Steelers QB Roethlisberger dealing with broken index finger

Panthers and Steelers test their mettle in prime time

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a broken index finger on his left hand.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Roethlisberger sustained the injury on his non-throwing hand at some point in Pittsburgh’s 33-18 victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Tomlin does not expect the finger to be an issue for Roethlisberger when the AFC North-leading Steelers (4-2-1) travel to Baltimore (4-4) on Sunday.

Roethlisberger completed 24 of 36 passes for 257 yards passing and two touchdowns to Antonio Brown against the Browns as Pittsburgh extended its winning streak to three games. Roethlisberger could be limited in practice this week, though he occasionally does not practice on Wednesdays in general.

Pittsburgh cornerback Coty Sensabaugh is dealing with a toe injury that could limit his practice time. Sensabaugh played extensively against the Browns in place of Artie Burns. Tomlin said Burns was late to a walkthrough on Saturday and did not take any snaps on defense, though the former first-round pick did play on special teams.

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Rams eager to rebound from 1st loss, sweep Seahawks series

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams hadn't lost a game until last week, their spectacular season has featured several close calls.

Not many were closer than their 33-31 victory just five weeks ago in Seattle, where the Seahawks racked up 190 yards rushing, intercepted two passes by Jared Goff and came agonizingly

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Rams hadn’t lost a game until last week, their spectacular season has featured several close calls.

Not many were closer than their 33-31 victory just five weeks ago in Seattle, where the Seahawks racked up 190 yards rushing, intercepted two passes by Jared Goff and came agonizingly close to a huge NFC West win.

With the second-place Seahawks (4-4) visiting the Coliseum on Sunday for the rematch, the Rams (8-1) have a chance to essentially end the division race with seven weeks to go. The Rams aren’t looking that far ahead, but Aaron Donald hopes Los Angeles will learn from that narrow win in Seattle — and a 45-35 loss at New Orleans last week.

“We’re in a good place, and we’re locked in,” said the Rams’ superstar defensive tackle, second in the NFL with 10 sacks. “We play these guys twice a year, so we’ve got respect for them. We’ve just got to get after them.”

The Rams have never lost back-to-back regular-season games in their 1½ seasons under Sean McVay, but they’ve thrived primarily on the strength of an offense that has been able to outscore nearly every opponent, including the Seahawks. NFL scoring leader Todd Gurley rushed for three TDs in Seattle, and the Rams kept the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands in the final 3:38 by running out the clock.

The Seahawks also are coming off a loss after the Chargers won in Seattle last week, but the Seahawks know they can beat the Rams because they did it last season at the Coliseum.

Even if the division race might already be out of hand, they’ve got a chance to begin their playoff rally with a statement victory.

“We can’t allow them to score as many points as they put up,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We feel like we did a really good job against the run for the most part. We have to find a way to do that, make them one-dimensional, make sure Todd doesn’t get into the end zone as many times as he did.”

More things to watch in this NFC West showdown:

TOUGH CHECK

Donald has sacked Wilson eight times in their careers, more than any other quarterback. But Donald and the Rams didn’t manage to sack Drew Brees last week, and they still have something to prove to the Seahawks — particularly to guard D.J. Fluker, who wasn’t impressed by the toughness of the Los Angeles defense in the clubs’ previous meeting.

The Seattle offensive lineman said the Rams “want to be pass rushers,” but hadn’t “seen a team go out there and actually take it to them.” Donald had no interest in starting a public discussion this week: “We’re just going to go out there and play a game and let our play speak for us.”

RUN AROUND

Seattle’s impressive rushing performance in their first meeting with the Rams included 116 yards from Chris Carson, but he is in question for the rematch because of a hip injury that caused him to sit the final 2½ quarters last week against the Chargers. Mike Davis and seldom-used Rashaad Penny probably would replace Carson.

But Seattle also has offensive line concerns after Fluker injured his calf late in the loss to the Chargers. Fluker’s addition to the offensive line helped spark Seattle’s turnaround in the run game starting in late September.

