Thu Jan 27 2:13pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is sacked by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Naquan Jones (90) during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) runs against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) celebrates with teammate Patrick Mahomes (15) after a 64-yard touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Nick Bolton (54) celebrates after making a tackle during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) walks off the field after an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won 42-36 in overtime. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) celebrates after making a tackled during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Talk about newcomers versus the tried and true.
Here come the Cincinnati Bengals, who had lost eight straight playoff games since their last victory 31 years ago. Awaiting them at loud, sometimes intimidating Arrowhead Stadium will be the Kansas City Chiefs, in their fourth consecutive AFC championship game and seeking their third trip in a row to the Super Bowl.
This is hardly the matchup most NFL observers expected. Sure, the Chiefs made sense, but the often-mocked Bengals - Bungles no more - were a surprise last to first winner of the AFC North. Now, here they are, one step from their first Super Bowl appearance since 1989.
How do they match up with the Chiefs?
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL:
It's not all about QB Joe Burrow (9) and rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase (1), but much of it is.
This pass-catch combination was dynamic at LSU and has made a huge splash in the NFL. Burrow, whose rookie season in 2020 was cut short by a knee injury, made a sensational return and is as accurate as any passer in the league. He had 34 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions during the season, and thus far in the playoffs is 52 of 71 (73.2%) for 592 yards and a 101.4 QB rating. Chase has 14 catches for 225 yards (16.1 per reception) after scoring 13 times on 81 receptions in the regular season. The two hooked up 11 times for 266 yards and three TDs in a 34-31 win over the Chiefs on Jan. 2.
Kansas City knows it must slow down the elusive and supremely athletic Chase, but does it have the defensive backs to do so? It sure didn't look like it against Buffalo, when CBs Charvarius Ward (35), L'Jarius Sneed (38) and safeties Daniel Sorensen (49) and Juan Thornhill (22) struggled mightily. If star FS Tyrann Mathieu (32, concussion) can't go, not only Chase but Tee Higgins (85), Tyler Boyd (83) and emerging TE C.J. Uzomah (87) could be dangerous.
Uzomah, however, might be needed to help block after Cincinnati allowed nine sacks at Tennessee. The Chiefs, under aggressive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, have a solid pass rush, which they'll clearly need. Bengals tackles Jonah Williams (73) and Isaiah Prince (71) must deal with Chris Jones (95) and Frank Clark (55) on the outside, while DT Jarran Reed (90) has been superb in the playoffs. And watch for Chiefs weakside LB Nick Bolton (54) to have some impact.
If the Bengals can get the running game on track with Joe Mixon (28), who ranked third with 1,205 rushing yards, they might have the balance they need.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL:
As they showed in the shootout with the Bills, the Chiefs need only, say, 13 seconds to produce in crunch time. Not only are they the most entertaining offense in the league, but with QB Patrick Mahomes (15), WR Tyreek Hill (10) and TE Travis Kelce (87), they are as creative as anyone.
Mahomes has certified himself with his arm, legs and mind as the real thing. With him, the numbers - albeit great - are almost superfluous as he finds a way on so many plays, particularly in the most dire circumstances.
One thing the Bengals defense will need is a relentless pass rush against a stout but not impenetrable line. Cincy sacks leader Trey Hendrickson (91) is the primary pass rusher, though DE Sam Hubbard (94) and DT D.J. Reader can be trouble.
It doesn't hurt that Mahomes has a sixth sense for escaping pressure, but he needs his blockers, particularly LG Joe Thuney (62) and LT Orlando Brown Jr. (57) to hold up. Rookie C Creed Humphrey (52) has been a real find.
While Mahomes has other playmakers - WRs Mecole Hardman (17) and Byron Pringle (13), RBs Jerick McKinnon (1) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) - moving the ball and, especially, finding the end zone usually comes down to Kelce and Hill.
The unenviable task of dealing with them goes to nearly everyone, from LBs Logan Wilson (55) and Germaine Pratt (57) to a deep group of defensive backs: CBs Chidobe Awuzie (22), Mike Hilton (21) and inconsistent Eli Apple (20), plus backups Tre Flowers (33) and Trae Waynes (26), and safeties Vonn Bell (24) and Jessie Bates (30).
When a last-place team drafts a kicker in the fifth round, fans scratch their heads. Well, the Bengals are a division winner and one step from the Super Bowl thanks to Evan McPherson (2). The kid simply doesn't miss: His four fields goal in the wild-card round were the most for a rookie in his postseason debut, and he nailed the winner in Music City.
P Kevin Huber (10) did not have a particularly strong season, but he's a veteran accustomed to punting outdoors in the cold, which will help in KC. Coverage units were fine.
Cincy defends runbacks well, but is not much of a threat on its own returns.
Pringle is more of a threat than any of the Bengals on kick returns, while the Chiefs use a variety of dangerous players to bring back punts. Hardman and CB Mike Hughes (21) do most of the work, but the Chiefs will use Hill when they need a big play; he delivered with one on a punt return against Buffalo.
