Fri Dec 4 5:59pm ET
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Columnist
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24) runs away from Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker L.J. Fort (58) during the first half of an NFL football game, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker L.J. Fort (58) pressures him during the second half of an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, right, greets Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) after an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 19-14. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) greets Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (24) after an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 19-14. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrates after a touchdown catch next to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tramon Williams during the second half of an NFL football game Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
It's comforting to see the Pittsburgh Steelers back atop the NFL.
In a topsy-turvy world that's gone completely off the rails in 2020, the franchise that hardly ever changes coaches - the great Mike Tomlin is their third in 52 seasons - and clings to the ''Steeler Way'' no matter the era is just what we needed.
Pittsburgh has become only the 12th team in the Super Bowl age to start a season 11-0, providing a welcome dose of stability amid the chaos of positive tests and rescheduled games and eerily quiet stadiums.
Frankly, the Steelers haven't been all that impressive in building their perfect record, but that's OK.
Those familiar black-and-gold uniforms, with the iconic logo on just one side of the helmet, are like a warm, reassuring blanket, helping us cope with the grimmest of winters.
If there's one thing we've always been able to count on, it's the Steelers.
A single family, the Rooneys, has owned the franchise since its founding in 1933. With the hiring of Chuck Noll in 1969, the Steelers embarked on an era of unprecedented equilibrium even as the league - and the world - changed greatly all around them.
Noll coached the Steelers for 23 years, winning four Super Bowl titles before his retirement. Bill Cowher took over in 1992 and added another championship to the ledger during his 15-year reign. Then the torch was passed to Tomlin, who was just 34 years old with a single season as a coordinator on his resume when he landed the job. He's been to a pair of Super Bowls, becoming the youngest coach and second Black coach to win the title during the 2008 season.
Compare that with any other franchise in the NFL - or any other major league sport, for that matter.
The rival Cleveland Browns have employed more head coaches in the past three seasons than the Steelers have had in the last 52. In all, the Browns have gone through 21 coaches since 1969 (and they were dormant for three seasons after the original team moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens).
For those NFL teams that were around at the end of the `60s, the Dallas Cowboys have employed the next-fewest number of coaches since then with nine - largely because of Tom Landry's reign.
As with his two predecessors, Tomlin's hiring was an inspired one. While he is often overlooked when the league's top coaches are ranked, there is little doubt that he's as good as anyone not named Belichick. Any discussion of the Steelers' sustained success must begin with Tomlin - a gritty, no-nonsense leader who is perfect for this team and its blue-collar city.
''He's one of the greatest coaches I ever worked for,'' said Raheem Morris, interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who spent a couple of seasons with Tomlin when both were assistants at Tampa Bay many years ago. ''If you don't see the benefits of him being the coach of that football team, shame on you. He comes every day with the same mentality, the same approach, which is greatness.''
Tomlin is the epitome of the ''Steeler Way,'' which essentially comes down to sticking with those you hire for the long haul, drafting wisely, developing your picks, and rarely splurging in free agency. If you're stirring up trouble in the locker room, you won't be around for long - no matter how talented you might be. Antonio Brown learned that lesson the hard way.
In general, there's not a lot of turnover from year to year, which was especially useful during this most unusual of seasons. With offseason workouts scrapped because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Steelers were able to cope better than most teams. They weren't breaking in a bunch of new players. They didn't have to adjust to a new coach or widespread changes to the staff.
Even now, when the Steelers are in the midst of playing three games in 12 days because of schedule changes forced by COVID-19, they don't seem flustered.
''I turned from being upset, because you're so dialed in, to it just being funny, like `OK, whatever now,''' quarterback and MVP candidate Ben Roethlisberger said Friday. ''Whatever they tell us to do, just go play.''
Noll's first three seasons ended with losing records as he built up what had been a woebegone franchise into one of the league's greatest dynasties, winning four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period.