GURLEY GOES

Gurley has scored a touchdown in a franchise-record 12 straight games, and his 868 yards rushing are the NFL’s most by a whopping 162 yards over Pittsburgh’s James Connor.

Gurley’s 16 TDs this season are the most in the league and the second-most in NFL history through nine games, trailing only Jim Brown’s 17 in 1958. That’s the challenge facing Seattle’s run defense, which is giving up 4.8 yards per attempt — tied for fourth-worst in the league — but has been effective in stretches.

GET MARCUS

Former Washington Huskies defensive back Marcus Peters was targeted repeatedly by the Saints, and the Rams’ top corner took the blame for much of Brees’ success. The Seahawks undoubtedly saw the former Pro Bowl cover man’s struggles on video, but Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has limited options in the continued injury absence of cornerback Aqib Talib. The Rams’ best solution might be increased pressure on Wilson, who has been sacked 25 times already this season.

SAFETY PLAN

Bradley McDougald has been one of Seattle’s defensive standouts, but with a quick turnaround to facing Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers next Thursday, McDougald may end up sitting out against the Rams because of a bothersome knee injury. If McDougald can’t play, the Seahawks would turn to second-year safety Delano Hill, which could create an extremely young secondary. If Hill starts, he would play alongside second-year free safety Tedric Thompson, second-year cornerback Shaquill Griffin and rookie cornerback Tre Flowers. Nickel cornerback Justin Coleman, in his fourth season, would be the veteran of the group.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed.

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History on the line: Porous Bengals try to stop Saints

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati's historically bad defense.

The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.

No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3)

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Steelers piled up 481 yards against Cincinnati’s historically bad defense.

The Chiefs and the Buccaneers each went well over 500 yards the next two weeks, putting the Bengals on the cusp of NFL history.

No defense has allowed three straight 500-yard games. In order to avoid the ignominy, the Bengals (5-3) are going to have to stop an offense that’s been lighting it up.

Hello, Drew Brees.

The Saints (7-1) have won seven straight and are coming off a 45-35 win that sent the Rams to their first loss. New Orleans piled up 487 yards behind Brees, who leads the NFL in completion rate (76.3 percent) and passer rating (120.6). He’s been sacked a league-low nine times.

If the Bengals fail to get a hand on him, it could be history .

“They go as Brees goes,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We’ve got to find a way to slow down that future Hall of Famer.”

The biggest challenge for the Saints will be keeping the momentum in their only road game during a four-week span. They return home to play the Eagles and Falcons the next two weeks.

Although the Bengals have given up the most yards in the NFL, the defense has scored four touchdowns on interception and fumble returns, playing a big factor in three of their wins.

The Saints can’t afford to get off to a bad start that gives the Bengals the advantage. Also, it would help if the Saints tidied up their defense a bit.

While the Bengals are historically bad — on pace to give up more than 7,000 yards — the Saints are also struggling on defense. They rank 25th overall, including second-worst in pass defense. They’ve been among the worst at stopping opponents inside the 20-yard line. The Rams overcame an 18-point halftime deficit and tied it 35-35 in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans would like fewer shootouts in the second half of the season.

“There’s a ton of things we have to improve on and we need to improve on, or it’s going to hurt us later,” coach Sean Payton said.

Some things to watch Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:

THE NEW GUY

New Orleans signed former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on Wednesday . It’s unclear what role — if any — he’ll play this week as he tries to learn the offense. Deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. is hurt, and the Saints hope Bryant can add another dimension to the offense once he gets acclimated.

“I look forward to building a rapport with him,” Brees said. “I look forward to getting him involved in this offense and just become a complement to all the guys that we already have.”

THOMAS’ TIME

While Bryant’s arrival gets attention, Michael Thomas remains the Saints’ biggest threat. He set a franchise record last week with 211 yards receiving, including his 72-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. With half the season still remaining, Thomas has 70 catches for 880 yards and five TDs.

BIGGEST BLEMISH

The Saints’ most glaring problems on defense have come near the goal line. New Orleans’ opponents have scored touchdowns on 20 of 28 drives (71.4 percent). That ranks 28th out of 32 teams in defensive red zone efficiency.

