FANTASY PLAYS: Burning fantasy questions for Week 3

A look at some key fantasy questions going into Week 3:

ARE THE CARDINALS REALLY THIS BAD? CAN YOU STILL START DAVID JOHNSON?

The Cardinals are 0-2. They’ve scored just 6 points and given up the sixth most points in football through the first two games. Their passing attack has suffered through the awful play of quarterback Sam Bradford. He’s averaging just 4 yards per pass attempt and will likely be replaced by rookie Josh Rosen soon. David Johnson was a top 3 overall pick in point-per-reception scoring leagues but he’s 27th in PPR scoring.

With the Cards playing from behind for virtually the entire season, Johnson has been limited to just 22 rushing attempts, 26th most in the NFL. Arizona also hasn’t been taking advantage of Johnson’s pass-catching skills. He was targeted just twice last week. Head coach Steve Wilks claims he’ll line up out of the slot on occasion moving forward, which should help Johnson’s fantasy production.

Based on your investment in his draft slot, Johnson remains a must-start for now. However, if you try trading him based 2018 production you’ll be dealing him based on extremely low fantasy value. It still wouldn’t hurt to put his name on your league’s trading block. Someone might surprise you and offer a trade based on his preseason value.

SHOULD YOU START BUCCANEERS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK THIS WEEK?

Fitzpatrick leads all QBs in passing yards and all position players in total fantasy points. He faces a Steelers team that is having issues playing on the road, and also gave up six TDs to Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes last week. Fitzpatrick has gotten the most out of his top offensive weapons, including WR DeSean Jackson and TE O.J. Howard. If your primary fantasy QB’s performances have been less than stellar, Fitzpatrick provides you with an opportunity to reap the benefits of one of the hottest performers in fantasy sports.

SHOULD YOU START PATRICK MAHOMES EVERY WEEK OR TRY TRADING HIM?

Mahomes’ consensus average draft position made him the 16th QB selected overall in preseason drafts. Through two games, Mahomes has scored the second-most fantasy points among all position players. Owners most likely also have a QB on their roster they originally thought would have a better chance of being more productive. If you own Mahomes and a good backup QB in leagues where you’re starting one QB per week, it might make sense to try to trade one. Which one? Well, Mahomes’ fantasy value may never be higher than it is right now.

WHICH UNDER-THE-RADAR RB HAS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A BIG WEEK?

Vikings RB Dalvin Cook has been ruled out this week against the Bills with a hamstring injury. Latavius Murray could provide RB1 fantasy production in his place. The Bills can’t stop the run and have given up the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing RBs. The Vikings are heavily favored this week and if they take an early big lead they may move away from their passing game as early as the middle of the third quarter. Murray could pile up some significant fantasy points to close out the game.

WHICH UNDER-THE-RADAR WR HAS THE POTENTIAL FOR A BIG WEEK?

The Giants don’t have a very good pass rush. They’ve played their first two games without their best pass rusher, Olivier Vernon, due to his high ankle sprain. Without any pressure from the Giants defensive line, mobile Texans QB Deshaun Watson will have plenty of time to connect with his open receivers; especially Will Fuller. In five career games with Watson under center Fuller has caught eight TDs, and with CB Eli Apple battling a groin injury, Fuller could have a big day.

WHAT IMPACT WILL NEW PATRIOTS WR JOSH GORDON HAVE ON THE PATRIOTS OFFENSE?

There’s no denying that when he’s on the field, Gordon is a super-talented WR that opposing defenses need to focus on. We wouldn’t be surprised if he had a modest outing in Week 3, and at the same time it wouldn’t shock us if he had a monster game, either. Patriots receivers Chris Hogan and Philip Dorsett could benefit just by having Gordon on the field, simply because defenses will have to shift their focus. However, Tom Brady probably gains the most by adding Gordon to the Patriots roster. His receivers are Gordon, Hogan, Dorsett, TE Rob Gronkowski and after Week 4, wideout Julian Edelman will be reinstated. In his last three seasons in which he’s played at least 14 games, Edelman has averaged just over 98 receptions.

SHOULD I START EAGLES QB CARSON WENTZ THIS WEEK?

Wentz was having a phenomenal 2018 season before he tore his ACL and LCL in Week 13. His ability to move in the pocket contributed mightily to his 2017 success. Can he be as mobile this week or will it take a game or two for him to get in game shape? We don’t know for sure. In addition, the Eagles receiving corps is hurting. Alshon Jeffery is unlikely to play and they signed Jordan Matthews as a replacement for Mike Wallace, who was placed on injured reserve. That move might do more harm than good since that could force Nelson Agholor to have to play on the outside instead of in the slot, where he enjoyed a lot of success last season. If you’ve been able to work without Wentz for the first two weeks of the season and have a viable backup, keep Wentz on your bench and watch how things unfold this week.

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Patriots face growing list of issues heading into bye week

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots have been adept at masking most of their issues this season.

After a 1-2 start by New England that seemed to offer at least a sliver of opportunity for someone to end its streak of nine straight AFC East titles, it hushed those rumblings by running off six straight

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots have been adept at masking most of their issues this season.

After a 1-2 start by New England that seemed to offer at least a sliver of opportunity for someone to end its streak of nine straight AFC East titles, it hushed those rumblings by running off six straight victories.

But recent injuries, mounting issues on the offensive line and mistakes on defense returned during a 34-10 loss at Tennessee on Sunday.

It left coach Bill Belichick with a refrain he repeated both after the game and again Monday when asked for his assessment.

“None of it was good enough,” he said.

It’s also brought back a small cloud of uncertainty about the prospects of a team that now enters its bye week facing the task of playing catch-up to a 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs team for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

“You better learn from a game like this, because the weeks get harder and harder,” receiver Julian Edelman said following Sunday’s loss. “We’ve got to fix it because this is when you start separating or you start falling behind.”

Tom Brady put together an MVP season in 2017 despite losing Edelman to a preseason knee injury. He was able to do it largely because of the strong seasons from tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Dion Lewis and receiver Brandin Cooks.

And despite a slow start, the defense was strong down the stretch, ending the regular season allowing just 18.5 points per game.

Fast-forward to 2018 and so much has changed following roster changes in the offseason.

Lewis signed with the Titans in free agency, creating a hole at running back that the Patriots have had trouble plugging. Cooks was traded and Brady has yet to develop consistent chemistry with a revamped group of receivers that has also had injuries.

As a result, Brady spent a good portion his 300th career NFL game Sunday under increasing pressure. He was sacked three times and hurried a total of six times by the Titans. He’s only been sacked 16 times this season, but he’s working harder in the pocket.

Brady already has seven interceptions in 2018, one fewer than he had in all of 2017. They haven’t all been the result of pressure from the defense. But he’s had more overthrows working behind an increasingly injury-battered line that may be missing the leadership of free agency departure Nate Solder at left tackle.

Trent Brown, who the Patriots acquired to fill Solder’s spot, has started all 10 games and been solid. But he’s now part of a growing list of offensive linemen nursing injuries.

Brown missed the final drive of the first half against the Titans because of illness. LaAdrian Waddle replaced him for that series, with Brown returning early in the third quarter. But Brown left again with an injured back.

Even more concerning for the Patriots (7-3) was the sight of Edelman leaving with an ankle injury. Gronkowski, who sat out Sunday, has now missed two of the last three games with ankle and back injuries. His backup, Dwayne Allen, could also miss some time after injuring his knee against Tennessee.

Brady tried to lean on Josh Gordon, who has shined in recent weeks since his trade from Cleveland. But Gordon had just four catches on 12 targets against the Titans.

It added up to Brady being held without a touchdown pass for the second time in three weeks. His passer rating is down from 102.8 last season to 94.8 this season.

Defensively there are concerns, too. After finding a groove in the second half of 2017, the Patriots haven’t quite turned the same corner with linebacker coach Brian Flores calling plays following the departure of former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. They are allowing 24 points and giving up 381 yards per game and continue to struggle with mobile quarterbacks.

