in Saleh were confirmed Monday afternoon in Shanahan's conference call. Shanahan confirmed to reporters that the Browns' request to interview Saleh was the only interview request he received, and said the request came at an ideal time.
"It's actually a perfect situation for Saleh like it was for me because I was fortunate to have the bye week, also," Shanahan said of his interview with the 49ers in 2017. "When you have a Bye week, we're going to get a couple days off at the end of this week. That's the only thing that stinks for Saleh because he won't get those days off because he'll be preparing for an interview one day and then probably doing the interview the next day. But, it's perfect when you've got the bye week because we've got the time to do it.
"Usually those two days happen and then it's over. I don't even think they're allowed to talk to the guy after that. We're working every single day getting ready for the playoff game."
Instead of Saleh going to Cleveland, Browns brass will fly to the Bay Area to save travel time for the 49ers' defensive coordinator as he prepares for their playoff matchup.
While the 49ers would certainly like to retain Saleh after finishing No. 8 in points allowed and No. 2 in yards allowed in 2019, Shanahan said he's excited for the opportunity for Saleh.
"I'm pumped for Saleh to get this opportunity," Shanahan said. "(Browns owners) Mr. and Mrs. Haslam are great people and I think they're great people to work for. We'll see how the interview goes for him."
On Tuesday, however, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported that Mike LaFleur is also expected to interview with the Browns this weekend. The younger brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur brother has spent the last three seasons as the passing game coordinator under Shanahan.
LaFleur also worked with Shanahan in Atlanta and was an offensive coaching intern with the Browns when Shanahan was their offensive coordinator in 2014.
Schefter adds that 49ers run game coordinator Mike McDaniel could also wind up interviewing with the Browns. If so, they could interview LaFleur, McDaniel and Saleh in the Bay Area this weekend.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Travis Benjamin
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
The stage was set for a storybook ending, with the ball on the 1-yard line and Marshawn Lynch running out onto the field ready to score a division-clinching touchdown in his first game back in Seattle in more than four years.
Instead of a Beast Mode leap into the end zone, the Seahawks took a baffling delay-of-game penalty after confusion over personnel. So Lynch returned to the sideline and was only a spectator when Jacob Hollister was stopped inches shy of the goal line on fourth down in the closing seconds of a 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.
"It was a wild one," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "We had several different opportunities. We tried to make a play but sure enough, we came up a half-inch short there."
The chaotic closing sequence began when rookie John Ursua made his first career catch on fourth-and-10 from the 12 with less than a minute to play.
Ursua was stopped inside the 1 and the Seahawks (11-5) rushed to the line to spike the ball to stop the clock. There were still 22 seconds left for Seattle to get the winning score, but Lynch was late running on the field and the Seahawks took a delay of game at a most inopportune time.
"We were in no backs the play before. We called the personnel. We just didn't quite get it communicated with the backs and we were late," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We were late getting in there and we burned the time. We just didn't get it done. We didn't function cleanly."
The Seahawks still had a chance to win, but Wilson missed a second-down pass to Tyler Lockett and then again on third down to Hollister on a play that featured contact from linebacker Fred Warner but no flag for interference. "It was obviously such a bang-bang play," Hollister said. "But after seeing the replay I really do think I got in. I'll have to watch it closer. Those guys do the best they can making calls. Obviously I got called down short. It is what it is."
Those couple of inches were the difference between the Seahawks opening the playoffs at home a division winner and traveling nearly 3,000 miles to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles (9-7) in the wild-card round on Sunday.
"It was so close," Carroll said. "If they called it a touchdown we probably win a championship instead of the other way around. It was as close as it can get. Sorry to the fans we weren't able to get another inch. That's what it was."
The ending spoiled what had been a celebratory return to action for Lynch, who came off his couch earlier this week to play his first NFL game in more than 14 months and his first in Seattle, where he dominated earlier this decade, in more than four years.
Lynch was signed after Seattle lost running backs Chris Carson (hip) and C.J. Prosise (arm) to injuries last week. After just a few days of practice, Lynch was welcomed back with a thunderous ovation in pregame introductions and when he came on the field for his first play.
"Straight love. That made your boy feel right at home," he said.
