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FFL: Playoff Week 8 | NFL: Superbowl

Steelers try to maintain momentum vs. struggling Cardinals

Thu Dec 5 2:11pm ET
By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer

Players: Kenyan Drake, Jared Goff, Chase Edmonds, Kyler Murray

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) stands on the field with a game ball after a 20-13 Steelers win over the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals have a No. 1 overall draft pick under center while the Pittsburgh Steelers have a guy named “Duck” throwing the ball around the field.

Yet it's the Steelers who are making a playoff push.

Pittsburgh (7-5) has won six of its past seven games heading into Sunday's road matchup against the Cardinals. It'll be the third start for Steelers quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges, a rookie free agent who has been steady for a team that relies heavily on its defense.

Hodges threw for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception in last week's win against Cleveland. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects more of the same against the Cardinals.

“Football is the ultimate team game,” Tomlin said. “We try to live that out every day. When guys step up and deliver, it is just verification of it.”

The Cardinals (3-8-1) are stuck in a five-game losing streak and trying to bounce back from last weekend's 34-7 loss to the Rams, which was easily their worst effort of the season.

Arizona is rebuilding this season, so the team has been mostly upbeat even after losses. But players and coaches have made it known that getting embarrassed at home by the Rams wasn't acceptable. The Cardinals were down 20-0 by halftime and were never particularly competitive.

“Losing is losing, but that last game was a different type of losing," rookie quarterback Kyler Murray said.

Murray, the top overall pick in April, has been good for most of the season. He's already set a franchise rookie record with 2,866 yards passing despite a tough game against the Rams.

Most of the Cardinals problems are on defense, where they rank last in the NFL in total defense and passing defense. Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff - who had been struggling for a few weeks - dominated the Cardinals for 424 yards passing and two touchdowns.

Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury expects another tough challenge, even if Pittsburgh's offense hasn't put up huge numbers.

Kingsbury had a short, nomadic career as an NFL quarterback, bouncing between teams over a couple of seasons before becoming a coach. He said Hodges is making the most of his opportunity.

“I’ve been very impressed," Kingsbury said. “Having been in a similar situation, kind of that third-team practice-squad-type range, for him to step in and the poise he shows and protecting the football, you can tell those guys really play hard for him, and they believe in him. He moves around, makes some plays, and he’s been really sharp."

THREE'S A CROWD

Kingsbury was excited to have all three of the team's main running backs - Kenyan Drake, David Johnson and Chase Edmonds - healthy for the first time against the Rams on Sunday.

But the Cardinals offense never got on track. Drake ran for 31 yards, Johnson ran for 15 and Edmonds didn't get a carry.

Kingsbury said he still envisions a roll for all three against the Steelers.

“The (Rams) game got away from us, got a little funky, and we got out of some things we wanted to do and went back to dropping back, which is not what we want to do in those situations,” Kingsbury said. "That’s why you have to stay on schedule and can’t get down 27-0 or whatever it was.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT

If the Cardinals are going to get better defending the pass, they'll have to do it with a bunch of young players.

Arizona released veteran cornerback Tramaine Brock Sr. on Monday, which likely gives more playing time to Kevin Peterson and Chris Jones. Peterson is 25 and Jones is 24.

The Cardinals also have three rookies in the secondary who get substantial playing time, including cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and safeties Jalen Thompson and Deionte Thompson.

MO POUNCEY, NO PROBLEMS

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey returns to the lineup following a two-game suspension for his role in the brawl against Cleveland on Nov. 14. B.J. Finney filled in capably during Pouncey’s absence and Pittsburgh’s running game finally found some traction, topping 100 yards in consecutive contests for the first time this season. Pouncey said the unexpected break has the 10-year veteran feeling fresh heading into the home stretch.

“I feel like this is the beginning of the year,” Pouncey said. “I’ve got a lot of energy.”

HEISMAN VS WALTER

Sunday's game will pit Murray, last year's Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, against Hodges, who won the Walter Payton Award at Samford.

The Walter Payton Award is given to the best offensive college player at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

“Now that you mention it, it is pretty unique playing against the Heisman winner and being the Walter Payton winner, the Heisman of the FCS. It is going to be a fun game,” Hodges said.

ONE-TWO PUNCH

Pittsburgh outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have combined for 20½ sacks through 12 games, the highest total by a Steelers’ linebacker tandem since LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison did it in 2008. Watt was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November after getting 5½ sacks last month. Watt has at least a half-sack in nine straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Dupree has been no slouch. His 8½ sacks are a career high and his four forced fumbles are tied for fourth most in the NFL. Though Dupree typically plays on the left side and Watt on the right, Tomlin will occasionally have them flip to give offenses different looks.

“They’re interchangeable in an effort to keep people off-balance and to give them something to think about,” Tomlin said.

Player Notes
Will Fuller Jan 25 4:43pm ET

Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (groin) underwent sports hernia surgery, according to sources Saturday, Jan. 25. He's expected to make a full recovery.

