AP panel rates LA Rams’ offensive line as best in NFL

AP panel rates LA Rams' offensive line as best in NFL

Andrew Whitworth and Rodger Saffold have helped make the Los Angeles Rams an overwhelming pick as the team with the NFL’s best offensive line in voting by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press.

The Rams got eight first-place votes and finished with a total of 92 of a possible 100 points in balloting released Friday.

The New Orleans Saints finished second with 76 points, followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers with 73. Then there was a big drop-off, with the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs tied for fourth with 47.

The Steelers and Eagles each received one of the remaining first-place votes.

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Saints sign ex-Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Dez Bryant has found a new team, agreeing to join the already prolific offense of the surging New Orleans Saints.

The former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, who has been looking for an NFL home since becoming a free agent in April, will now have a chance to catch passes from one

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Dez Bryant has found a new team, agreeing to join the already prolific offense of the surging New Orleans Saints.

The former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, who has been looking for an NFL home since becoming a free agent in April, will now have a chance to catch passes from one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history in New Orleans’ Drew Brees.

“There is certainly a skillset that he has that is going to be beneficial. So I look forward to getting to work with him. I look forward to building a rapport with him. I look forward to getting him involved in this offense and just become a complement to all the guys that we already have,” Brees said. “He’ll be a great addition.”

The 30-year-old Bryant and the Saints agreed to contract terms on Wednesday, and it remains unclear to what extent Bryant will play when New Orleans visits Cincinnati on Sunday.

Bryant spent his first eight years in the NFL with Dallas and last season caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns, including a 50-yard scoring play, for the Cowboys.

However, his professional reputation has been marred at times by public confrontations with coaches and teammates during games and practices.

Veteran Saints tight end Ben Watson said players in New Orleans’ locker room must guard against pre-judging Bryant based on superficial observations from old television clips without knowing all the facts or how Bryant has evolved personally since.

“I don’t know Dez. I wasn’t in the locker room with him in Dallas. I don’t know all the dynamics,” Watson said. “I also don’t know what’s transpired with him personally since that situation. So the great thing about a locker room, I think, is we take guys in and we say, ‘Hey, what are you like now?'”

Seeking salary cap relief, the Cowboys released Bryant after last season with two years remaining on the receiver’s five-year, $70 million contract.

Last season was Bryant’s best since he caught 88 passes for 1,320 yards and 16 TDs in 2014, which at the time was his third consecutive season with at least 1,200 yards receiving. He signed his last Cowboys contract right after that, but has not approached that level of production since — a central reason Dallas released him in April.

“What matters is, what are we going to do for the next eight games?” said Watson, who played for the Patriots when running back Corey Dillon arrived with a reputation as a malcontent from Cincinnati in 2004 and helped New England win a Super Bowl.

Watson was still with the Patriots in 2007 when they added another perceived malcontent in receiver Randy Moss, who caught 23 of Tom Brady’s NFL-record 50 TD passes that season.

“People change over time and there are certain factors you just don’t know about. So we just move forward,” Watson said. “If somebody’s new, you have a clean slate and you embrace that person because now they’re your teammate.”

Bryant was among several receivers to work out for the Saints on Tuesday. He’d previously met with Cleveland and Baltimore.

New Orleans (7-1), which has won seven straight and leads the NFC South, didn’t necessarily need another receiver.

Led by the record-setting Brees, the Saints rank seventh on offense overall, averaging 402.2 yards per game, and seventh in passing, averaging 289.9 yards. At the same time, New Orleans is without deep threat Ted Ginn Jr., who is currently on injured reserve and won’t be eligible to return until the final few weeks of the season, if he’s ready by then.

The Saints also have yet to receive consistent production from Cameron Meredith, a former Chicago receiving leader who was acquired in free agency, but who also is trying to come back from major knee surgery that wiped out his 2017 season.

Bryant’s return to the NFL with the Saints means he could play against his former club in a few weeks. The Saints play at Dallas on Nov. 29.

“They’re getting a great receiver. He goes up and attacks the ball better than I’ve seen anyone,” Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot said. “He’s definitely a special player and I’m glad he got picked up and I’m glad something worked out for him.”

Added Cowboys coach Jason Garrett: “I’m happy he has an opportunity to go play and finish the right way, it will be a great environment for him to go out and make an impact.”

New Orleans also has two games remaining against division rival Carolina (6-2).

“The nice thing is we don’t play them until December, so we will get an opportunity to see what they are doing with him,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said shortly after hearing about Bryant’s agreement with the Saints. “He’s a good player. He’s a guy that has shown he can go up and get the football.”

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AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas and Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed.

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Titans’ Butler struggling, now a target in pass defense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler knows why he has struggled so much that opposing quarterbacks keep picking on him.

"Just got to be more detailed and more disciplined on those little things," Butler said Wednesday. "I threw that last eight weeks behind me, and I got a whole 'nother eight weeks to

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler knows why he has struggled so much that opposing quarterbacks keep picking on him.

“Just got to be more detailed and more disciplined on those little things,” Butler said Wednesday. “I threw that last eight weeks behind me, and I got a whole ‘nother eight weeks to try to make up for it.”

Butler has to do something.

The Titans have allowed the fewest touchdowns in the NFL with 14. Yet, Butler has been the weak link: He has allowed the most touchdown passes (seven) and most yards receiving (618) of any cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The Dallas Cowboys scored both of their TDs at Butler’s expense Monday night in Tennessee’s 28-14 victory.

Butler is the cornerback that New England benched during the Super Bowl last February when the Patriots lost to Philadelphia. He then signed a five-year deal worth more than $60 million with $30 million guaranteed with the Titans in March.

He started the first five games this season. Over the past three, the Titans have started Adoree Jackson alongside Logan Ryan with Butler as the third cornerback.

With Butler on the field, Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper for a 4-yard touchdown pass with his receiver creating space from Butler by running right before cutting back toward the left pylon. Butler appeared to look back at Prescott and left Allen Hurns wide open for a 23-yard TD pass.

Butler plays aggressively, which he said is hard to balance at times.

“Just got to work my way around it and just make plays and play football and do what I’ve been doing my whole career,” Butler said. “Just got to hold up.”

His next challenge comes Sunday against his former team when Tom Brady and the Patriots (7-2) visit the Titans (4-4). The Titans have been coaching Butler on his issues, and coach Mike Vrabel said Butler needs to have his eyes on the receiver in man coverage and not Brady.

“Malcolm knows that, and we’ve talked about that, and we continue to practice it, we continue to coach it and we try to show it to him,” Vrabel said. “When he does that, it’s pretty good, it’s competitive. He challenges the receivers. When you look back at the quarterback, your man has a tendency to go in another direction.”

Patriots coach Bill Belichick still has not said why he benched Butler wouldn’t discuss the cornerback specifically on Wednesday when asked what Butler is doing differently. Instead, the coach talked about the Titans’ defense, which leads the NFL in fewest points allowed per game.

“That’s our challenge as an offense is we’re playing 11 guys, we’re playing their coaching staff and the schemes they put up against us,” Belichick said. “And, right now, they’re playing better defense than anybody in the league. So, we’ll see how we do. I don’t know. It will be tough, I know that

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman said Butler is a cornerback who’s strong at playing the ball in the air. Edelman also has a lot of respect for a man he called a “heart player,” whose progress from being undrafted out of South Alabama to now is proof of the cornerback’s hard work.

