Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers passes against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) scrambles for a first down in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Pittsburgh. The Ravens won 26-23 in overtime. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
CARSON, Calif. (AP) Philip Rivers will be making his 214th straight start when the Los Angeles Chargers host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
On the opposite sideline, Devlin Hodges will make his first.
By all appearances that matchup has all the appearances of a mismatch, but Chargers coach Anthony Lynn knows that looks can be deceiving, especially after his squad played one of the worst games of his three-year tenure last week in a 20-13 loss to previously winless Denver.
''I know you are what your record says you are, but I don't see the Steelers as a 1-4 team,'' he said. ''I thought Hodges was outstanding. The first thing he did was take them straight down the field and scored. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was well-prepared. This is not too big for him.''
Hodges completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards during last Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to Baltimore after Mason Rudolph was knocked out by a concussion. Rudolph returned to practice on Wednesday but was limited.
Rudolph made his first NFL start in Week 3 after Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in a loss to Seattle on Sept. 15. It will be only the third time since the merger and first since Dallas in 1989 that a pair of quarterbacks have made their first NFL start for a team by Week 6 or earlier.
Hodges - who is the all-time leader in passing yards in Football Championship Subdivision history (14,584) - said he felt confident going into the game last week after not getting any reps with the first team, but that things are different this week.
''Having the chance to prepare with the ones and just be in the huddle, it is kind of just confidence,'' he said. ''To me, I am getting comfortable being in the huddle with a group of guys that potentially could be there Sunday.''
While Hodges is looking to get acclimated to becoming the starter, Rivers is seeking to bounce back from one of the worst games of his career. He was 32 of 48 for 211 yards and a pair of interceptions against the Broncos. Last week marked the first time in 56 games that Rivers did not direct a touchdown drive and only the eight time it has happened. The 4.4 yards per completion were the fourth fewest of his career.
The Chargers had two turnovers inside the Denver 5 last week and have five drives this season where they have come away with no points in the red zone.
''We've moved the ball and been efficient in a lot of ways. Last week, we weren't,'' Rivers said. ''We've done some really good things offensively, but the most important, which is to score points.''
Here are some other things to watch as the 1-4 Steelers go west for the second time this season to face the 2-3 Chargers:
READY TO RUN?
The Steelers began the season talking about the need to find offensive balance. They have yet to find it, even with the carousel at quarterback. Pittsburgh ranks 29th in yards rushing so far, continuing a trend that began during the team's second-half collapse in 2018. The Steelers have gone over 100 yards on the ground just once in their past 12 games. Pittsburgh is 4-8 during that span.
Getting back on track in Los Angeles might be difficult. Defenses loaded the line of scrimmage against Mason Rudolph, daring the second-year quarterback to beat them with his arm. That doesn't figure to change no matter who is at quarterback on Sunday, be it Rudolph or Hodges. Making matters worse for Pittsburgh? Jaylen Samuels is out at least a month after recovering from a sprained left knee, leaving rookie Benny Snell Jr. as the top option behind starter James Conner.
GETTING GORDON IN GEAR
Melvin Gordon played less than half the snaps last week in his first action of the season. The Chargers running back had only 38 scrimmage yards and averaged only 2.6 yards per carry, but he's hoping that the more practice snaps he got this week will have him better prepared for Sunday.
''We have to be physical, come out and be hungry. There are still a lot more reps I need to get. I just have to find that rhythm,'' he said.
Fellow running back Austin Ekeler leads the AFC in receptions with 39.
Pittsburgh receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had six catches against the Chargers in last year's game, but only went for 49 yards. The 8.2 average yards per reception were the fifth-fewest he has had in a game in his three-year career.
''We have a lot of respect for him as a route-runner. They have a wide combination of what he is doing,'' Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said.
Pittsburgh spent the entire offseason talking about the need to become more aggressive on defense after managing just 15 takeaways in 2018. So far, so very good. The Steelers have already produced a dozen turnovers through five weeks, one of the main reasons they've been competitive despite the numerous issues on offense.
''It's just guys being in the right position, guys knowing what they're supposed to do and being more ball aware,'' cornerback Mike Hilton said. ''Last year, we were in position a lot of the time, but we just weren't making the plays. And now it seems like we're making them when we need them.''
The next step: turning those turnovers into touchdowns. Pittsburgh has reached the end zone just three times after generating a takeaway.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Chargers center Dan Feeney, who takes over after Mike Pouncey was placed on injured reserve because of a neck injury. Four of the five starters on the offensive line have three years or less of experience.
The New Orleans Saints Defense was a bit of a disappointment last week. They only registered one sack and one interception and gave up 26 points. Week 11 brings a strong bounce-back chance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Jameis Winston has a league-high 24 turnovers. The Bucs offensive line ranks 29th in sacks allowed. Get the Saints defense in lineups for Week 11-they're bound to put up good numbers.
New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz is set up for a good day against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lutz was the muscle of the Saints' offense last week, as he made all three field-goal attempts and was responsible for all their points scored. The 25-year-old has made 19 of 23 field-goal attempts and 19 of 20 extra-point attempts. Lutz will take on the Bucs, who have allowed 25 extra-points and 20 made field-goals in nine games this year. He's a great kicking option for fantasy this week.
New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook gets an excellent matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. He's coming off a great game, in which he caught a season-high six of 10 targets for 74 yards. It was the first time the 32-year-old has eclipsed 50 receiving yards this season. He'll have a chance to build on this effort against a Bucs defense that has given up the second-most fantasy points to tight ends. Cook is a bit risky, but the matchup is too juicy to pass up. Get him in lineups as a low-end TE1.
New Orleans Saints wide receivers Ted Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. Ginn is coming off a catch-less game and hasn't gone over 50 receiving yards since Week 1. Meanwhile, Smith missed five games with an injury and has yet to eclipse 50 receiving yards in three games played. Both will get a good matchup against the Bucs, who allow 48.04 fantasy points to opposing wideouts, the most in the NFL. Still, Smith and Ginn are firmly behind Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook in the pecking order, so expectations must be lowered. Both are risky flex plays in Week 11.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas has been excellent this year. The All-Pro receiver leads the NFL in catches and receiving yards with 86 and 1027, respectively. He'll face a Buccaneers team that allows the most fantasy points to wide receivers in the league. In his first game against Tampa Bay in Week 5, without Drew Brees, Thomas caught 11 of 13 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Not only will Thomas have Brees throwing to him, he'll face off with a Bucs secondary that will be without two starters from that game. Thomas is a must-start WR1.
The Chicago Bears placed tight end Trey Burton (calf) on Injured Reserve on Saturday and promoted linebacker James Vaughters from the practice squad in a corresponding move. Burton will miss the rest of the season, so he can be safely dropped anywhere he was still owned. The 28-year-old was a non-factor in both real life and fantasy this year, catching just 14 passes (24 targets) for 84 yards and no scores in eight games. Ben Braunecker will serve as the starting tight end on Sunday night against the Rams with Adam Shaheen out, but Braunecker should be avoided in this low-upside offense. Shaheen should be the primary pass-catching tight end when he's healthy, but he's off the radar until further notice.
The Arizona Cardinals signed tight end Maxx Williams to a two-year contract extension on Saturday that will keep him under contract through the 2021 season. The 25-year-old was a second-round pick of the Ravens in 2015, and although he's been used more by Arizona in the second half of the season, he still has just 11 catches on 13 targets for 139 yards and a touchdown on the season. Williams has more than one catch in a game on just one occasion in 2019 when he caught all three of his targets for 34 yards and his only TD on Oct. 13 against the Falcons. He's not on the fantasy radar as a TE2, even at the weakest fantasy position.
New England Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse (knee) is making the trip to Philadelphia and has a chance to play in Week 11 against the Eagles after getting injured on Oct. 10. The Patriots have ruled out running back Damien Harris (hamstring) and safety Patrick Chung (chest, heel). On the season, LaCosse has only three receptions for 55 yards, so he shouldn't be owned in any fantasy leagues. Benjamin Watson has become the team's pass-catching tight end, but even he doesn't move the needle very much as a streaming TE2.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray gets a tough matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. The 28-year-old has tallied 371 rushing yards on 85 attempts and 160 receiving yards on 25 receptions with five total touchdowns. In starter Alvin Kamara's return to the lineup, he out-touched Murray 12-seven, though game script probably limited both of their touches. Game script may not matter this week, as the Buccaneers are the number-one rushing defense in the NFL. With Kamara seeing the majority of the receiving work, Murray might have trouble making his touches count against Tampa Bay. He's a low-end flex at best in Week 11.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said that running back Damien Williams, who is away from the team due to personal reasons, should travel with the team to Mexico City on Sunday. The Chiefs have an important divisional matchup against the Chargers on Monday night. If he's with the team, Williams will be a low-end RB1 in a great matchup on Monday night as the team's lead back in an explosive offense. LeSean McCoy has fallen out of the rotation due to ball-security issues, but he'd have RB2 appeal if Williams didn't wind up making the trip.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) and cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring) have been ruled out for Week 11 against the Ravens. Both were expected to be game-time decisions on Sunday, but the Texans are taking the cautious approach with a Week 12 game coming early next Thursday. Without Fuller for another week, DeAndre Hopkins should be a high-end WR1 yet again, although he could be followed by Marlon Humphrey on Sunday. Kenny Stills will have WR4/flex value as a boom-or-bust deep threat for another week. Roby's absence is more bad news for a Houston secondary that has been beat many times deep this year.
