Thu Jan 30 2:37pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo speaks during a media availability Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the team's NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman gestures as he speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Aventura, Fla., for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Aventura, Fla., for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Aventura, Fla., for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
MIAMI (AP) Few Super Bowls in recent memory have appeared as competitive as the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs.
No wonder there's a little more buzz about this one.
History and excitement are a nice combination for any championship game.
The history stems from the Chiefs seeking their first title since 1970, when they won the fourth Super Bowl in the final matchup of AFL-NFL. The full merger took place the next season - and Kansas City hasn't been back to the Super Bowl for which its founder, Lamar Hunt, provided the name.
“I think he would be amazed,” said his son, Clark Hunt, who now oversees the Chiefs. “He and my mother actually talked about that at one of the last Super Bowls they attended together about 15 years ago. He said, 'I always knew it was going to be big, but I didn't know it was going to be this big.”
Then there's Andy Reid, whose NFL head coaching resume goes back to 1999 in Philadelphia. He has a Super Bowl ring from work as an assistant coach in Green Bay, but Reid is 0-1 in the big game.
“Just getting him here isn't the goal,” star tight end Travis Kelce said. “Winning this thing for him is.”
San Francisco is seeking its sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy, which would equal the record held by Pittsburgh and New England. The 49ers also are looking to be only the second team to go from 4-12 the previous season to the top of the heap.
“It's been quite a journey,” said halfback Raheem Mostert, who himself has had quite the sojourn in the NFL. He was cut by seven teams and was a special-teamer for the 49ers before getting a chance - and taking off running with it. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC title game.
“This franchise has a lot of history and accomplishments. Of course we want to add to that.”
Mostert is one of a field full of players who will push the thrill throttle to the floor and keep it there. So is Kelce.
But Kelce might not be the best tight end in the game. It's close, but 49ers All-Pro George Kittle is just as capable of breaking open this Super Bowl with something spectacular.
And celebrate it almost as adeptly as J-Lo and Shakira will fill the halftime stage.
“I think we both have a really good time playing football,” Kittle said. “You can see that on the tape. We both just enjoy being out there with our teammates. We both make plays when we’re asked to, and I think we both make plays when we’re not asked to.”
Both teams have wideouts capable of swinging momentum in their team's favor. For the Chiefs it's perhaps the speediest group the NFL has seen. Tyreek Hill is sure of it.
"If I'm healthy and my mind is in the right place, I'd go try out for the Olympics, put together a relay," Hill said. “We'd show these track guys, 'Hey, we football players can do that, too.'”
He's put fellow receivers Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman on that relay.
"It almost looks like they got their roster from the Olympic relay team and threw them all on the football field," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “Not to say they can't run routes and catch either, because they can do that. They're a special group and you can see why they're there.”
Still, the 49ers have a clutch receiver in veteran Emmanuel Sanders, a rookie with no fear of going anywhere on the field - or above it - to make a catch in Deebo Samuel, and an emerging talent in Kendrick Bourne. Just like with Kansas City, they're capable of making a difference.
So is San Francisco's defense, and it will need to be at optimal precision to deal with perhaps the most electrifying player of them all in this Super Bowl: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The 49ers have a powerful pass rush sparked by a deep front four that includes a sack threat at every spot - including one rookie, Nick Bosa. A year ago, the Niners were so bad they had the second overall draft pick. They took edge rusher Bosa, and look where they are now.
The Niners have 57 sacks including the playoffs, with veteran linebacker Dee Ford, Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner all having at least 7 1/2.
Fred Warner has developed into a versatile linebacker and Richard Sherman remains one of the NFL's great cornerbacks - an action guy who will love taking on Mahomes.
“We believe in each other,” Sherman said. “We believe in the scheme. We believe in what we've done all year, and we plan on going out there and putting a good product on tape and seeing how it goes.”
For Kansas City, whose defense performed particularly well down the stretch of the regular season but hasn't been so stingy in spots during the postseason, how it goes Sunday very possibly will depend on how successful Mahomes is. The 49ers don't need their QB, Jimmy Garoppolo, to be extra special; he's been more of a caretaker behind that monstrous running game and defense in the two postseason victories.
Make no mistake about Mahomes: Kansas City needs him to be, well, vintage Mahomes.