“He’s gotten beat a couple of times, but that goes with the nature of his game,” Edelman said. “He’s a real aggressive player that competes, plays the ball well through your hands. He’s long, (strong) upper body. He’s got that ability to make up speed with the ball in the air while looking back. A lot of corners can’t do that. I got a lot of respect for Malcolm.”

Notes: The Titans held a walk-through practice Wednesday. RT Jack Conklin (concussion protocol) did not practice along with WR Taywan Taylor, whose left foot was in a walking boot in the locker room; LB Daren Bates (illness); and S Dane Cruikshank (knee). LB Derrick Morgan (shoulder) and WR Tajae Sharpe (right ankle) were limited.

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AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed to this report from Foxborough, Massachusetts.

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Tyrell Williams emerges as deep threat for Chargers

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have proven during the first half of the season that they have plenty of weapons on offense. One who has emerged is Tyrell Williams, who has become a deep threat during the past month.

Going into Sunday's game at Oakland, the fourth-year wide receiver has four

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers have proven during the first half of the season that they have plenty of weapons on offense. One who has emerged is Tyrell Williams, who has become a deep threat during the past month.

Going into Sunday’s game at Oakland, the fourth-year wide receiver has four touchdowns and is averaging 28.8 yards per catch over the past three games.

“He’s become a complete receiver. His receiving skills, he’s just taken them to another level,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said.

With Keenan Allen still drawing double teams, Williams continues to benefit from single coverage. Five of his receptions during the past three games have gone for 20 yards or more, including a 75-yarder against Tennessee on Oct. 21. He is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (five), second in yardage (451) and third in receptions (22) during the first half of the season.

“I think it’s really just been seeing what the defense does, when to take shots, being able to get over the top and trusting my ability to go up and get the ball or run past the defense,” said Williams, whose 20.5 yards per reception average is third in the league.

Philip Rivers also hasn’t been afraid to go to Williams on consecutive plays if the matchup is favorable. Williams caught both passes on a two-play, 89-yard drive midway through the second quarter of the Oct. 14 game at Cleveland, including a 45-yard touchdown where he got leverage over cornerback Damarious Randall.

While Williams has made his biggest impact on downfield plays, he has also shown his improvement in other areas. Late in the first quarter of last Sunday’s game at Seattle, Williams made a diving grab on a back shoulder fade for a 14-yard touchdown while being covered by Tre Flowers.

Williams said catching back shoulder passes and route running were two things that he placed added emphasis on improving this past offseason.

“My first few years, I was always just looking to get the ball down the field. I wasn’t really prepared for back-shoulders,” he said. “It was kind of a timing thing and getting used to that, but now I’ve kind of figured out how to be running fast but still be prepared for that back-shoulder stuff.”

Los Angeles (6-2) has won five straight for the first time since 2014 and will face a Raiders defense that is 24th against the pass. Williams had three receptions for 66 yards in the first meeting on Oct. 14, which the Chargers won 26-10. One of the catches was for 48 yards.

“Hopefully that stays the same and they don’t switch it up. It’s nice to get single coverage and Keenan still being able to go for 100 like he did, to be firing on all cylinders,” he said.

Notes: Defensive end Joey Bosa did not do any team drills, meaning he’s unlikely to play in his first game of the season this week. … Lynn has left open the possibility that LB Kyzir White could return later in the season. White was placed on injured reserve Saturday due to a knee injury.

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Bills’ McCoy not talking as production keeps dropping

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The more LeSean McCoy's production drops, the less the Buffalo Bills running back wants to talk about it.

"Don't worry about me, I'll be all right," McCoy said following practice Wednesday before excusing himself by saying he had to go lift weights. "I ain't ducking you, honest. I'm trying to

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — The more LeSean McCoy’s production drops, the less the Buffalo Bills running back wants to talk about it.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be all right,” McCoy said following practice Wednesday before excusing himself by saying he had to go lift weights. “I ain’t ducking you, honest. I’m trying to get myself together.”

And off he went. McCoy returned to the locker room briefly about 45 minutes later, before exiting yet again upon seeing a large group of reporters gathered at his stall.

Whatever frustrations McCoy has while enduring the worst start to a season in his 10-year career, or concerns he might have about an offense not producing at an alarmingly anemic rate, he’d prefer to keep to himself as Buffalo (2-7) prepares to play at the New York Jets (3-6) on Sunday.

McCoy hasn’t formally addressed the media since acknowledging he’s never been through as bad of a stretch as this in his life, following a 25-6 loss to New England on Oct. 29. After gaining 12 yards on his first carry against the Patriots, McCoy combined for just 1 more yard on his final 11 attempts of the game.

“I’ve had bad games, but this, the flow of the season and everything, is bad,” he said.

Things got worse Sunday, when McCoy managed 10 yards on 10 carries in a 41-9 loss to Chicago.

“He’s’ too talented for that,” fullback Patrick DiMarco said. “He’s a guy that can change a game and take over a game. He knows that. We know that. Upstairs they know that. We’ve got to get him going.”

One issue is he’s part of a patchwork offense that’s scored just 96 points, topped 300 yards net offense twice and has no continuity at quarterback . McCoy’s also had off-field distractions amid allegations of abusing his son — which he’s denied — stemming from a lawsuit filed by his ex-girlfriend.

And age could be catching up to McCoy, who turned 30 in July.

Coach Sean McDermott doesn’t buy it and blames McCoy’s struggles on the entire offense.

“There’s been some opportunities to hit some holes that weren’t hit, and there’s been some opportunities where the seam was there, and we didn’t get the movement we needed,” McDermott said. “It’s been really a combination, but we’ve got to give him more opportunities to make more big plays for us.”

A year after topping 1,100 yards rushing for the sixth time, the NFL’s 2013 rushing leader is barely on pace to break 500.

He’s managed 267 yards rushing and has yet to score in essentially seven games this season. McCoy missed one game due to a rib injury, and was limited to playing two snaps before sustaining a concussion in a 37-5 loss at Indianapolis three weeks ago.

McCoy hasn’t scored since having a touchdown rushing and receiving in a 24-17 win over Miami on Dec. 17. And he hasn’t topped 100 yards since finishing with 156 on a snow-covered field in a 13-7 overtime win against Indianapolis on Dec. 10.

The recent swoon in production spans the NFL trading deadline on Oct. 30, and amid speculation McCoy might have been dealt because he has one year left on his contract, or that he was open to leaving a rebuilding team in order to play for a contender.

General manager Brandon Beane dismissed the narratives by saying McCoy’s silence stems from mere frustration.

“I can tell you, LeSean is very happy here. He’s frustrated just like I am, just like a lot of guys on our offense,” Beane told The Associated Press. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. And he’s not happy with our whole offense. He thinks he can do better.”

And Beane has such confidence in McCoy, he sees no reason why the running back won’t be back next season.

“We don’t see a guy who’s a declining player. We see a guy who’s still playing well, and he’s one of the better players at his position in the league,” Beane said. “He is working hard. He’s trying to be the best he can. And he’s going to continue to do that. And if he wasn’t, then we probably would’ve moved on.”

NOTES: McDermott wasn’t prepared to identify which quarterback will start against the Jets. Rookie Josh Allen, who has missed three games with a sprained right throwing elbow, practiced on a limited basis, while Derek Anderson remains in the concussion protocol. … Buffalo shuffled its practice squad by signing WR Cam Phillips and CB Xavier Coleman and releasing WR Hunter Sharp. … On Tuesday, the Bills cut starting CB Phillip Gaines and promoted CB Levi Wallace from the practice squad.