“You can’t find any team having success later in the season with the numbers that we currently have,” Payton said. “We’ve got to find a way to improve that.”

The Bengals lead the league in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20-yard line, reaching the end zone on 20 of their 26 such possessions. They’ve scored touchdowns on eight of their past nine trips inside the 20.

“We’ve had some really good schemes,” Andy Dalton said. “At the end of the day, our guys have made the plays.”

OH THAT HISTORY

No NFL team has given up three straight 500-yard games. The 1963 Jets gave up three 500-yard games within a four-game span — 510 to the Chargers, 505 to the Raiders, 317 to the Broncos and 528 to the Chargers again. In its past three games, Cincinnati has allowed 481 to the Steelers, 551 to the Chiefs and 576 to the Buccaneers.

“We’re underachieving right now,” Dunlap said. “We’re playing well enough to win some games, which is why we’re 5-3. If we work on the negatives, we can be that elite defense and that elite team.”

MISSING GREEN

A.J. Green caught a 13-yard touchdown pass with 7 seconds left for a win in Atlanta. He had two catches that moved the Bengals into range for their winning field goal against Tampa Bay before they headed into their bye last week. He also hurt a toe on his right foot on the final catch and is sidelined indefinitely, costing Cincinnati its most dependable receiver.

“It is a huge impact,” Payton said. “He is someone that commands a ton of coverage respect.”

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AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in Metairie, Louisiana, and Joe Reedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Texans shake off terrible start with 6-game winning streak

HOUSTON (AP) — Ask Jadeveon Clowney how the Houston Texans turned around their season by winning six straight games after an 0-3 start and the hulking defensive end breaks into song.

"Started from the bottom now we're here," he bellows. "Started from the bottom now the whole team here."

While the 2013 Drake tune is

HOUSTON (AP) — Ask Jadeveon Clowney how the Houston Texans turned around their season by winning six straight games after an 0-3 start and the hulking defensive end breaks into song.

“Started from the bottom now we’re here,” he bellows. “Started from the bottom now the whole team here.”

While the 2013 Drake tune is a little old to be the team’s anthem, the sentiment of the song couldn’t be more fitting for these Texans.

They occupied the basement of the AFC South after opening the season with losses to New England, Tennessee and the New York Giants by a combined 13 points. After falling into such a big hole early, the Texans were written off by many as headed to a lost season.

Everyone insists that such a defeatist sentiment never took hold within the team, with the struggles galvanizing them to get on track and prove the doubters wrong.

“Don’t quit. Everyone keeps fighting. Everyone keeps believing,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “Everyone keeps fighting to the very, very end. That is what we do. Regardless of the situation or the adversity, we are always going to keep fighting. That is how we feel.”

Houston is the second team in NFL history to win six in a row after opening 0-3, the first since the Giants in 1970. The winning streak has the Texans in first place in their division and in good position to compete for their third AFC South title in the last four seasons.

A big reason for Houston’s turnaround has been the play of Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt. Both have started each game this year after having their 2017 seasons cut short by major injuries. Watson tore a knee ligament in practice after appearing in seven games in 2017. Watt played just eight games in the previous two years because of back surgeries and a broken leg.

Watt is tied for third in the NFL with nine sacks and his four forced fumbles are tied for most in the league.

“I know he probably doesn’t want to talk about it too much, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “To come back from what he’s been able to come back from, some really serious injuries, and to be able to play at the level that he’s playing at, it just says all you need to know about him and how much he cares about the team and how much he wants to help this organization win.”

Watson, the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, has thrown for 2,389 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions despite being slowed by lung and rib injuries. O’Brien said his diligence in coming to the facility every day after his injury last season to study film and talk to coaches has helped Watson take a step forward this year.

“He’s grown a lot,” O’Brien said. “He’s just an awesome guy to work with. He cares about studying, he cares about putting time in to prepare for each game. I think he’s learned a lot about NFL defenses. He’s had a lot thrown at him defensively this year, whether it’s third-down defenses, red-area defenses. He’s improved every week.”