Brady said this upcoming bye week must feature a lot of self-assessment.

“I think the coaches will do a lot of self-scouting. I think we as players have to do the same thing,” he said. “Hopefully we learn from it. All of these games are a little bit different. … The ones that we’re going to play will be a little bit different. Winning football takes a lot of things. It takes a lot of good performances from a lot of people. Losing football is the exact opposite.

“Winning in the NFL is hard. You can’t just show up expecting to win.”

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Bears supporting Parkey after tough day against Lions

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — This time, the Chicago Bears were good enough to overcome a tough day for Cody Parkey.

That might not be the case very soon.

A day after Parkey missed two extra points and two field-goal attempts in a 34-22 victory over Detroit, coach Matt Nagy reiterated he has no plans

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — This time, the Chicago Bears were good enough to overcome a tough day for Cody Parkey.

That might not be the case very soon.

A day after Parkey missed two extra points and two field-goal attempts in a 34-22 victory over Detroit, coach Matt Nagy reiterated he has no plans to take a look at another kicker this week. But he acknowledged Parkey’s performance is only going to take on greater importance as the NFC North-leading Bears try to get back to the playoffs for the first time since after the 2010 season.

“The end of this regular season, these are huge now. You got to make them,” Nagy said Monday, “and it’s just too important, they’re too crucial.”

The most remarkable part of Parkey’s trouble against Detroit might have been how he missed the four kicks, finding an upright each time.

After Chicago scored on its first drive, Parkey kicked the extra point off the right upright. He hit the left upright on an extra point in the second quarter. On consecutive Chicago drives in the third quarter, Parkey rattled the right upright on a 41-yard field goal and again on a 34-yard attempt.

“I don’t think I’ve hit the post four times in my whole life and I’ve been kicking probably for 15 years,” Parkey said right after Chicago’s third straight win.

It got so bad that the crowd roared when the Bears went for a 2-point conversion after a touchdown later in the third. But Parkey’s teammates offered their support.

“Everyone has a bad game every once in a while, so we’re going to rally around him, continue to have his back,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said, “and I know next week when we need it he’s going to make a big kick and we’re not even going to think twice about it. We’re a family in that locker room, we have each other’s back no matter what.”

Parkey connected on 21 of 23 field-goal attempts and 26 of 29 extra points last season with Miami, prompting Chicago to give him a four-year deal in free agency worth a little more than $15 million. It included a signing bonus of $2.25 million and a fully guaranteed base salary for the first two years, making it unlikely the Bears will cut him.

The 26-year-old Parkey has missed five field goals in 18 attempts this season. The empty extra points were his first two in 32 tries.

Nagy chalked up the performance to a bad day.

“You go back to a few weeks ago when Mason Crosby missed a few for Green Bay and then the next week he ended up kicking the game winner,” Nagy said. “It’s just a crazy cycle and it’s just a matter of your patience that you have with it and fortunately for us yesterday we did have the lead. … But now, he also needs to take the next step of trying to figure out how he can get better and we’ll go ahead and do that.”

One way might be some practice time at Soldier Field, one of the NFL’s toughest spots for kickers because of its proximity to Lake Michigan. Nagy said they are discussing the possibility.

How quickly Parkey can recover from his difficulties against Detroit could be huge for Chicago (6-3), which hosts Minnesota on Sunday night. The Vikings have won four of five and are second in the division with a 5-3-1 record.

The Bears and Lions play again on Thanksgiving in Detroit, and Chicago also hosts Green Bay and visits Minnesota before the season ends. Asked about balancing support for Parkey with any frustration with his performance, Nagy said he believes in being honest.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat anything and he wouldn’t want that from me,” he said. “So we’ll have our own conversations and keep it between us, but I’ll always handle it as best as I can for the team and for him and then just stick with my gut.”

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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Quick change: Packers move on after win, prep for Seattle

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — It can be difficult enough for NFL players to have just three days to prepare for a Thursday night game.

The Green Bay Packers have another unique wrinkle in their schedule: they must fly west this year for their Thursday night matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

It didn't leave much

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — It can be difficult enough for NFL players to have just three days to prepare for a Thursday night game.

The Green Bay Packers have another unique wrinkle in their schedule: they must fly west this year for their Thursday night matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

It didn’t leave much time for the Packers to wind down on Monday, a day after the 31-12 win over the Miami Dolphins.

“You’ve got to take care of your body, make sure you’re doing the right things these next couple days to get ready,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. “Mentally, you just put your head in the film, get a chance to look at them early.”

The abbreviated practice plans have the Packers (4-4-1) flying to Seattle on Tuesday night following what would be the most extensive practice of the week. Coaches did some preliminary preparation last week for the Seahawks, though the primary focus was on beating the Dolphins.

That goal was accomplished, even as more injuries took a toll on the defense.

Safety Kentrell Brice (left ankle), linebacker Nick Perry (knee) and Bashaud Breeland (groin) left the Dolphins game. They’re all starters, and another starter, cornerback Kevin King, missed the game with a hamstring injury.

The defense bent but did not break, holding Miami to four field goals in spite of being put in some tricky situations. Two turnovers on special teams gave the Dolphins the ball at midfield or better. A failed fourth-and-2 for the offense had Miami starting at the Packers 45.

The Dolphins managed just field goals each time, while the Packers kept scoring touchdowns.

“We really played everybody that was up in our secondary, and everybody was ready when their number was called, and they really made plays for us,” Breeland said after the game. He picked off Brock Osweiler deep in Miami territory and returned the ball to the 12 to set up a touchdown late in the third quarter.

Breeland’s injury appeared to be relatively minor, and he hoped to be ready for Thursday.

A positive for the Packers’ defense is that backups played fairly well to fill voids, including reserve safety Raven Greene. He had a sack and also took a direct snap on a fake punt for a 26-yard run.

It’s a confidence-building win especially for a secondary that has had instability over the past few weeks, starting with the trade of starting safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington. Another safety, Jermaine Whitehead, was released last week. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams has started at safety alongside Brice the past couple of games.

“It took everybody today, man. It was a good, team win,” Williams said Sunday.

Green Bay eventually took advantage of backup Brock Osweiler, who was starting for a fifth straight game in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill. They got to Osweiler for six sacks. The Dolphins were just as banged up at receiver, too, losing Davante Parker and Jakeem Grant during the game.

But Miami gets a bye this week to rest up. The Packers figure to take it easier in practice on Tuesday, which would probably have been the case regardless of all the injuries in their secondary.

That puts a premium, then on the mental part of the game and preparation.

“Full speed ahead. Some guys might try to click through the film last night,” McCarthy said. “A number of coaches just went right upstairs after the game … but as far as the team, we don’t have any time to spend on, we have to get right into Seattle.”

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Dolphins’ Tannehill begins latest throwing program

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has begun his latest throwing program with the goal of returning for the next game Nov. 25 at Indianapolis, although that may be a long shot.

Tannehill was shut down after an earlier throwing program produced little progress. He missed his fifth game in a row

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has begun his latest throwing program with the goal of returning for the next game Nov. 25 at Indianapolis, although that may be a long shot.

Tannehill was shut down after an earlier throwing program produced little progress. He missed his fifth game in a row Sunday when the Dolphins lost at Green Bay.

Coach Adam Gase says Tannehill resumed throwing Sunday and felt good. Gase says if Tannehill can get through this week with his shoulder feeling good every day, there’s a chance he could play at Indy.

The Dolphins have a bye this week. Brock Osweiler is 2-3 as Tannehill’s replacement.