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NFL’s running renaissance highlighted by Gurley’s MVP look

Ezekiel Elliott likes to give Todd Gurley credit for the NFL's running renaissance because the Los Angeles Rams star ended an unprecedented two-year drought of backs taken in the first round of the draft.

With MVP-type numbers on a team looking like a Super Bowl contender, Gurley is the best example why it's a good

Ezekiel Elliott likes to give Todd Gurley credit for the NFL’s running renaissance because the Los Angeles Rams star ended an unprecedented two-year drought of backs taken in the first round of the draft.

With MVP-type numbers on a team looking like a Super Bowl contender, Gurley is the best example why it’s a good time to be a running back not many years after the position seemed undervalued in what is still considered a passing league.

“Definitely it’s starting to re-emerge,” said Elliott, who was the NFL rushing leader as a rookie in 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys. “He was the first one in that draft and then as the years went on, more backs started to get picked and they’ve all been doing well. I wouldn’t take all the credit, but I think it’s just a new age of backs.”

And an age of young backs. Gurley went 10th overall to the Rams when they were in St. Louis, followed five picks later by Melvin Gordon to the Chargers when they were still in San Diego. Now both backs are in LA.

Elliott was the first of two straight rookies to win the rushing title, followed by Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt last season. Among the top 10 rushers this season, eight are 25 or younger.

That’s still not getting to New York Giants rookie Saquon Barkley , the No. 2 overall pick and highest back taken since Reggie Bush went second in 2006.

“I guess I kind of did start the first-round thing again,” Gurley said. “But those guys are great players. They put themselves in great positions to be where they are at today, and you see why they are having success in the NFL.”

Elliott got a top-four thing going when the Cowboys drafted the Ohio State star fourth overall in 2016. Now there have been three straight years with a back taken at least that high: Leonard Fournette fourth out of LSU the year in 2017, then Barkley from Penn State this year.

The other top 10 running back over the past three drafts also illustrates one reason runners could be in vogue: their ability as pass catchers. Carolina took Christian McCaffrey eighth overall out of Stanford last year, even with the perception he might be a third-down back.

Now McCaffrey has a respectable 111 carries for the playoff-contending Panthers while ranking fourth among running backs with 49 catches.

“A lot of times teams that had a feature back, he was considered the first- and second-down guy, and then they put in a little scatback to be the third-down receiver,” said Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane, who had a hand in drafting McCaffrey while with Carolina. “Well, now, you’re getting these guys that can do it all.”

Hunt and Barkley have made it back-to-back seasons for rookies to start their careers with six or more straight games of at least 100 scrimmage yards. Barkley’s run ended there, but now he’s at seven of his first eight games despite another miserable season for the Giants (1-7).

Hunt started his career with seven straight last year — the first rookie to do that since Kevin Jones for Detroit in 2004.

Not that multipurpose lead backs are a new thing.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever matched how Marshall Faulk produced in the passing game, and that seems like 8 million years ago,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of a back who was the 2000 NFL MVP in the middle of three straight years with at least 1,300 yards rushing and 800 receiving.

Oh, and Faulk was the second overall pick in 1994.

“I just think of these guys have been doing this stuff in this league for years,” Linehan said. “I think people probably targeted them because they’re the best with the ball in their hands.”

Gurley is well on his way to his first rushing title with 868 yards; leads the NFL with 16 touchdowns, including 12 rushing; and has a chance Sunday against Seattle to become just the fourth player with at least one TD in each of the first 10 games. The others are all Hall of Famers.

The former Georgia standout has a 162-yard lead over James Conner, the replacement for Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh when Bell decided to stay away from the Steelers rather than play under the franchise tag.

Conner’s emergence also shows the depth of the 2017 class — even with Fournette missing all but two games with a hamstring injury after rushing for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie for a team that reached the AFC championship game.

The second-year group has two of the NFL’s top three rushers in Conner and Hunt, who have almost 1,400 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns between them, while Hunt has another six receiving TDs.

The versatility of 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara helps quarterback Drew Brees in one of the NFL’s best offenses in New Orleans. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota) and Joe Mixon (Cincinnati) are expected to play leading roles in their respective run games.

And forget for a moment about the draft. Another second-year player, Matt Breida in San Francisco, is ninth in the NFL with 531 yards rushing after going undrafted. Denver rookie Phillip Lindsay is sixth at 591 after not getting selected.

“A lot of times there’s a lot of backs in the draft,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said. “You might be able to get one that’s close in the second round, but you won’t get that left tackle who’s a star in the second round or that defensive lineman or that outside ‘backer or that corner.”

There’s a different kind of renaissance with the Redskins: an “old” guy leading the way. Adrian Peterson, the 33-year-old three-time league rushing champ, has helped Washington to the NFC East lead by ranking fifth with 604 yards.

“I don’t think that position’s ever been devalued,” Gruden said. “I think you look at what Zeke’s done and you look at some of the other young running backs, Le’Veon Bell, and what type of impact they can have on your football team.

“We’re learning that right now firsthand with Adrian Peterson. Even though we didn’t draft him, obviously, but the impact these backs can have on your football as far as running game, controlling the clock and then the play-actions. It’s big time.”

It’s been big at draft time recently as well.

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AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed.

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Safety Jones says he and Dolphins are ‘on the same page’

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Reshad Jones is expressing no regrets and offering no explanation.

The Miami Dolphins safety mysteriously took himself out of last week's win over the New York Jets and watched the second half from the sideline. In the aftermath, coach Adam Gase said communication problems between defensive coordinator Matt Burke and players

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Reshad Jones is expressing no regrets and offering no explanation.

The Miami Dolphins safety mysteriously took himself out of last week’s win over the New York Jets and watched the second half from the sideline. In the aftermath, coach Adam Gase said communication problems between defensive coordinator Matt Burke and players needed to be addressed.

On Wednesday, Jones declined to say why he was a spectator for much of the game, but he may have been unhappy with the Dolphins’ plan to rotate safeties against the Jets. He came out after only 10 snaps.

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Floundering Jaguars take ‘must-win’ approach against Colts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars used their bye week to ponder the team's precarious position.

Mired in a four-game losing streak and being 0-2 in the AFC South, they came to this conclusion: They must win at division rival Indianapolis (3-5) on Sunday.

It's essentially a playoff atmosphere for Jacksonville (3-5) in early

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars used their bye week to ponder the team’s precarious position.

Mired in a four-game losing streak and being 0-2 in the AFC South, they came to this conclusion: They must win at division rival Indianapolis (3-5) on Sunday.

It’s essentially a playoff atmosphere for Jacksonville (3-5) in early November.

“This is a thousand percent a must-win,” linebacker Myles Jack said Wednesday. “No. 1, it’s a conference game that we’ve got to win. And then we’re on a four-game losing streak, so we can’t lose another game.”

NFL teams are usually reluctant to put too much emphasis on any one game, especially in the middle of the season. But for the Jaguars, who openly talked about having Super Bowl aspirations , they understand another loss or two likely would end their dwindling playoff hopes.

“We put ourselves in this situation,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “We created this small margin for error by not winning football games. We’ve put ourselves here. We know we still got a chance and we’ve got to play really well for the whole second half of the season to go where we want to go.”

The Jags are counting on running back Leonard Fournette’s return making a significant difference.

Fournette missed six of the last seven games with a strained right hamstring. He practiced in full for the first time in more than a month Monday and did the same Wednesday.

Jacksonville built its offense around Fournette and hasn’t been nearly as physical or effective without him. The team signed Jamaal Charles for a week and then traded for Carlos Hyde in hopes of filling the void, but neither move paid dividends.

