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Team Notes week 22 2022
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. ...
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Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 January 2023
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, when it comes to Super Bowls, Patrick Mahomes knows the euphoria of a victory and the frustration of a defeat.
He said the memories of the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl loss are more powerful than those of their win.
"The win is amazing," Mahomes said Monday at the Super Bowl's opening night. "It's one of the best moments of your entire life. You take away all the positives from that. But that loss, that stings. That motivates you for years. What it's done for me is it's motivated me to be back in this game again. I want to make sure that I can have that winning feeling and not that losing one because that losing feeling is one you'll never forget."
Mahomes and the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV but lost the next season to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV.
The Chiefs will play in their third Super Bowl in four years Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think the Super Bowl win, I just learned how special it is to have a team that really believes in each other and can overcome the obstacles," Mahomes said. "We were down in every single playoff game that year, and to be able to do that [and rally for a victory], it was special. In the loss, you learned that you can't take things for granted. You can't come to a game and not have every box checked. I thought we did, but obviously we didn't and we lost that game and you had to use it as motivation to get back here."
Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain in the Chiefs' divisional round playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He said Monday he thought he would be much closer to full strength in the Super Bowl than he was in the AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals but acknowledged that practice wasn't the best test for that.
"You won't know until you get out there in the game," Mahomes said. "I'm going to push it. I'll try to leave it all on the line. I think you all saw that in the last game that I played. But it's about relying on your teammates and I've got a lot of great teammates around me and I'm not trying to do too much. But I'll definitely be in a better spot [than] when I was out there last week."
And that's important.
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta put it, "The Chiefs are built around their half-billion dollar All-Pro quarterback, and for the past five years, Mahomes has made everyone else around him all the more valuable."
Skretta went on to point out Mahomes has taken marginal wide receivers and turned them into stars. Mediocre offensive linemen became stalwarts.
Finishing the second year of his mammoth 10-year contract, Mahomes soaks up more than a fifth of the Kansas City salary cap, and some would argue he's still underpaid. Yet the deal nevertheless creates a challenge in filling out the roster around him, and it's one that Chiefs general manager Brett Veach confronted with savvy business and creativity.
Their prime rusher, Isaiah Pacheco, is a seventh-round pick. Their touchdowns leader, Jerick McKinnon, is a journeyman running back making $1,272,500 this season, while none of their wide receivers is making $5 million. Their top tackler is still on his paltry rookie deal.
"I would start with Brett and the way that he and his guys have gone about putting this thing together," head coach Andy Reid said, while also pointing to the latitude given to him by chairman Clark Hunt and team president Mark Donovan.
"They're all part of that, giving us the opportunity to do what Brett can do by bringing these guys in," Reid said. "But the process he goes through, he's relentless. He's committed. He's got a great eye for talent. He's fearless when it comes to the trades and drafts and all those things. It's been fun for me to watch."
Reid used to hold both titles of coach and general manager when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City's opponent in the Super Bowl next weekend. But when he took over the Chiefs in 2013, he decided to step away from front-office work and focus solely on his first love: coaching.
The decision to draft Mahomes four years later got his blessing, of course, and it was then-GM John Dorsey who had the final say. But it was Veach, then the co-director of player personnel, who stood on the table and stumped for him.
Veach took over as general manager the following year and began putting his thumbprint on the rest of the team.
He invested heavily in defense, particularly when it comes to rushing the passer, and made sure veteran safeties could back up young cornerbacks acquired through the draft. On offense, he rebuilt the entire offensive line through free agency and the draft, then spread money around the skill positions without investing too heavily in any one player.
That led to Veach's biggest decision since drafting Mahomes: trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins.
Veach could have given the All-Pro wide receiver a massive contract extension last offseason, but doing so would have hamstrung the team for years to come. So, Veach sent him to the Dolphins for draft picks and financial flexibility.
He used both to build a team that is heading back to the Super Bowl.
