As we turn toward Week 16 of the 2019 NFL season, NFL.com's network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
* * * * *
BUFFALO BILLS: Open respect between shutdown corners.Saturday's game between the Bills and host Patriots, featuring Buffalo cornerback Tre'Davious White and New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore, should be a lot of fun to watch. Both are shutdown corners. Gilmore -- a former Bill -- is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and White isn't far behind. They are tied for the league lead with six interceptions each; both had two picks in Week 15. And they've become friends.
"He's a great player," White said. "I texted him actually before the game on Sunday. I was like, 'Man, you got two picks. I'm feeling a little motivated today.' So, look how the football gods work. I was able to get two picks myself."
After the game, White had a return text waiting from Gilmore.
It will be interesting to see how Tom Brady and Josh Allen handle throwing in the direction of White and Gilmore on Saturday. Bills coach Sean McDermott, who took over the year that Gilmore left, said it "would probably be irresponsible" to throw in Gilmore's direction often.
White has eyes on true prize. The Bills boast the league's No. 3 total defense and No. 2 scoring defense, yet Tre'Davious White is their lone Pro Bowler.
"It's a big deal, but obviously I would rather have wins than the individual accolades at this point," White said. "It's good to get it, but hopefully I don't get to play in that thing."
The Pro Bowl is set for Jan. 26 -- when the participants in Super Bowl LIV will be busy preparing to play for the Lombardi Trophy.
Allen learned a lesson last time vs. Pats. Quarterback Josh Allen has come a long way since the Bills' Week 4 loss to the Patriots. Back then, he had six interceptions on the season after throwing three against the Pats. (Allen has thrown a total of three picks since, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18:9 is an improvement over his rookie mark of 10:12.)
Allen said the tape of that game is "a little hard to watch." The 23-year-old QB told me recently that after that loss, he vowed to stop playing "hero ball," where he tried to do too much. With the Buffalo media, the second-year pro elaborated on that idea this week, saying the Patriots game has been beneficial in the long run.
"It's kind of helped me throughout the season, just being smarter with the football and taking care of the football and helping this football team win games," Allen said. "I'm playing smart football right now."
* * * * *
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Hoping to make Cousins uncomfortable.Kirk Cousins had one of the roughest days of his impressive season against the Packersback in Week 2, completing just 14 of 32 passes with a touchdown toss and two interceptions in a game where the Vikings fell behind 21-0 en route to a 21-16 loss.
So how does the Green Bay defense disrupt the rhythm Cousins has found in virtually every game since in Monday night's rematch, when the NFC North will be on the line?
"Affect him," Packers OLB Za'Darius Smith told me Thursday, "as far as getting him out the pocket, moving him around, getting pressure, getting hits. If he can't see his first read, hopefully we can get there as pass rushers."
The remodeled Packers defense also has improved since that early season matchup. During their current three-game winning streak, they're allowing just 13.7 points per game and now rank ninth in scoring defense.
* * * * *
HOUSTON TEXANS: Watson's big fan on the opposing sideline. On Saturday, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson plans to spend a special moment in the corner of the end zone that's by the tunnel of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay.
That's the spot where Watson, while playing for Clemson, found WR Hunter Renfrow in the final seconds of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship to beat Alabama. It was the final play of his college career.
Then-Texans GM Rick Smith was sitting in the stands watching. It was during that performance the Texans decided Watson was their man and made a massive move in the draft to make sure they landed him. What stood out to Smith was obviously the talent, but also the leadership, competitive nature and Watson's ability to make the biggest plays on the biggest stage. Seeing all those attributes live sold the deal.
Someone else was in attendance watching Watson take over that national title game: current Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. Arians, who has a relationship with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, actually attended several Tigers games Watson played in. Now he has to find a way to stop Watson from beating his Bucs and clinching the AFC South.
"He's just amazing," Arians said this week. "He's one of my favorite players. Everything that he can do that's designed, but then when he gets into backyard football, he's the best there is I think right now, he and Russell Wilson, when they start creating stuff. He's a magical player."
"He's always been a fan of mine, I've always been a fan of his and we communicated and that's pretty dope from a legendary coach like him," Watson said after being told of Arians comments. "It gives me a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum and motivation to keep striving to be great."
* * * * *
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Suggs already impressing Spagnuolo. Now that edge rusher Terrell Suggs is a member of the Chiefs, the big question is what he'll bring to this Super Bowl contender. The Arizona Cardinals waived the 17th-year veteran earlier this week, and the Chiefs claimed him to help an injury-riddled defensive line. Suggs, who earned seven Pro Bowl nods and was named both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year during a Ravens career that spanned from 2003 to 2018, was enjoying a solid season in Arizona, as he had 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles before the Cardinals, who just ended a six-game losing streak and sit at 4-9-1, decided to focus on younger players.
The Chiefs aren't saying exactly how he'll be used, but they're already impressed with his professionalism. "This is a different environment," said Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on Thursday. "It's all new and different to him. He got in here late the other night, and then he came in here (Wednesday). I don't know how much sleep he's had; not very much. The most impressive thing, and I think all of our players got their eyeballs on it, too -- you come into the meeting, and he had a spiral notebook, and he was taking notes. That's Terrell Suggs. He's a pro."