Coach Doug Marrone said he lost faith in his offensive line in London, specifically in short-yardage situations, but has since stopped short of proclaiming Fournette the team’s savior.

Players, though, believe Fournette’s return could be a turning point.

“I know everybody’s fired up to have him back in the lineup,” Bortles said. “I know I’m excited to watch him run. I know guys are excited to block for him and kind of see him go. We got so used to him doing his thing last year and watching that and do everything off of that. Not having him has made us change some of the things we do, but to be able to have him back and healthy and ready to go is exciting.”

Marrone evaluated coaches, players and schemes during the bye week, but decided not to make any wholesale changes. He tweaked the schedule significantly, mostly so guys wouldn’t feel like things were the same after the break.

“It’s just kind of like the atmosphere is a little tighter,” Jack said. “Obviously, everybody is — I wouldn’t say desperate — but we just need (a victory). It’s a must-win week. As the weeks go on, it just gets worse and worse. Hopefully this is the week we change it.”

With the sense of urgency on the rise, the Jaguars have started to unravel.

There was a locker room scuffle last month following a loss to Houston, a players-only meeting the next day and then a run-in with London police over an unsettled nightclub tab.

They have eight games left to save the season. It starts with a “must-win game” against the Colts, who have won two in a row.

“I don’t think you can look at it as a whole eight games — ‘we’ve got to win eight games in a row or six out of the eight,'” Bortles said. “Obviously, playing Indy is a division game, and that’s an important one.

“It’s kind of like Doug talked about all week and all last week: you’ve got to win one to get it rolling. It’s all anyone’s really focused on right now.”

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With weak offense, Gruden’s Redskins can’t mount comebacks

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Coach Jay Gruden's Washington Redskins have established a pattern: When they get a lead, they win; when they trail, they lose.

The Redskins (5-3) are the only one of the NFL's 32 teams that both has managed to avoid a single loss after holding a lead AND also has failed to

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Coach Jay Gruden’s Washington Redskins have established a pattern: When they get a lead, they win; when they trail, they lose.

The Redskins (5-3) are the only one of the NFL’s 32 teams that both has managed to avoid a single loss after holding a lead AND also has failed to come back to win a game after trailing.

The first is good, of course. The latter could prove to be truly problematic as the season progresses if the offense overseen by Gruden and carried out by quarterback Alex Smith continues to be as ineffective as it’s been.

“I don’t think we’re probably even aware” of Washington’s inability to erase a deficit this season, Smith said Wednesday, then added: “Certainly we’ve been in a lot of games that have been back-and-forth.”

That last assertion is not accurate. Not at all.

During each of the Redskins’ eight games this season, whichever team scored first not only won — it never fell behind. Not even once.

In last week’s 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Washington was down 14-0 early, cut that to 14-7, then never got closer.

“It’s just a mindset really: You’re never out of it until the final gun. We’ve just got to keep playing. I don’t think guys played less hard because we got down. We just didn’t make enough plays to come back,” Gruden said. “That’s something we need to figure out: a way to put our players in position to, A, get the ball back when were on defense and, B, get the ball in the end zone at a decent rate on offense.”

Heading into the NFC East leaders’ game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) on Sunday, the Redskins are putting up a mere 20 points and 343.9 yards per game, which both rank 25th. No team below them in either of those two categories has a record above .500.

The Bucs, in contrast, rank No. 7 in points at 28.6, and No. 2 in yards at 446.8.

It’s the defense that’s been Tampa Bay’s downfall while losing five of its past six games — worst in the league in points, allowing an average of 34.4, and third-worst in passing yardage, at 307.1.

An inability to mount a comeback is typically the mark of a bad club.

Currently, the only teams other than Washington without an erase-a-deficit victory this season are the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars, who are both 3-5.

Over the previous four complete seasons, the only two teams to go an entire campaign without even one such win were the 2017 Cleveland Browns of 0-16 infamy and the 2017 New York Giants, who were 3-13.

During Gruden’s 4½ years in charge of Washington, it owns 15 victories in games in which it trailed, which is just the 27th-best total in the NFL. The teams with fewer? The Browns (9), Jaguars (10), Giants (13), Chicago Bears (13) and Indianapolis Colts (14).

“You can probably count on one hand how many comeback wins we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Gruden said, exaggerating a bit. “That’s something that we have got to do a better job of.”

Notes: At the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to the media, two of the three offensive linemen signed off the street Monday lined up with the starting unit, with Jon Cooper at left guard and Austin Howard at right tackle. Morgan Moses, the regular RT, worked by himself on a separate field, wearing a big brace on the right knee he injured against Atlanta, although he could be ready to play instead of Howard by Sunday. … The other linemen were Ty Nsekhe at LT, Chase Roullier at C, Tony Bergstrom at RG.

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Chiefs becoming must-watch show with Mahomes under center

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There are times that Dolphins coach Adam Gase hears about a cool play that happened somewhere else in the NFL, or something unique that a rival might be doing, and he makes a note to himself to check it out once his day-to-day work is complete.

Then there are times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There are times that Dolphins coach Adam Gase hears about a cool play that happened somewhere else in the NFL, or something unique that a rival might be doing, and he makes a note to himself to check it out once his day-to-day work is complete.

Then there are times he flips on the TV for pure entertainment.

“Sometimes,” Gase said, “when you watch Kansas City, you sit back and watch because it just seems like they’re out there playing 7-on-7. It’s impressive to watch.”

Patrick Mahomes and Co. has certainly captured the attention of the league.

The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring at more than 36 points per game. They have its reigning rushing champion in Kareem Hunt, the league’s fastest wide receiver in Tyreek Hill, the most versatile tight end in Travis Kelce and plenty of depth behind all of them.

Then there’s Mahomes, who can break Andrew Luck’s single-season NFL record with his ninth straight 300-yard passing game Sunday against Arizona. The first-year starter has thrown 29 touchdown passes, two shy of Len Dawson’s 54-year-old franchise record, and he leads the league in most meaningful statistical categories: yards, TD passes, touchdown-to-interception ratio.

“He’s a baller, like I’ve been saying,” said Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson, who spent last season with the Chiefs. “He thinks he can make every throw. He has a great group of guys around him to do good things with the football. I’m not surprised at all.”

Wilson has reason to watch Kansas City, considering he has so many friends still on the roster. But it still speaks volumes that in the midst of his own preparation he finds time to tune in.

Then again, it’s hard for his coach to complain when Gase is doing the same thing.

Alex Smith also has plenty of friends on the Chiefs, including Mahomes, who stepped into his job when Kansas City traded him to the Redskins last offseason. The veteran Smith helped to mentor the Texas Tech standout when he was a wide-eyed rookie, and he takes pride in the young quarterback’s success.

When the Chiefs rallied in the fourth quarter for a Monday night win at Denver earlier in the season, and Mahomes took on a starring role in primetime, Smith was watching from his home near Washington, D.C.

“I mean, record-setting start for them, for him, for the offense — lighting the world on fire right now,” Smith said. “Fun to watch, obviously a ton of friends on that team, including Pat, and to see what they are doing is crazy. They are on fire right now.”

That game against Denver was the most-watched Monday night game that didn’t involve the Cowboys since Week 16 of the 2016 season. When the Chiefs played the Patriots on Sunday night a few weeks ago, it earned a 12.3 rating and 21.1 million viewers for NBC, an increase of 31 percent from last year.

In the Kansas City market, about half the TVs are tuned into the Chiefs whenever they are playing.

