Thu Dec 1 6:05pm ET
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Miami Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips (15) grabs Houston Texans quarterback Kyle Allen (3) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson gestures on the field during an NFL football practice at the team's training facility Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, left, talks to teammates during an NFL football practice at the team's training facility Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett celebrates after sacking Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady during the second half of an NFL football game in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. The Browns won 23-17. (AP Photo/David Richard)
HOUSTON (AP) When Deshaun Watson returns to the field Sunday, it will be in the same stadium where he played his last game 700 days ago.
The disgraced quarterback will make his debut for the Cleveland Browns (4-7) against his former team, the Houston Texans (1-9-1), in his return after serving an 11-game NFL suspension for sexual misconduct allegations.
Speaking for to reporters on Thursday for the first time since August, Watson declined to answer any questions not related to football. He spoke at length about his excitement to play not only in front of Browns fans but Texans fans as well.
''It has been great memories and fun memories,'' he said of his time with the Texans. ''I still have a home in Houston. I still have friends and family still in Houston and relationships that are still there.''
It will be his first game since Jan. 3, 2021, when he threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns for Houston in a 41-38 loss to Tennessee. Soon after that, he became unhappy with the direction of the team and requested a trade. Then, two dozen women accused him of sexual harassment or assault during massage therapy sessions.
He remained on Houston's roster last year but sat out all season before being traded to the Browns in March.
Watson agreed to the lengthy suspension, a $5 million fine and to undergo professional counseling and therapy after an independent arbitrator ruled that he violated the league's personal conduct policy.
Watson helped the Texans to two playoff berths in the four seasons before his trade request, becoming a fan favorite before his off-the-field issues began to overshadow his talent.
He was asked what reception he expects in his return to the city where he spent his entire NFL career.
''I am focusing on just being the starting quarterback and executing the game plan,'' he said. ''That is my main focus. I am not worried about the atmosphere.''
Watson will face a struggling squad that has lost six in a row and is the NFL's only one-win team.
Some wonder if the 27-year-old Watson will be the player he was before, or if he'll be rusty in his return.
''We're telling our guys we're going to see the best version of Deshaun,'' Houston coach Lovie Smith said. ''I think you go into every game that way. We have no idea. He hasn't played for a long period of time, but we hope there is some rust and all those things.''
Watson was asked if he expects the long layoff to affect him.
''Honestly, I am not sure,'' he said. ''This is my first time having time off. My biggest focus is just going out there, and just really whatever (coach) Kevin (Stefanski) calls, make sure I am executing, taking it one play at a time, and let the game come to me, not press or anything like that.''
One of the few bright spots of Houston's first nine games was the improvement of a running game led by rookie Dameon Pierce. But in the last two games - both lopsided losses - the Texans haven't gotten anything going on the ground.
The Texans had 36 yards rushing Sunday, their second-worst rushing performance of the season after finishing with a season-low 21 yards against Washington Nov. 20.
Pierce had 772 yards rushing after nine games but has mustered just 8 yards in each of the past two games.
A disappointment for much of the season, Cleveland's defense delivered last week.
The Browns held Tampa Bay to 96 yards rushing, sacked Tom Brady three times and held big-play wide receiver Mike Evans to two catches in a 23-17 overtime win.
It was a positive performance for a unit that has been plagued by communication problems and poor tackling.
''Yeah, little increments here and there,'' linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said when asked about the improvements. ''We still have a lot of stuff to work on and lot of mistakes to fix. From this point, I think we made some little adjustments and we're getting better as time goes on.''
After missing three games with a knee injury, Owusu-Koramoah has been a force in the last two, recording 20 tackles, including two for loss.
Myles Garrett recorded 1 1/2 sacks last week with 1 1/2 arms.
Cleveland's All-Pro defensive end barely made it through last Sunday's win over Tampa Bay after aggravating a left shoulder sprain suffered when he crashed his car in late September. Afterward, Garrett said he's hoping to avoid surgery - or at least delay it until after the season.
He's been getting extra rest and treatment, which has allowed him to keep playing.
The Texas native has three sacks in four career games against Houston.