Watson has been helped by the stellar play of receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is No. 3 in the NFL with 894 yards receiving and whose seven touchdowns are tied for second. The Texans hope that new addition Demaryius Thomas, acquired in a trade with Denver last Tuesday, will make more of an impact after the break with some time to learn the offense.

Hopkins, who has five touchdowns in the last four games, said despite this strong stretch the Texans are approaching things the same way they did when they were desperate for a victory.

“We’ve got the same mentality, and that’s win,” he said. “That’s why we go to practice and that’s why we wake up every day. It’s the same mentality we had when we were 0-3. Nothing’s changed.”

They know that if they let up, their season will end prematurely, just as it did when they went 4-12 in 2017.

O’Brien let out a slight chuckle when asked if 0-3 feels like forever ago.

“It’s not a really long time ago,” he said. “I think our players understand that, and I think the difference between 0-3 and where we are now is not a big difference. We’re just making some more plays, we’re coaching some things better. I think our guys have to — and they do — understand that every week is going to be difficult.”

First up is a trip to Washington on Nov. 18 before a Monday night matchup with Tennessee on Nov. 26 in the first of three straight home games when a win would be key in moving closer to taking their division.

“It’s just important to note that we haven’t been blowing anybody out,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I don’t think we are a complacent group of guys. We’ve been in some fist fights, some real close ballgames, so it’s not like everything is cookie cutter and everything is going all good for us.”

“We still have things we can improve on and work on, so I think that’s what’s going to keep us pushing forward.”

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Linebackers are paying price for NFL’s video-game numbers

DENVER (AP) — With the NFL's volcanic offenses, can't-hit-them-too-hard rules and bewildered officials, linebackers today aren't the snarling 250-pound thumpers who used to just give running backs fits.

"Now we have to cover well, too," Denver's Brandon Marshall said. "We still have to tackle well. So, you can't be real light and only playing pass

DENVER (AP) — With the NFL’s volcanic offenses, can’t-hit-them-too-hard rules and bewildered officials, linebackers today aren’t the snarling 250-pound thumpers who used to just give running backs fits.

“Now we have to cover well, too,” Denver’s Brandon Marshall said. “We still have to tackle well. So, you can’t be real light and only playing pass or too heavy and only playing run. You’ve got to be able to do all of it, man.”

Which means finding a sweet spot on the scale so they can run like a gazelle and still hit like a truck.

Today’s inside linebackers not only need to have the stamina to go sideline to sideline, but they also require:

—sufficient strength to shed 320-pound linemen;

—enough vigor to cover towering tight ends;

—ample speed to keep up with receivers no longer timid about going over the middle;

—enough recognition and quickness to keep up with shifty running backs and ever-more-mobile quarterbacks.

It’s also handy to have a thick skin, knowing linebackers will bear the brunt of fans’ frustrations as offenses pick apart apparently defenseless units at a record-setting pace.

Sounds impossible.

“It almost is,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It almost is.”

“It’s definitely very difficult,” Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said. “You have tight ends that provide mismatches, you’ve got running backs that are great receivers. You’re asked to be in a lot of positions. But that’s what we get paid to do. So, we’ve got figure out a way to do it and do it well.”

As do the officials, whom Joseph said are allowing illegal blocks with the run-pass option rage that has seeped from the college game and is prominently featured in places such as Kansas City, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Take the Broncos’ loss to the Chiefs in Week 8.

Linemen aren’t allowed to block more than a yard from the line of scrimmage on a pass play. But the Chiefs’ guards and center got a few yards downfield several times, causing Denver’s linebackers to instinctively commit to the run — only to see quarterback Patrick Mahomes pull the ball back from running back Kareem Hunt’s belly and zip it to wide-open tight end Travis Kelce.

“It’s the league we’re in,” Joseph said. “Those guys blocking up front don’t know the ball is being thrown. They’re blocking zone, so absolutely it’s an issue. We have to fix this issue in this league, unless it’s going to be college football.