Fantasy Spin: Fuller was limited to 11 games in 2019. He managed to catch 49 of 71 targets for 670 yards and three touchdowns, but he's now four years into his career and has yet to play more than 14 games. He'll again be a risky but high-upside WR3 in 2020 drafts.

From TheHuddle

George Kittle Jan 25 2:43pm ET

San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle in 2019 received the highest-ever full-season grade given to a tight end by Pro Football Focus, and has been named the site's 2019 Dwight Stephenson Award winner as the best player regardless of position.

Fantasy Spin: In catching 85 of 107 targets for 1,053 yards and five TDs, Kittle finished as fantasy's No. 3 tight end in both standard and PPR leagues. He's made more of an impact with his run blocking so far this postseason, but he'll be near the top of fantasy TE wish lists this summer once again.

From TheHuddle

Eric Berry Jan 25 2:13pm ET

Free-agent S Eric Berry (Chiefs) sat out the 2019 season but plans to play in 2020.

From TheHuddle

Jameis Winston Jan 25 1:33pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston is coming off an up-and-down season in which he hit career highs in yards (5,109) and touchdowns (33) but also interceptions (30), including seven pick-sixes, and former Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik said it's time the Bucs and Winston part ways. 'I would be surprised if they pay him,' Dominik told PewterReport.com. 'Maybe they will. It's their decision, but I would be shocked if the Bucs franchised Winston -- or transitioned him. I think the decision they have is certainly difficult because there has been some production there, but I don't know how you could justify paying Jameis Winston more money this year than he made last year.'

Fantasy Spin: Unless your league deducts heavy penalties for turnovers, Winston was fantasy gold last season, finishing only behind Lamar Jackson in total fantasy points. The interceptions and miscues, though, are a little more unforgivable in real football, and whether or not Winston is retained by the Bucs promises to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.

From TheHuddle

D.J. Chark Jan 25 12:50pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark doesn't expect his role to change going into next season under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Chark became the team's No. 1 receiver under John DeFilippo in 2019, and he expects Gruden to do the same to utilize his playmaking abilities. The second-round pick of 2018 had a breakout year in 2019 and thinks Gruden's West Coast offense is a good fit for him. Chark is in his first Pro Bowl after catching 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 14 catches for 174 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie. He'll have WR2 upside going into 2020, but the uncertainty at quarterback will make him a bit volatile in fantasy drafts.

From RotoBaller

Albert Wilson Jan 25 12:50pm ET

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson won't have any of his $9.5 million salary guaranteed for the 2020 season unless he's on the roster for Week 1 of the regular season. The Dolphins are likely to discuss a restructuring of his contract in the weeks ahead. There will be $1.3 million in dead money but $9.5 million in salary cap savings if the Dolphins cut him. The 27-year-old slot receiver missed three games due to injury last season and caught 43 passes for 351 yards and just one touchdown in his second year in Miami. He could never really get on track after his slow start because of injury, and Wilson will be an afterthought in redraft leagues going into the 2020 season.

From RotoBaller

Patrick Mahomes Jan 25 12:43pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes reminds retired QB Brett Favre of himself with some of the traits he has displayed on the field. 'I see the comparison,? Favre said. 'He may not admit this but he probably feels there is no throw he can't make or no angle he can't make it from. Whether he's flushed left or to the right, his vision always is down the field. I was always looking for the big play first and knew I could always react underneath if I needed, too. You have to have a certain confidence or air about you that you can make any throw, and it has been proven he can make any throw.'

Fantasy Spin: Mahomes is off to a particularly impressive start in the postseason with 13 total touchdowns (including two rushing), 1,313 total yards (125 rushing) and no interceptions in four playoff contests over two seasons. He'll challenge Lamar Jackson for first-QB-off the-board fantasy honors this summer.

From TheHuddle

Tom Brady Jan 25 6:43am ET

The New England Patriots want to know if impending free-agent QB Tom Brady will return to the team for the 2020 season before the legal tampering period for free agency begins March 16, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Fantasy Spin: Schefter reasoned that the Patriots want a quick decision so they can pursue other quarterbacks in free agency in case Brady chooses to leave the only organization he has ever played for. New England wants to avoid a situation similar to last season when Rob Gronkowski waited until late-March to announce his retirement, meaning that the best free-agent tight ends had already been signed by other clubs. From a fantasy standpoint, Brady should be viewed as a QB2 in most formats at this stage of his career but he could merit consideration as a low-end QB1 if he has plenty of offensive weapons surrounding him.

From TheHuddle

Dee Ford Jan 24 6:23pm ET

San Francisco 49ers LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral) and DE Dee Ford (hamstring, quadriceps) were limited during practice Friday, Jan. 24, but are not listed on the injury report for Super Bowl LIV. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle), S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) and WR Dante Pettis (illness) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.

