Pittsburgh Steelers newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick smiles as he warms up during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes over Seattle Seahawks nose tackle Bryan Mone (79) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at the scoreboard as he walks off the field as time runs out in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Roethlisberger did not play the second half of the game. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida (22) runs the ball during the first half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrates his touchdown during the first half an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Two straight losses to open the year, a season-ending injury to the franchise quarterback, and a West Coast trip to face an undefeated team all add up to many people writing off the Pittsburgh Steelers before the end of September.
That's just the way coach Mike Tomlin likes it.
''I don't care about many people's eyes and things of that nature, man,'' he said. ''We're used to living in the eye of the storm in this business at this level. I do enjoy the challenges and the adversity that the game presents, so from that standpoint it does create a sense of urgency that's a good fuel. But in terms of perceptions and what people are saying outside our organization, it would be tough for me to care less.''
The Steelers (0-2) are counting on that urgency to make up for the loss of Ben Roethlisberger to an elbow injury and help Mason Rudolph succeed in his first career start when Pittsburgh takes on San Francisco (2-0) in the 49ers' home opener on Sunday.
Rudolph, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2018, beat out Josh Dobbs during training camp to be the primary backup. He played well last week during a half of work against Seattle, completing 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception that came off a tipped pass.
Rudolph said he was ready for his moment even if he hadn't even gotten on the field in his first 17 games as a pro.
''There have been plenty of quarterbacks who hadn't played immediately. I was encouraged by that,'' he said. ''I tried to have a long-term mentality and understand that hopefully we play in this game a long time. And as long as I am ready for my opportunity, that's kind of all that matters.''
While the message for the Steelers is hope isn't lost despite the rough start to the season, the 49ers are trying to avoid complacency after opening the season with double-digit wins at Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.
It has been rare success for a team that took until December to win its second game in coach Kyle Shanahan's first season in 2017 and until November last year.
''I think our team is smart enough and knows the deal. There's not one person in our building, at least that I've noticed, that feels like we've arrived by any means,'' Shanahan said.
Here are some other things to watch:
The Niners are dealing with their own significant injury with star left tackle Joe Staley out for at least six weeks with a broken leg. Sixth-round rookie Justin Skule will get his first career start in place of Staley, who has started all but four games since 2011.
''It's still the game of football,'' Skule said. ''Just take a deep breath, and don't let anything get too big for myself.''
IF THE SAFETY FITZ
Pittsburgh expects to start newly acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick just days after acquiring him from Miami. The Steelers parted with three picks, including a first-rounder in 2020, for the opportunity to bring in the versatile 22-year-old Fitzpatrick. Though Fitzpatrick played multiple positions with the Dolphins, Tomlin expects to ''anchor'' Fitzpatrick at free safety until he gets acclimated.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
The Niners had a big day on the ground last week, rushing for 259 yards in the team's' sixth-most productive rushing day of the past decade. Making that even more impressive was that the three halfbacks in the game - Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. - all entered the league as undrafted players. That trio combined for 238 yards, the third most by undrafted players in a game since the merger.
Steelers wide receiver Donte Moncrief could be out of a starting job just two games into his time with Pittsburgh. Moncrief struggled with drops in the opener against New England and was targeted just once last week against Seattle, a third-quarter pass from Rudolph that smacked off Moncrief's hands and helmet and led directly to an interception. Moncrief, signed as a free agent shortly after the Steelers traded Antonio Brown to Oakland, said he has been pressing.
''I know that we haven't been able to depend on him to this point, so he's got some challenges, and we have some challenges moving forward,'' Tomlin said.
The Niners won back-to-back road games to open the season for the first time in 30 years. Now they come home for their first game at Levi's Stadium with a winning record since losing to Seattle on Thanksgiving night in 2014. The 49ers haven't had a great home-field advantage since moving into Levi's Stadium five years ago, with empty seats a regular occurrence for a team that has won only 17 games the previous four seasons.
