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.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (shoulder) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) were forced to leave Thursday Night's game against the Cleveland Browns. Conner who missed the last two games with the shoulder injury, reaggravated it early in the game, while Smith-Schuster got sandwiched on a tackle in between multiple Browns defenders in the second quarter and immediately fell to the ground. If both players are forced to miss extended time, this Steelers offense becomes completely devoid of playmaking talent. Look for Vance McDonald, James Washington, Jaylen Samuels, and Trey Edmunds to receive immediate opportunities in their absence.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Devante Parker is the most talented man left standing in the Dolphins receiving corps but will face an uphill battle with the Buffalo Bills coming to town in Week 11. Led by shutdown corner TreDavious White, the Bills secondary has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season, trailing only the New England Patriots. With teammate Preston Williams out for the season following knee surgery, Parker is clearly quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite place to look, with his 10 targets leading the Dolphins last week in their 16-12 win over the Indianapolis Colts. While the speedy wideout has a touchdown in four of his last six games and should get close to double-digit targets every week, Parker might also be shadowed by the aforementioned White on Sunday, limiting his ceiling and dropping his floor down to zero. Avoid starting him this week but don't sleep on Parker in the future, as three of his next four opponents are in the bottom-six in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers in 2019.
With all of his competition for touches being either traded or suspended, Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage did little to impress in last week's 16-12 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Rushing for only 43 yards on 20 carries, and having rushed for only 113 yards on the season, Ballage has been a complete disappointment this year but will get an easier matchup in Week 11, as the Buffalo Bills have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs in 2019. Ballage should continue to get a high volume of touches - with his only competition coming from Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin - but he is still struggling to gain yards after first contact and is running behind one of the league's worst offensive lines. Even facing a Buffalo defense that struggles to stop the run, Ballage is no better than an RB3 this week, carrying a floor of zero and little upside. Leave him on your bench if at all possible, until Ballage proves he can contribute in a meaningful way.
Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller has strung together three underwhelming outings, but he will look to right the ship in Week 11 versus the Bengals. The 26-year-old has caught just seven passes over the last three weeks after averaging over seven receptions a game through the team's first six games. Teams have begun to shadow the 6'6" pass-catcher in recent weeks, but that hasn't stopped Derek Carr from peppering him with 15 targets in this span. Waller has an excellent chance to redeem himself versus a Cincinnati team who has been vulnerable on defense and are coming off a game where they allowed two touchdowns to Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in Week 10. Waller is a firm TE1 this week as he looks to get back in his high-volume groove from the season's first half.
After a couple of down weeks, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams will look to rebound in a great matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals Defense is susceptible to the passing game, and it's looking likely that their top cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick will be sidelined once again. This is terrific news for Williams, who began the year collecting a TD pass in each of his first five games, although he's yet to find paydirt in his last two outings. The 27-year-old has still seen plenty of opportunities in these games as he's sitting second on the team in targets with nine as the team's WR1. His high-volume role should continue this Sunday, although the offense could lean more on the run game if they get out to an early lead. Williams should be treated as a WR3 in Week 11 with a decent shot at finding the end zone.
With all of his competition for touches being either traded or suspended, Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage did little to impress in last week's 16-12 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Rushing for only 43 yards on 20 carries, and having rushed for only 113 yards on the season, Ballage has been a complete disappointment this year but will get an easier matchup in Week 10, as their opponent, the Buffalo Bills, have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs in 2019. Ballage should continue to get a high volume of touches - with his only competition coming from Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin - but he is still struggling to gain yards after first contact and is running behind one of the league's worst offensive lines. Even facing a Buffalo defense that struggles to stop the run, Ballage is no better than an RB3 this week, carrying a floor of zero and little upside. Leave him on your bench if at all possible, until Ballage proves he can contribute in a meaningful way.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Devante Parker is the most talented man left standing in the receiving corps but will face an uphill battle in Week 10, with the Buffalo Bills coming into town. Led by shutdown corner TreDavious White, the Bills secondary has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season, trailing only the New England Patriots. With teammate Preston Williams out for the season following knee surgery, Parker is clearly quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite target, with his 10 targets leading the Dolphins last week in their 16-12 win over the Indianapolis Colts. While the speedy wideout has a touchdown in four of his last six games and should get close to double-digit targets every week, Parker might also be shadowed by the aforementioned White in Week 10, limiting his ceiling and dropping his floor down to zero. Avoid starting him this week but don't sleep on Parker in the future, as three of his next four opponents are in the bottom-six in points allowed to receivers.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (knee) and wide receiver Dante Pettis (back) were both limited in practice on Thursday. Mostert has been limited all week but should play and serve as Tevin Coleman's backup in Week 11 against the Cardinals with Matt Breida expected to miss one to two weeks. Mostert will have some flex appeal in deeper leagues in a good matchup with Arizona. Pettis was added to the injury report on Thursday. The 24-year-old has been an utter disaster this year in San Fran's run-first offense, and he could continue to see his role shrink after going catchless on three targets last week. Even if Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) is inactive on Sunday, there are way better options in fantasy than Pettis.
Chicago Bears rookie running back David Montgomery (ankle) and tight ends Trey Burton (calf) and Adam Shaheen (foot) missed practice on Thursday. Montgomery rolled his ankle in practice on Wednesday and could wind up as questionable for Sunday night against the Rams. That will obviously pose a big headache for fantasy owners, but Montgomery is a shaky low-end RB2 even if he does play against an LA defensive front that has been stingy against the run. If he can't get the green light, Tarik Cohen would have RB2 upside. The tight end position has been a fantasy wasteland in Chicago, so Ben Braunecker wouldn't even be appealing if both Burton and Shaheen were inactive Sunday night.