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Bowles remains Jets coach despite team’s struggles, bad loss

NEW YORK (AP) — Todd Bowles remains coach of the New York Jets despite the team's struggles that included an embarrassing loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Bowles' job status appeared extremely shaky after the Jets' 41-10 loss, their fourth consecutive defeat that dropped the team to 3-7. Fans at MetLife Stadium booed the

NEW YORK (AP) — Todd Bowles remains coach of the New York Jets despite the team’s struggles that included an embarrassing loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Bowles’ job status appeared extremely shaky after the Jets’ 41-10 loss, their fourth consecutive defeat that dropped the team to 3-7. Fans at MetLife Stadium booed the team throughout and chanted for the Jets to fire Bowles.

That sentiment was echoed by many fans on social media and sports radio Monday morning. Several published stories also speculated that the time to make a change would be now with the Jets heading into a bye-week break.

Instead, owner Christopher Johnson opted to not fire Bowles. The two were scheduled to have their usual weekly meeting later Monday, but no change was expected.

Bowles says the Jets are evaluating everything this week, including his staff, the lineup and himself.

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Bills coach: QB Allen will regain starting job when healthy

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott says rookie quarterback Josh Allen will reclaim the starting job should he be healthy when the team returns from its bye week off.

McDermott made the announcement Monday, a day after journeyman backup Matt Barkley threw two touchdowns in a 41-10 win at the New

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott says rookie quarterback Josh Allen will reclaim the starting job should he be healthy when the team returns from its bye week off.

McDermott made the announcement Monday, a day after journeyman backup Matt Barkley threw two touchdowns in a 41-10 win at the New York Jets. As well as Barkley played in his first start in two years and two weeks after signing with Buffalo, McDermott stressed Allen is the starter and his continued development is important.

Buffalo is 3-7, and is off until hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars on Nov. 25.

Allen has a 2-3 record and missed the past four games since spraining his right throwing elbow. The first-round draft pick began testing his arm on Nov. 2, and spent all of last week practicing on a limited basis. He wasn’t ruled out from playing against the Jets until Saturday.

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Bills RB McCoy breaks silence by saying he’s frustrated

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy ended his near two-week silence by saying he wanted to keep his frustrations to himself in what's been a miserable season.

"I was just upset how everything's been going, 2-7," McCoy said Friday, referring to the Bills' record. "That's frustrating. I want to win

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy ended his near two-week silence by saying he wanted to keep his frustrations to himself in what’s been a miserable season.

“I was just upset how everything’s been going, 2-7,” McCoy said Friday, referring to the Bills’ record. “That’s frustrating. I want to win games, so I just kind of took that approach. Just kind of upset. But my mindset is just try to get better.”

The comments were the first from McCoy since a 25-6 loss against New England on Oct. 29. He’s ducked interview requests ever since, including canceling his weekly news conferences each of the past two Wednesdays after combining for 23 yards rushing on 22 carries over two games.

“There’s plays to be made and we’re not making them. Got to play smarter. Got to play better. Simple as that,” McCoy said. “Can’t complain or pout about it. Just got to find ways to win games and make it happen.”

What bothers him even more is that at 30 , McCoy is beginning to realize he’s running out of time to achieve various objectives. They include winning a championship and establishing himself as one of the NFL’s premier running backs by becoming just the 17th player to reach 12,000 career yards rushing.

“Oh, it’ll take a little longer than I expect now,” said McCoy, whose 267 yards rushing this season have upped his career total to 10,359.

“The urgency is up. I want to win now. I want to add on to my legacy of course, a chance to get a ring. And those things are on my mind,” McCoy said. “So the frustration about losing, all them things, every player has a clock.”

In getting off to the worst start of a season in his 10-year career, McCoy hasn’t reached the end zone since scoring twice 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.

At the rate the Bills’ anemic offense is producing in having scored an NFL-worst 96 points, McCoy wasn’t making any promises when the droughts might end with Buffalo preparing to play at the New York Jets on Sunday.

“I don’t have the answers, why and when, but I just look forward to getting there,” he said. “Just got to find a way to do it.”

McCoy didn’t want his frustrations to be interpreted as him being unhappy to still be in Buffalo after the NFL’s trading deadline passed on Oct. 30. And he’s pleased to hear general manager Brandon Beane say McCoy remains in the team’s plans through the final year of his contract next season.

“They’ve been good to me. I’m a loyal person, and I’m happy here,” said McCoy, in his fourth season in Buffalo since being acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. “I think sometimes people get that mixed up with the frustrations of losing. But for me to be in their plans, I like the way that sounds.”

Beane told The Associated Press this week he maintains his confidence in McCoy’s ability.

“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.”

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Say his name: Rookie WR Valdes-Scantling on rise for Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling turned to Twitter to give a tutorial about how to pronounce his first name.

Get it straight: It's "mar-QUEZ" and not "mar-KEZ."

"It happens all the time," Valdes-Scantling said this week about the mispronunciation. "So there is no 'k' in my name."

Keep making highlight-reel plays

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling turned to Twitter to give a tutorial about how to pronounce his first name.

Get it straight: It’s “mar-QUEZ” and not “mar-KEZ.”

“It happens all the time,” Valdes-Scantling said this week about the mispronunciation. “So there is no ‘k’ in my name.”

Keep making highlight-reel plays and announcers will catch on soon enough and get it right.

The fifth-round selection out of South Florida is about to get more consistent playing time after Geronimo Allison went on injured reserve this week. Green Bay hosts the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

This is quite the impression that Valdes-Scantling has left the last few weeks, with breakaway speed and a 6-foot-4 frame that allow him to snare jump balls.

“The biggest thing is just him gaining the trust of (quarterback Aaron Rodgers) as fast as he has,” veteran wideout Randall Cobb said. “It’s really impressive that Aaron wants to come to him in certain situations. He’s making those plays for him.”

To the tune of 17 catches for 358 yards and two scores so far for Valdes-Scantling, plus a team-high 21.1 yards per catch. He has touchdown catches in two of his last four games, with 100 yards receiving in each of the other two games during that span.

The production increase is in part due to helping fill in for Allison and Cobb while each player missed a few games with hamstring injuries. Cobb is questionable again for the Dolphins game because of hamstring trouble.

That leaves more opportunities for Valdes-Scantling to be the second receiver behind Davante Adams.

The process of gaining Rodgers’ trust, though, isn’t easy. It requires more than just making catches.

“It’s not going to happen in one day. You’ve got to learn the plays, you’ve got to know the plays,” Valdes-Scantling said. “He’s going to quiz you in practice, so you’ve just got to know all those things. It just happens over time.”

Proof of the payoff came late in the third quarter of last week’s loss at New England, with the game tied at 17. Deep in Packers territory, Rodgers rolled right, where he quickly found two defenders trying to close in on him for a sack.

The two-time NFL MVP threw a high pass that traveled about 30 yards to Valdes-Scantling at around the 36. The rookie adjusted near the sideline to the throw while on the run. With a defender a couple steps behind him, Valdes-Scantling turned and jumped high for the catch .

He’s the breakout contributor of the three receivers taken by the Packers in the draft.

Fourth-rounder J’Mon Moore has just one catch for 10 yards. Sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown has seven catches for 143 yards, and moves up in the depth chart behind Valdes-Scantling.

“At the end of the day, (Valdes-Scantling) has been given some opportunities, probably more than we all anticipated due to the injury, and he’s just delivered,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “So you can see with the success and the production he’s had, his confidence grows more and more each week.”

NOTES: RT Bryan Bulaga (knee) and LB Blake Martinez (ankle) are also questionable for Sunday. CB Kevin King (hamstring) is out, as expected. … S Kentrell Brice (knee) and DL Mike Daniels (shoulder) were dropped from the injury report.

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Beckham Jr. hopeful Giants can run the table

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Call Odell Beckham Jr. the eternal optimist.

When the New York Giants' flashy wide receiver was asked Friday what he hoped his 1-7 team would do for the remainder of the season, Beckham didn't pull any punches.

"I think the goal is to win eight games, go 9-7 and go

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Call Odell Beckham Jr. the eternal optimist.