“It’s been a lot of fun, frankly, for me and I think everybody who is a Chiefs fan to see all the interest in the Chiefs,” team owner Clark Hunt said.

“That’s a credit to the success we’ve had. That interest is not only here locally but it’s really nationally. It seems like everybody who went to Texas Tech is all of a sudden now a Chiefs fan, which is great.

“You mentioned the TV ratings — the ratings were among the highest in a number of years for that Patriots game on Sunday night. Our local ratings are also higher than they’ve been in many, many years,” Hunt added. “Our local ratings are always very good, but clearly Andy (Reid), Patrick and the offense and the victories that we’re getting has taken that to a higher level.”

The Chiefs will get plenty of more exposure this season, too.

After facing the lowly Cardinals on Sunday, the Chiefs head to Mexico City to face the high-flying Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. They also have a Thursday night showdown with the surging Los Angeles Chargers and a Sunday night trip to Seattle two days before Christmas.

Regardless of whether anyone tunes in, Mahomes plans to keep the party going.

“Just being able to learn every day from Coach Reid, be able to get out here with all these guys, we literally have fun every single day,” he said. “We love coming to work and getting to just play this game that we’ve loved since we were little kids and winning a lot of games.”

Notes: Safety Eric Berry (heel), LB Anthony Hitchens (ribs), C Mitch Morse (concussion), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and OL Cam Erving (illness) did not practice Wednesday. … FS Daniel Sorensen could make his season debut Sunday. He was activated from IR this week after breaking his leg in training camp.

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AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich and Steven Wine contributed to this report.

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Jets’ Darnold has injured foot, could miss game vs. Bills

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has a boot on his right foot and is not practicing, leaving his status for the team's game Sunday against Buffalo in doubt.

Darnold was injured during the Jets' 13-6 loss at Miami last Sunday but finished the game. He said Monday that

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has a boot on his right foot and is not practicing, leaving his status for the team’s game Sunday against Buffalo in doubt.

Darnold was injured during the Jets’ 13-6 loss at Miami last Sunday but finished the game. He said Monday that he felt fine other than some bumps and bruises.

Coach Todd Bowles is scheduled to meet with the media after practice later Wednesday.

If Darnold is unable to start, 39-year-old backup Josh McCown would take his place. McCown was the starter last season but hasn’t taken a snap this year.

Darnold has struggled during the Jets’ three-game losing streak, and he leads the NFL with 14 interceptions.

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Panthers and Steelers test their mettle in prime time

Two teams headed for January football, the Panthers and Steelers, get to test their mettle on Thursday night. It should be a good one in prime time.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who's 1-1 in Super Bowls, isn't admitting any postseason thoughts are in the minds of his players or himself. But he has to like

Two teams headed for January football, the Panthers and Steelers, get to test their mettle on Thursday night. It should be a good one in prime time.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who’s 1-1 in Super Bowls, isn’t admitting any postseason thoughts are in the minds of his players or himself. But he has to like how the Steelers have performed in four straight victories.

“I’m not trying to look for specific areas, I just try to challenge these guys to get better every day,” Tomlin says.

“That’s what we’re focused on. I think that if we do that daily that will give us a chance to produce consistent performances that are on the rise. Not only in the second quarter (of the season) but as we continue through this journey.”

That journey has Carolina (6-2), ranked fifth in the AP Pro32, at No. 7 Pittsburgh. The Steelers (5-2-1) are a 5½-point favorite in the week’s best matchup.

The Panthers have won three straight and five of six. They are particularly strong running the ball, though Pittsburgh is stingy in that area on defense.

Carolina trails New Orleans by one game in the NFC South and leads the wild-card chase. Pittsburgh has a half-game lead in the AFC North over Cincinnati.

This could come down to the final play, which would be a treat to begin Week 10.

STEELERS, 33-31

KNOCKOUT POOL: Pro Picks is on a roll, and the Bears kept it going. This time, we’ll buy into underachieving (or under skilled perhaps) GREEN BAY.

No. 20 Dallas (plus 6 1-2) at No. 11 Philadelphia

Yes, it’s a bitter-rivalry game. But Eagles come off a bye, Cowboys off a poor showing.

BEST BET: EAGLES, 27-16

No. 1 New Orleans (minus 4 1-2) at No. 12 Cincinnati

With Eagles up next, Saints could stumble here. They won’t.

SAINTS, 31-23

No. 13 Seattle (plus 10) at No. 4 Los Angeles Rams

That’s a lot of points for a game that many Seahawks fans will attend.

RAMS, 30-23

No. 29 Arizona (plus 16 1-2) at No. 2 (tie) Kansas City

Pro Picks rarely is afraid to lay so many points. So …

CHIEFS 40, CARDINALS 22

No. 22 Detroit (plus 6 1-2) at No. 10 Chicago

First of two meetings in less than three weeks.

BEARS, 22-14

No. 15 Washington (plus 3) at No. 25 Tampa Bay

Redskins’ record could plummet with all those O-line injuries.

BUCCANEERS, 33-31

No. 2 (tie) New England (minus 6 1-2) at No. 17 Tennessee

Brady has Patriots in their usual fine November form.

PATRIOTS, 31-19

No. 14 Atlanta (minus 4) at No. 27 Cleveland

Are the injury-ravaged Falcons in midst of a turnaround?

FALCONS, 26-20

No. 6 Los Angeles Chargers (minus 10) at No. 32 Oakland

We ask once again: Have Raiders given up?

CHARGERS, 33-16

No. 19 Miami (plus 10) at No. 16 Green Bay

Dolphins have better record, Packers have much better team.

PACKERS, 34-20

No. 21 Jacksonville (plus 3) at No. 23 Indianapolis

Could there be a worse matchup this weekend? Well, see below.

JAGUARS, 21-20

No. 31 Buffalo (plus 7) at No. 26 New York Jets

Could there be a worse matchup? Well, see Monday night.

JETS, 8-5

No. 30 New York Giants (plus 3 1-2) at No. 28 San Francisco, Monday night

The worst matchup. And in prime time.

UPSET SPECIAL: GIANTS, 19-13

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2018 RECORD:

Last Week: Against spread (9-4). Straight up (9-4)

Season Totals: Against spread (65-62-4). Straight up: (90-42-2)

Best Bet: 3-6 against spread, 7-2 straight up

Upset special: 6-3 against spread, 5-3-1 straight up

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FANTASY PLAYS: Finding low-owned players in daily leagues

The Rams and Saints again showed the value of stacking lineups in daily fantasy football contests as they erupted Sunday for 80 total points and more than 280 fantasy points in point-per-reception leagues.

Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp all cracked the 20-point threshold and a few savvy

The Rams and Saints again showed the value of stacking lineups in daily fantasy football contests as they erupted Sunday for 80 total points and more than 280 fantasy points in point-per-reception leagues.

Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp all cracked the 20-point threshold and a few savvy owners were able to fit in combinations of these players into their lineups.

With a high anticipated game total a lot of the ownership went to Todd Gurley (26 percent owned) and Goff (17 percent owned) leaving much lower ownership on Brees (6 percent owned) in daily tournaments. With a back and forth game, it ended up being Brees stacked with Thomas and Kamara vaulting DFS players up the leaderboards.

Game stacking is important but equally important is trying to find ways to identify low ownership in games with high expected totals, allowing you to separate yourself from the field. Brees out-produced Goff at the same price and lower ownership, which provided the separation necessary to win. This week, there are a few spots where high potential upside can be found at reduced ownership or pricing.

