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.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense should continue their dominant run in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. Entering the contest as the second-best defense by DVOA, the Niners should wreak havoc against quarterback Case Keenum and the woeful Skins. Operating as heavy favorites, the defense should steer Washington away from its stagnant run game and put constant pressure on an offensive line thats allowed 15 sacks. Facing one of the sloppier teams in the NFL, the 49ers make for a premium defensive unit this Sunday.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo enters Week 7 against the Washington Redskins with seven turnovers through five games (five picks, two fumbles). While he draws a cake matchup against the one-win Skins, Garoppolo is just an upside QB2 facing a weak pass defense. To climb the ranks of fantasy relevance, Garoppolo needs to stop committing mistakes and opposing teams must force the Niners away from their dominant rushing attack. That probably wont happen in Week 7 with the 49ers heavy favorites. While the run-heavy game plan partially offsets the juicy matchup, Garoppolo could finish the week a top-15 quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was able to haul in a few receptions after a dud last week. Robinson didn't catch anything in the loss to the Colts during Week 6, but got back on the board in this one. He caught three of his five targets for 31 yards in the Week 7 victory over the Broncos. However, losing quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) is a big concern for the Chiefs offense. Robinson would only be a desperation flex option with veteran Matt Moore at quarterback in Week 8. Fantasy owners will have to wait and see what happens with Mahomes.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce continues to remain a strong and reliable fantasy option each and every week. He caught six of his eight targets for 44 yards in the Week 7 win over Denver. Kelce only has one touchdown this season, but continues to see a high volume of targets. It's unclear if quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) will suit up in Week 8 versus the Packers. However, Kelce is probably the only player on the Chiefs' offense that shouldn't lose value with Matt Moore at quarterback. Fantasy owners should continue to trust Kelce as a top five tight end.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was having a slow game in the Thursday night matchup versus the Broncos, until one play changed it all. Hill caught a 57-yard touchdown from quarterback Matt Moore late in the third quarter. He finished with three receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown in the Week 7 victory. Patrick Mahomes (knee) going down will hurt the Chiefs offense, assuming he misses time. Hill would be downgraded to a high-end WR2 for Week 8, assuming Mahomes sits out at least one week.
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman was able to save his fantasy value with a touchdown in the Week 7 victory over the Denver Broncos. He caught two of his three targets for 28 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) going down did hurt the Chiefs offense a bit in this one. However, losing Mahomes for multiple games could kill Hardman's fantasy value. Veteran Matt Moore didn't look his way often after he replaced Mahomes in the second quarter. Hardman would have some shaky flex value, assuming Mahomes misses Week 8 versus the Packers.
Kansas City Chiefs running game Damien Williams has been basically a ghost on the field since Week 2. He finished with six total rushing yards during Week 6, but manages to have a worse fantasy game the following week. Williams rushed nine times for seven yards in the Week 7 victory over the Broncos. Williams got negative yards in the passing game, so he can't even be trusted there. Fantasy owners in standard leagues should probably be benching Williams at this point. He'll have low-end flex appeal versus the Green Bay Packers in Week 8. LeSean McCoy is looking like the better running back in KC right now.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Moore played surprisingly well after being thrown into the fire during Thursday's Week 7 matchup versus the Denver Broncos. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) exited in the second quarter after suffering a right knee injury. The veteran Moore was asked to take over and run the offense for the rest of the game. Moore completed 10 of 19 passing attempts for 117 yards and one touchdown in the victory. It's unclear if Mahomes is going to miss time yet, but Moore could carry some fantasy value, assuming Mahomes is out at least one week. Moore might have limited fantasy value for QB needy fantasy teams since he's surrounded by such a great offense. Don't expect him to light it up like Mahomes, but Moore looked decent on Thursday.
Kansas City Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy was strong in the running game for the team during their Week 7 victory over the Denver Broncos. McCoy rushed 12 times for 64 yards and caught two passes through the air for 12 extra yards on Thursday. McCoy has been clearly rushing better than lead back Damien Williams over the last few weeks. The Chiefs seem to be leaning more on McCoy than Williams at this point in the season. However, losing quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) could hurt the offense, assuming he misses time. McCoy is on the radar as a flex option for Week 8 versus the Packers.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (knee) was playing well in Thursday's Week 7 matchup against the Denver Broncos. He completed 10 of 11 passing attempts for 76 yards and a touchdown. However, Mahomes was knocked out of the game in the second quarter after suffering a right knee injury. Mahomes was able to walk into the locker room under his own power, so that's a good sign. He reportedly avoided a fracture, but it's unclear if there is any ligament damage. More information should be known in a day or two. Fantasy owners will just have to wait and hope for the best.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (groin) was limited in practice on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday. Kittle is perfectly fine to play in Week 7 against the Redskins. Against one of the weaker defenses in the NFL in Washington, Kittle is an easy top-three fantasy tight end this weekend, although the Niners probably won't have to throw a ton to win this game easily.
