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Steelers optimistic but wary as COVID-19 rearranges schedule

Sun Nov 29 3:02pm ET
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't add any players to the team's expanding reserve/COVID-19 list on Sunday, but coach Mike Tomlin isn't exactly ready to say Tuesday night's rescheduled visit by Baltimore is a go.

''I don't know that I can say I'm confident of anything in this environment,'' Tomlin said. ''I got great news today that we had no new positives ... (but) it's a sensitive situation ... you talk about degrees of confidence and things of that nature, it's a slippery slope.''

The Steelers (10-0) were supposed to host the Ravens (6-4) on Thanksgiving. A COVID-19 outbreak in Baltimore initially led the NFL to push the game to Sunday. When positive tests among the Ravens continued to pile up, the league postponed it until Tuesday. It's still on ... for now.

While Tomlin has constantly praised his team's diligence to the league's COVID-19 protocols, Pittsburgh has not been immune. The team has placed four players on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Thursday, a group that includes leading rusher James Conner and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Two coaches - special teams coordinator Danny Smith and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada - will also be unavailable should the Steelers end up playing on Tuesday due to what the team called an ''illness.''

Tomlin shrugged off the suggestion that what is happening to the Steelers and Ravens should serve as a message to the rest of the league as winter looms and cases across the world - let alone the NFL - skyrocket.

''We don't need cautionary tales,'' Tomlin said. ''We've been living this every day. We've been tested daily since July 20th. ... We have taken this very seriously, it's just confirmation of what we already know.''

Maybe, but several players took to social media after the initial postponement from Thursday to Sunday to voice their displeasure. Defensive tackle and longtime captain Cameron Heyward called it a natural reaction.

''We're all humans, we understand we're going to be upset,'' Heyward said. ''We signed up for 16 games no matter where they're played and I look forward to answering the bell.''

Even if Tuitt and Conner - players who have been important contributors to the best start in franchise history - will be forced to watch from afar. Even if the Steelers aren't really sure who will be in uniform for the Ravens, who have 20 players - including reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins - on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

''We don't care where we play, we don't care how we play, we just want to play,'' Heyward said.

Tomlin declined to express frustration about opponents who struggle to adhere to the league-mandated health protocols. The Steelers were fined $100,000 for mask violations earlier this season. The Ravens are reportedly being investigated for their own COVID-19 violations.

''I am so concerned with our issues and what's going on with us, there are people in place to answer those questions,'' Tomlin said. ''I'm just working hard to make sure this group upholds its end of the bargain.''

While declining to go into detail, Tomlin stressed his team has gone ''above and beyond from day one'' in terms of trying to stay safe when away from the club's facility. Still, it hasn't been enough to prevent Pittsburgh from avoiding the widespread impact of the novel coronavirus.

Earlier in the season, Tomlin emphatically said it did not matter what COVID-19 would do to Pittsburgh's schedule, that the club would not use it as an excuse to lose focus.

So far, the Steelers have avoided any misstep in terms of their performance. He doesn't expect that to change and is making an effort to try and stay upbeat. He called the unexpected days off a good thing for a club that didn't receive a traditional ''bye'' week after the Titans' game was postponed.

''I really think it can be a positive thing if we make it that, and I know that's our intentions,'' Tomlin said. ''I know it is for me.''

Heyward pointed out that even a short-handed opponent can be dangerous. Baltimore backup quarterback Robert Griffin III led the Ravens to a victory over the Steelers in the 2019 regular-season finale.

And whatever pent up hostility Heyward's teammates might have for the disruption to their routine should be balanced by the knowledge the Steelers - despite their efforts - are no more immune to the realities of playing in the middle of a pandemic than anyone else.

''We understand we can't be perfect in this situation,'' Heyward said. ''The pandemic is not going to allow anyone to be perfect. We just have to be willing to adjust, make things happen on the fly and be ready to play when we get the opportunity to.''

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Sunday Morning Update: Week 12

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Jordan Wilkins Nov 29 3:20pm ET

Indianapolis Colts running back Jordan Wilkins (ribs) has returned to Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Wilkins suffered a rib injury late in the first half of the game and was deemed questionable to return. Luckily, he is back on the field in the third quarter and he will likely split the running back work with Nyheim Hines the rest of the way. Wilkins had six carries for 22 yards as well as a 21-yard reception before the injury.

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Olamide Zaccheaus Nov 29 3:20pm ET

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (toe) has been ruled out for the remainder of Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Zaccheaus suffered a toe injury in the first half of the game and was deemed questionable to return at the time, but that designation has been downgraded to out. Zaccheaus had just one catch for 11 yards on three targets before the injury. Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst have been Matt Ryan's top targets in Week 12. Russell Gage may see some additional opportunities with Zaccheaus out.

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A.J. Brown Nov 29 3:10pm ET

Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (ankle) hobbled off to the sidelines after a play in the third quarter where he fell on his ankle or knee. He appeared to be in a decent amount of pain on the sidelines as a trainer looked at him. Brown had two catches for 76 yards and a touchdown on four targets before the injury. He should be considered questionable to return at this point. While he's sidelined, Ryan Tannehill might struggle while Corey Davis should see additional targets. However, the team will likely keep riding Derrick Henry, who is having a massive game.