CHIEFS-CARDINALS

Kansas City has the highest implied team total on the slate with 33 points expected at home against the Arizona Cardinals. The Chiefs are averaging 36.3 points per game on the season and rank within the top 5 in the NFL in both total offense and passing yards per game. Patrick Mahomes has carried only modest ownership (10 percent) in DFS contests and has been producing the most lately when paired with RB Kareem Hunt and TE Travis Kelce, who now has double digit fantasy points in every game since Week 1.

With so much emphasis in the fantasy community on recent results, fantasy owners are likely to overlook Tyreek Hill, who was just 5 percent owned in DFS contests last week compared to 30 percent ownership on Hunt and 17 percent on Kelce. DailyRoto’s DFS ownership projections expect that to continue and it leaves Hill as a contrarian tournament target who has double digit fantasy performances in eight of nine weeks this season and two 40-plus point games. Pairing up Mahomes with Hill offers high upside and lower ownership this week.

SAINTS-BENGALS

New Orleans also has a high team total this week and Brees, Thomas and Kamara will be popular plays after going off in the last game. While their projections will be strong again this week, DailyRoto projections suggest that pivoting to RB Mark Ingram can save salary and be a contrarian tournament target. Ingram’s $6,800 FanDuel price and $4,500 DraftKings price are among the lowest they have been over the last four seasons.

Since his return in Week 5, Ingram has still played on roughly 50 percent of the Saints offensive snaps, receiving an average of 12.5 carries and 2.5 targets per game. This role is comparable to his role down the stretch in the 2017 offense that saw Ingram put up 15-plus fantasy points in five separate games from Week 10 through the end of the regular season.

The biggest concern for Ingram isn’t Kamara but perhaps Taysom Hill’s role in the red zone, where he has seen nine opportunities and can eat into some of Ingram’s goal line work. Despite this, Ingram projects as a solid RB value this week and one that should be low owned. In additional to providing leverage against popular Saints players, Ingram also is the same price as RB Dion Lewis, who DailyRoto projects as one of the highest owned players on the slate.

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AP source: Saints sign ex-Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — A person familiar with the situation says free-agent Dez Bryant and the Saints have agreed on contract terms that will add the former Dallas Cowboys star to one of the NFL's top offenses in New Orleans.

The person spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the roster

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — A person familiar with the situation says free-agent Dez Bryant and the Saints have agreed on contract terms that will add the former Dallas Cowboys star to one of the NFL’s top offenses in New Orleans.

The person spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because the roster move has not been announced.

The 30-year-old Bryant spent his first eight years in the NFL with Dallas and last season caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns, including a 50-yard scoring play, for the Cowboys.

However, his professional reputation has been marred at times by public confrontations with coaches and teammates during games and practices.

Seeking salary cap relief, the Cowboys released Bryant after last season with two years remaining on the receiver’s five-year, $70 million contract.

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Surging Newton, Panthers face red-hot Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Cam Newton spent a portion of the summer studying Ben Roethlisberger and working out alongside Antonio Brown, something the Carolina Panthers quarterback did out of a mix of curiosity and respect.

Newton found himself enamored of Roethlisberger's footwork — "The play is never over for Big Ben" — and Brown's relentlessness.

"He's

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Cam Newton spent a portion of the summer studying Ben Roethlisberger and working out alongside Antonio Brown, something the Carolina Panthers quarterback did out of a mix of curiosity and respect.

Newton found himself enamored of Roethlisberger’s footwork — “The play is never over for Big Ben” — and Brown’s relentlessness.

“He’s literally like a nocturnal beast,” Newton said of Brown. “I thought I was bad. … We had late workouts. I’m talking like 10 p.m-.ish. It was like our second or third one of the day. Whenever he feels the urge to work, he works and I respect it.”

Newton will get an up-close look at Roethlisberger, Brown and the rest of the Steelers (5-2-1) when the Panthers (6-2) make a rare trip to Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s the workouts with Brown. Maybe it’s the rapport he’s developed with offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Maybe it’s the emergence of running back Christian McCaffrey. Whatever it is, Newton is in the midst of his finest season since winning league MVP in 2015.

Maybe that’s why Roethlisberger just laughed when asked if there’s any wisdom he might pass along to Newton.

“I do not need to give him advice,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s Superman.”

A Man of Steel who could be a handful for a resilient Pittsburgh defense. The Steelers were a hot mess during the first month of the season but have figured out things during their four-game winning streak. Pittsburgh is allowing just 275.5 yards per game over the last month. That’s from a combination of the rapid cohesion of a revamped secondary and spending less time on the field thanks to an offense starting to hog the ball behind second-year running back James Conner.

Still, the Panthers present their own unique challenge. Carolina might be the NFL’s closest approximation to a throwback. The Panthers have run for at least 121 yards in seven of eight games, with Newton serving as the catalyst. At 29 he’s on pace for a career high in rushing attempts, a mixture of Turner’s creative play calling and Newton’s pragmatic approach to when he tucks the ball and takes off. While he’s still happy to deliver a shot now and then, he’s more likely to slide before getting hit.

Pittsburgh, fourth in the league in sacks, is determined to make sure Newton doesn’t get loose.

“There’s no way he can duck 10 bullets,” Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward said. “If everybody is shooting their shot, someone is bound to hit. That’s got to be group effort. … It’s a heck of a test.”

Some things to watch for as Pittsburgh looks to extend its hot streak while Carolina searches for the franchise’s first win in the Steel City:

LE’VEON WHO?

Wayward Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is nearing the end of his months-long standoff with the club. He has until Nov. 13 to report and sign his one-year franchise tender if he wants to make sure he accrues the service time necessary to hit the open market next spring. After some initial angst, Bell’s teammates have moved on. Conner is thriving in Bell’s absence. He’s second in the league in total yards and is the first player in team history to have 10 total touchdowns through eight games.

“James Conner has been rolling and bulldozing people,” Brown said.

GIMME THAT

Carolina is winning the turnover battle. The Panthers have been even or positive in turnovers in seven of eight games and are 6-1 in those games. They are 5-0 when winning the turnover battle outright.

Carolina is fourth in the league in turnover differential with a plus-8, sixth in points off turnovers (51), seventh in total takeaways (15), and tied for fourth in interceptions (11) behind speedy rookie cornerback Donte Jackson, who has four picks.

Since 2015, Carolina leads the NFL with 102 takeaways and is second with 62 interceptions.

FEISTY FEILER

Pittsburgh right tackle Matt Feiler will likely make his third straight start in place of injured Marcus Gilbert. An undrafted free agent, Feiler is thriving while opening up holes for Conner and helping keep Roethlisberger clean. Roethlisberger has been sacked twice during Pittsburgh’s winning streak. Feiler’s success isn’t exactly unprecedented. Three members of Pittsburgh’s current starting offensive line — Feiler, left guard Ramon Foster and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva — all went undrafted.

“It’s how we’re built,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s what we expect, and (Feiler) is just the latest example of a guy that is meeting that expectation like we talked about. He’s capable, so it’s understandable to expect those types of performances from him.”

STOPPING ADDISON

Future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers may have more name power, but Mario Addison has been the more productive defensive end for Carolina. Addison leads the team with 7 ½ sacks, including a sack trifecta last week against Tampa Bay.

Over the past 38 games, Addison has 28 sacks.

“I’m a pretty strong guy,” said the 6-foor-3, 260-pound Addison. “People underestimate me because I look kind of small, but I pack a punch. By the time they miss and my hands get on the inside of them, I’m running them back and they’re like ‘Dang, this guy’s stronger than I thought.'”

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AP Sports Writer Steve Reed contributed to this report.