San Francisco 49ers rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel (groin) and running back Raheem Mostert (knee) both missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Samuel and Mostert are on the wrong side of questionable to play in Week 7 against the Redskins. On a run-first team, Samuel just hasn't seen enough targets to be fantasy relevant in most redraft leagues in his rookie season. If he sits, it's good news for Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis. Mostert's fantasy value took a huge hit once Tevin Coleman came back from his injury two weeks ago. He belongs on the waiver wire unless you own one of Coleman or Matt Breida.
New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (hamstring) was limited in practice on Thursday. Thomas should be fine to play on Monday night against the Patriots. The 31-year-old is a little bit more attractive to fantasy owners with quarterback Sam Darnold back under center. Thomas has eight catches for 109 scoreless yards the last two weeks, but he's still third on the receiving depth chart behind Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder. The Jets have a tough matchup in the Patriots on Monday night, making Thomas more of a WR5 in fantasy.
The New Orleans Saints are doing their due diligence in making phone calls to see what's available on the trade market. Wide receiver and tight end seem to be the most likely options for them on the trade market, and they could be targeting Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert now that he is fully healthy. The Saints already have Jared Cook at tight end, but they could utilize more two-tight end sets if they were to acquire Eifert, especially since they don't have a ton of receiver depth behind Michael Thomas. In a bad Cincy offense this year, Eifert has just 15 receptions (22 targets) for 108 yards and one touchdown. He'd be more attractive in New Orleans in the second half of the season, but he wouldn't be guaranteed to be a TE1 with Cook also in the fold.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron (illness) and rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell (abdomen) both missed practice on Thursday. Campbell also missed practice on Wednesday and is on pace to miss his second straight game. He's well off the fantasy radar for now in redraft leagues. Ebron should be fine to play in Week 7 against the Texans, although he's a low-upside, touchdown-dependent TE2 against a Houston defense that has shut down the tight end position in 2019.
Houston Texans wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (ribs), Will Fuller (calf, oblique) and Kenny Stills (hamstring) all practiced in full on Thursday. All three receivers should be in uniform for Week 7's divisional tilt against the Colts. Stills missed the last game and should return to split slot duties with Keke Coutee, limiting both player's fantasy upside as a WR4/5 in deeper leagues. Hopkins has been quiet this year but could blow up at any moment and is a must-start. Fuller boomed in Week 5 and busted last week. He typically has high-end WR2 upside on a week-to-week basis.
Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller (foot) was limited in practice on Thursday after being a full participant on Wednesday. Waller should be fine for Week 7 against the Packers, but his foot injury is worth watching. The first-year Raider should be targeted heavily with wide receiver Tyrell Williams (foot) out for the foreseeable future, but keep in mind that Waller had his worst game in Week 5 with Williams out of the lineup. The Packers have been pretty stingy against opposing wideouts, too, so they'll likely devote attention to slowing Waller down. His expected high target share should give him a high floor, so continue to roll Waller out there as a strong TE1.
Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (quadriceps) and quarterback Case Keenum (foot, shoulder) both returned to a full practice on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday. The Redskins were likely just resting their veterans on Wednesday, so expect Peterson and Keenum to be out there in Week 7 against the 49ers. Peterson had 20-plus carries and over 100 yards against the winless Dolphins in Week 6, but he'll have a much tougher time finding holes against San Fran's strong defense this Sunday. He makes for a low-upside RB3/flex. Keenum has a tough challenge ahead and not many weapons to work with. He's an unattractive low-end QB2.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes(knee) was ruled out of Thursday night's game after suffering a dislocated knee cap on a fourth-and-one sneak attempt. Everybody is still waiting for more information, but being ruled out so quickly is not encouraging for his availability going forward. If you have Mahomes, you may want to plan ahead at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Matt Moore is Kansas City's backup. All of the Chiefs skill players will take a hit with Mahomes likely to miss some time with this injury.