Longer-lasting was the framework he established that seemed to ensure the Steelers would never go through an extended period of losing. Pittsburgh has finished .500 or better in 42 of the past 49 seasons. Only twice over that timeframe have the Steelers endured as many as two straight losing campaigns (1985-86 under Noll, 1998-99 under Cowher).
The Steelers missed the playoffs the last two seasons, which put Tomlin on a bit of a hot seat to avoid their first three-year drought since 1998-2000. Naturally, his team responded with the greatest start in franchise history.
Which is not to say they've been overpowering. The Steelers went down to the last play against the Cowboys and fill-in quarterback Garrett Gilbert. They went down to the last possession against the underwhelming Denver Broncos. They struggled Wednesday to hold off a Baltimore team missing its MVP quarterback and ravaged by COVID-19.
In the end, this season will be remembered for the final game. Even if the Steelers become only the second team go unbeaten in a 16-game regular season, they won't be judged a success unless they're holding up the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in a dozen seasons.
That's the Steeler Way.
If their Super Bowl aspirations don't pan out, Pittsburgh will surely be right back in the thick of the things next season.
That's the Steeler Way, too.
In a wacky world, there's something comforting in that.
Five Hot Plays: Week 13
The Seattle Seahawks Defense hasn't been the best for fantasy football this season, but they have a chance for a lot of value in Week 13 against the New York Giants. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (hamstring) was announced as doubtful to play on Friday, which puts quarterback Colt McCoy in line for the start this weekend. Through 29 career games, he's thrown for 29 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. This Seahawks defense generated pressure and turnovers last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and they are a reasonable play again this week as a top-10 fantasy unit.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Kalen Ballage (ankle), cornerback Casey Hayward (groin) and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (chest) are questionable to play in Week 13 against the Patriots. Ballage practiced in full on Friday, so he should be active on Sunday. However, with Austin Ekeler returning from Injured Reserve last week and leading the backfield, Ballage has essentially lost the fleeting fantasy value that he had when Ekeler was on IR. He'll be fighting for touches with rookie Joshua Kelley and Troymaine Pope behind Ekeler on Sunday. Ekeler is right back in the RB1 conversation in his second game back. If Hayward can't suit up, it'll put more responsibility on cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in LA's secondary and upgrade the matchup for Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.
The Colts Defense had their worst performance of the season last week against the Titans, and they will have another tall task this week against Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Watson has been phenomenal this year. He has a passer rating of 103.6, has tossed 24 touchdowns and has not thrown an interception since Week 5. The Colts defense has been good against the pass, but they may be a risky start this week. They may be able to get some sacks as the Texans offensive line has allowed 28 sacks this year, but Watson does not turn the ball over and his capable of putting up plenty of points.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley II (knee) is questionable for Week 13 against the Saints, though it would appear he has a good shot to play. If Gurley plays, he'll be taking on a Saints team that possesses the second-best run defense in the NFL. Gurley has struggled to a 3.7 yards per carry average, with his fantasy statistics buoyed by his rushing touchdowns. This is a matchup to actively avoid, as Gurley may not finish among the top-30 running backs this week. If he's inactive, it's best to avoid the backfield committee of Brian Hill and Ito Smith as well.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett has been kind of boom-or-bust this year, but he's trending upwards in Week 13 against the New York Giants. He's on pace to top his career-best 82 receptions from last year and he's already scored eight touchdowns this season. If he scores at least three times in the next five games, he'll top his current record of 10. Lockett will get the easier matchup this week because cornerback James Bradberry will be following teammate D.K. Metcalf on the other side. As a result, Lockett could make a push for WR1 status this week.
Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (knee) and cornerback Adoree' Jackson (knee) have been ruled out for Week 13 against the Browns. Smith missed practice all week, so he wasn't close to playing this weekend after not seeing a single target in the Week 12 win over the Colts. Whenever he returns to action, he'll be a shaky touchdown-dependent, low-end TE1 for fantasy managers. Receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis should see more targets in the passing game. Anthony Firkser figures to benefit as the top pass-catching tight end with Smith out, but MyCole Pruitt could also see some run. Firkser isn't the answer for those looking for help at tight end in Week 13 fantasy lineups.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been struggling as of late with a matchup against New Orleans on tap. Without the presence of his favorite receiver Julio Jones (hamstring), Ryan has thrown for just 417 passing yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in his last two games. The Saints Defense has been on a roll lately and got to Ryan in their first meeting, sacking him eight times and picking him off twice. Having Jones back in the lineup would certainly help, though it's wise for fantasy managers to avoid the Saints' defense wherever possible right now.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Trey Burton caught another touchdown last week against the Titans, which gives him five total touchdowns on the season. All of those touchdowns came in the red-zone, proving he is a legitimate threat inside the 20-yard-line. With that being said, Burton needs touchdowns to be a reliable fantasy option. He has just two games all season with four or more catches and one game with over 50 receiving yards. The Texans Defense has struggled most of the season, and they rank 19th against opposing tight ends. Burton is worthy of starting consideration in deeper leagues but his value rests with finding the end zone.
New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (abdomen) is listed as questionable for Week 13 against the Chargers. Newton was limited in practice all week, so fantasy managers should consider him likely to suit up on Sunday. He could be in danger of aggravating the injury because of his aggressive style of play and the fact that he's run the ball double-digit times in five games this year. However, the Chargers Defense has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to signal-callers this year, including four rushing scores. Newton has QB1 upside each week because of his rushing prowess (nine rushing scores), but fantasy managers may be wary after he completed just nine passes for 84 yards in the win over Arizona last week. Consider him a high-end QB2 with a safer floor against LA on Sunday.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf just got done cooking Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay, and he's setting his sights on the New York Giants secondary for Week 13. On the year, he's averaging over 19 PPR points per game. Through 11 games, he's been held under 13.6 fantasy points just twice. The Giants are allowing just 23.0 fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position, but they haven't been matching up with a quarterback-receiver duo like Russell Wilson and Metcalf. With good weather forecasted for Sunday, he's a strong play again this week.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (calf) has been ruled out for Week 13 against the Titans. The Browns are getting All-Pro pass-rusher Myles Garrett back from the COVID-19 list this weekend, but they'll be thin in the secondary without Ward around. Cleveland will still have a difficult time trying to slow down the NFL's rushing leader in Derrick Henry on Sunday, and wide receiver A.J. Brown should have no problems returning WR1 value for his fantasy managers as well. The Browns Defense has been pretty solid in the fantasy realm in 2020, but this weekend isn't a time in which you should trust them to your starting lineups. Ward has 38 tackles (32 solo), two interceptions, 15 passes defensed and a forced fumble in 10 games this season.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal is now the No. 3 wide receiver on the team's depth chart, so it is tough to consider him a reliable flex option. He had his worst performance of the season last week with just one catch for 23 yards. The only silver lining for this week is that he has found a bit of success against the Texans Defense over his career. In four career games, he is averaging about four catches for 57 yards, and a touchdown per game. There are other offensive options ahead of Pascal, so fantasy owners in deeper leagues can feel mostly comfortable in leaving him on the bench this week.
Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (illness) is listed as questionable for Week 13 against the division-rival Broncos. Edwards-Helaire has missed practice each of the last two days and is in danger of sitting out on Sunday. Making things more difficult for fantasy managers, the Chiefs-Broncos game is on Sunday night. His fantasy managers would like to see him get more touches, but there are just too many explosive offensive weapons in KC. He'd be a solid RB2 this weekend if he's active against a Broncos Defense allowing the most rushing yards per game in the last five weeks, but you'll need to have backup options ready in case he can't go. Le'Veon Bell would be an excellent plug-and-play RB2 if CEH misses the Sunday night clash with Denver. The rookie had eight carries for 46 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting with the Broncos in Week 7.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. had a disappointing performance last week against the Titans. However, he should be able to bounce back if he continues to see an ample amount of targets. He is averaging nearly seven targets per game since Week 9, which is a team-high since that point. Pittman is currently No. 2 on the Colts depth chart and has played at least 80 percent of the team's snaps over the last four games. The Texans Defense currently ranks 16th against opposing wide receivers, so he has a fairly favorable matchup. Pittman is definitely worthy of starting consideration this week.
Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) and linebacker Bobby Okereke (ankle) have been ruled out for Week 13 against the Texans. Head coach Frank Reich said that he doesn't expect Castonzo to go on Injured Reserve. The 32-year-old suffered some MCL damage in the Week 12 loss to the Titans, but it looks like he shouldn't have to miss more than three games. It's still a big loss for the team's offensive line against the Texans and pass-rusher J.J. Watt. The Colts will likely replace Castonzo with Le'Raven Clark for however long Castonzo is out of action. Quarterback Philip Rivers has a great matchup against Houston this weekend, but he still remains in the high-end QB2 mix.
Detroit Lions rookie running back D'Andre Swift (illness) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (thumb) are both listed as questionable for Week 13 against the Bears. Interim head coach Darrell Bevell said that Swift has cleared the concussion protocol, but he has missed practice the last two days with an illness. It's good news that the rookie is past his concussion, but he's in real danger of missing a third straight game. Fantasy managers should consider him a risky RB2 this weekend. If he misses another game, Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson will be low-ceiling RB3/flex options against a tough Chicago defense. Stafford was limited in practice all week and should be able to suit up. He has 16 fantasy points or less in six of his 11 games this year and will be a mediocre QB2 option against the Bears without his No. 1 receiver in Kenny Golladay (hip) yet again.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton matches up against the Texans Defense this week, and he has found success against the divisional opponent throughout his career. In 16 career games, he is averaging nearly nine targets, five catches, and 96 yards per game. Hilton had a good performance last week against the Texans and played in 73 percent of the offensive snaps, which was his highest since Week 6. Hilton is certainly a volatile play considering he has just one touchdown on the season, but is past success against the Texans gives him potential flex value in deeper leagues this week.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hip) missed practice all week and has been ruled out for Week 13 against the Bears. It will be Golladay's fifth straight absence, so his fantasy managers are just hoping that he can be available for the fantasy playoffs, which start in Week 14 in most leagues. Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola and Marvin Hall should continue to operate in three-receiver sets with Golladay sidelined, with only Jones being fantasy relevant as a WR3/flex in a tough matchup against the Bears Defense. Chicago has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to wideouts in 2020, including only seven receiving touchdowns. Jones had six catches for just 48 yards on Thanksgiving with Golladay out, but he was targeted a season-high 12 times.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson (foot) has been limited in practice this week. However, he should play and be started in fantasy lineups in Week 13 against the New York Giants after he made his return to the field in Week 12. Carson has been one of the NFL's best running backs this season when he's been healthy. He is eighth in the NFL in fantasy points per game (17) and he's just 0.2 points behind the running back in seventh place. In Week 12, Carson saw a number of his touches taken by teammate Carlos Hyde(toe), but Hyde has already been ruled out for this week's game. As long as Carson is active, he should be locked into your lineups and will have RB1 upside against the Giants with a larger workload coming his way.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson II (knee) is questionable for Week 13 against the Lions after not appearing on the injury report until Friday. Quarterback Nick Foles (hip) and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (Achilles, hamstring) are also questionable. Robinson was limited in practice on Friday, so he appears to be on the right track to play. Despite playing in a bad Bears offense, he has been a top-15 fantasy wideout in PPR leagues and has an excellent matchup against Detroit on Sunday. The Lions are thin in the secondary and might be without top cornerback Desmond Trufant. They also allow the eighth-most fantasy points per game to pass-catchers. A-Rob has 71 catches for 829 yards and five touchdowns this year and should remain a low-end WR1 in all fantasy lineups. Foles is expected to play, but he'll back up Mitchell Trubisky.