Thu Dec 12 2:04pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, center, celebrates after intercepting a pass by Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) intercepts a deflected Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson pass intended for Willie Snead (83) during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) pumps his fist after a first down completion during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) celebrates his touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) lines up against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) looks to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/John Munson)
PITTSBURGH (AP) Sean McDermott remembers lining up across from Mike Tomlin and wanting to do everything he could to impress everyone watching, from the William & Mary coaches to his teammates to Tomlin himself. It comes with the territory when you're a freshman defensive back and the wide receiver you're facing happens to be an upperclassman and a team captain.
''We had our battles,'' said McDermott, who played with Tomlin for two seasons in 1993-94. ''I was a walk-on, he was a scholarship athlete. He was established and I was just trying to get a pair of cleats.''
A quarter century later, the stage is a much different one.
Like McDermott during his early college days, the Buffalo Bills are the upstart in search of some street cred heading into a rare prime-time visit to Pittsburgh to face Tomlin and the Steelers. A win and the Bills (9-4) clinch their second playoff berth in McDermott's three seasons. A victory by the surging Steelers (8-5) and Pittsburgh leapfrogs Buffalo for the AFC's top wild-card spot.
McDermott and Tomlin have remained in touch during their respective professional careers, with McDermott occasionally reaching out to Tomlin in search of advice. All of which is kind of funny to Tomlin, who remembers McDermott as the more focused of the two when their playing careers for the Tribe overlapped in 1993 and 1994.
''I was just trying to have fun,'' Tomlin said with a laugh.
He still is. Tomlin might be in the midst of the most remarkable coaching job of his 13-year tenure. Last week's victory over Arizona assured the Steelers of a 16th straight season season finishing .500 or better - the second-longest active streak in the league behind New England - and they've done it despite an avalanche of injuries on offense that has forced Pittsburgh to reinvent itself on the fly.
Undrafted rookie free agent and budding cult hero Devlin ''Duck'' Hodges is the quarterback. Two other rookies - Benny Snell and Kerrith Whyte - have carried the bulk of the running game since James Conner injured his right shoulder before Halloween. Third-round pick Diontae Johnson electrified while accounting for both of Pittsburgh's touchdowns against the Cardinals. Pittsburgh isn't lighting up scoreboards as it did during the ''Killer B'' era led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Yet the Steelers are still in the thick of things in mid-December, just like always.
''In the locker room, no one doubted him one bit, ever,'' Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree said. ''The outside world probably doubted him because he didn't win the Super Bowl every year. But it's the Steelers. People expect the Steelers to win the Super Bowl every year. But if he was on another team, he would be coach of the year plenty of times. But being here, expectations are a little higher. He really handled the pressure.''
Something McDermott is learning how to do in Buffalo. From the moment he and general manager Brandon Beane were hired in 2017, they've talked about building the franchise into consistent contenders. A victory over McDermott's college teammate turned mentor would be another symbolic step in the process.
''I think we've moved that needle drastically since we've got here and in the entire building,'' McDermott said. ''It's been a long time since this organization has been in a position like this, this late in the season, and we don't take it lightly.''
Hodges won over Tomlin and the rest of Pittsburgh's coaching staff with his pragmatic approach. He has thrown just two interceptions and taken just six sacks in his five appearances. Yet he's starting to evolve from caretaker to difference-maker. Hodges made a handful of clutch plays against the Cardinals, including an improvised third-down completion to Johnson that helped set up the game-sealing field goal.
Still, the Alabama native might face a new challenge against the Bills: playing in the cold. The forecast calls for snow showers in the morning with gusty winds and temperatures in the 20s at kickoff. Hodges, however, doesn't expect to be bothered. The avid hunter says trips to Saskatchewan, Canada, have left him well-prepared for whatever comes.
READY FOR PRIME TIME?
Buffalo's rise has caught the attention of the television networks. The league flexed the meeting with Pittsburgh from the early afternoon window to prime time a couple weeks ago and moved the team's visit to New England next weekend from Sunday to Saturday. The Bills haven't played on Sunday night in 12 years, when they were dismantled by the Patriots 56-10.
''That's something we haven't experienced as a team yet,'' said quarterback Josh Allen, who was 11 the last time Buffalo played under the Sunday night lights. ''It's definitely going to be a learning adjustment for us, but I really feel like the schedule is the only thing that changes.''
Trey, Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds will become the first trio of brothers to be active in the same NFL game in nearly 100 years when they run on to Heinz Field in front of a crowd that will include over 30 friends and family to commemorate the occasion.