Although he missed two kicks against the Bills, Harrison Butker (7) has a huge leg and has been very reliable for the Chiefs, and he bounced back to hit the 49-yarder to force overtime last weekend. On the other side, McPherson is the real deal.
Maybe the biggest discrepancy in this game is the resume for each coach.
That's not a knock on Cincinnati's Zac Taylor, who has helped turn around a moribund franchise and has an exciting group on offense. This is a team that doesn't panic, and when could that be said about the Bengals?
Still, the master in this one is Andy Reid, who could join that limited group with three or more consecutive Super Bowl appearances: Don Shula, Marv Levy, Bill Belichick. Reid relies heavily on his assistants (Spagnuolo, OC Eric Bieniemy, special teams coordinator Dave Toub) and they all keep things fresh and innovative. Watch for something new Sunday.
What do the Bengals have to lose? They're a year early, by most estimations, in their development, and the experience can only help them in the future. So they should be able to play loose and free.
Plus, they know when they've needed big plays in the past month or so, they have made them.
For the Chiefs, it's Super Bowl or bust, as it has been since Mahomes took charge.
The New York Jets reached an agreement with first-round wide receiver Garrett Wilson on a four-year, fully guaranteed $20.55 million deal on Wednesday, according to a source. The Jets now have all three of their first-round picks under contract. Wilson went 10th overall to the Jets in this year's draft after recording 143 catches for 2,213 yards and 23 touchdowns in his time in Ohio State on 207 targets. The 21-year-old could struggle against more physical cornerbacks at the next level, but his athleticism and elite speed cannot be ignored. The Jets are hoping that Wilson can be a big-play threat immediately for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. The rookie wideout has plenty of upside, but he could be inconsistent in his first NFL season while fighting for targets alongside Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios.
The Cincinnati Bengals agreed to terms with first-round Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill on a four-year, fully guaranteed rookie deal on Wednesday, according to a source. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Hill was the 31st overall pick of the first round and mostly played safety in college, but he has the athleticism to play cornerback in the NFL. The 21-year-old could be an immediate upgrade over Eli Apple in the Bengals secondary in 2022 and beyond.
Former New York Giants Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles on a one-year deal for $10 million on Wednesday, according to sources. It's a big-time post-draft addition for the Eagles secondary, and Bradberry will stay in the NFC East in 2022. The New York Giants released the 28-year-old just over a week ago, and it predictably didn't take the Pro Bowler long to find a new home. The Eagles didn't address cornerback in the draft, so Bradberry is a much-needed addition to the position. In his two seasons with New York, Bradberry had 81 solo tackles, seven interceptions, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 32 games (31 starts).
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook could be more involved in the passing game this year, as he lined up in bunch wide receiver sets during organized team activities. "I don't want to just sit up here and tell y'all everything," Cook said. "We've got Green Bay Week 1, so we're gonna wait and see." It could just be something the new coaching staff is tinkering with, or it could be something the Vikings plan on unveiling in a bigger fashion come the regular season. The 26-year-old could be facing a suspension this year, but when he's available, he should be a no-doubt RB1 with even more appeal for fantasy managers in an offense that should be trending more towards the pass under new head coach Kevin O'Connell.
The San Francisco 49ers signed free-agent tight end Troy Fumagalli to an undisclosed one-year deal on Tuesday and released rookie tight end Garrett Walston in a corresponding move. Fumagalli was the longest-tenured NFL veteran at the team's rookie minicamp last weekend on a tryout basis. The 27-year-old was a fifth-round pick by the Denver Broncos in 2018 out of Wisconsin, and he last played for Denver in 2020, when he had eight receptions on 15 targets for 80 yards and a touchdown in eight games (no starts). He missed all of last season with an undisclosed injury and has just 14 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns in two NFL seasons. Fumagalli will provide depth behind tight ends George Kittle, Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley.
An MRI confirmed that free-agent running back Tarik Cohen (Achilles), who hasn't played in the NFL since he tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2020 season, ruptured his Achilles while live streaming a training session, according to a source. It's a tough break for the 26-year-old, who will most likely miss most, if not all, of the 2022 season. Cohen was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2018 with the Chicago Bears in his second NFL season, and he caught a career-high 79 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns on 104 targets in 2019, but his career has been derailed by injuries since 2020.
Updating a previous report, free-agent RB Tarik Cohen (Achilles) suffered a torn Achilles' tendon during his workout Tuesday, May 17.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Jalen Tolbert has agreed to a four-year contract. The third-round rookie could be a legitimate threat early in the season. Michael Gallup (knee) is still recovering from an ACL injury, so Tolbert should see a decent amount of snaps. He finished with 82 receptions, 1,474 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns in 12 games during his final year at South Alabama. Tolbert sounds like someone who is worth snagging as a second or third round dynasty stash.