“It’s tough for the linebackers to play both, and you see it on tape. Todd Davis is having hell trying to fit his gap and chase the guy in the flat. When you see Kelce in the flat over there with no one around him, (Davis is) playing his run gap because the guard and center are four and five yards down the field.”

Joseph added, “That’s an issue. It’s a leaguewide issue and it’s a Chiefs issue. Everyone is running these plays, so we have to figure out a way to officiate this better to help the game.”

Marshall isn’t so sure the league’s competition committee will do anything about it, though, saying more points equals more eyeballs.

“They’re not going to change it,” he said.

So it’s the linebackers who are changing.

Davis, the Broncos’ leading tackler, said he’s dropped his weight to 233 and “I do a lot more training with DBs and corners. I add that on to what I already did in the weight room and running and conditioning. But now I have to be ready for everything in the pass game, as well.”

The linebackers who are modifying their bodies and games are embracing the challenge.

“It’s the NFL,” Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “There’s great players at every position.”

Including linebacker.

“I love it,” Davis said. “It’s on us to play well and it’s on us to set the tempo and be great for our team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Marshall said linebackers ultimately benefit from the ever-increasing challenges brought on by the RPO trend, faster rushers, bigger tight ends and plucky receivers.

“It’s made me a better player,” Marshall said. “It’s also made me more valuable.”

“I think that’s why teams put a premium on athletic ‘backers,” Marshall said. “Because we have to be out there to cover the Kelces and the Gronks and the Dion Lewises and the James Whites of the world. And then we’ve got to be able to tackle (Todd) Gurley. That’s just how it is.”

Defenses are employing more defensive backs, as many as seven, to combat the RPO trend.

“I think schematically we have to adjust as far as personnel and put faster athletes, better athletes at cover linebacker positions to nullify some of this stuff,” Joseph said. “Because right now it’s almost impossible physically.”

Joseph thinks he has an antidote in Su’a Cravens, and the 6-foot-1, 220-pound safety from USC who’s used as a dime linebacker certainly agrees.

“The way the rules are, they handicap defenses. We’re basically on the field to get in the way, we’re not supposed to stop the offense,” Cravens said. “Defense is already hard enough. They’re making it harder.

“So, with guys like me, I think it’s an opportunity for us to showcase what we can do because they’re making it hard for traditional linebackers who are heavy-handed, heavy-footed. They’re ready to be physical at the line of scrimmage and they can’t do that anymore.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker and Dave Campbell contributed

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Chiefs using screen plays in creative new ways on offense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes had been shredding the Patriots defense all night with his incredible arm strength and downfield precision in a back-and-forth shootout last month when it looked as if the Chiefs quarterback might be finally corralled by a well-timed blitz.

With a deft flip of his wrist, Mahomes instead tossed

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes had been shredding the Patriots defense all night with his incredible arm strength and downfield precision in a back-and-forth shootout last month when it looked as if the Chiefs quarterback might be finally corralled by a well-timed blitz.

With a deft flip of his wrist, Mahomes instead tossed a soft screen pass to Kareem Hunt out of the backfield, and he raced up the field as the Patriots were forced to chase him.

The timing was perfect. The execution was spot-on.

It was just one of dozens of examples through the first nine games this season of coach Andy Reid using the screen pass to impressive effect.

Whether it’s Hunt out of the backfield, Tyreek Hill or Sammy Watkins on a bubble screen or even tight end Travis Kelce catching a short pass behind the defense, the Chiefs may use their myriad variations of the screen better than any other team.

“You are really just taking a blocking scheme and moving it out into space,” Reid explained. “Our backs are good with it, quarterback gives them an opportunity and the big guys get out and run.”

The intricate timing plays are fun for just about everybody.

Mahomes likes them because the throws are fairly easy and often lead to big gains. Hunt and fellow running back Spencer Ware like them because they can use their talent in space. And even the offensive linemen like them because they often get to plow through smaller defensive backs, rather than tangle with big defensive tackles as they would do on a traditional running play.

Oh, and the Chiefs’ fans like them for obvious reasons.