Trey, the oldest, is a backup running back and special teams ace for Pittsburgh. Terrell, the middle brother, is the Steelers' starting safety. Tremaine, the youngest, is a second-year linebacker coming into his own for one of the NFL's top defenses. Terrell is curious to see where their parents - former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds and wife Felicia - place their allegiance.
''It's going to be funny to see how they're going to try and split it up,'' Terrell Edmunds said. ''Hopefully they pick the right team. It's a home game for us. We're playing at Heinz Field. Hopefully they pick the right jersey to wear.''
Five Hot Starts: Week 3
Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay (hamstring) was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday but is in line to make his season debut in Week 3 against the Cardinals. Golladay suffered a strained hamstring in practice on Sept. 9 and has missed the first two games of the season. Normally a pretty solid WR1 option for fantasy lineups, the Lions No. 1 wideout will carry a bit more risk with him if he makes his 2020 debut this weekend. Plus, Golladay will likely be covered by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, which won't be an easy task by any means. You're probably starting Golladay if he's active, but it might be wise to temper expectations a bit. If he's back, it'll be bad news for Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (knee) missed his second straight practice on Thursday. It's not a good sign for the 23-year-old after he missed the Week 2 game. Brown will need to get in at least a limited practice on Friday to have a shot at suiting up this Sunday against the Vikings. Have a backup plan in place if you own him. Corey Davis will be worth flex consideration if Brown misses another game, Adam Humphries would have some sleeper potential in DFS and deeper leagues, and tight end Jonnu Smith would have real TE1 appeal after going for four catches, 84 yards and two touchdowns without Brown in the lineup last weekend.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. was a popular pick to have a breakout game against the Dolphins in Week 3, but it didn't happen, as he finished with just 33 receiving yards. Shenault did record five receptions, but with his usage mainly coming in the short-yardage passing, Shenault didn't have the chance to do much with the opportunities he received. Moving forward, Shenault is a low-ceiling fantasy option until we actually see him used in a way that offers a chance for him to produce more than just a handful of yards.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Chris Thompson continued to see his role expand on Thursday night, catching five passes for 35 yards and adding three rushing yards on two carries. Thompson isn't the same receiving threat that he was in Washington, but he's becoming a larger part of things for the Jaguars. That doesn't mean you need to rush out and put him in your fantasy lineups moving forward, but it's worth keeping an eye on what Thompson does in Week 4 against the Bengals.
Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole caught four passes for 43 yards in Thursday's loss to the Miami Dolphins. It was Cole's first game this year without a touchdown. Thursday showed us what Cole's floor this year likely looks like: a handful of catches with an average of around 10 yards per reception. You'll take that in deeper leagues, but he's likely just a tad too inconsistent to be a weekly start in 12-team leagues, especially when you consider this was a matchup that felt ripe for the taking for the Jaguars passing game and they responded with their worst offensive output of the season.
With D.J. Chark Jr. (chest/back) out, Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley was a popular pick to see an expanded role on Thursday night. And he did, as he led the team in targets with eight. The problem? Drops and some poor positioning led to Conley catching just three of those passes for 34 yards. This was his chance to impress and show he deserved a larger role, and it just didn't happen. Conley's on the fringes of rosterability in season-long leagues at this point, with his value fully dependent on Chark missing more time.
Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson was the only consistent source of production in Thursday's loss to the Miami Dolphins. The undrafted rookie ran the ball 11 times, finishing with 46 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also led the team in receptions, catching six of them for 83 yards. Robinson might be the only player who can be a weekly starter on this offense right now and should be considered a fantasy RB2 going forward. Even when the Jaguars offense looks like a train wreck, Robinson manages to get his numbers.