"I think it's a confirmation that we have confidence in our process," Veach said. "It just goes to show that I have a really talented staff and I think the hard work pays off. We have a process and we're always going to be motivated to continue to add talent and depth to this roster and provide Coach and Pat what they need."
On offense, the Chiefs had to replenish at wide receiver after trading Hill and losing Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson in free agency. They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year prove-it deal, Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a three-year contract and drafted Skyy Moore, who does many of the same jet sweeps that made Hill such a defensive terror.
Having tight end Travis Kelce, every bit as dangerous as the best wide receivers, helps the cause.
ESPN's Eric Moody notes that Kelce has averaged 9.3 targets and 6.9 receptions per game during the regular season and postseason. FantasyPros' Derek Brown adds to that, pointing out that Kelce has upped his game this postseason, garnering a 34.2 percent target share averaging 11 receptions and 90.5 receiving yards with a 50 percent end zone target share and 2.62 yards per route run in the team's playoff run.
He's had at least 95 receiving yards in seven of his last eight playoff games.
In those eight games he's scored nine touchdowns. Since Week 15, the Eagles have been 23rd in catch rate and 26th in receiving yards per game allowed to tight ends.
As for those wideouts. ... Mahomes credited Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for the way Kansas City's offense evolved this season.
Some thought the Chiefs' offense would decline after trading Hill, but Mahomes said on Monday that he thinks the coaching staff had a good plan all along for keeping the offense humming.
"We accepted the challenge as players, the coaches and Coach Bieniemy accepted the challenge," Mahomes said. "We lost an all-time great receiver in Tyreek Hill, someone that did a lot of great things for us, but we've got a lot of great receivers as well, and coach Bieniemy and Coach Reid, they went in there and learned what their strengths were, and we maximized that this year.
"It's not just the players, it's the coaches, it's everybody in that building."
Beyond the receiving corps, the Chiefs rebuilt their offensive line the previous year, and it returned largely intact, so the other focus was on the ground game. The Chiefs took a flier on Pacheco in the seventh round, and by the midpoint of the season, he had supplanted injury-prone former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire atop the depth chart.
As Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz pointed out, big games by opposing running backs were the connecting string through most of the Eagles' lesser performances this season, which leads him to believe the Chiefs will stick with the ground game more than they usually do, knowing that's the Eagles' (relative) weakness.
So Pacheco could be busy. ...
Meanwhile, besides the quarterback, the biggest contract on the books belongs to Chris Jones. And like Mahomes, there's an argument to be made that the big defensive tackle, with 15 1/2 sacks this season, has vastly outperformed it.
Veach knows the value in pressuring the quarterback, though. It's why the Chiefs traded for Frank Clark and gave him a big contract, signed veteran Carlos Dunlap this past offseason and used a first-round pick on George Karlaftis.
The Chiefs had to replace Tyrann Mathieu's leadership on the back end of the defense, so they signed safety Justin Reid in free agency. Little did Reid know that he'd spend all season tutoring a quartet of rookie defensive backs -- Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams and Bryan Cook -- who came up huge in the AFC title game against the Bengals.
Harrison Butker has been one of the league's best kickers going on six years, but an ankle injury sustained in the opener led to a shaky season. He came back to drive through the winning field goal in the final seconds against Cincinnati.
Tommy Townsend merely earned All-Pro honors while setting several franchise milestones for punting this season.
So it's a solid roster, but it's definitely Mahomes that keeps it all on track. ...
And for Schatz, that's how Kanas City wins this game.
"It's simply about trusting that offense is more consistent and predictable than defense," Schatz wrote. "And quarterback play is the most important part of that. The Chiefs have the best quarterback in the game. That's one tiebreaker. The second tiebreaker is getting a point and a half (the Eagles are favored). I doubt the game comes down to a single point, but I'd rather have that point than not.
"The third tiebreaker is that the extra week off before the Super Bowl enhances the things that make Reid a great coach -- game-planning and player preparation -- rather than the things that make Nick Sirianni a strong coach, such as his in-game decisions. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Regarding Smith-Schuster, if the Chiefs win and her plays at least 50 percent of their offensive snaps, the former Steelers gets another $1 million.