Screen passes are hardly new in the NFL, and indeed, they have been part of Reid’s basic West Coast offense since he was learning the scheme from its originator, Bill Walsh.

But with so many playmakers at his disposal, and a quarterback who is finally capable of executing the variety of plays, Reid has taken the old-school notion of screen passes to another level.

They might incorporate elements of the run-pass option, a relatively new development that has swept through the NFL.

Or they might call for guys to line up in unique spots, such as running backs split wide or a wide receiver in the backfield. Or they might call for exotic blocking schemes.

“It’s a timing thing. We have to be in sync with our offensive line,” Ware said. “Our releases are a big part of it — how we escape. The downfield ball with Tyreek, Sammy, Travis and Mahomes throwing it opens it up for us. Then when you have Kareem running how he’s running, they come up and play the run and it’s like, ‘No, it’s not a run, it’s a pass. You’d better get back.’ That gives us some cushion.”

Such screen plays often look simple, but are in fact quite difficult to execute.

Mahomes has to read the defense correctly in the seconds before a snap. The designated target needs to be on the same page. And as Hunt explained, “there’s just a lot of timing involved.”

“Yeah,” Mahomes added, “but with how well Coach Reid explains it, everything goes off each other. I think we had a screen and it went off a shovel pass to Kareem the week before, things like that, where we build on top of each other every single week. We are never set in our ways.”

That’s another reason the Chiefs’ screen passes are so difficult to defend: They may run a play to one target one week, giving the next opponent film to review, then run the play to a different target out of the exact same formation the following week.

Good luck trying to stop that.

“Asking these guys to go against faster players, for your offensive linemen to go against these defensive backs and block them in space, that’s tough to do,” Reid said.

“We’re fortunate our backs do a nice job of this. They help set up the defense so you can run fast. There’s nothing worse than watching a screen, you get out there and the offensive linemen are out there trying to dance a little bit.

“A back can take care of you with that,” Reid concluded. “As long as you know where he’s at, he’s going to kind of force the issue downhill, good things can happen.”

Notes: Strong safety Eric Berry (heel), OL Cam Erving (illness), LB Anthony Hitchens (ribs), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and C Mitch Morse (concussion) remained out of practice Thursday. … Special teams coach Dave Toub dismissed a couple of recent missed PATs, saying Thursday that “nobody is harder on himself” than PK Harrison Butker. Toub said snaps have been part of the problem, “and again, it’s a 33-yard field goal. It’s not a chip-shot like it used to be.”

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Super Bowl 53 Odds: Updated for Week 10

Key takeaways from week 9:

  • Saints replace the Chiefs, joining the Rams and Patriots as the top three spots
  • 49ers have the lowest odds at 2000/1
  • Biggest jump: Atlanta Falcons (+31.8%)
  • Biggest drop: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills (-100%)
  • No change: Chiefs, Texans, Colts, Dolphins, Cardinals, Giants (0%)

Key takeaways from week 9:

  • Saints replace the Chiefs, joining the Rams and Patriots as the top three spots
  • 49ers have the lowest odds at 2000/1
  • Biggest jump: Atlanta Falcons (+31.8%)
  • Biggest drop: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills (-100%)
  • No change: Chiefs, Texans, Colts, Dolphins, Cardinals, Giants (0%)

Super Bowl 53 Odds


Martin is a data analyst that has been applauded for his ability to make the complex simple. He grew up on a farm in northern Vermont and spent his summers helping his mom lead llama treks at Smugglers’ Notch Resort.

Martin graduated from University of Vermont with a degree in Mathematics. After graduation he left Vermont to work for an educational nonprofit called City Year for two years, and followed that up by attending the data science immersive program at Galvanize in Denver. He is an avid Green Bay Packer fan, and spends his free time playing football and soccer.

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Ballin’ on a Budget Week 10 Picks

Welcome to Week 10 of the NFL season as we have been on a roll with this column lately. Luck never seems to last long in the sports betting world, but we will ride this wave as long as we can. Since we went 3-0 on point spreads/underdog game picks last week, we're

Welcome to Week 10 of the NFL season as we have been on a roll with this column lately. Luck never seems to last long in the sports betting world, but we will ride this wave as long as we can. Since we went 3-0 on point spreads/underdog game picks last week, we’re going back to that well heavily today. We’re going to have four point spread picks with one over/under kicker. There are some interesting lines out there this week, so let’s get to it.