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NFL Week 10: Over and Under Best Bets

This NFL season, with sports betting expected to be a more common and accepted practice, we're making a point to look beyond point spreads and analyze often-neglected totals. As part of that approach, we're offering up our favorite bet over and favorite under each week. 

Over and Under Best Bets

Over of

This NFL season, with sports betting expected to be a more common and accepted practice, we’re making a point to look beyond point spreads and analyze often-neglected totals. As part of that approach, we’re offering up our favorite bet over and favorite under each week. 

Over and Under Best Bets

Over of the week: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams

Total: 51.5

In their last meeting, the Seahawks and Rams combined for 64 points. Seattle has since scored 55 points in two road games, while Los Angeles is coming off a 45-35 loss to the New Orleans Saints. 

These teams should push the 60-point plateau when they meet Sunday in L.A.

Sure, both teams still have a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is hungry and should pounce on a still-vulnerable defense when backed into somewhat of a corner in Week 10. Meanwhile, the Rams have scored at least 29 points in eight of their nine games this season. 

Seattle is beatable on the ground. The Rams have Todd Gurley. L.A. is struggling in pass defense. Seattle has Wilson. It’s simply a bad matchup for those riding the under. 

Predicted score: Rams 33, Seahawks 30

Under of the week: Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders

Total: 50.5

The Raiders have allowed 76 points to the Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers in the last two weeks, which might explain why this total is above 50. But I’d expect somewhat of a correction with Oakland hosting a more familiar opponent Sunday. 

The Chargers managed “just” 26 points in a home victory over the Raiders earlier this season. They may be a little more tired for this road matchup after a big Week 10 victory in Seattle, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they scored 26 or fewer again here. 

But even if that doesn’t happen, is there any reason to think the Raiders can suddenly score points? They’ve been held to 10 or fewer in three of their last four games, and this Los Angeles defense is a lot stronger than the Colts D on which they scored 28 a couple weeks ago. 

This might not even hit 40, let alone 50. 

Predicted score: Chargers 26, Raiders 13

Good luck, we’re all counting on you. 

Previous results
Last week: 2-0
2018 season: 12-6

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL since 2007 and is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America, despite the fact he actually lives in Canada. The Toronto-based sports journalist’s work can also be seen at Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Awful Announcing and The Guardian. He can be found on Twitter @brad_gagnon

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Jerry Jones: Cowboys ‘not in anything’ without improved play

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Even if the Dallas Cowboys were better than 3-5, Jerry Jones says he would have plenty of cause for concern based on what he saw in a damaging loss to Tennessee.

And the normally upbeat owner and general manager doesn't care to discuss the NFC East standings, even though the Cowboys

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Even if the Dallas Cowboys were better than 3-5, Jerry Jones says he would have plenty of cause for concern based on what he saw in a damaging loss to Tennessee.

And the normally upbeat owner and general manager doesn’t care to discuss the NFC East standings, even though the Cowboys can pull even with defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia by getting their first road win of the season at the Eagles on Sunday.

“We’re not in anything if we don’t play better,” Jones said after a 28-14 loss to the Titans that looked like it could be a blowout win for Dallas midway through the first quarter. “What I recognize is not so much the three wins and five losses but the way we lost this game and the way we played in the game.

“We’ve got to play better. Our record could be better than it is right now, and we’d still be in trouble.”

The Cowboys traded for a new No. 1 receiver in Amari Cooper and fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander during a surprisingly busy open week. The changes looked good early, with Cooper scoring the first Dallas touchdown and star running back Ezekiel Elliott having 75 yards from scrimmage in the first quarter.

Everything changed with Dak Prescott’s throw to Cooper in double coverage in the end zone with a 7-0 lead. Kevin Byard intercepted, Tennessee drove 80 yards in 15 plays for the tie and the Titans never trailed again.

Now the Cowboys are looking at a second straight year of missing the playoffs since the remarkable rookie seasons for Prescott and Elliott, who powered Dallas to an NFC-best 13 wins before a divisional round loss to Green Bay.

Since a franchise-record 11-game winning streak for an 11-1 record two years ago, the Cowboys are 14-15, including the loss to the Packers.

Jones was peppered with questions about Garrett’s job security after the loss to the Titans, at one point flatly saying he wouldn’t fire him during the season. Anything less than a 6-2 finish would leave Garrett with three winning seasons, and two playoff appearances, in eight full seasons.

“I don’t know how to articulate my patience or lack thereof, and I’m not trying to be smart,” Jones said. “I just don’t have an assessment of my patience right now.”

Prescott committed his first two turnovers at home this season in Dallas’ first loss at AT&T Stadium. The interception was the game-changer. A fumble while trying to churn for yardage on a sack at his 40-yard line set up Tennessee’s go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

While it’s realistic to expect Prescott and Cooper to need time to work together and an offensive line to adjust to an in-season coaching change, the Cowboys are running out of it.

“As coach Garrett said, we’ve got a decision to make,” said Prescott, who threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns. “We’ve got to buckle down, lock arms and be together more than ever. Not let anything break us apart.”

Garrett revealed a possible crack Tuesday. A few weeks after strongly backing Scott Linehan when asked if he still had faith in his offensive coordinator, Garrett had a different tone when asked if he envisioned a scenario where he took over play-calling.

“Right now, Scott Linehan is going to call the plays on offense,” Garrett, who called plays early in his tenure as head coach, said after the Cowboys had just 109 yards total offense in a scoreless second half against the Titans.

If the Cowboys lose to the Eagles, not much else will matter, other than the question of Garrett’s future beyond this season. Jones declined several chances to address that issue.

“I think we realize we have eight games to go, we’ve got a long way to go in this season,” Jones said. “We want to play better than we played tonight, so I certainly think each individual and coach and front office person is going to have to do better, including me.”

NOTES: Garrett said rookie LG Connor Williams came out of the Titans game with a knee injury that could require arthroscopic surgery. Any possible line shuffling would appear to be confined to Williams’ spot and center, where Joe Looney has filled in all season with four-time Pro Bowler Travis Frederick battling a nerve disorder. The likely candidate to join the group is backup center Adam Redmond, who has done some work in practice at guard in practice. … Garrett indicated LB Sean Lee will have another extended absence after re-injuring a hamstring. Lee missed three games earlier this year with the same injury.

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Roethlisberger skips practice, but expects to face Panthers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat out practice on Tuesday to give his broken left index finger a rest but he is expected to play on Thursday night when Carolina visits Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger said the finger was "fine" after he threw the ball 47 times in last Sunday's victory over Baltimore.

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat out practice on Tuesday to give his broken left index finger a rest but he is expected to play on Thursday night when Carolina visits Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger said the finger was “fine” after he threw the ball 47 times in last Sunday’s victory over Baltimore.

He did leave the game briefly in the third quarter after getting the wind knocked out of him, but he returned after missing just one snap.

The 36-year-old is on pace to top 5,000 yards passing for the first time in his career. He came close in 2014 when he tied Drew Brees for the league lead with 4,952. Roethlisberger said reaching the 5,000-yard plateau “is still a pretty big deal” but he is keeping his focus on the team.

The Steelers (5-2-1) have ripped off four straight wins to climb into first in the AFC North. The short week means they won’t have much time to prepare for the surging Panthers (6-2), which might not be a bad thing. Roethlisberger expects to rely a little more heavily on the no-huddle offense, a setup in which he thrives.

“We’ve been doing it for a while,” Roethlisberger said. “We know it. We know it pretty well. We did it really well in Baltimore, really well, and just being able to pick up the pace and the tempo.”

