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FFL: Offseason | NFL: Championship

Chiefs' Reid, Bills' McDermott to match wits for AFC title

Thu Jan 21 5:59pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, talks to Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott before an NFL divisional round football game Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)


Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chad Henne, right, chats with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) before an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers in Kansas City, Mo., in this Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, file photo. If Patrick Mahomes is unable to play in the AFC title game following his concussion, the Chiefs have the utmost confidence in Chad Henne. After all, the 35-year-old journeyman already proved he could rise to the occasion on Sunday, helping Kansas City hold off the Cleveland Browns in the divisional round of the playoffs. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, FIle)


Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, left, talks with Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid after an NFL divisional round football game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in Kansas City. The Chiefs won 22-17. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) celebrates after an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Bills won 17-3. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Ten years after firing Sean McDermott as his defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid will stare across the field inside Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday and see his protege trying to spoil his hopes of a Super Bowl repeat.

Funny thing: Even after firing him, Reid suspected deep down that McDermott was destined for big things.

''Very organized, very smart and very tough,'' he explained this week. ''He came from a coaching family - his dad was a heck of a coach. Sean just kind of picked up right from there. Very solid, very good.''

In fact, downright exceptional.

McDermott has the long-suffering Buffalo Bills playing in their first AFC championship game since beating Kansas City on Jan. 23, 1994, when they advanced to their fourth straight Super Bowl. They have won 11 of their past 12 games since losing to the Chiefs in Week 6, beating the Colts in the wild-card round and the Ravens in last week's divisional round.

''He deserves coach of the year, man. He's taken a franchise there, both he and his general manager, have put this thing together with some bold moves and production now,'' Reid said.

''I think he's done a tremendous job. What a great thing for the NFL and for Buffalo. They love football in Buffalo and he's really done a nice job with that whole program.''

Not surprisingly, the job McDermott has done with the Bills neatly parallels the job Reid has done in Kansas City.

Both took over downtrodden organizations and quickly built them into juggernauts. Both have bright young quarterbacks in the Bills' Josh Allen and the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes. Both have surrounded them with playmakers, such as the Bills' Stefon Diggs and the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. And both have built defenses to not only complement two of the best offenses in the NFL, but capable of clinching wins under pressure, as each did last weekend.

Mahomes, who sustained a concussion last week against Cleveland, is poised to play after practicing all week.

McDermott never harbored any animosity toward Reid when he was fired from the Eagles on Jan. 15, 2011. Instead, he went to Carolina and over the next five years honed his craft and built his reputation to the point the Bills - who at the time had not made the postseason since 1999 - were willing to give him a shot in charge.

Buffalo reached the wild-card round in 2017 and again last year before reaching the brink of a Super Bowl this season.

''It's always an honor to go up against great coaches, and Andy will be a Hall of Fame coach here in the future sometime down the road,'' McDermott said. ''I've learned a lot from Andy in my time with him in Philadelphia, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his family, the way they helped guide me then and still do today.''

MOMENT ON MAHOMES

The Chiefs' quarterback, who was knocked out of last week's game against Cleveland with a concussion, was cleared to practice on Wednesday and took the majority of first-team reps Thursday. Mahomes still needed clearance from team doctors and an independent neurologist, but all signs pointed to him being under center on Sunday.

''The goal is to have Patrick,'' Hill said, ''but I really don't know. I feel like it doesn't matter who is out there. Whoever steps in at quarterback, we're going to put our confidence behind them in the same way.''

OTHER CHIEF CONCERNS

Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who also sustained a concussion last Sunday, practiced this week while awaiting clearance from doctors and neurologists. Running back Le'Veon Bell was held out Thursday because of a swollen knee.

On the flip side, Clyde Edwards-Helaire could return for the first time since a high-ankle sprain in Week 15 and Sammy Watkins could be back from a calf injury that he sustained the following week. The rookie running back and the veteran wide receiver both practiced this week and moved around well in the portion of practice open to reporters.

GROUNDED GAME

The Bills don't run often - in fact, they called just one running play in the first half against the Ravens last week. They finished with 16 carries, including four kneel-downs by Allen, for 32 yards in their lowest rushing output since a game in Minnesota in 2002. The Bills' total of 1,482 yards this season was their fewest since 2014, which they balanced out by setting a franchise record with 4,786 yards through the air.

''We're not going to change who we are,'' Allen said. ''It's the biggest game because it's the next one, but we understand that we don't have to be anyone different that who we are.''

STAR STRUCK

Though the Bills would love to have Star Lotulelei enjoy this playoff run with them, cornerback Tre'Davious White and several teammates continued backing the starting defensive tackle's decision to opt out because of COVID-19 concerns.

''You can't make a wrong decision in this thing,'' said White, who contemplated opting out before signing a $70 million, four-year extension in September and earning second-team All-Pro honors. ''Obviously he chose his family over a game and the things that he had going on. I don't think that he's necessarily missing out on anything.''

SLEEPING ON BIENIEMY

One of the hottest names on the coaching carousel was Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who interviewed with just about every team with an opening. But the only job left after the Eagles hired Nick Sirianni on Thursday was with the Houston Texans, where the Bills' Leslie Frazier is also among the front-runners for the job.

''It's always good to be mentioned and have an opportunity to pursue your dreams,'' Bieniemy said. ''I want to be a head coach, but when it's said and done, I have to make sure I'm not taking away from the goals were trying to accomplish.''

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Ronald Jones II Jan 21 5:40pm ET

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Leonard Fournette Jan 21 5:20pm ET

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Aaron Donald Jan 21 3:10pm ET

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New York Jets Jan 21 2:40pm ET

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Le'Veon Bell Jan 21 2:00pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Watkins, who was limited in practice Wednesday, hasn't played since Week 16, and upping his participation level Thursday or Friday will go a long way toward doing so.

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Patrick Mahomes Jan 21 1:13pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Another necessary step as Mahomes navigates the concussion protocol this week. There will be a forthcoming update regarding his level of participation Thursday.

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Fantasy Spin: He's still expected to play in the NFC Championship game, and he'll be a WR2 option in playoff leagues.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Jan 21 11:50am ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers are retaining defensive coordinator Keith Butler for at least one more season, according to a source. The 64-year-old has been with the team since 2003 and in his role as the defensive coordinator since 2015. Pittsburgh's defense was a top-five unit in 2020, finishing first in total QBR (55.9) and sacks (56). However, they began to fall apart in the final month of the season. They allowed 111.4 rushing yards per game and 4.31 yards per carry after being the best run defense in the first half of the year. They ranked third in the NFL in passing yards per game (194.4) and yards per attempt (5.91). Losing linebackers Devin Bush and Bud Dupree to injuries during the season was a big reason why Pittsburgh's defense wasn't as strong to close out the year. Despite the disappointing finish, this unit should be a top target for fantasy managers late in drafts in 2021.

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Lamar Jackson Jan 21 11:40am ET

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday that he's "not apologizing" for quarterback Lamar Jackson's style of play or the team's run-first approach on offense. Baltimore scored just three points in the Divisional Round loss to the Bills, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman received criticism for what looked like a simplistic passing attack. The Ravens finished last in the NFL in passing for the first time since 2003. Harbaugh points out that they finished seventh in scoring in 2020, averaging 29.3 points per game. While Baltimore doesn't air the football out like other teams, they've also led the league in rushing each of the last two years, and Jackson has been a big part of that. Despite his limitations as a passer, Jackson remains a high-end QB1 for fantasy managers entering the 2021 season. Running back J.K. Dobbins will only see his stock rise as well in one of the NFL's most run-heavy offenses heading into his second season.

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