When the New York Giants’ flashy wide receiver was asked Friday what he hoped his 1-7 team would do for the remainder of the season, Beckham didn’t pull any punches.

“I think the goal is to win eight games, go 9-7 and go to the playoffs,” Beckham said.

Even though no NFL team has ever pulled off such a comeback?

“It’s not an easy task,” Beckham added. “But that’s the goal. We want to win every game and I want to do everything I can to help that. The Giants have been there before, gone 9-7 and got into the playoffs. Anything is possible. It’s not impossible to win eight games. It wasn’t impossible to lose seven. Anything can happen.”

Beckham remained upbeat as his team prepared to face the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, California on Monday night. He was certain his team is ready to turn it around, albeit in miraculous fashion — provided the Giants do a better job of scoring touchdowns.

“We’ve lost a lot of close games that we just didn’t pull through,” Beckham said. “We know what situations we’re in when we are in those close games. We just haven’t found a way to pull them through. It’s easy to sit up here and be like we want to win eight games knowing that it’s very tough to do. You just got to pull it all together now.

“I know we’re not in a very good situation, but you just got to make the most out of that.”

Beckham signed a five-year, $95 million contract, with approximately $65 million guaranteed, during training camp in August, so he’s the new face of the franchise moving forward. He was asked if he felt he had any pressure to be the one who kick-starts the offense.

“Not any more than I ever have,” said Beckham, who has caught 61 passes for 785 yards and two touchdowns this season. “Hopefully I can start catching some of these things and start taking them to the crib, making bigger plays. I put more on myself. Whatever happens is what’s going to happen, but I know that my mentality is not going to be to quit. I’m not going to be out there not trying to go hard every play. Any chance that I get, that’s just always how I’m going to be.”

Beckham was also asked if the Giants could eliminate some problems in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

“I think that any chance I get, and all of us get a chance to take something to the house, it’s time to go,” he said. “There’s no more holding back, playing it safe, or waiting for the next play, because you don’t know if you’re going to have a next play, and that’s just the mentality we have to take. Any chance I get now, and I catch one of these slants, there’s no motion wasted. It’s just got to be somebody has got to come catch me. You trust your training, you trust your speed — somebody has got to come catch me. I’m trying as much as I can to make these plays, explosive plays, and we all need to do that.”

Fellow wideout Sterling Shepard also recognizes his team’s struggles in the red zone.

“Explosive plays are always good themselves, but if you can take them all the way, then that obviously is better for the team,” said Shepard, who has 40 receptions for 542 yards and two touchdowns. “You just take them as they come and some of them will pop, some of them won’t, but an explosive play all around is good for the team. I think it’s we’re just not being assignment sound. I feel like one guy is always off or two guys off when we get into the red zone, and that can kill your chances of scoring.”

Beckham Jr. is befuddled why the Giants aren’t scoring more.

“Not to say that the opportunities haven’t been there, but they’ve been limited,” he noted.

But Beckham feels the tide is about to turn for him personally.

“I don’t know, but towards the back end of the season, I feel like I do better,” Beckham said. “As the season goes on, people’s bodies start to break down. I really try to maintain and I really try to be better than I was in Week 1 or Week 10. I feel a lot stronger going in towards the back end of the season. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. Now, it’s just time to do that.”

NOTES: Coming off a bye, the Giants had a full team at practice Friday. WR Jawill Davis (concussion), who had been out, returned to practice, so he will more than likely be the Giants’ main return option on punts and kickoffs Monday. Starting LB Alec Ogletree (hamstring) returned to practice, as did OT Chad Wheeler (ankle). . Olivier Vernon said that there was no difference in preparing to face 49ers QB Nick Mullens, who will be making the second start of his pro career. “We have to disrupt him and make him feel uncomfortable,” Vernon said. “There’s not a whole lot of film to watch on him, so we just have to have the mindset to get after him and get him out of a comfort zone.”

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NFL fines Titans safety for celebrating on Cowboys’ logo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NFL has fined Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard $10,026 for celebrating his end-zone interception on the Dallas Cowboys star logo at midfield.

Byard said Friday the fine was actually worth it as the interception helped change momentum by denying the Cowboys a possible touchdown. The Titans outscored the Cowboys 28-7

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NFL has fined Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard $10,026 for celebrating his end-zone interception on the Dallas Cowboys star logo at midfield.

Byard said Friday the fine was actually worth it as the interception helped change momentum by denying the Cowboys a possible touchdown. The Titans outscored the Cowboys 28-7 after the interception en route to a 28-14 victory Monday night.

“I actually kind of expected it to be more with all the crazy fines that are going on in the league right now,” Byard said. “I expected it to be more than $10,000. But I feel like it was worth it. I kind of knew it was coming, but I didn’t know the amount. … It was a momentum changer. If it was $10,000 it was worth it, because I’ll make that up on the back end.”

The 2017 All-Pro safety copied what Terrell Owens did 18 years ago in a win over the Cowboys in old Texas Stadium. The interception was the second this season for Byard and his 10th since the start of the 2017 season, tying him for the most in the NFL in that span.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel talked with Byard after the game and again Tuesday. Vrabel also talked to the rest of the team Wednesday to make sure they understand what is expected of them when celebrating.

“That’s not what we want as an organization, and that’s not what I want as a head coach,” Vrabel said. “I want our guys to play as hard as they possibly can for each other, between the whistle, and as physical and aggressive and as clean as they possibly can.”

Vrabel said he wants players to celebrate with a teammate.

“Find somebody else in a Titans uniform. Find a coach, and celebrate with them,” Vrabel said. “But we don’t need to do that. It’s not what we want to do. … That’s not what I want, and if that’s what they want, then we see it very differently.”

Notes: The Titans (4-4) will be without right tackle Jack Conklin (concussion protocol) against the New England Patriots (7-2) on Sunday. The Patriots eliminated Tennessee from the postseason in January. … WR Tajae Sharpe (ankle) told reporters in the locker room he will play. LB Derrick Morgan (shoulder), WR Taywan Taylor (left foot) and S Dane Cruikshank (knee) did not practice. DL Bennie Logan (knee) practiced Friday after being limited Thursday. LBs Daren Bates (illness) and Will Compton (hamstring) practiced.

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Bills QB Matt Barkley in the mix to start against Jets

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott is backing off his previous commitment of having Nathan Peterman start against the New York Jets if rookie Josh Allen isn't cleared to play.

And that puts Matt Barkley in the mix to start Sunday.

McDermott reversed course Friday after he ruled out Derek Anderson

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott is backing off his previous commitment of having Nathan Peterman start against the New York Jets if rookie Josh Allen isn’t cleared to play.

And that puts Matt Barkley in the mix to start Sunday.

McDermott reversed course Friday after he ruled out Derek Anderson and said Allen’s status remains uncertain four weeks since spraining his right throwing elbow. Asked of the possibility of Peterman starting, McDermott sidestepped the question by saying he preferred to keep the focus on Allen.

That’s a switch from Monday, when McDermott said Peterman would start if Allen and Anderson couldn’t play.

Allen is listed as questionable on Buffalo’s injury report.

A person familiar with situation told The Associated Press that Barkley is being considered ahead of Peterman, but a final decision hasn’t yet been made. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because McDermott did not reveal the team’s plans.

Peterman has thrown seven interceptions in four appearances this season, including three in a 41-9 loss to Chicago last weekend.

The Bills signed Barkley on Oct. 30. He is on his sixth team in six seasons, and hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since 2016, when he started six games with the Chicago Bears. Barkley was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals in September after hurting his knee in a preseason game.

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Vikings’ Harrison Smith voted top NFL safety by AP panel

/NEW YORK (AP) — Harrison Smith has been making his mark for years with big hits and clutch interceptions for the Minnesota Vikings.