HEY OLD FRIEND
Houston quarterback Kyle Allen, who will make his second start Sunday since Davis Mills was benched, knows how dangerous Garrett can be after playing with him for two seasons at Texas A&M.
''He was the best player on our team then and is probably one of the best players in the league now,'' Allen said.
Allen had a message for Garrett leading up to Sunday's game, in which he'll try to bounce back after throwing two interceptions in his season debut last week.
''Be nice to me,'' Allen said with a smile.
Houston favors a Cover 2 defensive scheme in which both safeties play deep to take away long throws. It's easier to run against the formation because there are fewer players near the line of scrimmage.
Stefanski said the Texans play Cover 2 as much as any team.
''It's a unique challenge,'' he said. ''It's a scheme that I have seen work at a really, really high level. It keeps you off balance when you can play Cover 2 and keep everything in front of you. Then you can crawl up and play man.''
With six games left and as the only team with just one win, the Texans are in position to receive the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.
If they get it, it will be the fourth time they'll pick first and the first since 2014 when they selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who now plays for the Browns.
Their previous No. 1 pick was also a defensive end when they chose Mario Williams in 2006. Houston is in desperate need of a quarterback and may look toward Alabama's Bryce Young or Ohio State's C.J. Stroud.
If they do have the top pick and choose a quarterback, he'll be the second signal-caller drafted first in franchise history, joining David Carr, who was their first-ever draft pick in 2002.
The only other time the Texans took a quarterback in the first round came in 2017 when they traded up to draft Watson 12th overall.
Interview with TFC Winner
Las Vegas Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler expects several offers for quarterback Derek Carr in the months ahead. "There's going to be people interested," stated Ziegler while speaking to SiriusXM NFL Radio. "He's been a good football player in this league for quite some time." Whether Carr has been a quality signal-caller is debatable, especially after amassing 3,522 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions last season while completing just 60.8% of his throws. Nevertheless, his days in Vegas are unofficially over, at least as of now. However, Carr may benefit from a change of scenery, so his fantasy outlook hinges on where he'll be playing throughout the 2023-24 campaign.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ruled out San Francisco as a potential landing spot. "I'm not going to San Fran," Rodgers stated while speaking at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and it comes after the signal-caller finished the year with 3,695 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, a decline from the previous season. It's unknown what the future holds for the 39-year-old, although it's possible he could remain in Green Bay or call it quits altogether. Several teams are also interested in acquiring his services, so it will surely be an intriguing offseason in the months ahead.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will have his aggravated menacing charge dropped on Friday morning. Mixon's attorney, Peter Schafer, stated, "it was a rush to judgment," although it's unknown why the charges are being dropped. The former Sooner allegedly pointed a gun at another person on January 21. While Mixon won't face criminal charges, a civil suit, among other things, is still a possibility, so he isn't out of the woods just yet. The 26-year-old ran for 814 yards off 210 carries while amassing 60 catches for 441 yards. He also totaled nine touchdowns, seven few than the 2021-22 campaign. There will likely be more on this story, so it's too early to tell how this will impact Mixon's fantasy stock.
The New Orleans Saints interviewed former Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods for their open defensive coordinator position on Thursday, according to sources. Woods was on head coach Dennis Allen's staff with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2014. The Saints will have big changes to their defensive staff in 2023 after co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen took the defensive coordinator job with the Atlanta Falcons and the team parted ways with co-defensive coordinator Kris Richard. Woods was the Browns' D coordinator the last three years but was fired after 2022. Cleveland ranked 14th in yards allowed and 20th in points allowed.
Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier interviewed for the Baltimore Ravens' open offensive coordinator position on Wednesday, according to multiple sources. In his three years as Dallas' QBs coach, Dak Prescott set a team record for touchdown passes in a season (37), and he had five different starters, including Cooper Rush, who went 4-1 with Prescott injured in 2022. Along with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, the Cowboys parted ways with Nussmeier after the season. He was the team's tight ends coach for two seasons before moving to QB coach. Nussmeier has also run offenses at the collegiate level at Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Washington and Fresno State. The Ravens parted ways with offensive coordinator Greg Roman after the 2022 campaign.
