Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) celebrates with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. The name Antwon Rose Jr., a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in 2018, has his name on a white strip on the back of most Steelers helmets, (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) throws under pressure from Tennessee Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton (26) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) runs the ball as Tennessee Titans linebacker Harold Landry (58) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell (24) avoids a tackle by New York Giants cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) during the first quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (97) celebrates with teammates after a turnover by the New York Giants during the third quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) looks to pass against the New York Giants during the first quarter of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
PITTSBURGH (AP) The pain was familiar to Ben Roethlisberger.
And the best part about how his 38-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback's body felt following his first game in 364 days might have been the fact none of the pain originated from his surgically repaired right elbow.
Roethlisberger is hopeful the saga of his extended comeback came to an end in northern New Jersey last Monday, when he tossed three touchdowns in a relatively solid and mistake-free 26-16 victory over the New York Giants.
From here on out, he expects the focus to be on football, though that may be impossible heading into Pittsburgh's home opener against Denver (0-1) on Sunday.
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Rather than strictly preparing for the Broncos, Roethlisberger and the organization found itself spending a portion of the week facing questions about team unity after left tackle Alejandro Villanueva chose to honor a fallen US Army veteran on the back of his helmet rather than a Black Pittsburgh teenager killed by a white East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018, as the rest of the team did in New York. It was a move that caught Roethlisberger and defensive tackle Cameron Heyward - both longtime captains - off guard.
It got to the point that Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement saying he was ''proud'' of the efforts of the players to ''bring awareness and changes to combat racism and social injustice'' while acknowledging ''we understand that individually we may say or do things that are not universally accepted.''
Denver's issues are more muted by comparison. The Broncos let a winnable game against Tennessee slip away on Monday night when the Titans drove down the field late to pull out a 16-14 victory.
Still, there were tangible signs of things to get excited about as Denver hopes to gain traction in head coach Vic Fangio's second season.
Quarterback Drew Lock completed 22 of 33 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions. The 23-year-old has also proven difficult to take down. He's been sacked just five times in six career starts and he'll need to escape Pittsburgh's fierce pass rush - and do it while taking care of the ball - if the Broncos want to extend their recent mastery over the Steelers. Denver has won four of the past five meetings with a list of victorious quarterbacks that includes Tim Tebow and Case Keenum.
Lock does have one thing in his favor: Hall of Fame offensive line coach Mike Munchak. The popular Munchak served in the same capacity for the Steelers from 2014-18 before leaving for Denver to be closer to his family. Heyward called Munchak ''the ultimate spy.''
''Hopefully we can prove the point that we have a great O-line while blocking those guys up to give me time back there,'' Lock said. ''If that's what we do, then we're going to be a good football team.''
A victory at an empty Heinz Field would be a good starting point.
JEUDY, JEUDY: First-round pick Jerry Jeudy tied Malcom Butler in knots and repeatedly gained separation in the opener. He caught four passes for 56 yards but the only thing he'll remember from his debut is the pair of costly drops, one of which could have helped Denver salt away the win.
''Those two drops will probably help me not drop passes for the whole season,'' said Jeudy, the 15th overall pick out of Alabama, where he was renowned as much for his good hands as his quick feet and crisp route-running.
BENNY SNELL FOOTBALL: Steelers running back Benny Snell Jr. arrived in Pittsburgh as a fourth-round pick in 2019 with a chip on his shoulder. That chip would sometimes grate in practice against a veteran defensive line. Snell has been decidedly quieter entering his second season, preferring to let his pads do the talking. They spoke loudly while he ran for a career-high 113 yards against the Giants after starter James Conner went down with an ankle injury. Conner's status is uncertain, though Snell figures to have earned more playing time regardless.
TIME KEEPS SLIPPING: Fangio acknowledged 24 hours after the Broncos' 16-14 loss to the Titans that he blew it by not calling a timeout in the closing seconds and preserving as much time as possible for his young, inexperienced offense. Fangio called it a one-off, so he's not planning on changing procedure, however.
Last year, Fangio had an analytics expert in his ear in end-of-game situations but after a shakeup in that department this offseason, Fangio was on his own. He said his coaches can always chime in, but it's apparent none of them did as the Broncos saved all three of their timeouts to use after Tennessee went ahead with 17 seconds left.