Los Angeles Chargers kicker Michael Badgley was perfect in Oakland last Thursday, and he'll look to keep it up in Mexico on Monday. On top of that, he'll get the opportunity to kick in the thinnest air possible in an NFL game as he'll be kicking at approximately 7,000 feet above sea level. It's the type of setting that allows kicking records to be set, and though Badgley isn't known for having the strongest leg in the league, even he should be more comfortable hitting from a few yards further out than normal. With a high-scoring affair expected, Badgley should get plenty of opportunities to test his mettle against the all-time greats this week.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson (concussion) has been cleared from the league's concussion protocol and was removed from the final Week 11 injury report against the Cowboys. He is good to go for Sunday. It's bad news for those that were looking to start J.D. McKissic as a deep league PPR flex, but he'll still be involved on passing downs this weekend. Johnson should see most of the early down carries, but he hasn't been efficient at all since Kerryon Johnson was lost for the season. Johnson is merely a last-gasp flex in deeper leagues, especially with quarterback Matthew Stafford (back) out for the second straight game.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry has been the man since he returned to the team in mid-October, and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon. Henry has either chalked up 80+ yards or a touchdown in four of his five games back, and with a likely shootout coming against the high-powered Kansas City offense, expect Henry to do one or both once again. Philip Rivers threw to Antonio Gates as one of his most dependable targets for years, and it looks like he trusts Henry to fill those shoes moving forward. Henry should be started in all leagues at this point, as he is one of the very best tight ends in the league when he's healthy.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams went into last week on a cloud. Coming off his first 100-yard game of his career and facing one of the softest secondaries in the land, Williams instead only caught two passes for 55 yards. Hopefully, that was a one-time blip, and he can get back to being a strong contender for touches this week. Mexico City is over 7,000 feet above sea level, considerably higher than any stadium in the NFL, and Williams should have plenty of opportunity to go deep. Hopefully, he can haul in a couple of those bombs and put up another triple-digit performance.
Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram was able to knock down two more sacks on Thursday night last week, and he'll look to add to that tally in Mexico on Monday. Unfortunately, he'll be facing a Kansas City offense that has the ability to be the best in the league on any given night. Ingram and the rest of the Chargers Defense shouldn't be started in nearly any fantasy league as they could easily end up staring at 40+ points on the scoreboard, even if they were to rack up a couple turnovers or sacks. Tack on that the game is being played at more than 7,000 feet of elevation, and expect the defense to be winded throughout the night.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will be looking for greatness on Monday night when he takes the field in Mexico City. Gordon has proven over the last two weeks that he is fully back and ready to roll, and now he gets to face the most generous run defense in the league. Kansas City has allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than any other team in the NFL, and LA happens to be in the middle of dealing with a quarterback who appears to have gotten very old very quickly. Expect the Chargers to lean heavily on Gordon's legs, and expect Gordon to capitalize on this wonderful opportunity. A multi-touchdown game seems like a good bet.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is pretty much on the backburner now that Melvin Gordon is back to full speed, but he's still lurking in the wings, waiting to take a touch to the house. Ekeler has seen his carries drop precipitously, but as in past years, he's continued to get a few opportunities in the passing game as he rolls out of the backfield. Expect Monday night to be no different, and just like in Oakland, it wouldn't be a shock if he's able to deliver one of those catches to the end zone. He's also facing the most porous run defense in the game, so even if he does only get a few carries, one of those could be huge.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen was able to snag eight passes last week, which is a great sign, but he still only tallied 68 yards on the day and hasn't scored a touchdown in seven weeks. In the thin air of Mexico City, Allen should have plenty of opportunity to go deep, but whether he can make something happen with that speed remains to be seen. If the game becomes a shootout, Allen could see plenty of chances, but KC's susceptibility to the ground game may negatively impact his targets. He's still dangerous, but there's considerable danger that he puts up another stinker this week.
Denver Broncos recorded his second touchdown of the season against the Browns before the Week 10 bye and will look to keep things moving against the Vikings in Week 11. The Vikings are allowing a middle-of-the-pack 12.07 fantasy points per game this season to opposing tight ends, and though that number isn't the worst, it will still be an uphill battle for production for the rookie on Sunday against Minnesota.