The Jacksonville Jaguars weren't supposed to be blown out by the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, but they were, as the Dolphins took the 31-13 victory. Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II struggled all night, going 30-for-42 for 275 yards with no touchdowns while throwing an interception and narrowly avoiding throwing a second. He also added 22 yards on the ground. Minshew was a huge disappointment to fantasy managers, and now we have reason to doubt the mustached passer, who we thought was on his way to being a consistent fantasy QB2.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has his most formidable challenge of the 2020 season thus far against the Chiefs on Monday night. The third-year signal-caller has played relatively well against Kansas City throughout his career (two games), throwing for 414 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 22 carries for 113 yards and an additional score. While his previous performances against the squad doesn't guarantee a similar output, it is reasonable to assume that fantasy managers may see the same type of production once again. In case there was any doubt, keep him starting in all formats.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Drew Sample caught seven of his nine targets for 45 yards against the Browns in Week 2. Although it's unlikely that rookie quarterback Joe Burrow will throw 61 passes against the Eagles as he did against Cleveland, the sophomore will likely be in line for an uptick in production after Cincy lost C.J. Uzomah (Achilles) for the remainder of the 2020 campaign. While Sample probably can't be depended on for consistent production moving ahead, he is a suitable dart throw for those in need of a tight end in Week 3 and the remainder of the year.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd has racked up 11 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown throughout his first two games of the year. With A.J. Green back in the mix after missing some time due to injury, concerns emerged as to whether or not Boyd would be able to produce a third-straight 1,000-yard season. Nonetheless, as the 25-year-old builds a familiar rapport with rookie signal-caller Joe Burrow, the door could open for an uptick in fantasy production moving head. While Green, John Ross III, and Tee Higgins will also be looking for Burrow's attention, Boyd may emerge as the undisputed No. 1 wideout for the team from a production standpoint. As far as his Week 3 outlook against the Eagles, fantasy managers should keep him starting, regardless of format.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Joshua Kelley continues to get work as the No. 2 running back. Kelley received 52% of the snaps out of the backfield and 23 carries compared to the 16 that starter Austin Ekeler got. Kelley has now recorded 124 rushing yards on 35 attempts and has scored one touchdown in two games. He has also chipped in with a pair of catches for 49 yards. The Chargers have a favorable matchup against a Panthers Defense that has given up the sixth most points per game this season. Kelley is a solid option at the flex position for managers in Week 3.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen will look to build off of a strong Week 2 outing in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers. Allen was a beneficiary of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert drawing the last minute start over Tyrod Taylor (chest) this past Sunday. Allen capitalized by hauling in seven of his 10 targets for 96 yards. The Panthers Defense is 10th in the league in allowing the fewest receiving yards per game, but that same defense has allowed 32.5 points per game this year and that would increase the odds of Allen getting a chance for his first touchdown. Allen should be considered a low-end WR2 in Week 3.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry has been off to a hot start in 2020, but will have a tough challenge against the Panthers in Week 3. Henry has been one of the better options at a tough position and most importantly has looked healthy in two games. The Panthers have been successful in shutting down the tight end position thus far and have held Darren Waller, Jason Witten, O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski to just eight catches and 58 yards over the first two weeks. Henry should still be considered a TE1, but this will be his toughest test so far this season.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green hasn't had the most spectacular 2020 campaign but will attempt to get on track against Philadelphia in Week 3. Despite being targeted 22 times by rookie signal-caller Joe Burrow throughout the first two games of the year, the veteran has hauled in only eight of them for an unimpressive 80 yards. After having not played for nearly two years due to injury, the 32-year-old may have needed a game or two to get rid of any residual rust. While many are likely apprehensive about starting him against the Eagles due to his underwhelming play thus far, he has done enough throughout his career to earn another start or two before fantasy managers decide whether or not to pull the plug. For now, keep him starting.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler will look to continue his strong season with a matchup against the Panthers in Week 3. Ekeler has been sharing work with rookie Joshua Kelley and received 56% of the snaps in Week 2. Kelley also got a big chunk at 52% last Sunday. The backfield has worked out well so far for fantasy managers and Ekeler should be considered a low-end RB1 against a defense that is allowing 127.5 yards per game and 32.5 points. Ekeler has rushed for 177 yards on the season with five receptions for 58 yards.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will look to get things going against Philadelphia on Sunday. The 24-year-old has been a colossal disappointment through the first two games of the year, racking up an underwhelming 115 yards off of 35 attempts for a miserable 3.3 YPC. He has also hauled in just five catches for 42 yards. The former Sooner isn't a stranger to slow starts, especially since he didn't score on the ground until Week 11 of the 2019 campaign. Although Mixon hasn't done much to earn the trust of fantasy managers, there aren't many options with an upside as high as his. Keep him starting in all formats against the Eagles in Week 3.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow will look to keep things on track in Week 3 against the Eagles. The rookie has had an impressive inaugural season, throwing for 509 yards, three touchdowns, and only one interception throughout his first two games. He has also racked up 65 yards and an additional score on 15 attempts on the ground. The 23-year-old has displayed maturity and game-management skills well beyond his years. Although he may have a few rough performances over the team's next 14 games, fantasy managers, especially in deep, Superflex leagues, shouldn't hesitate to roll with Burrow against Philadelphia on Sunday as the upside is certainly there.
The Cleveland Browns Defense is a solid fantasy option for their Week 3 matchup against the Washington Football Team. Washington's offense has not been very potent through two weeks, scoring 42 total points and while allowing seven sacks and committing two turnovers. Cleveland is installed as a seven-point home favorite in a game that could be rather low-scoring. Fire up the Browns defense as a top-10 fantasy option for Week 3.
Jacksonville Jaguars LB Leon Jacobs (knee) suffered a knee injury during the Week 3 game and has been ruled out.