LINE SHUFFLE: Steelers right tackle Zach Banner's transformation from shaggy prospect to NFL starter hit a massive bump when he tore the ACL in his right knee against the Giants, ending his season after less than four quarters. Chukwuma Okorafor, a third-round pick in 2018, will take over for Banner.
''We will miss him, but we also have confidence that Chuks will do the job,'' Roethlisberger said. ''It was a close battle I think from what I heard from Coach Tomlin. We will need Chuks to step up who has playing experience. We will expect him to great things.''
Rookie Kevin Dotson could make his first NFL start at guard with Pro Bowler David DeCastro dealing with a knee issue and veteran Stefen Wisniewski recovering from a chest injury.
Five Sleepers: Week 8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II gets a good matchup against the Giants on Monday Night Football. Jones II ran wild in the absence of Leonard Fournette, picking up over 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games while handling at least 20 touches in each contest. However, Fournette returned healthy last week and out-touched Jones II 17-14, as the latter saw a huge dip in his snap percentage. Still, it appears that the 23-year-old will retain his early-down role for the time being, with head coach Bruce Arians referring to Fournette as more of his "nickel" back. With Tampa Bay projected to be in the lead against the Giants, Jones II will likely get his chances on the ground, making him a low-to-mid RB2.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee (hand) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Dolphins. Higbee was limited in practice all week, so he has a good chance to play this weekend after being a late scratch last in Week 7. Gerald Everett won't be a TE2 streamer if Higbee returns, which is looking more likely. Aside from his five-catch, 54-yard, three-touchdown performance in Week 2 against the Eagles, Higbee hasn't done a whole lot for his fantasy managers. He'll be a low-end TE2 if he returns on Sunday against Miami, one of two teams that have yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end in 2020.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross III has made it known that he wants out of Cincinnati. Ross replied bluntly to a local sports reporter on Thursday on his feelings at this point in the season in his fourth NFL campaign. "It's not a secret that I have requested a trade," Ross wrote. "Trade me if this how y'all feel. I'm healthy and eager to play. I know I can be productive. It's hard to love something when your (sic) not actually participating in it. Believe me, its (sic) not football that I don't like." Ross has world-class speed but has struggled through injuries and has caught only 51 passes for 733 yards and 10 touchdowns in three-plus seasons. He played 56 snaps in the season-opener but has since played 29 snaps and was inactive in Week 7 with an illness. The 24-year-old should be on the waiver wire in all single-year formats, but he could find his way back to fantasy relevance if he's traded and lands in a promising situation.
The Indianapolis Colts activated rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (leg) from Injured Reserve on Saturday and waived receiver Daurice Fountain in a corresponding move. Pittman played in three games before suffering his leg injury, which required surgery. The second-round selection out of USC caught nine of his 12 targets for 73 yards in his three games before being sidelined. The 23-year-old is a big-bodied receiver than can succeed on contested catches and in the red zone, and he should immediately return to a role alongside T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal. However, Indy's slow-paced, run-first offense hasn't had the kind of passing volume under quarterback Philip Rivers to make any one receiver particularly attractive in fantasy this year. But Pittman's upside makes him a must-stash in dynasty/keeper leagues, and he's worth a pickup in deeper leagues as well for depth.
The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to activate tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle) from Injured Reserve for the Sunday night game against the division-rival Cowboys, according to sources. It's a bit of a surprise, as most expected Goedert to return closer to Week 10, but apparently he impressed the coaches and medical staff during practice this week. The Eagles could choose to limit his snaps, especially after Richard Rodgers impressed in last week's win over the Giants, but the 25-year-old Goedert should at least be considered a low-end TE1 this weekend against a Cowboys Defense that hasn't really been able to stop much of anything this year. They've given up the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Goedert's return should also make Rodgers a less appealing tight end streamer.