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Dalvin Cook Nov 29 3:00pm ET

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has gone to the medical tent with an apparent leg injury after a third-quarter fumble. One of the NFL's top running backs, if Cook ends up missing time, backup running Alexander Mattison will see an increase in fantasy value, becoming a potential RB2 play. This is situation to keep a close eye on for the rest of the day and moving forward, as Cook leads the NFL in touchdowns.

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Daniel Jones Nov 29 3:00pm ET

New York Giants backup quarterback Colt McCoy is currently in for the injured Daniel Jones. It looked likes Jones is dealing with a hamstring injury, putting his return to the game in question. Jones is 16-for-26 for 211 yards so far. If he's unable to return, McCoy's likely to hurt the prospects of the rest of the lineup.

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Olamide Zaccheaus Nov 29 2:10pm ET

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (toe) is questionable to return to Sunday's game against the Las Vegas Raiders. He has one catch for 11 yards. With Julio Jones out as well, Russell Gage would benefit if Zaccheaus can't return.

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Malcolm Perry Nov 29 1:50pm ET

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Malcolm Perry (chest) is questionable to return to Sunday's game against the New York Jets. Perry set career highs in targets (five), catches (three) and yards (23) last week, but hasn't been much of a factor in this offense this season, so his absence from this game shouldn't change much in terms of fantasy outlooks.

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Tyler Kroft Nov 29 12:20pm ET

Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft appears to be a healthy scratch for Sunday's contest against the Los Angeles Chargers. Dawson Knox will see most of the tight end work against a Chargers Defense that can definitely be exploited, making Knox an intriguing TE2 streamer. Knox hasn't had more than two catches in a game yet this year though, so don't get your hopes up for him, even if there's some upside.

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Hayden Hurst Nov 29 12:10pm ET

Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst (ankle) is active for Sunday's game against the Raiders. With Julio Jones (hamstring) out, there could be some increased work for Hurst this week. Before last week's zero catch performance against the Saints, Hurst had seen seven targets or more in three consecutive games, so there should be a decent floor here, even if Hurst hasn't had many huge games since arriving in Atlanta.

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Giovani Bernard Nov 29 12:03pm ET

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (concussion) is officially active for the Week 12 game.

Fantasy Spin: Bernard should be able to handle his normal workload this week and can be a No. 2 running back or flex option in fantasy leagues.

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Philip Rivers Nov 29 12:03pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Rivers has thrown at least three touchdowns in three of the last five games and should have some success against the Tennessee Titans. He can be considered a low-end No. 1 quarterback in leagues.

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Julio Jones Nov 29 12:03pm ET

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Fantasy Spin: Even though Jones was a limited practice participant Wednesday, Nov. 25, he was unable to practice Friday, Nov. 27, so it is not surprising that the Falcons have decided to hold him out of this week's game. Expect WRs Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage and TE Hayden Hurst to see additional targets in Jones' absence.

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Irv Smith Jr. Nov 29 12:00pm ET

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. (groin) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (COVID-19) are both out for Minnesota's Week 12 contest against the Carolina Panthers. The Vikings will have to rely more on rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson in this one, who's a low-end WR2 play. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has some streaming or DFS potential as well.

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Sony Michel Nov 29 12:00pm ET

New England Patriots running back Sony Michel was apparently a healthy scratch in Week 11 after coming off the Injured Reserve, but he's active for Week 12 against the Panthers. This is likely just the result of Rex Burkhead (knee) being out, and Michel won't see much work. It's possible his return cuts a little into Damien Harris's workload, but Harris should still be a solid RB3 option, as will James White.

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Sam Darnold Nov 29 12:00pm ET

With New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold back at quarterback this week, the team will also see head coach Adam Gase take back over playcalling duties. It'll be interesting to see if Gase changes anything for the Jets. Considering his reputation as kryptonite to offensive players, we wouldn't be staking our fantasy hopes on Darnold or any of the Jets players this week, though rookie wide receiver Denzel Mims has FLEX appeal based on his increasing usage lately.

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Kalen Ballage Nov 29 11:53am ET

Los Angeles Chargers RB Kalen Ballage (ankle, calf) has been declared inactive for the Week 12 game.

Fantasy Spin: Austin Ekeler is back in the lineup and should receive most of the work at running back moving forward. Ekeler should be a starting option in all fantasy leagues, while Ballage could be cut if a player needs roster space.

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Hayden Hurst Nov 29 11:53am ET

Atlanta Falcons TE Hayden Hurst (ankle) is active for Week 12's game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Fantasy Spin: Hurst had been listed as questionable on the injury report after participating in just one practice session during the week on a limited basis. However, he can be viewed as a low-end TE1 in all fantasy formats based on his performance over the last month, as well as the fact that he should see additional targets this afternoon with WR Julio Jones (hamstring) sitting this game out.

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Gardner Minshew II Nov 29 11:50am ET

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb) will miss his fourth consecutive game on Sunday when the Jags face the Cleveland Browns. Mike Glennon will start while Jake Luton, who started the past three games, will back Glennon up. Minshew was struggling when healthy, but it's become clear that this passing offense barely functions with Luton under center. Glennon is unlikely to change that.

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Philip Rivers Nov 29 11:50am ET

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Giovani Bernard Nov 29 11:50am ET

Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (concussion) has been cleared to play against the Giants in Week 12 and is officially active. With Brandon Allen starting at quarterback, Bernard should see plenty of work, though Samaje Perine will likely siphon off some of his usage. Bernard's a low-end RB2 play this week.

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