The New Orleans Saints have parted ways with co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Kris Richard, according to sources. The Saints' other co-defensive coordinator, Ryan Nielsen, recently left the team to take the defensive coordinator job with the division-rival Atlanta Falcons, so New Orleans will have big changes to their defensive coaching staff in 2023. Richard had interviews for the defensive coordinator role with the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins. Neither Nielsen nor Richard called the defensive plays in 2022, as head coach Dennis Allen took care of that. With the departures of both Nielsen and Richard, the Saints will not only be looking for a new defensive coordinator, but new defensive line and secondary coaches.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon is wanted on aggravated menacing charges. The 26-year-old is accused of pointing a gun at a woman in downtown Cincinnati. He allegedly threatened to shoot her. This is an extremely serious situation that could cost Mixon his job. The superstar back has already been in trouble before when he punched a woman in college. There should be more information on this story as it develops.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (knee) is unlikely to be with the organization next season. The 29-year-old left the team after getting benched and underwent surgery on his knee. The Falcons would save $12 million by cutting Mariota before June 1st. That being said, it seems increasingly likely the Falcons will move on from Mariota. The rebuilding Falcons will likely find another veteran to stick behind youngster Desmond Ridder. As for Mariota, he should be able to catch on as a backup elsewhere, but it's hard to believe he'll find a starting job to begin the 2023 season.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Joshua Kelley could see himself with a bigger role heading into next season. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore mentioned he saw Kelley start to develop a role in 2022. He continued by saying he is hopefully to get two or three guys in the backfield they can rely on. It sounds like Kelley is the leading candidate for the backup duties behind Austin Ekeler. Possibly, Moore gets Kelley more involved on the ground, while Ekeler becomes mainly the receiving back. It remains to be seen what the Chargers do, but Kelley could be worth holding onto in dynasty formats right now.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) is unlikely to suit up for the upcoming Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. Head coach Andy Reid said he doubts Hardman will be ready in time. The 24-year-old has battled injuries all season long, but did play in the AFC Championship Game. Sadly, he re-injured his pelvis during that game, so it seems unlikely he'll be ready in time for the big game. Hardman isn't a star player, but he does have big play ability. His absence would likely mean more usage for both Kadarius Toney and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is expected to get another interview for the Arizona Cardinals' head-coaching position, according to a league source. Glenn also had a second interview for the head-coaching job for the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, so he's in play for the final two head-coaching opportunities in the NFL this cycle. He was responsible for resurrecting Detroit's defense last season in the second half of the year. In addition to Glenn, the Cardinals interviewed Mike Kafka, Lou Anarumo and Brian Callahan for the head-coaching gig this week. Arizona is looking to replace Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired after a disappointing 2022 campaign.
Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen is scheduled to have his second interview for the Indianapolis Colts' head-coaching position on Saturday. It was reported on Thursday that the Colts could have a rare third round of coaching interviews, so they're clearly taking their time with a decision. Steichen has plenty of competition for the Colts head-coach job, as Aaron Glenn, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Don Martindale, Rich Bisaccia and Brian Callahan are also in the running. The Colts fired Frank Reich, who is now the Carolina Panthers head coach, after a rough start to the 2022 season. They replaced him with interim head coach Jeff Saturday, who went 1-7 down the stretch as a first-time head coach with zero previous coaching experience in the NFL.
New York Jets impending free-agent quarterback Mike White is likely to draw interest on the open market this offseason as a high-end backup. White had his moments in 2022 after taking over for the struggling Zach Wilson, but he's injury-prone and commits too many turnovers. He has started only seven games in his NFL game, but he's averaged 308 passing yards and completed 62.1 percent of his passes in six of those starts. Former Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur preferred White as the starter over Wilson, so there's a chance the Los Angeles Rams could be interested in signing White as the backup to Matthew Stafford. The Jets will keep Wilson around for now, but they're expected to make a big splash at the position via a trade or free agency.
