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.
Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher (hernia) and defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin) both were limited in practice on Wednesday. Fisher has been out the last five game, while Jones has missed two straight. Fisher's return would be a positive development, as he might be blocking the blind side of backup Matt Moore if the Chiefs hold Patrick Mahomes (knee) out for another week. Jones' return would also be a welcomed addition with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coming into town on Sunday night. The 25-year-old has 11 total tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery in five games after setting a career high with 15.5 QB takedowns a year ago.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is leading the league with 725 rushing yards, a 5.5 yards per carry average, and eight rushing touchdowns. He's RB2 in half-ppr scoring (Christian McCaffrey). You're starting him without hesitation in Week 8 against the Washington Redskins, who are allowing 134.4 yards per game on the ground. Cook could easily finish as the top running back of the week with the Vikings favored by 16 points at home (and with McCaffrey facing the 49ers Defense). The Vikings still run at the second-highest rate in the NFL and could lean on Cook even more in the absence of stud receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring). Cook remains an RB1 and he should be a priority play in daily formats as well.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron saw his stock rise last week when he caught four of his five targets for 70 yards and one touchdown. He had 49 more yards than fellow tight end Jack Doyle, and he's been out-playing him all year. The Denver Broncos have some good safeties, but Ebron is better than he's been this year. As quarterback Jacoby Brissett continues to look his way, he maintains some value every week. Consistency is key for tight ends, and you can have some faith in Ebron this week.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle had high hopes coming into the season. Heading into Week 8, it's becoming more clear that he won't be having the bounce-back season he was hoping for. Doyle has 25 targets on the year, but he has just 17 catches for 149 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett looks his way on a regular basis, but it's not down the field. It's also not in the red zone. Doyle gives you a safe option to score more than zero every week, but he's not going to light it up, especially in a bad matchup with the Denver Broncos. Teammate Eric Ebron has been the better option at the position. Doyle should be avoided this week.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Olabisi Johnson had a productive game stepping in for Adam Thielen (hamstring) in Week 7, catching 4-of-8 targets for 40 yards and a touchdown in the win. The rookie out of Colorado State is now in line for a spot-start as the second receiver in Week 8 as Thielen has been ruled out against the Washington Redskins and their forgiving defense. It's not crazy to project a usable target share again in an advantageous matchup at home, especially considering Johnson has received at least four targets in three of his last four games played. It's also worth noting that Kirk Cousins and the Vikings passing game has been on fire for three games straight. Johnson can be considered a WR3/WR4 and should be in consideration for deep leagues this week.
New York Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas is on the verge of being streamable this week against the Lions. The former Pro Bowler hasn't had much success this year and has yet to make more than one field goal in a game all season. However, he's in a good matchup. The Giants figure to move the ball against a banged-up Lions Defense, and they will need to push the tempo to keep up with quarterbackMatthew Stafford and the Lions offense. Rosas still isn't a recommended option, but he can be considered in deep leagues.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal has seen his stock consistently grow over the past few weeks. He's still not a player that you can have a ton of confidence in starting, but he does have some flex consideration this week. His size allows him to be a mismatch against most corners, and the Denver Broncos don't have a guy that can match up with him consistently in that regard if cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadows wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. If you're missing wideouts due to injuries or bye weeks, Pascal gives you upside thanks to his touchdown production and big-play ability.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett went off on the Houston Texans in Week 7. In Week 8, his matchup gets more difficult against the Denver Broncos. Through seven games, Denver has yet to allow a player to clear 300 passing yards, and no quarterback has thrown for more than two touchdowns against them. The Colts have a lot of pieces on offense, especially with the emergence of wide receiver Zach Pascal, but expectations for Brissett should be tempered this week. He's still a starter in two-quarterback leagues, but you have better options at QB in standard formats.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has a bad matchup this week, but you have to start him anyway. He's scored five touchdowns in the five games that he's played, and he's averaging an impressive 17.2 PPR points per game this season. He has 15 more targets than any other Indianapolis pass-catcher, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett looks his way whenever he needs a reliable receiver. He's gotten at least nine targets in three out of his five games, and those looks will continue to be there for him against the Denver Broncos.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack got shut down in Week 7, but he has a good bounce-back spot in Week 8. Teams like the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars have beaten the Denver Broncos by running the ball at them all game to control the clock. Mack does his best work when he gets a ton of volume, and that's how the Colts like to win games. If the passing game struggles, which is possible against a solid passing defense, they could lean on Mack throughout the game, especially down in the red zone.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is in line for an increased workload on Thursday night with target-hog Adam Thielen (hamstring) sitting out for the first time in his career. Week 8's matchup against the Washington Redskins is a favorable one as Diggs should be able to take advantage of coverage by either Quinton Dunbar or a struggling Josh Norman. Cousins and the play-action passing game have been on point as of late, as has Diggs with 14 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games. They remain a run-first team and are likely to lean on Dalvin Cook as they're favored by over 15 points at home, but Diggs needs to be started as a WR1/WR2 with upside considering Thielen's absence.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford absolutely feasted on the Vikings secondary in Week 7, and the feast may not be over with the New York Giants coming to town in Week 8. The Giants currently allow 8.92 yards per attempt, which trails only the Dolphins, so fantasy owners could be in for another huge performance from the 31-year-old signal-caller. The Giants don't present much in the way of run defense either, but with Kerryon Johnson recently being placed on IR a more pass-heavy approach can be expected. With top quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott on byes this week, and with Matt Ryan still yet to practice, Stafford vaults up the charts as one of the top quarterback options in Week 8 no matter the fantasy format. Get him in your lineups.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (knee) fully participated in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Wilson threw his first interception last week but still has posted 15 passing touchdowns in seven games. He should have success against the Atlanta Falcons this week and can be a No. 1 quarterback in all fantasy leagues.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett has posted at least 50 yards in each of the last six games and has been targeted 12 times over the last two weeks. He should have a favorable matchup in Week 8 and can be a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver in all leagues.
Seattle Seahawks S Lano Hill (elbow), DE Quinton Jefferson (oblique) and S Bradley McDougald (back) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. OT Duane Brown (biceps), OT George Fant (shoulder), CB Tre Flowers (neck), DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle) and S Quandre Diggs (hamstring) were limited during practice. OG D.J. Fluker (hamstring) fully participated in practice.
Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Carson has received at least 20 carries in each of the last four games and has posted three 100-yard games in that span. He will continue to be the focal point in the running game for the Seahawks and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson, arguably this week's hottest waiver wire pickup after Kerryon Johnson was put on IR Tuesday, has a real chance to establish himself as the Lions lead back against a porous New York Giants squad in Week 8. Johnson should see most of the action out of the Lions backfield Sunday and can be expected to be involved in the passing game even with J.D. McKissic likely suiting up as the Lions passing-down back. Johnson's small stature does put into question whether he can be an every-down back, but with the Giants nonexistent run defense standing in his way this week fantasy owners should get some clarity as to whether Johnson can truly take over this backfield. Johnson will be considered a mid-range RB2 this week in a matchup where the game script should work to his benefit.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (knee) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert appears to have a chance to play in Week 8, but fantasy players will know more about his status later in the week. He will see a handful of touches if he is active for the game but can be avoided in most leagues.
San Francisco 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk (knee), OT Mike McGlinchey (knee) and CB Ahkello Witherspoon (foot) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. DE Dee Ford (quadriceps), DT D.J. Jones (hamstring) and OT Joe Staley (leg) were limited during practice.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk has been limited during practice over the last two weeks but has also been inactive for the last two games, so his status for Week 8 is uncertain. Fantasy players may want to look at other options since he would have a tough matchup if he plays in the game.