The Steelers often turn to the no-huddle in an effort to snap them out of a funk early in games, but Roethlisberger isn’t using it as a method of trying to get the ball downfield.

While he’s on track to set a career high in yards, his production has dipped a bit during Pittsburgh’s winning streak. He’s gone over 300 yards just once in Pittsburgh’s past five games after going over 330 yards in each of the first three weeks.

An improved defense has helped. Roethlisberger lit up scoreboards early because the Steelers were trying to keep up with opponents who had little trouble getting to the end zone.

That’s not happening much anymore. Now that Roethlisberger isn’t tasked with trying to play catch up, the Steelers have taken a more balanced approach.

Second-year running back James Conner is second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and Roethlisberger is content to keep throwing the ball underneath to move the chains and keep Pittsburgh’s defense off the field. And just like that, Pittsburgh’s sluggish 1-2-1 start has become a distant memory.

“There was no panic in this room early in the season,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s why we got a good chuckle out of (the media) panicking and the outside world panicking, but for us it was just a matter of playing the next week.”

NOTES: Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) did not practice and is unlikely to play, meaning Matt Feiler will make his third straight start. … NT Daniel McCullers (ankle) also did not practice. … WR Antonio Brown (coach’s decision) and WR Ryan Switzer (ankle) were limited. … WR James Washington (knee) was a full participant.

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Titans now face Patriots on short week after snapping skid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's three-game skid is over, and the Titans are back to .500 after a big road victory.

But before they can catch their breath, the Titans have a short week before they host the surging New England Patriots in what will be Tennessee's lone home game in November.

Coach Mike Vrabel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s three-game skid is over, and the Titans are back to .500 after a big road victory.

But before they can catch their breath, the Titans have a short week before they host the surging New England Patriots in what will be Tennessee’s lone home game in November.

Coach Mike Vrabel understands the challenge — and opportunity — the Titans have going against his old coach, Bill Belichick.

“We’ve just gotten ourselves to the surface where there’s a little bit of air, a little bit of water,” Vrabel said Tuesday. “You’re kind of taking a little bit of both in and you can’t survive there for long. But you can survive there for a few minutes. And so we got to make the next decision to see if we can get our heads completely above water.”

The Titans (4-4) still trail the Houston Texans (6-3) inside the AFC South, but their 28-14 victory in Dallas on Monday night put Tennessee into the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC for now. The Titans shook off a horrific start with two fumbles by Marcus Mariota on their first two drives to turn score a season-high in points after managing just 31 points all of October.

Vrabel credited the Titans with shaking off that start. Tennessee turned two turnovers into 14 points, came up with five sacks and held Ezekiel Elliott to just 61 yards rushing.

Offensively, the young Titans showed serious signs of progress in offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s scheme.

They converted 11 of 14 attempts on third down for a 78.6 percent rate that was the best in the NFL this season and tied for the league’s highest in the past three years. The Titans tied up the game at 7-7 with the franchise’s longest drive since Dec. 9, 2012, using up 8 minutes, 55 seconds.

Tennessee scored touchdowns on four of five trips inside the Dallas 20 against a Cowboys defense that came in as the NFL’s second stingiest in the red zone. Mariota also completed passes to nine different receivers and had a season-high 119.9 passer rating throwing for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 32 more yards and another score.

“I hope it’s that guys are understanding where they fit, what they need to do to get open and understand when they get open, Marcus is going to try to get them the ball,” Vrabel said of the Titans’ offense.

Left tackle Taylor Lewan, who spoke about the Titans deserving respect after a 3-1 start, said he is just relieved to win a game and get back to .500.

“I’ll definitely keep my (expletive) mouth shut from now on about that kind of stuff,” Lewan said. “Daddy learned his lesson.”

Cornerback Logan Ryan said the Titans knew they were in a must-win situation in Dallas and that one win in the NFL can turn things around.

“It was a huge win,” Ryan said after the game. “Now we know we’ve got a tough test next week, and we will be ready.”

The Titans host the Patriots (7-2) on Sunday before heading back on the road to Indianapolis and Houston. The Patriots routed Tennessee 35-14 in an AFC divisional game last January. Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk fired Mike Mularkey after that game and chose Vrabel to take this franchise further.

“We have to just get our players as ready as we can for the game,” Vrabel said.

Notes: Vrabel made it clear he didn’t like safety Kevin Byard celebrating his interception by running to the star at midfield and posing like Terrell Owens 18 years ago. The coach said he plans to talk again with the safety and the Titans on Wednesday, and Vrabel said he wants them to celebrate with each other.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Mullens announces he’s 49ers’ starting QB

 

 

Nick Mullens will start for the San Francisco 49ers when they host the New York Giants on Monday night.

 

That's according to Mullens, who announced the news himself to reporters Tuesday after practice. He said coach Kyle Shanahan told him he was the starter, and Mullens took the reps with the first

 

 

Nick Mullens will start for the San Francisco 49ers when they host the New York Giants on Monday night.

 

That’s according to Mullens, who announced the news himself to reporters Tuesday after practice. He said coach Kyle Shanahan told him he was the starter, and Mullens took the reps with the first team.

 

Mullens made his NFL debut last Thursday and led the 49ers (2-7) to a 34-3 win over the Oakland Raiders. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 262 with three touchdowns, and he didn’t turn the ball over.

 

The 23-year-old product of Southern Miss started last week when C.J. Beathard — himself a substitute for starter Jimmy Garoppolo, who is out for the season — couldn’t grip the ball because of an injury to his throwing hand.

 

Beathard, taken by the 49ers in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, was 0-5 as a starter this season and is 1-9 for his career.

 

–Field Level Media

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Saints on top of latest Pro32 poll; KC, Pats tied for 2nd

NEW YORK (AP) — Who Dat on top of the latest AP Pro32 rankings?

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints knocked off the Los Angeles Rams 45-35 on Sunday, handing them their first loss of the season.

The Saints jumped three spots to No. 1 in the latest AP Pro32 poll .

NEW YORK (AP) — Who Dat on top of the latest AP Pro32 rankings?

Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints knocked off the Los Angeles Rams 45-35 on Sunday, handing them their first loss of the season.

The Saints jumped three spots to No. 1 in the latest AP Pro32 poll . They received seven of 12 first-place votes and 377 points in balloting Tuesday by media members who regularly cover the NFL.

“Beat the Rams big time,” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki said.

The Kansas City Chiefs and the surging New England Patriots are tied for No. 2. The Patriots, who have won six in a row, got two first-place votes and the Chiefs received the remaining three, giving both teams 364 points.

“Andy Reid has been a terrific coach for so many years, but Patrick Mahomes’ brilliance allows Reid’s true play-calling talents shine through like never before,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said of the Chiefs.

The Rams fell from the top spot to No. 4. They will look to get back to their winning ways when they host NFC West rival Seattle on Sunday.

“Although they couldn’t stop Drew Brees when it counted, the Rams are still in very good shape to secure an NFC playoff bye,” said Ira Kaufman of Fox 13 in Tampa, Florida.

The Carolina Panthers and the LA Chargers followed at No. 5 and No. 6. The teams flipped spots from the previous poll.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who open Week 10 when they host the Panthers on Thursday night, remained at No. 7.

The Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans each moved up a spot to No. 8 and No. 9 as they enter their bye weeks. The Texans have won six in a row after a 0-3 start.

And the Chicago Bears climbed five spots to round out the top 10 after their 41-9 rout of the woeful Buffalo Bills.

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