''I don't think we've given our fans a lot to be excited about in the two years I've been here at home or the years prior,'' Shanahan said. ''But, when we have, I think our stadium has been loud.
WEST COAST WOES
Pittsburgh has struggled in recent years when the team plane has pointed toward the Pacific. The Steelers have lost each of their last four games in the Mountain and Pacific time zones dating back to 2015, including road losses to Denver and Oakland in 2018, teams that combined to go 8-22 against the rest of the league.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (ankle) continues to rehab his ankle, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Kirk must be 100 percent to play. Kirk has missed the last two games and doesn't really seem likely to suit up in Week 7 against the Giants. He remains stashing in most leagues in an offense that is starting to click with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray at the helm. If Kirk misses another game, Larry Fitzgerald, Damiere Byrd and rookie Keesean Johnson should continue to see expanded roles with Trent Sherfield also battling for a role. However, Fitz is really the only pass-catcher you can trust as a staple for fantasy lineups.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (ankle) was a full participant in practice Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Barkley looks like he could be ready to return against the Arizona Cardinals. Barkley is a must-start if he plays, but temper expectations a bit because he has made an other-worldly recovery from a high ankle sprain.
Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy said he's "cautiously optimistic" that quarterback Mitch Trubisky (shoulder) will start in Week 7 against the Saints. However, there will be a "balancing act" in practice this week and Chase Daniel will also get some first-team work. Trubisky said he feels close to 100 percent and is practicing in full, so he should return to the starting lineup this Sunday, barring a practice setback. Trubisky and the Bears offense has been wildly mediocre this year, and the Saints Defense has been stingy against opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks. Trubisky will merely be a midrange QB2 if he plays.
Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (leg), who suffered a gruesome leg injury in November of last year, said he wound up having 17 surgeries on his right leg. Smith developed an infection following an operation to fix the broken fibula and tibia he suffered against the Texans. The 35-year-old recently resumed throwing and hopes to return to the field again eventually, but it's a long shot that he'll be back in 2019. The fact that Smith has made it this far is even a minor miracle, and there's no guarantee he'll play another down in the NFL again. The 'Skins will move forward with Case Keenum under center for another week after getting their first win against the Dolphins in Week 6.
Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen was benched for Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills.
Fantasy Spin: It's a horrible matchup anyway, and Rosen could be back starting in a matter of weeks. He still has long-term appeal, but there is none for single-year formats.
New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion) remains in the league's concussion protocol and was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Shepard missed last Thursday's game and will likely be questionable for Week 7 against the Cardinals. He'll have to gain clearance from the protocol later this week in order to have a shot at suiting up, making him a risky fantasy option despite the excellent matchup. Golden Tate and Darius Slayton would be the team's top two receivers if Shepard remains out, although the Cardinals will be getting cornerback Patrick Peterson back from suspension this week. Tight end Evan Engram (knee) is also on track to return after missing last week's game.
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will start in Week 7 against the Buffalo Bills.
Fantasy Spin: The Bills are a bad matchup for Fitzpatrick, and he's really only worth considering in two-quarterback leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor is not a great starting option for Week 7. The Eagles hit the road to take on the Dallas Cowboys and their strong pass defense on Sunday Night Football. Agholor managed to catch four of his seven targets in Week 6, but caught only one pass in Weeks 4 and 5. He simply does not possess NFL-level hands and will always battle with drops and fumbles. The Eagles passing game will likely run through Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz, leaving Agholor far behind.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Mack Hollins is not a fantasy option in Week 7. The Eagles will take on the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and even if DeSean Jackson (abdomen) is forced to miss another game, Hollins will only play a bit role. Hollins saw seven targets in Week 3, but has seen just five total targets since then. He's playing plenty of snaps in three-wide sets, but just isn't seeing much of the ball going his way. He's droppable in most formats.
Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has not seen a pass thrown his way since Week 3. The hyped rookie saw four targets in Week 2 and three in Week 3, but hasn't seen any since then. He's been mostly working on special teams even without DeSean Jackson (abdomen) available on offense. The Eagles have been rolling with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Mack Hollins in three-wide sets, and that's not likely to change any time soon. Arcega-Whiteside is a dynasty hold for sure, but seems unlikely to develop much redraft value this season.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and tight end Evan Engram (knee) were both full participants in practice on Wednesday. Barkley and Engram are both on track to return for a mouthwatering Week 7 matchup against the Cardinals. Barkley's owners have to be ecstatic that he will wind up missing just two games after suffering a mild high right ankle sprain. Barkley and Engram will be high-end fantasy options at their respective positions this weekend. The Cardinals allow the most fantasy points per game to the tight end position. The return of both players should also boost rookie quarterback Daniel Jones' appeal as a QB streamer.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Devin Smith could be back in the starting lineup for a key Week 7 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles. With Amari Cooper (quad) and Randall Cobb (back) both questionable at best for Sunday Night Football, Smith could play the biggest role he's played all season against an Eagles pass defense that barely exists. Smith, as usual, will be a boom-or-bust play in fantasy, but could be a solid DFS value if Cooper and Cobb are both out.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cedrick Wilson could be elevated to a starting role on Sunday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles. With wide receivers Amari Cooper (quad) and Randall Cobb (back) not sure things for Sunday's matchup, the Cowboys could be forced to roll with Michael Gallup, Devin Smith, and Wilson in three-wide sets. Wilson appeared out of nowhere onto the Cowboys box score in Week 6, catching five passes for 48 yards. He'll get an easy Eagles secondary to contend with, so Wilson could be a near zero-cost moderate upside value in DFS leagues this week.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tavon Austin could have a legitimate role on offense in Week 7. The Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles and their porous, generous pass defense. With Amari Cooper (quad) and Randall Cobb (back) not sure things for Sunday night, Austin should see more snaps than usual. He somehow led the Cowboys in receiving last week, catching five passes for 64 yards. He's not a huge-upside play, but could end up as a decent bye week filler if Cooper and Cobb are both out.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery should have another solid performance in Week 7 despite a tough matchup. DeSean Jackson (abdomen) is questionable at best for Sunday and would likely be limited even if he were able to play, making Jeffery once again the top target in the passing game. The Cowboys defend well against the pass, but the Eagles will have to move the ball and Jeffery will likely be the one to do it. He's been solid this season although he hasn't shown a ton of upside. He's settled in as an every-week WR2.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (thigh) is out of practice Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Cooper might wind up being a game-time decision, but he should be able to play against the Philadelphia Eagles. He'd have a great matchup as a WR1 in fantasy.
Dallas Cowboys WR Randall Cobb (back) is out of practice Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Fantasy Spin: Cobb has a great matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, but he hasn't done much in recent weeks. If he's healthy, maybe he's worth a flex play. However, there should be options with more upside.
Dallas Cowboys wide receivers Amari Cooper (thigh) and Randall Cobb (back) will not practice on Wednesday. Offensive tackles Tyron Smith (ankle) and La'el Collins (back) also aren't practicing. Consider all of them questionable to play on Sunday night in a big divisional showdown against the Eagles. Cooper was in serious pain after the Week 6 loss to the Jets and is in serious danger of sitting out this weekend. With Cobb also banged up and sitting out on Sunday, the Cowboys could be looking at three-wide sets of Michael Gallup, Devin Smith and Cedrick Wilson against the Eagles beatable secondary.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup should see an increased role in Week 7 and has a good matchup to exploit. The Cowboys will host the division rival Philadelphia Eagles and their struggling pass defense. Gallup could be playing as the top receiving option as Amari Cooper (quad) is not a sure thing for Sunday. With Gallup likely running as the top target through the air, he'll be a low-end WR1 if Cooper is out.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard could struggle in Week 7. The Eagles travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in a battle for first place, and Howard will face off against a tough Dallas run defense. While he has become the head of the Philly backfield, Howard is still a zero in the passing game, limiting his upside to touchdowns. He's right on the RB2/3 border, but his goal line role will always give him some upside in any matchup.