Former Cleveland Browns wide receiver Antonio Callaway is reportedly appealing a 10-game suspension that the NFL handed down earlier in the season. He tested positive for a banned substance after using a CBD edible product in the summer to deal with an ankle injury. Callaway has had several drug-related incidents since declaring for the NFL draft, including a positive test at the combine and a four-game suspension to begin the 2019 season. Cleveland finally gave up on Callaway on Thursday, waiving the former fourth-round draft pick while citing that the receiver had "too many issues." Callaway's appeal with the NFL was heard on Friday and he is still awaiting the NFL's final decision.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) remains out of practice on Thursday. Green suffered a setback due to swelling in his ankle last week and remains without a timetable to return. He was getting close to making his season debut, but he now appears unlikely to play in Week 11 against the Raiders. At this point, Green could be put on season-ending Injured Reserve. He's not a lock to help your fantasy team before or during the playoffs, and even if he does return, his upside will be limited on a winless Bengals squad with rookie Ryan Finley at quarterback. Cincy will continue to roll with Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate and Alex Erickson in three-wide sets.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson (back) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. Even with A.J. Green (ankle) unlikely to return this weekend, Erickson isn't a recommended fantasy starter in any league as the No. 3 receiver on a winless Bengals team with rookie quarterback Ryan Finley under center. Erickson missed both of his two targets in Week 10 with Finley throwing him the ball. He had a blowup on Oct. 20 against the Jaguars when he went for 137 yards on eight catches, but that was clearly an outlier. You can avoid Erickson unless you're truly desperate.
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay said he expects tight ends Gerald Everett (wrist) and Tyler Higbee (knee) to play on Sunday night against the Bears in Week 11. Everett has had a breakout season in 2019 and has become the preferred pass-catching tight end over Higbee. With Brandin Cooks (concussion) out at least another week, Everett has TE1 appeal this weekend, even in a tough matchup with the Bears Defense looming. Unless Everett gets hurt and misses time, Higbee can be left on the waiver wire in redraft leagues.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (ankle, knee) returned to a limited practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. He should do more in practice on Friday and remains on track to play in Week 11 against the Lions. Cooper has battled through several injuries this year but has remained one of the most consistently productive receivers in the NFL. He'll be a high-end WR1 against a Lions secondary that has been one of the most generous units in the league against opposing wide receivers. Cooper is a must-start.
In a surprise move, the Cleveland Browns announced that they waived wide receiver Antonio Callaway on Thursday. Callaway was suspended ahead of the team's Week 10 matchup against the Buffalo Bills for arriving late but he was expected to return for Thursday night's showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, Callaway didn't respond well to the benching, prompting Cleveland to release the 2018 fourth-round draft pick. The Browns will move forward with Rashard Higgins as their No. 3 receiver. Callaway should catch on somewhere as he is regarded as a talented player but he might have to settle for a practice squad spot. Offensive lineman Drew Forbes was activated off of injured reserve to take Callaway's roster spot.
The Pittsburgh Steelers placed wide receiver Ryan Switzer (back) and fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee) on Injured Reserve on Thursday. Switzer injured his back in the Week 10 win over the Rams. In corresponding moves, receiver Tevin Jones and linebacker Jayrone Elliott were added to the active roster. Switzer was more of a special teams guy and had only eight receptions on 11 targets for 27 yards in three games for the Steelers this year. He wasn't even on the fantasy map to begin with.
Washington Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan said that moving rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin around more could help get him out of his slump. The impressive rookie is versatile and capable of moving to different spots in the formation. The 24-year-old hasn't found the end zone since Oct. 13 against the Dolphins (twice that day), but it's mainly the team's offense and the quarterback situation holding him back. It hasn't helped matters that rookie Dwayne Haskins is now in charge. The matchup against the Jets couldn't be any better, but McLaurin is still more of a boom-or-bust WR3 for fantasy owners. He has nine catches in the last three games.
Washington Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan said that running back Adrian Peterson was rested in practice on Thursday, and he'll be fine for Week 11 against the Jets. The 34-year-old has been the bell-cow back since Callahan took over, and he's seen at least 18 carries in three of the last four games, so rest is certainly in order coming out of the bye week. Peterson's floor has been higher in recent weeks, but that will change with Derrius Guice (knee) returning this Sunday to an expected big workload. AD will still have a role, but he's back to being a low-upside RB3/flex in deeper leagues.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick (hand) is expected to be activated from the Injured Reserve this week to play in Week 11 against the Vikings. Cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) is expected to go on IR in a corresponding move. Patrick came on strong at the end of last year after the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas, but that's unlikely to happen again to close the 2019 season with either inexperienced quarterback Brandon Allen or rookie Drew Lock at the helm. Denver's low-upside offense just can't really support another fantasy relevant receiver behind Courtland Sutton right now. Patrick is only a stash candidate in dynasty leagues.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (ankle, knee), wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) and kicker Robbie Gould (quadriceps) all missed practice for the second straight day this week on Thursday. It's looking like Kittle and Gould will miss their second straight game, while Sanders is doubtful after injuring his ribs on Monday night. Even in a great matchup, it'll make quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo one to fade if he's missing his top receiving targets. Rookie Deebo Samuel will have WR2 upside if both Kittle and Sanders sit out. We wouldn't recommend backup tight end Ross Dwelley or kicker Chase McLaughlin as deep league streamers.