As a key piece of one of the NFL's top defenses, the playmaking safety was voted the top player in the league at his position by a panel of 10 football writers

/NEW YORK (AP) — Harrison Smith has been making his mark for years with big hits and clutch interceptions for the Minnesota Vikings.

As a key piece of one of the NFL’s top defenses, the playmaking safety was voted the top player in the league at his position by a panel of 10 football writers for The Associated Press.

“The independent analysts at Pro Football Focus rated Smith’s performance in 2017 the highest by any player at any position in the league,” Minneapolis-based AP writer Dave Campbell said. “This year, the three-time Pro Bowl pick has three interceptions and three sacks in nine games. No player in the NFL hit both of those marks over the entire 2017 season.

“With Earl Thomas out for the year, it’s easy to see Smith as the top safety in the league.”

The AP voters overwhelmingly agreed. Smith received 97 points in a 10-points-to-one-point system, garnering eight of 10 first-place votes. He finished second on one ballot and third on the other to easily outdistance the New York Giants’ Landon Collins, who had 69 points.

“Not only is Smith the clear leader at this position, particularly with his skills in coverage,” said New York-based writer Barry Wilner, “but he’s probably Minnesota’s most valuable defensive player.”

That’s saying a lot, particularly with a team that includes defensive end Danielle Hunter, who leads the NFL with 11½ sacks.

“Smith is an elite pass defender who can bat away a throw or pick off a pass on one play, then sack the QB on the next,” Washington-based Howard Fendrich said.

Smith finished second in last year’s voting, with Thomas winning. The injured Seahawks star, who’s out for the season with a broken left leg, had 59 points — and received one first-place vote, from Bay Area-based Josh Dubow — to finish third this year.

“Thomas is still the benchmark at safety despite a season-ending injury,” Dubow said.

There were 28 players who received at least one vote, but Smith and Collins were the only safeties to appear on all 10 ballots.

Collins jumped up two spots after finishing fourth last year. He doesn’t have any interceptions yet this season, but has firmly established himself as one of the best at his position.

“Yeah, he’s on a team with one win (entering Week 10), but Collins is strong tackler and pass defender,” New York-based Simmi Buttar said.

Tennessee’s Kevin Byard is fourth with 54 points, but received the other first-place vote from Nashville-based Teresa M. Walker.

“Byard is just getting better with every game,” Walker said, “and he was pretty good in 2017 when he was an All-Pro who tied for the league lead with eight interceptions and led the NFL with 10 takeaways.”

Byard has two interceptions this season, and caused quite a stir with his star turn on his most recent pick. After intercepting Dak Prescott’s pass Monday night in Tennessee’s 28-14 victory at Dallas, Byard ran to the 50-yard line at AT&T Stadium and danced with his teammates on the Cowboys’ star logo.

“He should’ve left the Cowboys star stomp to Terrell Owens,” said Philadelphia-based Rob Maaddi. “But Byard is a ball magnet and no longer an unknown around the league, even to Deion Sanders.”

Sanders and Byard got into a Twitter feud in the offseason about who the league’s top safety is. Prime Time picked Tyrann Mathieu, who didn’t finish in the AP’s top 10.

New England’s Devin McCourty was fifth with 38 points, and has been a model of consistency for Bill Belichick’s defense.

“Anyone who can stick so long (nine years) on a revolving door that is the Patriots’ defense is a special performer,” Wilner said.

McCourty was followed by Washington’s D.J. Swearinger, who had 36 points.

“Swearinger does everything well, from coverage to run support to rushing the passer,” said Dubow, who had him ranked second on his ballot.

The Jets’ Jamal Adams (24 points), Los Angeles Chargers rookie Derwin James (21), Baltimore’s Eric Weddle (20) and Kansas City’s Eric Berry (19) rounded out the top 10.

Berry appeared on six ballots despite having not played since last year’s season opener.

“He might be No. 1 if he had played a down this season,” Fendrich said. “If he recovers enough from the heel injury that has kept him out for every game so far, he could be a big factor in the playoffs for the Chiefs.”

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The rankings:

1. Harrison Smith, Vikings

2. Landon Collins, Giants

3. Earl Thomas, Seahawks

4. Kevin Byard, Titans

5. Devin McCourty, Patriots

6. D.J. Swearinger, Redskins

7. Jamal Adams, Jets

8. Derwin James, Chargers

9. Eric Weddle, Ravens

10. Eric Berry, Chiefs

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Halfway to NFL awards: decisions and lots of candidates

By the time every NFL team has played eight games, there are some heavily established favorites for The Associated Press NFL awards that are handed out on Super Bowl eve.

Not this year.

MVP? Lots of candidates — and not just quarterbacks.

Coach of the Year? Nearly every division has a contender.

Comeback Player? Some

By the time every NFL team has played eight games, there are some heavily established favorites for The Associated Press NFL awards that are handed out on Super Bowl eve.

Not this year.

MVP? Lots of candidates — and not just quarterbacks.

Coach of the Year? Nearly every division has a contender.

Comeback Player? Some likely Hall of Famers are in the mix there.

So the AP polled a few of the 50 voters for the awards, including genuine Hall of Famer James Lofton. The theme was clear: There isn’t much clarity as we head into the final eight weeks of the schedule.

MVP

This honor has gone to a quarterback the past five seasons and 10 of 11. Two running backs, Adrian Peterson in 2012 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, broke through the QB domination in the past dozen years.

Lofton and some others select Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

“So good you just can’t take your eyes off of him,” the CBS analyst says.

“Maybe this opinion changes next week, given the stellar competition that includes (Todd) Gurley and (Drew) Brees,” adds USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. “Maybe not, as the kid keeps showing up. A first-year starter as quarterback? Hey, Mahomes is like the new Kurt Warner.”

Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News opts for Brees. Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk prefers Gurley.

Don’t forget about Tom Brady, Adam Thielen or Philip Rivers, and perhaps even a defensive force such as J.J. Watt.

COACH

Another wide-open field headed by, according to Jenny Vrentas of Monday Morning Quarterback, Kansas City’s Andy Reid.

“I selected Andy Reid … for his ability to seamlessly transition from Alex Smith to Mahomes,” Vrentas explains. “He’s been so invested in Mahomes’ development that he sits with him on the bench in between offensive series, going over what they see and how they’ll attack the opponent next. Reid has demonstrated an ability to keep his offense fresh and tailored to his players, updating his West Coast system with spread concepts pulled from the college ranks.”

Bob Glauber of Newsday points to last year’s winner, Sean McVay of the Rams.

“He’s one of the brightest minds in the game, and at 32, is proving not only to be a brilliant play caller, but an exceptional leader as well,” Glauber says.

Not far behind in our little poll: the Saints’ Sean Payton, the Texans’ Bill O’Brien, the Bears’ Matt Nagy, and the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, whose team “plays a road game every week,” Lofton notes.

COMEBACK PLAYER

Rarely has there been such an impressive group vying for an award no one really wants to win considering the implications of a comeback.

From Watt to Peterson to Aaron Rodgers, from Andrew Luck to Carson Wentz to Deshaun Watson, from Odell Beckham Jr. to Richard Sherman — WOW!

“It’s either Andrew Luck or Watt,” says Williams, “but Watt has returned to being one of the best at his position. He is playing at an All-Pro and Pro Bowl level. Luck is not one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL and maybe not in the top 10.”

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports goes for the Colts quarterback.

“Can’t imagine the frustration he’s faced,” Adelson says. “A pro’s pro.”

Vrentas picks Watt.

“The surgery Watt had last October to put his leg back together after a tibial plateau fracture was so complicated that the surgeons couldn’t even be certain that it would work, and that his leg would be able to bear the full weight of his body while running full speed,” she explains. “Watt, who has nine sacks in nine games, was undeterred. He wasn’t back to full strength in the season opener but has steadily gotten better each week, a scary thought for opponents.”

OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Another free-for-all, with Gurley, Mahomes, Thielen, Brees, Michael Thomas and James Conner getting consideration.