As noted above, his contract was sold as a one-year, $10.75 million, "prove-it" deal.
As Profootballtalk.com reported at the time, that was a misrepresentation of Smith-Schuster's deal, which had only a $3.25 million base. The other $7.5 million came in incentives that, at the time of the signing, looked pretty tough for Smith-Schuster to hit.
But Smith-Schuster has already hit most of them.
In addition to hitting various catch-total and receiving yardage incentives in-season, by hitting 65 catches and 900 yards, Smith-Schuster also made himself eligible for two postseason incentives: $1 million for playing at least 50 percent of snaps in the AFC Championship Game if the Chiefs win, and $1 million for playing at least 50 percent of snaps in the Super Bowl if the Chiefs win.
Unfortunately for Smith-Schuster, he played only 45 percent of the Chiefs' offensive snaps in the AFC Championship Game, so he missed out on that incentive. But he can still get $1 million for playing 50 percent of snaps in the Super Bowl, if the Chiefs win.
Add it all up, and Smith-Schuster so far this season has made his $3.25 million base and $4.5 million in incentives, for $7.75 million so far. He can push it to $8.75 million on Sunday, and then he can hit free agency in March, knowing that he bet on himself with an incentive-heavy contract, and it paid off. ...
On the injury front. ... Reid said last week that he doubted wide receiver Mecole Hardman would be healthy enough to play in Super Bowl LVII and the team officially ruled him out on Monday.
Hardman has been placed on injured reserve after aggravating a pelvis injury in the AFC Championship Game. Hardman had not played since Week 9 before returning to action against the Bengals.
While Hardman is out of the picture for the Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire is back in it.
Edwards-Helaire has been activated from injured reserve after missing the last nine games with an ankle injury.
Reid told reporters on Tuesday that the team will wait to see how the practice week plays out before deciding if Edwards-Helaire will work his way back into the mix with Pacheco, McKinnon and Ronald Jones.
"We'll practice him this week and see where we're at," Reid said at his press conference. "Jones has done a good job for us, too. We'll see how that all works out. It's good to have him back, for sure."
Pacheco and McKinnon's roles would seem to be secure given how important they've been to the offense on the way to the Super Bowl.
That likely wouldn't leave much for Edwards-Helaire to do if he is in the lineup, but time will tell how things play out.
Hardman was one of three Chiefs wideouts to leave the win over the Bengals with injuries. Reid said last week that he is optimistic about having Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney back for Sunday's game.
Both receivers were listed as questionable on the team's off-week injury report, but Toney says there's no question about it.
Toney told USA Today he's "definitely" playing in the Super Bowl.
A first-round pick of the Giants in 2021, Toney was a disappointment in New York but has become an important part of the offense since he was traded to Kansas City during the 2022 season. After Hardman was placed on injured reserve, Toney became even more important.
So it's good news in Kansas City that Toney is good to go. ...
In other good news. ... Doctors cleared cornerback L'Jarius Sneed from concussion protocol, allowing him to return after playing only four snaps in the AFC Championship Game.
"I feel 110 percent," Sneed said Monday night.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, the Chiefs have used rookies Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson extensively this season. McDuffie played 59.4 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season and Watson 52.7 percent. With Sneed out early in the championship game, the Chiefs needed Joshua Williams in a bigger role.
The 2022 fourth-round pick, who had played only 38 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season, played 59 of 66 snaps against the Bengals.
Sneed's return will help the Chiefs against an offense featuring playmakers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.
"Huge," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo told NFL Media. "When we didn't have him last week, it was a huge concern. The young guys stepped up, but L'Jarius is really important to us. He's our leader back there. He makes plays for us. Played a lot of different positions, and I'm glad he's cleared and ready to go."
But McDuffie, Watson and Williams have enough experience now that the Chiefs trust them.