Panthers +4 at Steelers (-115)

Both these teams are red hot and this should be one of the best games of the week. For once, we get a really good Thursday Night game. On a short week, both teams are going to be tired and it might be a little sloppier than we’ve seen from Carolina and Pittsburgh the last several weeks. The nod probably goes to Pittsburgh, because they’re at home, but when it’s two really good teams, you have to take the side getting four points.

We’ll be hoping for a Steelers three-point win or even the Panthers to pull this one out on the road and keep their hot play going. Either of those will win us some money, so we won’t be picky. The bet: $3 for total payout of $5.61.

Redskins +135 over Buccaneers

One week after picking against the Redskins when they were home favorites, we’re turning the tables and picking them to win straight up as road dogs this week. Washington was embarrassed by Atlanta in D.C. a week ago and to keep pace with the Eagles, this is a game they have to win. Jameis and Tampa have looked terrible as of late and there’s no reason to think that ends this week.

Look for Washington to get back on track and rather than betting on them +3 with a -115 payout, just go for it and bet them straight up to win at +135 payout. It’s much better value and you have to like their chances of winning outright. The bet: $5 for total payout of $11.75.

Cardinals +17 at Chiefs (-110)

No matter how one-sided the match up, I just can’t bring myself to believe that an NFL team can’t cover a three-score spread. We had this same feeling when we bet the Bills +17 against the Vikings earlier in the season. Somehow, the Bills won that game outright, the biggest upset statistically in a few decades. That ain’t happening with the Cardinals, but Arizona’s defense is nothing to scoff at.

While Kansas City has been blowing most teams out of the water, this feels a lot more like a 10-point game, because the Cardinals are going to try and control the clock and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. If a team can’t cover a 17-point spread, we deserve to lose the bet anyway, so let’s roll with it. The bet: $4 for total payout of $7.60.

Seahawks +10 at Rams (-110)

Both these teams lost last week and Seattle is now on the brink of falling out of playoff contention. With L.A. losing home field throughout the playoffs for the time being based on their loss to the Saints, each of these teams is going to be playing desperate. Expect the Rams to win this game, but it should be much closer than the spread indicates.

Certainly, Seattle plays much better at home (where they pushed a +3 spread against the Rams earlier this season), but they’ve shown they can hang offensively when they need to. With two opponents so familiar with each other, it’s hard to bet against the team getting 10 points. Betting with the team getting points seems to be the theme this week, but that’s just how the spreads have played out. The bet: $4 for total payout of $7.60.

Saints-Bengals OVER 54 (-115)

This very well could be an overreaction on my part to the Saints and Rams shattering my under pick last week (it was 60, the teams combined for 80). However, this really does seem like a solid bet. With A.J. Green out, the Bengals offense will be less dynamic, but as long as they get Joe Mixon in space, that will open up passing lanes for Andy Dalton to hit Tyler Boyd and others.

New Orleans should certainly be seen as the favorite in this game and we will be in good shape if they open up an early lead, because that will force Cincinnati to play catch up. That’s what happened to the Rams last week and we saw the end result there. Here’s to righting that wrong and taking the over this week instead of the under when it comes to the Saints. The bet: $4 for total payout of $7.40.

As we do every week, let’s calculate our dream scenario where we go 5-for-5. We’ve been on a hot streak, so never say never. In that case, a $20 parlay would make us $598.95. We’ll keep dreaming of that, but I’m sure you’d all be fine going 3-for-5 every week as we’ve been doing all season long. Happy betting and we will check in after this weekend’s games.

Jacob Kornhauser is a sports reporter in Southern Oregon covering all sports, including Oregon and Oregon State athletics. He has been a national baseball writer for Bleacher Report and Rant Sports and has written two baseball books. He also specializes in sports betting analysis. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School.

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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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