The Philadelphia Eagles are activating rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb), offensive lineman Jason Peters, linebacker T.J. Edwards and safety Rudy Ford from Injured Reserve on Saturday. Reagor will return for the Sunday night game against the Cowboys for the first time since suffering a thumb injury in Week 2 that required surgery. The first-round pick should be a starter this weekend, but he'll be a risky flex option in deeper leagues because of the possibility that he has his snaps limited in his first game back. The matchup against Dallas is an excellent one, too, as the Cowboys have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to wideouts in 2020. Travis Fulgham still remains Philly's highest-upside pass-catcher, though.
The Denver Broncos Defense will face a rising young star in Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in their Week 8 divisional matchup. Herbert has 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 108.1 QB rating in five games, and the Broncos D has allowed a QB rating of 92.5 this year. They'll be looking to limit the big play after surrendering six passing plays of at least 16 yards to the Chiefs in Week 7. Entering Week 8, Denver's six takeaways were tied for 24th in the league, their three interceptions tied for 23rd and their minus-eight differential 31st. The Broncos have actually been decent at limiting big plays by their opponents this year despite not having their top playmakers available because of injury, but their lack of turnovers has made them a low-upside streaming unit for fantasy managers. They are tied for eighth in the league with 18 sacks, so perhaps they can get to Herbert early and often and force him into mistakes.
Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus never had a chance to deliver for fantasy managers in Week 7 against the Chiefs in snowy conditions. A week after being the hero with six made field goals against the Patriots, McManus made one field goal and went 1-for-2 on extra points. In a Broncos offense that has been below-average through six games in 2020, the 29-year-old's six field-goal performance in Week 6 is looking like an outlier. While there should be more opportunities against the division-rival Chargers this Sunday -- the Bolts allow the ninth-most fantasy points per game to opposing kickers -- McManus is merely a streaming consideration for those in 14-team leagues this weekend.
Denver Broncos rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has emerged in the last two weeks as quarterback Drew Lock's favorite target. Okwuegbunam made his NFL debut in Week 6 when Noah Fant (ankle) was sidelined, and he led the squad in receiving last week, catching all seven of his targets for 60 yards. He has 13 targets the last two weeks, showing the chemistry that he has with Lock from their days at Missouri. However, Fant ran more routes than the rookie last week and is getting closer to full health, which could spell trouble for Albert O. The 22-year-old is certainly intriguing, but the presence of Fant will cap his upside. If receiver Tim Patrick (hamstring) doesn't play against the Chargers this Sunday, Okwuegbunam will be an upside TE2.
Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant (ankle) was taken off the final Week 8 injury report and is good to go for Sunday's game against the division-rival Chargers. Fant was limited in practice on Wednesday, but he got in full practices both Thursday and Friday. The second-year tight end missed Week 6 because of the injury, but he returned last weekend and disappointed with a season-low three receptions for 38 yards. The good news is he was tied for the team lead with seven targets, but rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbunam out-produced him and has become a favorite target of quarterback Drew Lock. That's a concern, but Fant is getting closer to full health and could see a healthy amount of targets if receiver Tim Patrick (hamstring) can't play. The Chargers also allow the 11th-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, so Fant has clear top-10 tight end upside this week despite the emergence of Albert O.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is on a roll heading into a Week 8 matchup with the Giants. After a slow start to the season, Brady has now thrown for 1,454 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and just one interception in his last five contests. The Giants have been a pleasant surprise against opposing quarterbacks for fantasy this year, though they've slipped a bit, allowing at least 250 passing yards and two touchdowns to each of the last two signal-callers they've faced. Brady can be started as a solid QB1 against New York on Monday Night Football.
Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver K.J. Hamler returned last week after missing a month with a hamstring injury, but he didn't do much in the 43-16 blowout loss to the Chiefs, catching two of his three targets for 24 yards. He also ran the ball once for 10 yards. Hamler saw seven targets in the Week 2 loss to Pittsburgh, but he just hasn't been involved enough in Denver's spotty passing attack to warrant fantasy attention in any single-year fantasy formats. In his four games, the second-round pick has caught eight of his 15 targets for 102 yards. The Penn State alum could find himself in a bigger role this Sunday against the Chargers if Tim Patrick (hamstring) is ruled out, but even then he'd be a desperation dart throw as a flex in deep leagues.