"We know if something happens, we can fall back on those guys," Spagnuolo said. "Those guys haven't blinked all year long when they've had to go in. It's a credit to the guys that coach them. . . . It's a really close unit together. It's been huge. L'Jarius is certainly a leader of that group."
For the record, the Chiefs practiced in pads Monday. They will have a light practice Tuesday before the three official practice days of the week.
Reid said every player practiced Monday and will practice again Tuesday.
"We're all doing well there," Reid said Tuesday morning.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Shane Buechele
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 31 January 2023
Win or lose in their Super Bowl LVII tilt with the Chiefs, the Philadelphia Eagles are expected to begin contract extension talks with quarterback Jalen Hurts soon.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio at Super Bowl LVII Opening Night on Monday night that Hurts was "just what we're looking for."
Asked when negotiations might begin in earnest with Hurts and his agent, Nicole Lynn, Lurie joked, "Certainly not this week."
Lurie has a point: There's a big game on Sunday.
But it was clear from Lurie's words about the Eagles' 24-year-old quarterback that the team has no reservations about making Hurts the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future -- if he isn't already -- and likely rewarding him with a contract that places him among the highest-paid at his position.
"I don't think he has anything to prove (as the quarterback of the future)," Lurie told Paolantonio. "He is an MVP-caliber quarterback, an incredible leader of the team on the field (and) off the field. He's 24 years old, incredibly mature and, most importantly, driven to be even better.
"What we're seeing today, I think, is just the beginning for Jalen. This guy will attack every weakness, as he has since high school (and) since college. The future is bright and very exciting for all of us."
A second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Hurts will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2023. That means he's now eligible for an extension, due to make a total-cash value of a little more than $4.4 million next season. That number places Hurts, an MVP finalist, below the likes of Giants backup QB Tyrod Taylor. Fourteen quarterbacks are slated to top $25 million next season.
All signs point to a deal getting done with Hurts and the Eagles this offseason. But first things first, and Hurts understands that his time will come.
"We'll kind of handle that later on," Hurts said when asked about Lurie's comments. "Get there when we get there."
As Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston reminded readers, the Eagles' decision to draft Hurts came with as much hand-wringing as intrigue regarding how to use the talented Heisman Trophy finalist.
The Eagles already had quarterback Carson Wentz locked into a $128 million contract. They certainly had more pressing needs at the time on all sides of the ball.
It turns out, the Eagles, like other teams before them, are demonstrating the benefits of building their team around a young, talented and very affordable quarterback.
And build they did.
General managers Howie Roseman outmaneuvered the Titans during the 2022 draft when he engineered a deal to get wide receiver A.J. Brown.
With Brown upset with his contract in Tennessee, the Eagles sent two draft picks to the Titans and immediately gave the wide receiver a $100 million, four-year deal with $57 million guaranteed. Brown was worth the price and his playmaking ability has only brought out the best in Hurts. The two are close friends and their chemistry is evident on the field.
He had 155 yards receiving in his Eagles debut and kept on rolling all the way to 88 catches for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns in the regular season. He topped Mike Quick's 1,409 yards in 1983 for the Eagles' single-season high.
Across the field, DeVonta Smith put up similar bold numbers. Smith, a first-round pick in the 2021 draft, finished his second NFL season with 95 catches, which are the most by a wide receiver in team history.
As ESPN.com's Eric Moody pointed out, Smith has reached at least 61 receiving yards in eight of his past 10 games. Additionally, he has had eight or more targets in nine of them, including double-digit targets in three.
Many view Brown as the Eagles' No. 1 receiver, but in reality, Moody contends, it's more of a 1A and 1B situation.
As a legitimate deep-ball threat, Smith is well-positioned to flourish in this matchup. ...
Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson have anchored the offensive line for a decade. Miles Sanders was a second-round pick who had 1,269 yards rushing this season and 11 touchdowns. Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz notes that Kenneth Gainwell has more carries than Sanders in the postseason mainly because the Eagles played two blowouts and used him a lot late in the games.