“Before it’s done, he could wind up as MVP,” Bell says of Gurley, his choice in this category. “Ditto for Brees. Running backs don’t get the same love as quarterbacks in the pass-centric environment of the NFL. But if Gurley breaks LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-season TD record and the Rams keep winning big, people will have to take notice. Then again, Brees has a few records and has never been MVP.”

Domowitch, a Brees supporter for MVP, puts Mahomes here. So does Williams.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER

This category could be a two-horse race between a pair of thoroughbreds previously honored with the award: Aaron Donald and Watt.

“Now that’s a man who don’t need no stinking training camp,” Bell says of Donald.

Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports prefers Donald, as well.

“A game wrecker on every down,” Adelson says.

Adds Glauber: “Donald is a disruptive force in the middle and already has 10 sacks. The only problem for him — and the Rams — is that teams will often go to great lengths to shut him down. Thus, the constant double teams he has to fight through.”

Lofton likes what Khalil Mack has done in Chicago: “Mack turned the Bears from pretenders to contenders.” But this train could be a runaway for Donald and Mack.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE

No contest.

“He’s the only good thing going for an awful Giants team,” Glauber says of Giants RB Saquon Barkley. “Until the Giants figure out their quarterback situation, he’ll be wasted in this offense.”

But not lost in the awards prognostications.

“On pace for more than 2,000 total yards — on a bad team,” Adelson notes.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE

Chargers safety Derwin James has gotten lots of love, but there’s no runaway leader.

“Darius Leonard and Denzel Ward make this an interesting race for the award down the stretch,” Williams says.

Glauber leans to Leonard: “Halfway through the season, he not only led all NFL rookies with 88 tackles, he led all NFL players in that category. He also has four sacks and three forced fumbles and has already won defensive rookie of the week honors twice.”

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Seahawks’ Moore trying to move past loss to Chargers

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — David Moore tried his best not to let the final pass in Seattle's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week bother him for long.

It's not easy when it's a throw that could have potentially tied the game and forced overtime, but instead bounced off Moore's shoulder and fell incomplete

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — David Moore tried his best not to let the final pass in Seattle’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last week bother him for long.

It’s not easy when it’s a throw that could have potentially tied the game and forced overtime, but instead bounced off Moore’s shoulder and fell incomplete on the final play of Seattle’s 25-17 loss.

It was shown on seemingly every TV broadcast playing highlights of the game , and while it would have been an exceptionally difficult catch after getting tipped by a Chargers defensive back, Moore wishes he could have made the grab.

“I tried to stay away from it,” Moore said on Thursday. “After a while, I’d say Monday after meetings, I tried to watch it and then I was like, ‘It’s over with now. I’m on to (the Rams).'”

The incompletion was the most difficult moment the second-year wide receiver has faced since becoming part of Seattle’s wide receiver rotation. The Seahawks had an untimed down from the 6-yard line needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime.

Quarterback Russell Wilson stepped up away from the pass rush and Moore had flashed open running across the back of the end zone.

Wilson zipped his pass in Moore’s direction, but just a couple of yards away from finding the receiver’s hands, the ball was tipped by the Chargers’ Jahleel Addae. The tip slightly changed the trajectory of the pass and it started severely wobbling offline. Moore was unable to adjust his hands in time and the ball thudded off his shoulder pads and to the turf.

“I (saw) it get tipped. I saw the dude come across and I tried to adjust to it but it was a little bit too late,” Moore said. “It was a fastball coming in hot, getting touched, it’s kind of hard to get your hands where it needs to be after that.”

Moore said he spent time Sunday night wondering if there are even drills to mimic having a pass change as that one did so close to the receiver.

“It’s a really tough catch. He’s tracking the ball, he sees it coming and all of a sudden the ball takes kind of a strange turn,” Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “He was really dejected, really upset. Got a chance to talk to him after the game, said a lot of things still had to happen. That wasn’t the reason we won or lost that game, but it was a very difficult play.”

Moore’s development has been one of the big stories of the season for Seattle. His progression from an unknown seventh-round pick in 2017 to becoming the Seahawks’ No. 3 receiver was so rapid Seattle felt comfortable releasing veteran Brandon Marshall last week to open a roster spot.

While it wasn’t a dropped pass, the final play is the first major adversity Moore has faced this season. He was emotional after the game, but said the moment was quickly put in perspective.

“At first I took it kind of hard, but then I had Doug (Baldwin) and Tyler (Lockett) and all the brothers and stuff, and all the coaches tell me stuff like this happens all the time,” Moore said.

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Mullens to share stage with Manning when 49ers host Giants

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Mullens remembers getting the phone call from Archie Manning inviting him to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy two summers ago.

Mullens savored the chance to take part in the four-day clinic run by Archie and his two NFL quarterback sons, Eli and Peyton. Mullens especially relished the opportunity to

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Nick Mullens remembers getting the phone call from Archie Manning inviting him to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy two summers ago.

Mullens savored the chance to take part in the four-day clinic run by Archie and his two NFL quarterback sons, Eli and Peyton. Mullens especially relished the opportunity to watch Eli Manning take part in some of the drills.

“To see how he moves in the pocket, he has very quick feet and is just very smooth,” Mullens said. “I definitely remember just sitting there and watching him throw. I took that all in.”

Mullens now will get another chance to see Manning up close when he makes his second career start for the San Francisco 49ers (2-7) on Monday night against Manning and the New York Giants (1-7).

Mullens is coming off a scintillating debut, completing 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 151.9 passer rating in a 34-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders. That’s the highest rating since the merger for a player in his debut with at least 20 attempts.

Things might not be as easy now that the Giants have an idea of what Mullens can do.

“I think they’re going to be like, ‘Oh crap. This guy is good,'” running back Matt Breida said. “I think they’ll put more people back there to cover because of the throws he made and can do.”

While Mullens is just getting started, Manning is nearing the end of his career as he plays his 15th season for a team that is struggling mightily. New York has lost five straight games and the questions are mounting about how much longer the two-time Super Bowl MVP Manning has as quarterback.

“I think there’s urgency to get things going, for sure,” Manning said. “We got to get some wins. We got to get going, and everybody wants it. The team needs it, for the morale and for just the hard work and everything we put in. Just need to reap the benefits of the work, and feel good about what we’re doing.”

Here are some other things to watch:

SPLENDID SAQUON

Rookie Saquon Barkley has been a rare bright spot for the struggling Giants, topping 100 yards from scrimmage in seven of his first eight games. Barkley has been a bit hit and miss with 16 runs for negative yards, tied for fifth worst in the league, and 11 plays that gained at least 20, which is tied for second most among running backs. Barkley is just the ninth player to gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the first eight games of his rookie season.

“I’m not one of those guys that says, let me see my stats, let me see how much I ran for this or that. I just play,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and lie, I am very active on social media, so there’s fan pages of me and I can go on Instagram or even on my explore page and they just happen to pop up. I’ve seen predictions of what I’m capable of doing, but it means nothing to me.”

PRESSURE POINT

The struggling pass rush for the 49ers broke through in a big way last week with eight sacks against Oakland. Cassius Marsh led the way with a career-best 2 ½, and Dekoda Watson had 1 1/2 in his first game after coming off IR. San Francisco had eight sacks in a game only once in the previous two decades, doing it against the Rams in 2009.

KITTLE’S CATCHES

San Francisco tight end George Kittle has been a big-play threat all season. He had a 71-yard catch and run last week against the Raiders, making him the first tight end since Rich Caster in 1972 to have two 70-yard catches in the same season. Kittle ranks second among all tight ends with 692 yards receiving and is second to Barkley among all players with 496 yards after the catch.