Arizona Cardinals tight end Trey McBride has agreed to a four-year contract. It sounds like the second-round is making roughly $6.3 million. McBride finished with 90 receptions, 1,1,21 receiving yards, and one touchdown during his final year at Colorado State. He was expected to have a minor role to start the season, but that has likely change. Superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is suspended to start the upcoming season, so McBride could have a bigger role in the offense. There's a chance that McBride ends up as a decent streaming option.
Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert (knee) is expected to be able to suit up to begin the season. Although, head coach Mike McDaniel mentioned that the organization isn't going to rush it. Mostert suffered a knee injury in September and is still recovering from it. Chase Edmonds figures to be the primary back, but that might not last too long. Myles Gaskin, Sony Michel, and Mostert should be in the mix as well. This sounds like a headache for fantasy managers heading into the season.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. has agreed to a four-year contract. The third round rookie figures to get plenty of attention this upcoming season. The Bears lack legitimate talent at wide receiver, so Jones could have a decent role. In 2021, Jones finished with 62 receptions, 807 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns during his senior year at Tennessee. The speedy wideout could be used in multiple roles, but we'll see how his game translates to the professional level.
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee (knee) started on-field work a couple of weeks ago after undergoing offseason surgery on the knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (knee) is 'better than where he was (in March) but not where he needs to be ... we don't put a timetable on it,' according to head coach Todd Bowles.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin tore his ACL in Week 15 of last season and is a candidate to be placed on the PUP list in training camp, but the odds are very good he'll be ready to play at some point in September - if not Week 1. The Penn State product may need a few weeks to find his old form, but he should return WR2 value if rediscovers it at some point during the second half of the season. Russell Gage could flirt with WR2 value until that happens.
Free-agent RB Tarik Cohen (Bears) appeared to suffer a significant lower leg injury while training Tuesday, May 17. There has been some speculation from training video posted on social media that he may have torn his right Achilles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said that there remains no timetable for wide receiver Chris Godwin's (knee) return. "Better than where he was but not where he needs to be we don't put a timetable on it," Bowles said. As expected, Godwin isn't available for offseason team activities on Tuesday after tearing his ACL in Week 15 last year. As long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks in his rehab or at training camp this summer, Godwin is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. When healthy, Godwin is one of quarterback Tom Brady's favorite targets and should return to being a WR2, but he could get off to a slow start. If he's not ready for the start of the season, Russell Gage will be a popular fantasy play in Tampa's pass-first offense.
Free-agent TE Troy Fumagalli (Patriots) signed a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, May 17, after participating in the team's rookie minicamp last weekend. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed. The 49ers also released TE Garrett Walston.
Free-agent running back Phillip Lindsay agreed to an undisclosed one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday, according to his agent, Mike McCartney. Lindsay spent last season with the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins, finishing with 88 carries for 249 yards (career-low 2.8 yards per carry) and one touchdown, also adding four receptions for 45 yards and another score. The 27-year-old opened with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first two years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, but he's fallen off considerably since then and will be competing for touches in Indianapolis behind bell-cow Jonathan Taylor and pass-catching back Nyheim Hines. Taylor or Hines would likely have to miss time due to injury for Lindsay to even be worth a fantasy pickup.
Former Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen (leg) appeared to suffer a significant lower leg injury while training on Tuesday. It's a tough blow for Cohen, who was finally recovered from a torn ACL in 2020. His latest injury is speculated to be a torn Achilles. The 26-year-old running back was released by the Bears with an injury designation back in March. If it's indeed a torn Achilles, he's unlikely to sign with a team or play at all in 2022. In his last full season in 2019, Cohen carried the ball 64 times for 213 yards while also catching a career-high 79 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns on 104 targets in 16 games (11 starts) for the Bears.
Miami Dolphins RB Raheem Mostert (knee) expects to play in Week 1, but head coach Mike McDaniel told reporters Tuesday, May 17, that '(the Dolphins) are not going to rush it.' 'He's come too far to have a setback. He's diligently working day in, day out. When he's ready he'll be on the field,' McDaniel added.
Fantasy Spin: McDaniel and Mostert are quite familiar with each other, as the two began working with each other in 2017 with the San Francisco 49ers. Mostert should be considered the odds-on favorite to work in tandem with Chase Edmonds if he is ready for the opener, although Sony Michel could easily make a strong case to be the primary early-down back with a strong camp. Myles Gaskin also has a chance, but the odds are stacked against him considering Miami added three veterans at his position this offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie pass-rusher Travon Walker, the first overall pick in the draft, worked full time at outside linebacker during the team's rookie minicamp. "Just strictly working on outside linebacker things in practice I feel like I'm truly getting more comfortable with the position," Walker said. The first overall selection worked on pass-rush techniques and on dropping into coverage, which he will be asked to do at the position. The plan is for the rookie to focus on outside linebacker before working other positions. The 21-year-old could be a game-changing defensive player when it's all said and done, but it'll be interesting to see how he transitions to more of a traditional outside linebacker role in the NFL.