Patrick Mahomes, Snow King? After last Sunday's 23-3 win over the Broncos, I walked up to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' locker and asked him, "How does a kid from Texas throw the ball so well in the snow?"
The reigning MVP laughed and said, "I don't know. But I like it."
"I was nervous before the Indy game," Mahomes told me. "But during pregame, I was able to spin it pretty good. The snow kind of made it sticky to my hand. Now I love the snow."
Last Sunday, in a constant snowfall, Mahomes lit up the Broncos to the tune of 27 of 34 for 340 yards and two touchdowns (against one pick). After his first touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, Mahomes ran down the Chiefs' sideline yelling, "I spin this sh-- in anything."
I told WR Mecole Hardman that Mahomes completed almost 80 percent of his passes in those conditions. He didn't respond to me. Instead, he told fellow WR Sammy Watkins the stat line for Mahomes I just told him. The two just started to shake their heads and laugh.
"I think I'm a snow-game guy," Mahomes said on the sideline while mic'd up by the Chiefs. "I don't know why, but I kind of like it. Everything's super slow and I'm just out here standing straight in the pocket. I'm just like whoop."
* * * * *
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Playing wait-and-see with Edelman. The final injury report came out in advance of the Patriots' Saturday afternoon clash at home with the Bills, and to the surprise of no one in Foxborough, receiver Julian Edelman remains limited with both knee and shoulder injuries.
Edelman, who labored through last weekend's win in Cincinnati, briefly engaged with the media Thursday when asked about the job the team's medical staff does in keeping players on the field. "Not answering questions about the medical staff," Edelman responded sternly, then added, "Not answering 'physically' questions," before wrapping up.
Edelman's quarterback, Tom Brady, certainly has a great appreciation for the team's best receiver/playmaker.
"He's a pretty tough guy," he said. "He wants to be out there competing and playing, and I think everyone has a lot of respect for him for that. He's a tough guy. Good to have him out there."
Even at far less than 100 percent versus the Bengals, Edelman did impact coverages and helped draw defenders away from James White on the game's first touchdown. The Patriots might need more against the Bills -- who, at 10-4, are technically still chasing the Patriots for the AFC East title, while New England is hoping to secure a first-round playoff bye -- in a game that Edelman is looking forward to.
"This is a big-time game against a very, very good opponent that is playing very well," he said. "It's one of those things where, if you're not urgent and you need to be told to be urgent, you're in the wrong job."
* * * * *
NEW YORK JETS: Gase reflects on star safeties Fitzpatrick and Adams. The Steelers-Jets game on Sunday at MetLife Stadium features Pro Bowl safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jamal Adams, both of whom have played for current Jets coach Adam Gase.
"He's played as well as any player I've been around, consistently," Gase said. "Week in, week out, you never see a dip. It's always elite level."
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has hit his stride since being traded from Miami -- where he was drafted 11th overall in 2018 and where Gase formerly coached -- to Pittsburgh this season.
Gase explained Fitzpatrick's success: "He's playing a different spot. He's playing the spot he was drafted for. ... We had a lot of injuries, so he had to play nickel and corner, never got to post safety until the end of the year. [The Steelers] have him in the post, allow him to be aggressive, and he's done that. The ball finds him."
* * * * *
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Samuel draws praise from Shanahan. Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel has stepped up in a big -- and unexpected -- way, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. Samuel has played a lot more than was projected, and he's managed to overcome a lot of rookie issues -- like dealing with the length of the NFL season -- to emerge as the team's second-leading pass catcher (48 catches for 669 yards and three touchdowns, with an average of 13.9 yards per catch), behind tight end George Kittle.
The second-round pick also has nine carries for 98 yards and a touchdown.
In explaining how Samuel has produced, Shanahan also shed some great insight on rookie wide receivers as a whole.
"For him to play with a physicality and just play like a man throughout the year, whether he's been hurt or not, has been impressive," Shanahan said of Samuel. "He still has his rookie moments. It's very challenging for rookies, and that's why we'll never stop riding him, because he's not close to having arrived yet."
Shanahan went on:
"We watch a lot of college receivers, and they're out there for 100 plays and only have to go full speed on like five of them, because it's no-huddle and so fast. So, it takes a while to learn how hard it is to run routes every single play in a game and how hard you have to work to get open.
"A lot of guys have the ability to run good routes, but they get away with being a little bit sloppy in college. They get to the NFL, and they have to learn the hard way."
Bye, please! One of the main goals of winning the division and getting a top-two seed in the playoffs is to get a bye. Well, no one wants that scenario more than Niners receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders got traded to Denver before the Broncos' Week 10 bye and well after the 49ers' Week 4 bye.
So when the regular season ends, he will have played 17 consecutive games. And Sanders, who had Achilles tendon and ankle procedures last winter while still with the Broncos, would love a breather. But he knows one will only come if San Francisco closes out the season with victories over Los Angelesand Seattle.