STRUGGLING FRANCHISES

Twenty-eight years after these franchises met in the best matchup in “Monday Night Football” history, they now play in one of the worst. Back in 1990, the 49ers beat the Giants 7-3 in a matchup of 10-1 teams that provided the highest winning percentage ever for a Monday night game played after Halloween. The teams come into this meeting with a combined winning percentage of .176, the second lowest for a Monday night game played Nov. 1 or later. The lowest combined winning percentage is .167 for a matchup of the New York Jets (3-9) and the Chargers (1-11) in 1975 that featured Hall of Fame QBs Joe Namath and Dan Fouts.

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Larry Fitzgerald closing in on yards receiving milestone

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald is closing in on another milestone, and it's an impressive one.

The 35-year-old receiver needs to catch just 33 yards worth of passes Sunday at Kansas City to move past Hall of Famer Terrell Owens into second place on the NFL's all-time yards receiving list.

As usual, Fitzgerald brushed

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald is closing in on another milestone, and it’s an impressive one.

The 35-year-old receiver needs to catch just 33 yards worth of passes Sunday at Kansas City to move past Hall of Famer Terrell Owens into second place on the NFL’s all-time yards receiving list.

As usual, Fitzgerald brushed aside talk of the milestone in his weekly meeting with the media Thursday.

“Honestly, I don’t really think about it,” he said.

Modesty aside, there’s no doubt that Fitzgerald is very aware of his place among the greats in the game.

Halfway through his 15th season, Fitzgerald has 15,902 yards receiving, behind Owens’ 15,934 and Jerry Rice’s phenomenal 22,895.

Fitzgerald needs 58 catches to pass Tony Gonzalez for second on the NFL career receptions list. Fitzgerald has 1,268 catches to Gonzalez’s 1,325 and Rice’s 1,549.

Fitzgerald also is closing in on Rice’s record for receptions with one team. Fitzgerald, who has spent his entire career with the Cardinals, needs 14 receptions to pass the 1,281 catches Rice had with the San Francisco 49ers.

There are numbers that Fitzgerald will talk about with pride, and that’s what he’s accomplished in the postseason.

He has 942 yards receiving in nine postseason games, most of any player in his first nine playoff contests. His three 150-yard playoff receiving games are most in NFL history. His five 100-yard games are tied for third all-time, behind Michael Irvin and Rice. Fitzgerald is tied for third in postseason TD receptions (10), behind John Stallworth and Rice. And Fitzgerald did it in only nine games.

Fitzgerald’s performance in Arizona’s surprise run to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season shattered NFL records for yards receiving (546), receptions (30) and touchdowns (7).

In Arizona’s divisional game against Green Bay in 2015, Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 176 yards, including the two biggest plays of overtime. He is the only player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards receiving and a touchdown in every postseason game.

“I think every player wants to be at their best in the biggest moments,” Fitzgerald said. “I think my numbers in the playoffs say that I’m a guy who steps up in the bigger moments. I think that’s something you look at the greats in history, the Jerry Rices and the Michael Jordans and the Kobe Bryants, the Reggie Jacksons of the world, those guys , when their teams needed them the most, they were able to find something to make a difference in the games.”

But Fitzgerald may never appear in the playoffs again.

The Cardinals limp into Kansas City at 2-6 and Fitzgerald repeated Thursday that he hasn’t decided whether this is his last season. It’s hard to imagine him ever playing for another team.

Fitzgerald has been conspicuously absent from the statistics as the Arizona offense sputtered through seven games, leading to the firing of offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. With Byron Leftwich as the new coordinator, Fitzgerald had his best game of the year in the team’s 18-15 victory over San Francisco two weekends ago, catching eight passes for 102 yards and a touchdown, just his second of the season.

Notes: S Budda Baker, a critical component of Arizona’s defense, did not practice Thursday due to a foot injury. He was not on the injury report Wednesday. He was the only player who did not practice on Thursday.

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Steelers RT Gilbert out for 3rd straight week

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss his third straight game while dealing with a knee injury.

The Steelers made Gilbert inactive for Thursday night's game against Carolina. Matt Feiler will start in place of Gilbert.

Pittsburgh will also be without reserve nose tackle Dan McCullers, who is dealing with an

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert will miss his third straight game while dealing with a knee injury.

The Steelers made Gilbert inactive for Thursday night’s game against Carolina. Matt Feiler will start in place of Gilbert.

Pittsburgh will also be without reserve nose tackle Dan McCullers, who is dealing with an ankle injury. Quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide receiver Justin Hunter, safety Marcus Allen, cornerback Brian Allen and offensive lineman Zach Banner are also inactive for the Steelers.

The Panthers will be without wide receiver Torrey Smith, who will sit out a third straight week due to a knee injury. Jarius Wright will start in place of Smith.

Carolina center Ryan Kalil will play despite skipping practice on Tuesday with an ankle injury.

Cornerback Josh Hawkins, running back Cameron Artis-Payne, linebacker Andre Smith, guard Brendan Mahon, defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. and defensive end Marquis Haynes are also inactive for the Panthers.

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Mayfield hopes NFL officials find consistency on helmet hits

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield has become the NFL's unwanted poster boy for helmet-to-helmet hits.

Twice this season, Cleveland's rookie quarterback has been struck in the head by tacklers during games and both times the officials failed to call a penalty for the obvious infractions.

Mayfield's trying not to take oversights personally.

"They just

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield has become the NFL’s unwanted poster boy for helmet-to-helmet hits.

Twice this season, Cleveland’s rookie quarterback has been struck in the head by tacklers during games and both times the officials failed to call a penalty for the obvious infractions.

Mayfield’s trying not to take oversights personally.

“They just have to find their consistency,” he said of the erratic calls. “With every ref it’s different — how they see it, how they’re seeing the plays, momentum with the whistle, when it’s blown, stuff like that. So as they continue to try to enforce the same rule, I think the consistency will grow. But right now, that’s why you’re seeing some confusion.”

On Oct. 21 at Tampa Bay, Mayfield slid after a 35-yard run and was drilled from the side by Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead, who wasn’t flagged but was fined $26,739 fine by the NFL, which acknowledged days after the hit that it should have been a penalty.

Last week, Kansas City safety Ron Parker delivered a glancing blow with his helmet to Mayfield while the quarterback was being wrapped up by defensive tackle Chris Jones. Again, no penalty was called, but Mayfield was forced to leave the game after an independent medical observer called the officials and requested the QB undergo a concussion evaluation.

Mayfield passed the test and was allowed to return three plays later. He fought to stay in the game.

“Yeah. I guess that is the new rule,” he said. “I have to come off the field for a checkup.”

Parker could be fined by the league, which announces its weekly punishments on Saturday.

Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, joked that Parker’s hit fortunately didn’t do any damage.

“It would be more frustrating if it hurt,” Mayfield said. “I was more frustrated they took me out of the game, to be honest with you. But they’re protecting me. They’re doing their job. So ultimately what can I complain about?”

Mayfield has sympathy for the officials, who are doing what they can to protect players — especially quarterbacks — while presiding over a game that’s moving very fast. Mayfield smiled when asked if the officiating was as uneven when he played in college at Oklahoma.

“No,” he said, grinning. “I had a bunch of friends out there, so it was good.”

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FANTASY PLAYS: Players to start and sit in NFL Week 10

Like winter, fantasy football playoffs loom. Successful fantasy owners shouldn't go into victory formation yet, as one bad week or unfortunate injury can change the complexion of the whole season.

Those still pushing for a postseason berth should pull out all the stops without fear. Week 10 brings opportunity for players who have otherwise been

Like winter, fantasy football playoffs loom. Successful fantasy owners shouldn’t go into victory formation yet, as one bad week or unfortunate injury can change the complexion of the whole season.

Those still pushing for a postseason berth should pull out all the stops without fear. Week 10 brings opportunity for players who have otherwise been disappointments along with a rookie or two who should be used to exploit favorable matchups.