The Atlanta Falcons are expected to re-sign impending unrestricted free-agent wide receivers Olamide Zaccheaus and KhaDarel Hodge this offseason. Zaccheaus was second on the team with 40 catches for 533 yards in 2022. "Just an extremely unselfish guy and the kind of guy you want in your program," wide receivers coach T.J. Yates said. Hodge had just 13 receptions for 202 yards but led the team with nine special teams tackles. Both wideouts entered the league as undrafted free agents and can probably be brought back on affordable deals. Zaccheaus struggled with rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder under center over the final four games, catching just eight passes on 17 targets for 55 yards. Neither Zaccheaus nor Hodge will open the 2023 season on the fantasy radar.
It sounds as though the Atlanta Falcons haven't given up on making Feleipe Franks a tight end. The former college quarterback was moved to the tight end position last year and showed flashes during training camp, but he didn't have any catches during the regular season and was only targeted twice. Franks is under contract for less than $1 million for 2023, so the Falcons can afford to be patient with his development. It's disappointing that the 25-year-old didn't do anything at all in the passing game, especially considering Kyle Pitts' season-ending knee injury. Franks played more than five offensive snaps in a game just once in 2022. He should have a bigger offensive role in 2023, but he won't be on the fantasy radar at all unless Pitts misses time with another injury.
The Athletic's Josh Kendall writes that the consensus is that nobody outside the Atlanta Falcons building knows whether the team is committed to quarterback Desmond Ridder for the long term because no one inside the building is talking. Ridder started the final four games of 2022 and went 73-for-115 for 708 yards, two touchdowns and a 112.9 passer rating on third downs. "I don't think it's smart business strategy ever to give away what your plan is," head coach Arthur Smith said. One private QB coach watching practices at UNLV this week expressed concerns about Ridder's throwing motion and how it will affect his accuracy and arm health down the road. Ridder's QB coach Jordan Palmer, however, notes how cerebral he is and says he's "set up for success." Atlanta has the No. 8 overall pick in this year's draft and enough salary cap space to add a high-profile QB, but they could also be content to let Ridder open the 2023 season as the starter under center.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is particularly optimistic that wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) will be able to play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles. "He's in a good place," Reid said about Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster and Toney have yet to practice this week, but they'll have another whole week to rest up before the big game. Smith-Schuster had just one catch for seven yards in the AFC Championship before getting hurt, while Toney had a nine-yard catch. We'll have a better read on their statuses for the Super Bowl next week, but with Mecole Hardman (pelvis) unlikely to play, it could mean more work for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore and Justin Watson if Smith-Schuster and Toney are limited or out.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (ankle) said he didn't aggravate his right high-ankle sprain in the AFC Championship win over the Cincinnati Bengals and just experienced general soreness from a physical game. "Other than that, I'm in a good spot," Mahomes said. He was somehow able to practice in full all of last week leading up to the game against Cincy and also put in a full practice on Wednesday. The 27-year-old certainly wasn't 100% last weekend, but he did enough to lead the Chiefs to a win by going 29-for-43 for 326 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Mahomes should be in better shape for the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles, but his mobility probably will continue to be hindered.
Dynasty | Kyle Shanahan said he doesn't envision "any scenario" where veteran Jimmy Garoppolo returns to the team for the 2023 season. Dynasty Analysis: He called Trey Lane and Brock Purdy both "starters" and is "content enough" with the situation. Without a series of catastrophic events, Garoppolo will depart and will likely find plenty of suitors. While not a high-end producer, he's a fine game manager and should have little difficult finding an under-center role to begin the 2023 regular season. He's listed as DLF's QB29.
Dynasty | There's no indication, either way, if the Falcons see sophomore Desmond Ridder as a potential starter in 2023 Dynasty Analysis: Apparently, no one "inside the building" is talking about Ridder or the opportunity to address the position via the draft. While some times prefer to put up smoke screens, others just go quiet as is the case with the Falcons. It's still early and with the Combine taking place later this month, there's a possibility more will emerge at that time. Ridder finished under-center in the team's final four games, producing a 63.5% completion percentage, throwing for 708 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. With added mobility, Ridder does possess an intriguing skillset and it's possible he could grow into the starting role with another year of experience but, at the same time, the team possesses the 8th-overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft and should have options if deemed necessary. Ridder is found as DLF's QB27 and this ranking hangs in the balance as the offseason plays out. A highly drafted rookie or the acquisition of a top free agent would send Ridder's dynasty stock off a cliff.