Denver Broncos rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy showed up on the team's Week 8 injury report with a shoulder injury, but he practiced in full all week and is good to go for Sunday against the Chargers. An impressive route-runner with very quick feet, Jeudy's potential hasn't manifested itself yet through six games. He's seen only 13 targets in the last three games combined and has just six catches over that span. Jeudy had two grabs for a season-low 20 yards in the blowout loss to Kansas City last week and has seen his fantasy stock drop considerably in recent weeks. The 21-year-old has been tough to trust as a flex in Denver's inconsistent offense, but he has rebound potential this week against the Chargers if Tim Patrick (hamstring) cannot play. Jeudy will be an upside WR3/flex if Patrick is inactive.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard will once again have an expanded role. With Joe Mixon (foot) out of the equation against the Titans, his second-straight absence, the veteran will serve as the top option out of the backfield against a Tennessee team looking to rebound from its first loss of the year. Bernard filled in admirably in Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns, finishing with 37 yards off 13 carries while also catching all five of his targets for 59 yards and a touchdown. Although Cincy's offensive line is banged up, Bernard should still be considered a starting option on Sunday, especially in PPR formats, as he may get plenty of looks from rookie signal-caller Joe Burrow.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick (hamstring) missed practice all week but is considered questionable for Week 8 against the Chargers. Patrick has been the team's most reliable fantasy receiver so far in 2020 in what has been an inconsistent offense, seeing at least four targets in each game while going over 100 yards receiving in both Weeks 4 and 6. But a full week of missed practices doesn't bode well for his availability in this divisional matchup. As of right now, you should have other options in place. If Patrick is inactive, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and DaeSean Hamilton would likely be the team's top three receivers. Check back on Sunday for the official inactives to see if Patrick is suiting up.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion) is listed as questionable for Week 8 against the Chargers. Lindsay did not practice on Wednesday, but he got in limited action both Thursday and Friday, at least giving him a chance to be cleared before Sunday's game. The 26-year-old was more effective than Melvin Gordon in Week 7 against the Chiefs before suffering a head injury, toting the rock nine times for 79 yards (8.78 yards per attempt). He's sporting a 5.2 yard-per-carry average in 2020, but Lindsay can't shake the injury bug, playing in just one full game to this point. If he's active against the Bolts, he'll once again be sharing touches with Gordon, making him a risky RB3/flex for this weekend.
Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon II could see the lion's share of the backfield work in Week 8 against his former team, the Chargers, if backfield mate Phillip Lindsay (concussion) misses another game. Because of the volume he'd see in a revenge game if Lindsay is inactive, Gordon would have RB2 upside. The first-year Bronco ran the ball 17 times for 68 yards and a touchdown in the blowout loss to the Chiefs last week, but he also lost two costly fumbles. Gordon has a potential suspension still hanging over his head after a DUI arrest several weeks ago, but he should be available for this Sunday against L.A. If Lindsay plays, Gordon will be more of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 for fantasy managers.
Buffalo Bills TE Lee Smith was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Friday, Oct. 30.
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock just hasn't looked good since returning from a shoulder injury two weeks ago. In a 43-16 blowout loss to the division-rival Chiefs last weekend, Lock went 24-for-40 for only 254 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for the second straight week. He salvaged his stat line by rushing for a score. He'll face a Chargers Defense this Sunday that has given up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to signal-callers, but Lock just cannot be trusted to perform for fantasy managers in Denver's inconsistent offense. The second-year QB has yet to surpass 254 passing yards in a game this year and threw for just 189 yards in the Week 6 win over New England. He's a low-end QB2 for those in superflex leagues.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Le'Veon Bell will look to have a revenge game against the Jets in Week 8. Bell made his Chiefs debut in Week 7 and saw 33% of the backfield snaps behind rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Bell saw six carries in that span and picked up 39 yards, but was not targeted in the pass game. The Jets have allowed 105 yards per game and 45 yards receiving to opposing backs and Bell would certainly like to remind the Jets of what they've missed out on. Edwards-Helaire will continue to be the lead back for the Chiefs, but Bell could see increased action this action and beyond. Bell should be considered at RB3/flex option in Week 8 and beyond for now.