From TheHuddle

D.J. Chark Jan 24 6:13pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. said he expects to have a similar role in the offense next season under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

Fantasy Spin: Chark was one of the breakout players this season and finished with 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He likely will be the main target in the passing game again next season and could be at least a No. 3 fantasy receiver.

From TheHuddle

Tevin Coleman Jan 24 6:13pm ET

San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is considered questionable for Super Bowl LIV.

Fantasy Spin: Coleman probably will need to practice at some point next week if he wants to play in the Super Bowl. He will share playing time with Raheem Mostert and Maatt Breida if he is active and could be a flex option.

From TheHuddle

Tevin Coleman Jan 24 5:43pm ET

San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman's (shoulder) MRI results were positive, but Coleman did not participate in any practices this week, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to keep an eye on Coleman's practice participate next week to see if he has a chance to play in Super Bowl LIV. Coleman will be part of a committee if he is active and should see some touches during the game. He can be considered a flex option.

From TheHuddle

Albert Wilson Jan 24 5:03pm ET

Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson likely will be asked to restructure his contract this offseason if he wants to remain with the team. The Dolphins would save $9.5 million in salary cap space if they release Wilson.

Fantasy Spin: Wilson had a disappointing 2019 season with 351 yards and one touchdown. The Dolphins likely will look to upgrade at the position so Wilson probably would drop down the depth chart if he stays. He probably can be avoided in fantasy leagues next season.

From TheHuddle

Morris Claiborne Jan 24 4:23pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs S Jordan Lucas (illness) did not participate in practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is considered questionable for Super Bowl LIV. DT Chris D. Jones (calf) was limited during practice and is considered questionable. WR Demarcus Robinson (illness), WR Mecole Hardman (back), CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) fully participated in practice and are not on the injury report.

From TheHuddle

Travis Kelce Jan 24 4:13pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) was limited during practice Friday, Jan. 24, and is not on the injury report for Super Bowl LIV.

Fantasy Spin: Kelce appears to be on track to play and probably will see more practice time next week. He is a must-start option in fantasy leagues.

From TheHuddle

Drew Brees Jan 24 3:33pm ET

New Orleans Saints impending free-agent QB Drew Brees said he will only play for the Saints in 2020 if he decides to continue his playing career.

Fantasy Spin: Fantasy players will need to monitor the situation to see if Brees returns to the Saints next season. He posted solid numbers this season even though he missed some time because of an injury and could be a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback if he plays.

From TheHuddle

Drew Brees Jan 24 3:10pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be a free agent in March, plans to return to the Saints if he comes back for a 20th season in the NFL. "I have never been in the situation where I was mulling over the thought of [returning]," Brees said. "To me, each one of these contracts, I don't know how many it's been with the Saints, I've played with them 14 years, it's not a matter of if it gets done, it's when. At this stage of my career, it's not a given that I'm coming back every year, but when that time comes, I'll always be a Saint." Despite diminished arm strength, Brees was one of the best quarterbacks when he returned from his thumb injury last season. He may no longer have sky-high QB1 upside for fantasy owners, but Brees will at least be a midrange QB1 target next season if he returns to New Orleans, which is what is expected.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Rodgers Jan 24 3:03pm ET

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had a 'really, really good ' first year in head coach Matt LaFleur's offense, general manager Brian Gutekunst said Friday, Jan. 24, and the GM is looking forward to the encore in 2020. I'm really excited to see what he can do in Year Two,' Gutekunst said. 'I know Matt talks a lot about what Matt Ryan did in Year Two, the comparatives there. I'm really excited to see where him and the offense can go.'

Fantasy Spin: Rodgers threw for one more TD (26-25) than he did in 2018 but his passing yards declined by 440 yards as he finished 12th among fantasy QBs in terms of total points. Rodgers will turn 37 before next season ends but don't be surprised if he takes a jump into solid QB1 territory with a year in the system under his belt and the Packers expecting to add wide receiver and, possibly, tight end help this offseason.

From TheHuddle

Dak Prescott Jan 24 2:33pm ET

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, a pending free agent, will be re-signed and remain the team's quarterback, Cowboys vice president Will McClay said Thursday, Jan. 23. 'We expect Dak to be our quarterback,' McClay said. 'If the owner/GM says we're going to get it done, he signs the checks. So we'll get that done.'

Fantasy Spin: Even though the Cowboys were an overall disappointment at 8-8, Prescott had a career year with 4,902 yards and 30 passing TDs to finish as fantasy's No. 3 QB. Barring an shocking turn of developments, Prescott will land a lucrative new deal from the Cowboys and be back in the QB1 mix this offseason.

From TheHuddle

Kareem Hunt Jan 24 1:53pm ET

Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt's car was found to contain marijuana following a traffic stop Tuesday, Jan. 21, in which Hunt was issued a speeding citation in Ohio.

Fantasy Spin: Although Hunt wasn't cited for possession, he could face scrutiny from the league after sitting out the first half of the 2019 season due to a personal-conduct suspension. Without a ban, Hunt projects as a low-end RB2 entering next season.

From TheHuddle