Which means big plays with his arm, thrown from angles we didn't know existed. Howitzer throws as he rolls out - even to his left - and doesn't bother fully planting his legs. Maybe even the tightrope kind of run down the sideline that still has NFL folks shaking their heads in wonder.
“You have to accept the excitement that it is,” Mahomes said this week as he stood on a podium and spoke to reporters. “It’s amazing to be here, to be in this atmosphere, to be at this podium. It’s where you want to be when you start training camp in St. Joe, Missouri. For me, to be in this moment, I’m just enjoying it as much as possible.”
Chances are, Mahomes and his teammates, along with the 49ers, will produce one of those enjoyable, memorable, perhaps even classic Super Bowls.
Interview with a Champ
Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland (concussion) has cleared the league's concussion protocol and has no game status for Sunday. He will play in the AFC Championship against the Buffalo Bills. It's good news for a Chiefs secondary that will be trying to slow down All-Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs and breakout quarterback Josh Allen as they try to secure back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl. The 29-year-old Breeland was hit with a four-game suspension during the regular season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but he still managed to record 38 combined tackles, two interceptions, nine passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 11 games in 2020. KC's defense allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts this year, so they'll need Breeland in order to contain Buffalo's passing game.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis (ankle) is listed as questionable for Sunday's playoff matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. He was able to get in some limited work late this week, but it sounds like the team is still unsure if he'll suit up. His absence could mean more targets for Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley (knee), and possibly Isaiah McKenzie gets more involved. DFS players might want to stay away from Davis even if he does suit up for this game. It doesn't sound like he'll be 100 percent healthy, so it's unlikely he puts up productive numbers.
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox has shown some signs of life in the second half of the season. However, the Bills still don't have a significant role for him in the offense. Last week, Knox hauled in two receptions for 18 yards in the win over the Baltimore Ravens. He has been playing better lately, but is still the fourth or fifth option in this offense. It's unlikely that he gets enough targets to make a significant impact versus the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver John Brown surprisingly had a solid game against the Baltimore Ravens last week. He hauled in eight receptions for 62 yards in the win. Brown has battled injuries all season long, but plays well when he's actually on the field. The Kansas City Chiefs are likely going to do everything in their power to slow down Stefon Diggs. That means, Brown could be against some below average defenders, which could mean he has a solid game. DFS players should highly consider using Brown for this matchup since he has plenty of upside.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (knee) was removed from the injury report ahead of Sunday's matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs. This is great news considering Beasley has been dealing with lingering knee issues for a few weeks. It's unclear if Beasley will be limited at all for this matchup. He finished with a goose egg last week versus the Baltimore Ravens. Beasley does have plenty of upside, but might be too risky for DFS players this weekend.
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary remains the workhorse lead back for this offense while Zack Moss (shoulder) is sidelined. However, Singletary didn't see many carries during the victory over the Baltimore Ravens last week. He rushed seven times for 25 yards and hauled in three receptions for 12 yards through the air. It's unlikely that his production increases by much against the Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe there's some low-end appeal here, but it's tough to imagine Singletary finding much room to run on Sunday.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs continues to put up video game numbers and it seems like no defense has an answer for him. Last week, Diggs hauled in eight receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Baltimore Ravens. Honestly, it seems like Diggs goes over 100 receiving yards in just about every game. He'll continue to see plenty of targets versus the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend. He should be considered a must-have DFS option.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen is one win away from a ticket to the Super Bowl. Last week, he threw for 206 yards with one passing touchdown in the win over the Baltimore Ravens. Allen is a dual threat quarterback that has been lighting up opposing defenses all season long. The Kansas City Chiefs are not exactly a bad defense, but Allen hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. He'll remain a top tier DFS option for the playoff games this weekend.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (back) is listed as questionable for the NFC Championship game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Defensive lineman Kingsley Keke (concussion) was ruled out. King popped up on the injury report on Friday and did not practice. Mid-week additions to the injury report are usually never a good sign, especially this late in the week. Jaire Alexander will likely be matched up against Mike Evans on one side of the field this weekend, but a King absence could benefit Scotty Miller or rookie Tyler Johnson the most in Tampa's passing attack with veteran Antonio Brown (knee) already ruled out. Chris Godwin could also have a big game for the Bucs out of the slot.