Dallas Goedert has blossomed into one of the top tight ends in the league and made the offense one of the more dynamic in the league.
Roseman made a similar move on the other side of the ball.
Haason Reddick signed a $45 million, three-year contract, that included $30 million guaranteed. It turned in one of the greatest season performances in team history. He had 16 sacks and 3½ more in the playoffs to pace the Eagles. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are 10-plus-year veterans who helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl.
On special teams, Jake Elliott, a fifth-round pick in 2017, has kept a low profile this season as Philadelphia's fourth-down aggressiveness has kept him from putting up big field goal numbers. Elliott has at least been automatic on extra points, missing only one this season. It seems almost laughable that it's worth noting, but Dallas kicker Brett Maher missed five extra points in the postseason.
The Eagles this week activated the 21-day practice window for punter Arryn Siposs to return from injured reserve. Siposs had been sidelined since mid-December with an ankle injury. The Eagles have since used veteran Brett Kern. Siposs could be activated for the Super Bowl ahead of Kern.
There's no doubt this is roster is built to contend every week.
"We want to go out there and play to our standard," Hurts said. "That doesn't change, regardless of the magnitude of the game."
But the Eagles clearly aren't looking to be a one-year wonder.
As Gelston noted, the Eagles offseason is already off to an astounding start. Roseman swung a 2022 draft-weekend deal with New Orleans that involved all draft picks -- notably, the Eagles would get the Saints' first-round pick in 2023. The Saints were supposed to be pretty good and a pick in the 20s would have been fine.
Instead, the Saints sank (though they did beat the Eagles) and Philadelphia has the No. 10 pick of the draft.
Not bad for a team in the Super Bowl. The Eagles can only hope they can land a star player that could keep them championship contenders for another decade.
But as Gelston summed up: "Odds are, this time they won't stun anyone and pick a quarterback. ..."
As for this week?
According to ESPN analytics reporter Seth Walder, the Eagles' roster is just better than Kansas City's.
Defensively, their pass rush is an unrelenting force and they have the best cornerback pairing in the league.
"I can't stress that last part enough," Walder wrote. "No team made it tougher on opponents to get open than the Eagles, according to our receiver tracking metrics, and that's crucial against a Patrick Mahomes-led offense. Offensively, the Eagles aren't as strong as the Chiefs, but I'm confident in Philadelphia's ability to run the ball efficiently on Kansas City and pull out a win by three or four points."
Worth noting. ... FantasyPros' Derek Brown pointed out this week that since returning from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games late in the regular season, Hurts hasn't been the same player.
In three games of action, he's completed 60.7 percent of his passes with 6.0 yards per attempt. With more time to recover from that injury, Brown's hope is that Hurts more closely resembles the quarterback who was sixth in yards per attempt, 12th in big-time throws and ninth in adjusted completion rate this season (minimum 150 dropbacks).
Since Week 14, the Chiefs have been 11th in passing yards per game and 14th in explosive pass rate allowed.
Given that, Brown believes there's a path to a ceiling game for Hurts if he is closer to 100 percent.
Since Week 15, the Chiefs have deployed zone coverage on 52-55 percent of their corners' snaps. Hurts is 11th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play against zone this season.
In addition, since Week 13, the Chiefs have allowed 6.6 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns to Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson, Davis Mills and Trevor Lawrence.
Along those lines, if you're into the prop betting, ESPN's Joe Fortenbaugh is all in on the Hurts anytime touchdown at +113.
The plus money is key here.
Fortenbaugh explained, the +113 implies a 46.9 percent probability for a guy who scored 15 rushing touchdowns in 17 games this season, and has found the end zone via the ground in seven of his past nine outings. Keep in mind the KC defense surrendered the fifth-most rushing yards and sixth-most rushing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks this season.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Ian Book, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Jason Huntley, Kennedy Brooks
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Zach Pascal, Britain Covey
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra