Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor reacts during the second half of NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley (5) calls a play during the first half of NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after the Raiders defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 26-24 in an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) is sacked by Oakland Raiders defensive end Clelin Ferrell during the second half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Derek Carr knows full well what the Cincinnati Bengals are enduring this season: nine straight losses to open the year.
Carr began his rookie season as starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders with 10 consecutive defeats before finally breaking through with a win.
''You feel like everything is against you because for the fans, sometimes for older players, they don't see any light at the end of the tunnel,'' he said. ''They just see what's in front of them at the moment and it's hard man. It's tough and one thing I'll say though is, if you can grind through those moments, work really hard, stick to your process, when the good moments come around it makes you thankful for those other moments.''
Carr bounced back from the rough debut campaign to win 12 games and lead the Raiders to the playoffs in 2016. Two more down seasons followed, but Carr has Oakland (5-4) back in contention again this year heading into Sunday's home game against Cincinnati (0-9).
After two straight wins to open a homestand, Carr wants to make sure his team doesn't let up in the third game and squander a chance.
''I don't care about records, man,'' he said. ''I prepare every game as if this is the game and so there is no, 'They haven't won a game.' I don't care how many games they have or haven't won, they got Pro Bowlers all over their football team and they are going to bring it, that's for sure.''
The Bengals are trying to avoid falling to 0-10 for the second time after also doing it in 1993. First-year coach Zac Taylor believes things will get better soon even if it doesn't seem that way right now.
''There'll be a time - I can't wait to look back on it - and say, 'Remember when all that stuff happened?''' Taylor said. ''We'll get there. This is one of the things we have to go through right now, unfortunately. We're going to fight through it, and there are going to be some positive things as this season comes to an end.''
Rookie Ryan Finley made his debut and had two huge turnovers against the Ravens. His sideline pass was picked off and returned 89 yards for a touchdown, and he had a fumble also returned for a score. Finley finished 16 of 30 for 167 yards with a touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 66.9. The Bengals expect him to be better now that he's experienced a game.
''He's getting used to playing NFL-caliber football and not preseason football, real starting football against a good defense,'' offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. ''And so, his timing was a little bit off. I think you'll see a pretty dramatic leap for him in game two, understanding what it's like to play at that speed.''
The Raiders must replace a safety again after Karl Joseph went down with a season-ending foot injury last week while making the game-sealing interception against the Chargers. Oakland already lost rookie Johnathan Abram to a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener and now may need to turn to Curtis Riley, who got benched earlier this year, special teams player Dallin Leavitt and newly acquired D.J. Swearinger, who was cut earlier this year by Arizona.
''These last weeks have been great for me,'' Swearinger said. ''I needed this time off, to get myself together. I couldn't be more ready for this opportunity to get here and work hard.''
OH THAT DEFENSE
The Bengals began looking to next year when they benched Andy Dalton and went with Finley at quarterback. They started overhauling the defense this week by waiving linebacker Preston Brown, who had lost his starting job. The linebackers have been the biggest sore spot in the league's lowest-ranked defense.
The Raiders' much-maligned pass rush delivered in a big way last week with five sacks in a win over the Chargers. No. 4 overall draft pick Clelin Ferrell had by far his best game as a pro with 2 1/2 sacks after recording none since the season opener. Fellow rookie Maxx Crosby provided consistent pressure and a half-sack of his own and Benson Mayowa had 1 1/2 sacks, giving him a career-high seven this season.
Taylor signed with Oakland coach Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay team as an undrafted quarterback out of Nebraska in 2007. He was waived before the start of training camp, a move that surprised him then but makes sense now. Taylor was familiar with Tampa Bay's system because his college coach, Bill Callahan, was a close friend of Gruden's.
''I think they probably just brought me in because I could call the plays in the rookie minicamp,'' Taylor said. ''In hindsight, those are the things you start to figure out as you start coaching. That made a little bit of sense. They could evaluate the other players while I got out there and called the plays correctly. It's all good.''
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas acknowledged that wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (neck) remains a "big question mark" heading into the 2020 season and beyond. Enunwa played in just one game in 2019 before being shut down for the year, and he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. He also played in just 1 games in 2018 due to neck and back issues, and it's unknown if he'll ever be 100 percent again, which makes it hard for the Jets to rely on him behind Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder. If healthy, the 27-year-old (28 in May) wideout would likely be the team's No. 3 receiver, but he'll have to compete with Josh Doctson and Vyncint Smith and prove he's healthy in training camp.
The Kansas City Chiefs have had contract talks with defensive tackle Chris Jones, but there haven't been any offers up to this point. The Chiefs will also be trying to work out a long-term extension with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, but that is unlikely to happen until sometime after the draft. The Chiefs placed the franchise tag on Jones earlier this offseason, but they'll have until July 15 to figure out an extension. The 25-year-old made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2019, registering nine sacks, 36 tackles (23 solo), eight tackles for loss and 20 QB hits. Jones has become an essential inside presence on KC's defensive line and has 33 sacks in his four seasons in the league.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith should see an increased role in the offense in 2020 now that Stefon Diggs is playing for the Bills. When wide receiver Adam Thielen was out for almost two months with an injury last year, Smith caught 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns and emerged as a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins. Minnesota's offense also relies heavily on tight ends under coach Gary Kubiak; tight ends have received an average of 23 percent of targets per season in Kubiak's 21 seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator. Even battling for targets with Kyle Rudolph, Smith could become worth rostering as a TE2 in standard leagues in his second season in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup had 39 catches for 686 yards and five touchdowns in November and December last season compared to 27 catches, 421 yards and one touchdown in the first two months of the year.