START: Jordan Howard, RB, Bears: With four touchdowns in his last three games, Howard is showing signs of finally breaking out of his season-long funk. Howard is no longer a component in the Chicago passing game, but he’s averaged 19 touches per game over the past three weeks. Now he faces a Lions run defense that gives up 5.1 yards per carry and is ranked 27th in stopping the run. He’s still a long way from the RB1 many envisioned he’d be on draft day, but Howard will fit in most fantasy lineups as a solid RB2 this Sunday.

SIT: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: Yes, him. Gronkowski hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 1 and has exceeded better than 70 receiving yards just twice after tagging the Texans for 123 yards in the regular season opener. He missed last Sunday’s win against the Packers and is questionable for Sunday’s game versus the Titans. There are good streaming options available at tight end (Chris Herndon of the Jets, for example) but the days of Gronkowski as a must-start fantasy beast appear to be reaching their end.

START: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Packers: Since joining the starting lineup, Valdes-Scantling is averaging just over nine targets per game and has a pair of 100-yard outings to go along with two touchdowns. Green Bay’s pass, pass and pass again mindset makes the rookie a strong WR2 who continues to gain the trust of Aaron Rodgers. He’ll keep building his rapport with Rodgers at the expense of a Miami defense that is 25th in receiving yards allowed and 29th in yards per catch allowed. Valdes-Scantling has averaged 21.1 yards per catch, as seven of his 17 receptions have been for 20 yards or longer.

SIT: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: The optimism about Carr following a strong performance against the Colts was critically shattered after a near-lifeless effort against the 49ers. Things will not get better for Carr, who must contend with a Chargers defense that is a solid 12th in net passing yards allowed and is tied for sixth with 10 interceptions. While Carr has 10 touchdown passes this season, keep in mind that seven of those came in two games. Los Angeles held him to just 14 fantasy points when the two teams met in Week 5.

START: Michael Gallup, WR, Cowboys: Dak Prescott has gotten the rookie wideout more involved over the past two games, with 11 of his 28 targets this season coming in that span. He’s responded well, catching six passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and will continue his upward trend going against a suspect Eagles pass defense that is 20th in net passing yards allowed. Gallup has shown he doesn’t need a lot of targets to make an impact, which makes him an intriguing WR3/flex option.

SIT: Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions: Even with Golden Tate no longer in the lineup, Golladay was a non-factor in last week’s loss to the Vikings, catching just three passes for 46 yards on four targets. Things don’t get easier for Golladay, who faces a Bears defense that is ninth in fewest net passing yards and is second only to the Dolphins with 14 interceptions. Golladay should see more targets after having a mere seven in his last three games combined, but there’s little to feel good about playing him, especially in a PPR format.

START: Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans: He’s starting to round into shape and comes off his second game of better than 20 fantasy points with a great chance at a third against the Patriots. New England is 28th in net passing yards allowed and have given up 19 touchdown passes and must deal with Mariota’s running ability. While he’d be a gamble in standard leagues, Mariota is a good play in deeper leagues. There’s a good chance he steps his game up and turns this contest into a high-scoring affair.

SIT: Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions: Stafford hasn’t recorded a game of better than 20 fantasy points since Week 4 and after being sacked 10 times by the Vikings last week, his body will go through another brutal afternoon against the Bears, who have 24 sacks along with 14 interceptions. Chicago is ninth in fewest net passing yards, and if the Lions fall behind early, Stafford had better brace for a long afternoon of uncomfortable meetings with Chicago’s withering pass rush.

START: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers: Sooner or later, the Packers will catch on to giving Jones more than 12-14 carries per game. Sunday would be a good time to do so, as Green Bay gets a Miami defense ranked 31st against the run and allows a healthy 4.6 yards per carry, which bodes well for Jones’ six yards per attempt. Yes, there is some disappointment in Jones after his fumble against the Patriots, but there’s a great rebound opportunity awaiting any fantasy owner willing to use him as an RB2.

SIT: Wendell Smallwood, RB, Eagles: In fact, avoiding Eagles running backs altogether is a sound move. The backfield by committee style is a fantasy killer, one whose level of pain is increased by facing a Cowboys run defense that is seventh in fewest yards allowed and gives up a mere 3.6 yards per carry.

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For more Week 10 fantasy insight and tips, visit RotoExperts: https://rotoexperts.com

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Rivers rolling, Carr stalling entering Chargers-Raiders game

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.

Carr looked like one of the NFL's up-and-coming stars,

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.

Carr looked like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming stars, while Rivers seemed to be on the downside of a career that started in 2004.

The script has flipped heading into Sunday’s meeting between Rivers’ Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) and Carr’s Oakland Raiders (1-7). Rivers is playing as well as he has at any point in his 15-year career, while Carr is struggling to find his way in coach Jon Gruden’s offense.

“Obviously quarterbacks get way too much credit and way too much blame already, but I think we don’t give enough credit to guys who have played that long,” Carr said. “I’ll say it this way, the hardest part mentally going through a season is the days leading up to the game. Sunday is fun, man. You cut it loose and you give it everything you have. Having to recover, ice tub, wake up early to get treatment, the lift, to lift heavy when everything hurts, that’s when those guys don’t get enough credit.

“Here I am at five years, I’m fine. I’m good. I’ll keep doing this and I’m good. But, those guys that are in their 15th, 20th season, we don’t give them enough credit to mentally be that strong. It’s awesome.”

Rivers has career highs in yards per attempt (9.1) and passer rating (116.5), and is on pace for a career-high 38 touchdown passes while leading the Chargers to five straight wins.

The Chargers have strengthened their offensive line, have a potent running threat in Melvin Gordon, have plenty of outside targets with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, and a strong defense.

That has all taken pressure off Rivers to carry too much of the load.

“These last almost 20 games or so, we’ve had good balance,” Rivers said. “Leaning on one another offensively and defensively taking care of the ball — all of those things are important. So we’ve done a nice job of it so far.”

Here are some other things to watch:

GORDON’S RUN

Melvin Gordon has rushed for 407 yards and scored five touchdowns in his last four games. He also has three 100-yard games in three of his past four, the first time that has happened in his career. The only game when Gordon did not go over the century mark was Week 5 against the Raiders; he had just 58 yards on 19 carries. The Raiders are last in the league in rushing defense, but Gordon knows he has a tough test ahead.

“They played me pretty tough last time we went up against them. It is never easy since they are a rival. As a group the offensive line is hitting on all cylinders. We hope to keep getting stronger.”

PRESSURE POINT

The Raiders have struggled to generate any sort of pass pressure all season after trading away Khalil Mack. Oakland ranks last in the NFL with seven sacks and last with 35 QB pressures, according to SportRadar, 28 fewer pressures than the next-lowest team. Fixing that will only get harder after the team released top pass rusher Bruce Irvin last week. That puts more pressure on a trio of rookies — P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst — that has three sacks this season.

“We put a lot on their plate and that’s because they’re the future of this team,” teammate Frostee Rucker said. “They have to come along and play.”

KINGS OF PICKS

The Chargers have seven interceptions during their five-game winning streak and have 189 yards in returns, which leads the league. Second-year cornerback Desmond King has three of the interceptions and returned one 42 yards for a touchdown last week at Seattle to put the Chargers up by two scores.

MISSING WIDEOUTS

Oakland has struggled to get any production from wideouts in recent weeks. Since the start of Week 5, Oakland ranks last in the NFL with 37 catches and 428 yards receiving from wide receivers. Amari Cooper had one catch for 10 yards in two games in that span before being traded to Dallas. Seth Roberts leads Oakland’s pass catchers with 12 receptions over those four games, while Martavis Bryant has the most yards with 138.

NEW KICKER (AGAIN)

The Chargers have become the Bermuda Triangle for placekickers. Michael Badgley is the team’s sixth since the start of last season and moved into the role fulltime this week after Caleb Sturgis was released on Monday. Badgley made all three of his field goals and seven extra points in the two games he kicked when Sturgis had a quadriceps injury.

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AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report

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