Los Angeles Rams impending free-agent LB Leonard Floyd is a player head coach Sean McVay hopes to re-sign this offseason.
Las Vegas Raiders impending free-agent WR Nelson Agholor may be too expensive for the Raiders to re-sign this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez.
Fantasy Spin: Agholor is coming off a career season and probably will receive interest from multiple teams. He should have fantasy value no matter where he signs but probably will not be a weekly starting option in fantasy leagues.
Baltimore Ravens impending free-agent LB Matt Judon has been looking for $20 million per season in a new contract, according to a source.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense prepares to face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. Tampa Bay had a strong showing against the Saints last week, creating four takeaways, though they didn't register a sack. They will need to put more pressure on Rodgers than they did Brees, or they'll have a long day. If the Buccaneers follow their Week 6 formula- they sacked Rodgers four times and intercepted him twice- they'll be in a great position to win, as well as delivering for fantasy managers who turn to them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate is playing well heading into a playoff matchup with Green Bay. Brate has at least 50 receiving yards in each of his last two games and has seen 11 targets in that span. However, he's been out-snapped by Rob Gronkowski in both playoff wins, which makes it hard to trust him fully. Both tight ends could have good games, with Gronkowski being more of a touchdown favorite- and Brate more of a between-the-20s guy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski takes on the Packers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. Gronkowski has been out-produced by his teammate Cameron Brate lately, but the former has been on the field far more than the latter. The former Patriot also saw the same amount of targets as Brate last week and even had a touchdown catch fall just out of his reach. Both players could have good games, but Gronkowski is due for a strong performance- and he's no stranger to big games. Bet on Gronkowski seeing more looks with Antonio Brown (knee) sidelined against Green Bay, a team who allowed a 5-78-1 line to the big tight end in Week 6.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 22, but is not on the injury report for the NFC Championship game.
Fantasy Spin: Williams should see a decent amount of carries in the championship game but will be facing one of the better run defenses in the NFL. He can be a possible flex option in some leagues but can be benched if better options are available.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (quad) was limited in practice all week but was removed from the injury report for the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin's availability takes on a little bit more importance with Antonio Brown getting ruled out Friday. While Tampa Bay has plenty of depth at receiver, Godwin will likely be asked to do a bit more now. Although his expected matchup in the slot with Chandon Sullivan is not an easy one, Godwin could end up being a great contrarian play in DFS if the market is off of him after a bit of a disappointing effort last week when his 4-34-0 dud - which included a drop in the end zone - ended a four-game scoring streak.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (quad, finger) was upgraded to a full practice Friday, Jan. 22, and was removed from the injury report for the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
Fantasy Spin: Leonard Fournette has been a fantasy beast through Tampa Bay's first two playoff games, but that production has largely been a product of two touchdowns and a fair amount of work in the passing game. His rushing efficiency has remained right around his regular-season levels. All of that is to say Jones should probably be considered the favorite to handle most of the rushing workload this weekend, which should be enough to make a strong contrarian option in DFS.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited in practice all week but no longer appears on the injury report for the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
Fantasy Spin: Evans is a bit of a wild-card this week. He was shadowed and mostly silenced by Jaire Alexander on most of his routes in the first meeting back in Week 6, but the Packers' stud cornerback has rarely moved off his left cornerback spot since that game. Assuming Green Bay sticks to that and Evans doesn't get followed by Alexander this week, Evans could have a huge game this time around. The decision to have Alexander shadow (or not) figures to determine whether Evans or Chris Godwin will be the best Bucs' receiver to play this week.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (calf) practiced in a limited fashion again Friday, Jan. 22, and is listed as questionable for the AFC Championship game versus the Buffalo Bills.
Fantasy Spin: Watkins is expected to play and resume his No. 2 receiver duties opposite Tyreek Hill. It helps his cause for playing time that he is probably the team's best blocker at receiver in what could be another run-heavy game plan against Buffalo, but he's a tough sell in all fantasy formats given his risk for an in-game setback and the fact he hasn't exceeded 62 yards receiving in a game since the opener. Nonetheless, Watkins has come up big in the playoffs as of late and the Bills' likely defensive game plan of preventing the deep ball should work in his favor.