Fantasy Spin: Gallup had more receptions, yards and touchdowns in the final two months of 2019 than he did in his entire rookie season, and he and Amari Cooper suddenly look like one of the better receiver duos heading into 2020. For his part, Gallup should be a WR3 with upside.
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee had 43 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns in the month of December last season compared to 26 catches, 212 yards and one score over the first three months combined.
Fantasy Spin: Jared Goff actually led the NFL in pass attempts last year, and now that Todd Gurley is not in the mix, Higbee's strong finish to 2019 could be a sign of things to come if the Rams continue to embrace a pass-heavy attack. Target him as a TE1 in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews caught 31 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns at home in 2019 and had 33 receptions for 412 yards and five scores in road contests.
Fantasy Spin: It didn't matter where the Ravens were playing. Andrews was routinely Lamar Jackson's favorite target and the most consistent member of the passing attack in an otherwise run-heavy offense. He's locked in as a TE1 heading into 2020.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller played in 11 games in 2019, and the team averaged 26.3 points in those contests compared to 19.6 in the five games he missed. Houston had an 8-3 record when Fuller played and went 2-3 without him in the lineup.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller will be asked to be the No. 1 receiver for Houston in 2020 following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, and while good things tend to happen when he is on the field, he has yet to play a full season. In fact, Fuller has played 11 or fewer games in each of the past three seasons. Fuller will have WR2 upside, but fantasy owners need to make sure to have depth at the receiver position if they choose to take a chance on him.
Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson threw for 14 touchdowns versus only three interceptions in seven home games last season. In eight road outings, he accounted for 12 passing scores versus nine interceptions.
Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb averaged 100.4 yards rushing, 0.75 touchdowns and 3.1 catches in eight games while Kareem Hunt served his eight-game suspension to begin last season. After Hunt was activated, Chubb averaged 86.4 yards rushing, 0.25 TDs and 1.4 catches.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt was very successful in his backup running back/slot role over the second half of the season, so it's fair to wonder if new head coach Kevin Stefanski has any designs on changing something that worked so well under the previous regime. Working in Chubb's favor is the likelihood Cleveland will be holding leads more often this season, meaning he could in a position to break off some more long scoring runs against tired defenses late in games. With Hunt around, however, Chubb should be considered a high-end RB2.
Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner broke a tackle once only every 23.2 rush attempts last season. In 2018, he broke a tackle once every 10.8 carries.
Baltimore Ravens RB Gus Edwards averaged 2.5 yards per carry before contact and 2.8 yards per carry after contact in 2019, slightly outperforming starter and backfield teammate Mark Ingram (2.4 and 2.6, respectively) in each category.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker finished third in the league with 939 yards before the catch last season, while his 13 yards before catch per reception was good for sixth among qualified players.
New England Patriots RB Sony Michel averaged 19 carries for 73 yards and scored four touchdowns in three games with Rex Burkhead injured last season. In those same contests, Michel compiled six of his 12 catches for the year. In the 13 games Burkhead was active, Michel averaged 14.6 carries for 53 yards and scored only three times.
Free-agent WR Jaron Brown (Seahawks) likely will not re-sign with the Seattle Seahawks this offseason since the Seahawks signed WR Phillip Dorsett earlier in the offseason.
New York Jets WR Quincy Enunwa (neck) is not considering retirement even though he is recovering from a neck injury. He is scheduled to receive $10.1 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.
Fantasy Spin: Enunwa has been limited to 12 games over the last three seasons because of injury and his status for the 2020 season is still uncertain. Fantasy players should keep an eye on his situation, but he should be considered a risky option in all leagues.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida didn't have much of a role on offense to end last season behind Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. If Jerick McKinnon is actually healthy in 2020, he gives the 49ers a legitimate route-runner and third-down option out of the backfield. San Fran could be willing to trade Breida's rights for a low-round draft pick. Of all the backs in this crowded backfield, Breida is the most likely to be playing for another team come the start of the season. The 25-year-old from Georgia Southern has been productive with 5.0 yards per carry on 381 career rushing attempts in his three years with the Niners, but he's also consistently battled nagging injuries and is now buried on the depth chart. A move out of this crowded backfield and onto another team with more opportunity would be best for Breida's real-life and fantasy value.
The Seattle Seahawks may only be willing to pay free-agent LB Jadeveon Clowney $13 million to $15 million annually to return, according to 710 ESPN Seattle's John Clayton. Clowney is reportedly seeking a deal which will pay him at least $17 million per year.
Pittsburgh Steelers TE Eric Ebron is one of six tight ends with at least 20 red zone touchdowns over the last five seasons, and he joins a Pittsburgh offense that ranked last in red zone scoring in 2019.
Fantasy Spin: A healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center should also go a long way to helping the Pittsburgh offense, but Ebron addresses a big need. He's a lower-end TE1 candidate, even if he could be a little touchdown dependent.
Free-agent CB Prince Amukamara (Bears) likely will not re-sign with the Bears this offseason, in the opinion of The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.
Chicago Bears WR Allen Robinson probably will be looking for around $20 million per season in his next contract, in the opinion of The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson had a bounce back season in 2019 and finished with 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. He will continue to be the main option in the passing game for the Bears and should be a weekly starting option in fantasy leagues.