The comeback was dealt a little setback when Lynch was stopped on fourth-and-1 late in the first half, but he found his groove a bit in the second half with a couple of vintage runs, including a 1-yard leap into the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
"Just to see Marshawn dive in the end zone was awesome," Wilson said. "To have Beast Mode back, he had some amazing runs. Just the excitement when he came in the game, it just felt right."
But it didn't end that way for the Seahawks due to the delay-of-game call that prevented Lynch from having a chance at the winning score.
"I thought Marshawn would get the ball," linebacker Bobby Wagner said, "and we'd run it in for a touchdown."
Meanwhile, the Seahawks are confident heading into the postseason not just because they won 11 games this season, or because of the second-half grit they showed on Sunday, but also because of how they played on the road in 2019. The Seahawks went a franchise best 7-1 on the road this season, including a Week 12 win in Philadelphia, as well as a Week 10 win over the 49ers in Santa Clara, a potential divisional-round destination should the Seahawks advance that far.
"No questions, we've been road warriors all year," said Carroll, whose team beat the Eagles 17-9 at Lincoln Financial Field earlier this season. "Our guys have handled it well. I know why we've done well on the road. ... We're not worried about going on the road, that's for sure."
And it's not that the Seahawks wanted to go on the road this postseason and are therefore going to feel OK about this loss—as of Sunday morning, a first-round bye was still in play as well—but they also know that a trip three time zones east is not anything for this team to fear.
"We have a history of it throughout this year, we've done it before," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "We have great leadership. Philly is a great football team, it won't be easy going there, but that's our matchup, so we've got to win."
Added Lockett, "If we've got to play away every single game, that's fine. We'll figure out how to get it done."
Seattle will face Philadelphia for the second time in two months.
The Seahawks won 17-9 in late November in a game that wasn't as close as the final score. Seattle led 17-3 before a late scoring drive by the Eagles. The difference this time is Seattle will be without Penny, who rushed for 129 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
But the Seahawks struggled to protect Wilson that day as he was sacked six times. ...
Also of interest. ... The Seahawks signed Lynch and Robert Turbin last week after losing two more running backs to injured reserve.
Rookie Travis Homer played 50 of 75 snaps in Sunday's loss to the 49ers. Lynch played 23 offensive snaps and Turbin eight special teams snaps.
When all was said and done, Lynch had 34 yards on 12 carries with the above-mentioned touchdown in his first football game in over a year.
Lynch didn't have many holes to work with during his 12 attempts but did spring free for a 15-yard gain on his most explosive play of the evening.
"It felt good, but at the end of the day, you know, I play to win. So, (expletive). It is what it is," Lynch said after the game.
Carroll said on Monday that Lynch came out of the game in good shape and felt fine after the workload he received against the 49ers.
"He took it very well," Carroll said. "He looked good, too. He looked aggressive and tough. We didn't get him a lot of space on a number of those carries, but when he got in, he kind of cracked it all. He really showed he can hit it. I'm anxious for him to get another week under his belt, feeling more comfortable. He was just cramming to study the whole time just so he would know what he needed to know. He's always been a really, really smart football player. He didn't like the feeling of not having the grasp of everything.
"So, he really jumped to it. I think he'll be sharper this week."
"It was a great opportunity for that," Lynch said. "A good defense. No shortage of a challenge out there, so. At the end of the day, you feel me, it's just all (expletive)."
All that said, the Seahawks remain on the hunt for running backs.
They worked out Alex Collins and Roc Thomas on Monday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL reports.
The Seahawks made Collins a fifth-round pick in 2016. Seattle cut him before the start of the 2017 season.
He has not played this season.
Thomas also has not played this season but saw action in five games last season for the Vikings.
And finally. ... The Seahawks will play the remainder of the season without linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who tore his ACL during Sunday's 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, coach Pete Carroll announced Monday. Rookie third-round pick Cody Barton has been Kendricks' backup at Seattle's strong-side linebacker position.
Also, Carroll said wide receiver Jaron Brown will be out a couple weeks with a knee sprain.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Robert Turbin
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Phillip Dorsett, David Moore, John Ursua, Malik Turner
TEs: Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 December 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, Mike Vrabel making his head coaching debut in the postseason against the team he won three Super Bowl rings with in New England will be the topic of the week.
