Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks at the scoreboard during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. The Raiders won 26-17(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) gets past Las Vegas Raiders inside linebacker Cory Littleton (42) for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) forces a fumble as he sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. The Raiders recovered the ball. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass under pressure by Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow warms up before an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David Banks)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor pleads to an official in the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) and takes it in for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
PITTSBURGH (AP) No matter when it comes, that first loss always stings.
All the work during the offseason. All the optimism built over the course of training camp. All the preparation during game week. All of it evaporates the second the clock hits zero and the number next to your team's name is less than the number next to the one for the other guys.
''It's like a slap in the face,'' Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joe Schobert said.
The key, as Schobert has learned through his five-plus years in the NFL, is to not let one slap turn into another. The Steelers (1-1) and Cincinnati (1-1) will try to avoid it on Sunday when the Bengals visit Pittsburgh.
Both clubs started the year with rousing wins in their respective openers. Both followed by letting close games slip away in the fourth quarter last week.
While Pittsburgh has dominated the series with its longtime AFC North rivals - having won 14 of the past 16 meetings - the Bengals no longer appear to be pushovers in head coach Zac Taylor's third season. And the swagger the defending division champion Steelers carried during their 11-0 start to 2020 seems long ago.
Maybe because it is.
Pittsburgh is just 2-6 in its past eight games overall, including a listless loss in Cincinnati last December that hinted at the first-round playoff flameout to Cleveland to come.
If the Bengals want to take a step forward to announce themselves as more than an afterthought in one of the NFL's toughest divisions, winning at Heinz Field for the first time in six years would help.
''If we want to get to where we want to be, we've got to take this step,'' said Cincinnati cornerback Mike Hilton, who played four seasons in Pittsburgh before signing with the Bengals last spring.
As dismal as Pittsburgh's offense, particularly the running game, looked while falling to Las Vegas last week, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger - who is expected to play despite a chest injury - stressed there's no need to panic.
Maybe, but if the ''slap'' the Steelers experienced against the Raiders leads to another against the Bengals, it might be time to start.
Pittsburgh is banged up on defense - defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu are out and outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are among a group dealing with groin injuries - but the mandate remains the same: make second-year Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow as uncomfortable as possible.
Taylor called the offensive line's difficulty in protecting the 2020 No. 1 pick ''frustrating'' because the breakdowns are coming from all over instead of just one place.
The Steelers sacked Burrow four times during a 36-10 blowout last November and Cincinnati's offensive line has already allowed nine sacks through two games in 2021. Burrow understands it comes with the territory, particularly early in the season.
''It's part of the game, it's part of being a quarterback,'' he said. ''I'm going to keep hanging in there and taking those hits and trying to complete that ball. It is what it is.''
RUN GAME STALLED, PART 1
After rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown in a Week 1 win over the Vikings, Joe Mixon and the Bengals running game stalled against a better defensive front in Chicago. Mixon carried the ball 20 times for 69 yards, an average of just 3.5 yards per carry.
Taylor said some of those Mixon runs were close to breaking for more yards if not for small mistakes in the way the plays developed.
''We felt like there was a little bit more meat on the bone than we ended up getting, and those are things we have to improve on,'' he said. ''It's early in the season. We know we're going to get in a rhythm and have a great running game. There was just a couple of missed opportunities in that regard.''
RUN GAME STALLED, PART 2
The Steelers would love to have Cincinnati's running game problems. Pittsburgh is last in yards rushing per game and 30th in yards per rushing attempt through two weeks despite a massive offseason overhaul that included taking running back Najee Harris in the first round, center Kendrick Green in the third and left tackle, Dan Moore Jr., in the fourth.
''We've just got to keep working,'' Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. ''Development is that. It's development. It doesn't happen in an instant, it doesn't happen overnight. We're sensitive to that. But at the same time, there's urgency because we've got ballgames to win in the midst of all of this.''
Hilton arrived in Pittsburgh in December 2016 as a practice squad player. He left after signing a four-year, $24-million contract with Cincinnati last spring, a deal he landed after becoming one of the most disruptive slot cornerbacks in the NFL.
''It looks almost like he's taken some of the Steeler defense over there and doing some stuff,'' Roethlisberger said. ''He's blitzing, he's taking away the screens, he's doing what we came to love and expect here.''
The 5-foot-9, 184-pound Hilton, who has nine tackles through two games, is hoping to have a shot at taking down the 6-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger after being forced to hold up in practice during Hilton's time in Pittsburgh.
''I've definitely had that run through my mind,'' Hilton said. ''And hopefully I get this opportunity on Sunday and hopefully it will be a big play.''
Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks had a great day despite his team's blowout loss to the Colts. Cooks led the team with 13 targets, nine catches, and 89 yards, operating as a short-yardage safety blanket for rookie quarterback Davis Mills. The Texans couldn't get anything going deep downfield against Indianapolis, resulting in a bevy of targets for Cooks. The veteran wideout has now seen double-digit targets in three games this year, exceeding the 75-yard receiving mark in four out of six games played. Houston has a crowded pass-catcher room, but Cooks is the best of the bunch for fantasy purposes. He'll get a tough test against an Arizona pass defense next week.
Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet had four catches for 49 yards against the Green Bay Packers. Kmet seemed like he could be poised for a breakout heading into 2021, but that has not come to fruition. Regardless, this game marked one of his best of the season. The sophomore tight end has solid hands and is extremely physical, but in his current situation, it's going to be difficult for the Bears' lackluster quarterbacks to support enough pieces to deem Kmet fantasy relevant. Nevertheless, Kmet must be rostered in any tight end premium leagues and can even be rostered as a hopeful lottery ticket in standard leagues, but fantasy managers shouldn't expect much from the youngster in 2021. In Dynasty leagues, however, Kmet is still a valuable asset as his quarterback and head coaching issues should presumably eventually be resolved.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon didn't seem bothered by the ankle injury that limited his workload over the last few weeks. He finished with 94 yards off 18 touches during the massive victory over the Lions. He also racked up a team-high five catches, totaling 59 yards and a touchdown, finding the end zone off a 40-yard pass from Joe Burrow in the third quarter. After some down weeks caused by a restricted workload, the former Oklahoma Sooner appears to be back in early season form. Fantasy managers should continue to view Mixon as a top option in all formats, especially in PPR leagues, due to his ability as a runner and pass-catcher. Keep him starting in Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz completed 11 of 20 pass attempts for 223 yards and two touchdowns during a 31-3 Week 6 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday. Despite being held to only 20 attempts, Wentz had a great outing, avoiding turnovers and distributing the ball efficiently within the Colts' offense. If you're streaming quarterbacks, Wentz is a good prospect valued as a high-end QB2 with low-end QB1 upside moving forward.
Houston Texans wide receiver Nico Collins caught four of six passes for 44 yards in his return Sunday against the Colts. Collins missed a month of action due to a shoulder injury- but posted season-highs in each receiving category in his return to the field. The rookie could carve out a fantasy-relevant role on the outside opposite Brandin Cooks- as he seemed to eat into veteran Chris Conley's snaps. Collins is worth monitoring over the next few weeks as a potential bench stash in deeper leagues.
Another week, another dramatic finish for the Minnesota Vikings. QuarterbackKirk Cousins led an offensively dominant performance for the Vikings, completing 33 of 48 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in the 34-28 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Cousins was able to spread the ball around, with four players reaching at least 70 yards. He also tossed touchdown passes to three different receivers, including the game-winner in overtime to K.J. Osborn. After two straight disappointing fantasy performances, Cousins once again showed why he is one of the most reliable, if not flashy, quarterback options in fantasy. Cousins' fantasy managers will have to look at other options next week, though, as the Vikings head into their bye.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin had a disastrous fantasy performance after finishing with just four catches for 28 yards on eight targets. McLaurin was banged up heading into this game with a hamstring injury, so that could have been a factor in his poor play. Fantasy managers shouldn't worry too much, as the third-year stud will continue to command a massive target share in the Washington offense, especially with Logan Thomas (hamstring) and Curtis Samuel (groin) being held out of the lineup. He will look to get back on track in Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers, which isn't too worrisome of a matchup considering Jaire Alexander is dealing with an injury.
Washington Football Team tight end Ricky Seals-Jones caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Seals-Jones has filled in nicely for Logan Thomas (hamstring) as he has been one of the top targets for quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Moving forward, the 26-year-old can be started with confidence as long as Thomas remains sidelined, as he has become a main target in the offense, considering Curtis Samuel (groin) is out of the lineup. He has a realistic chance to produce low-end TE1 as long as he remains the starting tight end in Washington.
Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries versus the Green Bay Packers. With Damien Williams out with a positive COVID-19 test, Herbert was slated for a nice workload, and he certainly capitalized on that opportunity. The sixth round rookie received some hype heading into the draft but slid and found himself in a crowded running back room. Herbert also amassed 75 yards on 17 carries last week, but Williams played well too. Williams will presumably return in Week 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which will hurt Herbert's value. However, even once Williams returns, Herbert's performance definitely still warrants a roster spot and probably a start in most leagues.
Washington Football Team running back J.D. McKissic led the team in receptions and receiving yards with eight catches for 65 yards in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He added 45 yards on the ground on just eight carries, so he was extremely efficient out of the backfield against a weak Kansas City defense. The negative game script allowed McKissic to have a significant role, as he is still clearly above Antonio Gibson in terms of the receiving game. Fantasy managers shouldn't get accustomed to this type of usage, as Gibson will still have a huge role in the offense moving forward, making McKissic a FLEX-play at best in deep leagues. However, if he were to miss any time, McKissic's fantasy value would skyrocket.
Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders signed a long-term extension before the season. However, he has been off to a slow start through the first six games. To be fair, the Dolphins offense has been horrendous, which doesn't give him many chances to make field goals. In Week 6, Sanders connected on two of three field-goal attempts in the loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The return of quarterbackTua Tagovailoa didn't impact Sanders' fantasy value like some may have hoped. There isn't much reason to trust that the Dolphins will fix their offensive issues before their matchup with the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7.
Washington Football Team kicker Dustin Hopkins made two of three field-goal attempts and his only extra-point attempt in Sunday's 31-13 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. As of now, Hopkins has the look of a reliable streaming option if fantasy managers need to fill in for any upcoming bye weeks. In the future, he should be in for more than one extra-point opportunity when the Washington offense gets fully healthy.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson caught three of his six targets for 46 yards and a touchdown in a Week 6 victory versus the Washington Football Team. The Chiefs had already locked up a victory versus the Washington Football Team late in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs elected to go for the dagger with a 24-yard pass to Robinson for the score and a 31-13 victory. Robinson has now caught two touchdowns on the season, but remains a shaky option with Byron Pringle, Mecole Hardman and Josh Gordon all competing for targets and playing time behind wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Moving forward, Robinson can remain on the waiver wire and would need an injury or two to become relevant.
The Washington Football Team defense was once again not able to have an effective day defending the pass. They gave up 397 passing yards while giving up another 109 yards on the ground. Washington forced Patrick Mahomes to throw two interceptions, but it still wasn't enough to take down the former league MVP. Moving forward, they can be left on the waiver wire in conventional formats considering their recent performance and hard schedule for the remainder of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce put together another nice performance in a Week 6 victory versus the Washington Football Team. Despite dealing with a wrist injury and missing some series, Kelce caught eight of his 11 receptions for 99 yards. Kelce seems to have escaped any long-term injury and that's the most important thing to come out of this contest. He remains a favorite of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and also at the top of his class for his position. Kelce will have a juicy matchup versus the Tennessee Titans in Week 7 and managers should once again feel confident with as the top tight end play of the week.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was significantly involved in the passing attack during the Week 6 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He hauled in 10 of his 13 targets for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. The Dolphins were without multiple wideouts, so Waddle saw a boatload of chances in this one. His target share is likely to decrease heading into the Week 7 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. Waddle has seen an inconsistent amount of targets this season. Fantasy managers should monitor the health of the other receivers in Miami heading into next week. At worst, Waddle should be in the flex conversation for that matchup.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow finished with 271 yards and three touchdowns on 19-for-29 passing during the decisive victory over the Lions on Sunday. He also added 20 yards off five carries. The 24-year-old was taken to a local medical facility after sustaining a throat contusion during the overtime loss to Green Bay. However, he appeared to be just fine and led his squad to an impressive 4-2 record on the year. The signal-caller kept things going in Week 6, and he now has 14 touchdowns throughout the first six games of the 2021-22 campaign, eight more than he had at the same point last season. At this rate, he should be classified as a viable fantasy option in all formats, so keep him going against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught nine of his 12 targets for 76 and a touchdown in a Week 6 victory versus the Washington Football Team. The speedy wide receiver has been banged up and sat out some plays with a quad injury, but he was still able to put together a big performance for managers this afternoon. As long as he is healthy, Hill remains one of the best options at the wide receiver position. Even with the Chiefs offense struggling compared to previous seasons, they are still scoring plenty and quarterback Patrick Mahomes continues to feed Hill the ball. Hill will look to rest up for a tasty Week 7 matchup against the Tennessee Titans and he should be considered a WR1 in that contest and on a weekly basis.
Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke was fairly mediocre in Sunday's 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, as he completed 24-of-39 passes for just 182 yards and one touchdown. The dual-threat didn't rely on his scrambling ability at all in this game, as he didn't record a single rushing attempt. He was set up for a great matchup against a weak Kansas City defense but simply couldn't deliver for fantasy managers. Moving forward, it would likely be best to look elsewhere for streaming options in one-QB leagues, but the 28-year-old still has QB2 appeal in two-QB or super-flex formats. In Week 7 he faces the Green Bay Packers who are not a particularly strong defensive unit, so he can be valued as a QB2 once again.
Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki saw no shortage of targets during the Week 6 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins were without multiple receivers, so Gesicki and Jaylen Waddle were asked to step up. Gesicki finished with eight receptions on nine targets for 115 yards in the loss. It was a slow start for Gesicki, but he has come around over the last few weeks. He'll be a fine TE1 for a favorable matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7.