A big reason the Titans are even in the playoffs with Vrabel getting the chance to face off against Bill Belichick and his friend Tom Brady is their very high-powered offense.
The Titans (9-7) clinched the AFC's No. 6 seed and the second wild-card slot with the NFL's rushing leader in Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, who came off the bench in mid-October after being traded away by Miami in March to lead the league with a career-high 117.5 passer rating.
Tennessee ranks fourth in the NFL, averaging 6.1 yards per play on fewer plays than Dallas, Kansas City or Baltimore.
Tannehill, who also led the league averaging 9.59 yards per pass attempt, said the Titans have weapons starting with Henry and the offensive line out to their receivers and tight ends.
"We have a bunch of guys that are talented and can make big plays for us, so it's tough to really kind of key in one person or one group," Tannehill said. "We have talent across the board that we feel good about."
Henry's return to the offense after a game off to rest his left hamstring showed just how dangerous Tennessee can be as the Titans finished with 467 yards total offense. They topped 400 yards six times this season for the first time since the Run 'n' Shoot days of 1991 for this franchise. They finished with 5,805 yards net offense -- fourth in team history and the most since 1991.
The Titans had five plays of 23 yards or longer in their 35-14 win in Houston. Henry's 53-yard run to become the NFL's rushing leader for 2019 just edged out a 51-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to rookie A.J. Brown. They also went smash-mouth at one point, running on all 10 plays of a TD drive in Houston.
Henry helped fuel the Titans' success in the second half of the season. He finished with 211 rushing yards against Houston, giving him 1,540 this season.
That was enough to make him the choice as the AFC’s final Offensive Player of the Week for the regular season. Henry also finished the year as the NFL's leading rusher.
It was his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season, the most by a Titans player since Chris Johnson had eight in 2010. The Titans are 5-0 this season when Henry runs for 100 yards or more. Henry has 16 rushing touchdowns this season, the second most in a season in Titans history. The franchise record is 19 rushing touchdowns in a season by Earl Campbell in 1979, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
"It just speaks volumes for us as an offense what we were able to accomplish as a whole," Henry told ESPN.com's Turron Davenport.
Both Tannehill and Henry turned in career years and are coming off strong performances.
Yet Brown led all rookies with 1,051 yards receiving and eight TD catches. He ranked second in the NFL among qualifying players averaging 20.2 yards per catch, and he led all rookies with five 100-yard receiving games. HE finished Sunday's game with four receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown.
He became the first Titans rookie wideout to gain at least 1,000 receiving yards since Ernest Givins did so in 1986.
One of Brown's receptions resulted in a 51-yard touchdown. That gave him four catches of 50 yards or more -- the most by a rookie since Hall of Famer Randy Moss had five in 1998. Since the 1970 merger, the only other rookies with at least that many 50-yard receptions are Isaac Curtis (5 in 1973) and Willie Gault (4 in 1983), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Titans are averaging 30.4 points per game with Tannehill at quarterback. Tennessee now is 10th in the NFL in scoring offense, a huge jump from the middle of October when the Titans benched Marcus Mariota with the team 28th in the league, managing only 16.3 points a game. The Titans' offense soared from 19th in red zone touchdown percentage to tops in the NFL with Tannehill under center. The Titans scored at least 35 points five times this season.
And the Patriots are going to have their hands full this weekend.
Of course, as ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert suggested, it's one thing to get on a run to clinch the No. 6 seed. But are the Titans really ready to go to Foxboro, Massachusetts, and beat the Patriots?
The last time they won at New England, the year was 1993 and the franchise was known as the Houston Oilers. Since then, the Titans are 0-6 at Gillette Stadium, including the playoffs. Overall, the Patriots are 8-2 against the Titans since 1993.
Finally, on the injury front. ... The Titans can only hope that four games out of the lineup have helped both wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) and cornerback Adoree' Jackson (foot) be available against the Patriots. Wide receiver Kalif Raymond missed the regular-season finale while still in the concussion protocol.
We'll have more on their status in the News and Views section as developments warrant in coming days.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt