Justin Herbert came up big at the death and Austin Ekeler dazzled as the Los Angeles Chargers avoided a stunning collapse after holding off Ben Roethlisberger's rallying Pittsburgh Steelers 41-37.

Herbert threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams with just over two minutes remaining as the Chargers outlasted the Steelers in a wild shoot-out on Sunday.

The Chargers led 27-10 entering the final quarter before Roethlisberger and the Steelers fought back to sensationally take a 37-34 lead behind Chris Boswell's 45-yard field goal with 3:24 remaining.

But the Chargers (6-4) avoided a mammoth collapse as Herbert found Williams four plays later to sink the Steelers (5-4-1), while Ekeler finished with a career-high four touchdowns.

Herbert became the first player in NFL history with 380-plus passing yards and 90-plus rushing yards in a game, per Stats Perform. The Chargers quarterback finished 30-of-41 passing for 382 yards and three TDs, while he rushed for another 90 yards – the most by a Chargers quarterback in a game.

With his third TD pass, Herbert improved to 53 touchdowns in his first 25 career starts, surpassing Tony Romo for fourth most in a player's opening 25 starts in the Super Bowl era – only Patrick Mahomes (68), Dan Marino (65) and Kurt Warner (59) had more.

As for Ekeler, who scored in every quarter, became the first player with multiple rushing touchdowns and multiple receiving TDs in a single game since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011.

Steelers veteran Roethlisberger finished with three touchdowns on 28-of-44 passing for 273 yards.

The NFL is a passing league. If a team has a quarterback who can elevate those around him and an offensive line that can protect him, chances are they will be well-positioned to contend for the playoffs.

Though the elite quarterbacks in the league can fit the ball into tight windows on a consistent basis, the odds of success on that side of the ball are much higher when those signal-callers are paired with receivers who can defeat man coverage and get into open space.

Excelling at finding the soft spot in zone coverage is also important, while the top play-callers in the NFL frequently engineer space for their receivers.

Yet receivers who can win one-on-one are a tremendous help to quarterbacks, especially those who can defeat the blitz regularly with their ability to efficiently read the field and find the open man.

While determining the 'best' receiver in the NFL is a subjective process that can hinge on an affinity for certain styles of play, success in beating defenders in coverage can be quantified.

Stats Perform has done so with its open percentage metric, which tracks how often a receiver gets open when they're matched up against man coverage and have enough time to run a route. Plays that break down before a matchup with a defender can take place or scramble drills where a receiver uncovers after running his initial route are discounted.

So who are the best and worst in that regard? Here we look at the top performers, some surprise names uncovering more often than perhaps expected and those who rarely separate from defenders.

THE ELITE

A year in which Cooper Kupp leads the NFL with 1,141 receiving yards has seen him established as arguably the premier route runner in the NFL.

That is reflected by his open percentage of 57.75, which is the highest of any player with more than 10 coverage matchups.

Getting open on 41 of his 71 matchups, Kupp has consistently excelled at creating separation. His burn percentage, which measures how often a receiver wins his matchup with a defender when he's targeted, of 65.2 is above the average of 60.3 for wideouts (min. 10 targets), while he is fourth in the NFL in burn yards per route (4.2).

Joining Kupp near the top of the tree is Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings. Proving his record-breaking rookie year was no fluke, Jefferson has faced 108 coverage matchups and got open on 55 of them, good for an open percentage of 50.93. 

Eleventh among receivers with a burn percentage of 73.4 and averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, there has been no sign of a sophomore slump from Jefferson, whose combination of separation ability and prowess at the catch point has turned him into one of the most dependable and dynamic receivers in the league.

Keenan Allen (53.16) is Kupp's closest challenger, the Los Angeles Chargers veteran underlining his status as one of the NFL's most underappreciated receivers by getting open at a rate that may only heighten frustrations around his team's underperforming offense.

Kansas City Chiefs star Tyreek Hill (47.78) boasts an elite open percentage that belies his underwhelming big play rate of 28.0 per cent, with Stefon Diggs' (47.62) success at getting open dispelling the notion of a drop-off from last year's receiving leader. Davante Adams (45.65) is unsurprisingly also among the league's best, yet he is accompanied by some eyebrow-raising names.

SURPRISE STUDS

It has been tough to watch an uninspired Pittsburgh Steelers offense this season and think anyone is getting open.

Almost every passing play the Steelers run seems to end in a contested catch, yet a wideout who thrives in those situations is also winning the vast majority of his coverage matchups.

Indeed, second-year wideout Chase Claypool ranks behind only Kupp and Allen in open percentage, uncovering from a defender on 35 of his 68 matchups (51.47). 

However, a burn yards per route rate of 2.5, just above the average of 2.3, and his struggles in the burn yards per target metric (10.30) indicate that, while Claypool is separating from coverage, he is not putting significant distance between himself and defenders. He will likely need to continue relying on his superiority at the catch point.

As with the Steelers, you won't find too many people who draw a sense of excitement watching a Teddy Bridgewater-led Denver Broncos offense.

There is no doubting the talent on Denver's attack. With Jerry Jeudy hurt and Noah Fant so far failing to take the second-year leap many expected, Courtland Sutton has shone brightest and is on course for a 1,000-yard season, though Tim Patrick's impact has been comparable.

Save for Kendall Hinton (47.83 on 23 matchups), it is the relatively unheralded Patrick who has proven Denver's best at separating, his open percentage of 44.44 from 90 matchups level with Dallas Cowboys star Amari Cooper.

A below-average burn yards per route of 2.0 speaks to a paucity of substantial separation, but Patrick is using the distance he is able to put between himself and defenders to create explosive plays, his big-play rate of 36.7 per cent comfortably above the average of 29.2.

Again leading tight ends in receiving yards (747), most would expect Travis Kelce of the Chiefs to top the list at that position for open percentage. Instead, it is a former AFC West standout in ex-Charger Hunter Henry.

Scoring seven touchdowns in as many games prior to being kept out of the endzone in Thursday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, Henry possesses an open percentage of 48.15. However, he has not been double-teamed this season.

Darren Waller has a double-team percentage of 17.2 and has still managed to get open 46.75 per cent of the time. The attention the Las Vegas Raiders star draws and his ability to succeed despite it illustrate his position as one of the league's biggest matchup nightmares and arguably the gold standard at tight end.

NO ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE

The Packers' offense has stuttered by its own high standards in recent weeks, with their underwhelming numbers not just a product of Jordan Love's struggles against the Chiefs.

Since Week 6, the Packers are averaging 213.2 net passing yards per game – 20th in the NFL. For the season, they are 16th in yards per pass play (6.46).

That mediocrity can, in part, be attributed to a lack of receiving depth beyond Adams, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's issues getting open encapsulate that problem.

Valdes-Scantling is supposed to be the Packers' deep threat who can stretch defenses with his ability to separate vertically.

Open on only five of his 38 coverage matchups – a percentage of 13.16 – Valdes-Scantling is not fulfilling his role. The Packers will likely need to be more explosive in the playoffs if they are to go all the way, meaning Valdes-Scantling must up his game.

Bryan Edwards is in a similar situation in Las Vegas. Scarcely utilised last season, Edwards has seen a bump in targets in 2021, the Raiders often going to him downfield. 

Edwards' average depth of target is 17.2 yards, but he has found deep separation hard to come by, uncovering on 17 of his 111 matchups (15.32 per cent). Yet with a gaudy burn yards per target average of 15.01 and a big-play rate of 50.7 per cent that is third among receivers (min. 10 targets), Edwards is a player who takes full advantage of the little separation he gets when Derek Carr looks his way.

Edwards' former South Carolina team-mate San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel is performing at the highest level of his young career. Samuel is second behind Kupp with 979 receiving yards and already has seven total touchdowns this season.

However, Samuel ranks near the bottom of the league in open percentage (15.07), with the difference between that number and his overall production a reflection of how he is used by San Francisco.

His average depth of target is 8.6 yards, below the NFL average for receivers of 11.0, speaking to the Niners' reliance on him on screens and short passes that are an extension of the run game.

Third in burn yards per route and leading all wide receivers with an average of 9.6 yards after catch per reception, Samuel takes advantage of those short targets with his speed, elusiveness and power, while he can win at the catch point downfield even without separation. The 49ers often get Samuel in space in the backfield but, for one of the league's most unique players, separation is not always a requirement.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been activated off the team's reserve/COVID-19 list.

Roethlisberger missed last week's clash with the Detroit Lions, which finished 16-16 after overtime, but the Steelers' director of communications Burt Lauten confirmed on Saturday that the 39-year-old will be back for Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Steelers are 5-3-1 and second in the AFC North, though Roethlisberger's absence was felt against the Lions.

Mason Rudolph started in his place, but missed a glut of opportunities to deliver touchdown passes, including a late throw into the dirt that should have put Ray-Ray McCloud into the endzone.

Rudolph threw for, 242 yards, one touchdown, one interception and registered a completion percentage of 60.

While Rudolph told ESPN on Thursday that he was preparing to start against the Chargers, it appears he will be back on the bench, with Roethlisberger able to return to action.

Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has thrown for 1,986 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season across eight games.

The Los Angeles Chargers could be without both Joey Bosa and Jerry Tillery for their clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers after both were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Edge rusher Bosa is once again leading the way for the Chargers with 5.5 sacks so far this season, while defensive tackle Tillery has 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss in 2021.

They would each be significant losses for a Chargers team looking to right the ship after three losses in their past four games and for a defense that ranks 19th in the NFL with 5.59 yards per play allowed.

However, the Chargers pair are not the only players who could miss Sunday's primetime matchup due to being in coronavirus protocol.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was absent for their 16-16 tie with the Detroit Lions after he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, on which he was joined by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick after he tested positive for coronavirus.

Discussing the quarterback position on Tuesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said: "We're going to build our plan around getting Mason [Rudolph, backup QB] ready to play.

"We're going to highlight his talents and skills relative to the opponents that we're intending to play. We're going to build that plan, work that plan. We've got a young offensive unit, and we'll let that lead us throughout the week.

"If we get to a point in the week where Ben has an opportunity to get to a moving train, that's exactly what he'll do. He'll be capable of executing the game plan."

The Chargers (5-4) are a game behind the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, while the Steelers (5-3-1) trail the 6-3 Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

Pittsburgh have won four of their past six meetings with the Chargers.

A tie is a rare result in the NFL, but for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris the 16-16 stalemate against the Detroit Lions came as a complete shock.

The first tie since Week 3 of the 2020 season took place on Sunday, with the Lions avoiding defeat but unable to earn a first win of 2021 after missing a field goal to win in overtime.

There was also disappointment for the Steelers, who were in prime position to win on multiple occasions in a chaotic extra 10 minutes.even with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger absent due to coronavirus.

First-round draft pick Harris, who ran for 105 yards and caught all four of his targets for a further 28, had no idea game was over. 

"I didn't even know you could tie in the NFL," Harris said, per ESPN. "In my mind, I was sitting on the bench saying, 'I've got another quarter to go'. 

"But someone came to me and said, 'That's it'. I've never had a tie in my life before."

The Steelers (5-3-1) fumbled twice in overtime through Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth, meaning they failed to take full advantage of losses for the AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.

"Ties suck," added Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. "I know it's a tie, but if it's not a win, I don't think you can really hang your hat on that."

Linebacker Joe Schobert added: "A tie in the NFL always feels like a loss when you get to the locker room because you're not adding one to the win column.

"It's a half-game. It might make a difference in the end. To let it slip away when you're that close definitely hurts."

But it could have been worse for the Steelers as the Lions (0-8-1) missed a golden opportunity to claim what would have been their first win since last December.

Ryan Santoso had a 48-yard field goal to win the game for the Lions, but saw his kick come up short of the goalposts.

There have now been 14 overtime games this season through 10 weeks of the season – only in 1995 (when there were 18) has there been more at this stage of an NFL campaign.

While games going beyond regulation have been common in 2021, this was the first to end all square, with Lions head coach Dan Campbell unsure how to feel.

"I'm in this twilight zone," he said. "I don't know what this is, really, and I'm sure I've been in a tie before as a player, but for some reason I can't remember that, if it was.

"I don't know how to feel about that, necessarily.

"It's like I told the guys, I was upset we didn't win, but I was also proud of them because of the fact that we put ourselves in position to win the game in overtime.

"We didn't win, but we didn't lose either. All you can ask for is improvement and we improved."

Star Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt went down with hip and knee injuries in the third quarter and was unable to return.

He did register a sack on Jared Goff in the play that caused his departure, meaning he has 62 in his career through his first 70 games. 

That is the second-best total ever, behind only Hall of Famer Reggie White (79) and above Derrick Thomas (61) and his brother J.J. (61).

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. 

The team announced the move late Saturday, and Mason Rudolph is expected to start in Roethlisberger's place. 

Roethlisberger landed on the COVID-19 list the same day another veteran quarterback, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, was activated after missing last week's game at the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Rudolph figures to have an easier assignment than Rodgers' backup Jordan Love did, with Pittsburgh (5-3) hosting the winless Lions (0-8) Sunday. 

The 26-year-old Steelers backup has not played this season but started one game last year and eight games as a rookie in 2019 after Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury. 

Roethlisberger, 39, said in a recent interview that he has received the coronavirus vaccine. He could return for Pittsburgh's November 21 game at the Los Angeles Chargers. 

We're officially past the halfway point of the NFL season, meaning we are also heading into the home stretch of the fantasy campaign.

If you're in the cellar of your league, then it's probably time to take things a little less seriously, maybe find ways to have some fun with your lineup.

But if you're still firmly in the mix, then you can ill afford to make bad decisions as to which players to slot into the starting spots.

As always, Stats Perform is here to provide a helping hand with a look at four offensive players and a defense worthy of selection in Week 10.

 

Quarterback: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Do not let the Chiefs' performance against the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers fool you.

Yes, the Chiefs have improved somewhat on defense of late, but they are still one of the league's worst at defending the pass.

They have given up 7.49 yards per pass play this season, while the Raiders are fifth in yards per pass play on offense (7.40).

No quarterback in the NFL has attempted more passes of 21 air yards or more than Carr (41), and he is averaging 16.4 yards per attempt on those throws.

Motivated to bounce back and claim a key win in the division after a shock loss to the New York Giants, expect Carr to be aggressive and, crucially, successful in attacking a vulnerable opponent.

Running Back: James Conner, Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers

Conner leads the NFL in touchdowns with 11 after his hat-trick in the Cardinals' win over the San Francisco 49ers last week.

He will likely get the bulk of the workload in the run game for at least the next few weeks, Chase Edmonds having gone down with an ankle injury at San Francisco.

His next assignment is a Panthers defense that has given up 100 yards rushing in three of their past four games. Back him to produce and find the endzone again at home.

Wide Receiver: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team

Back off the bye and ready to mount a charge for the one seed in the NFC, the Bucs could hardly ask for a better opponent.

Washington's pass defense has conceded 109 plays of 10 yards or more this season. Only the Indianapolis Colts (110) and Miami Dolphins (112) have been more generous in that regard.

Leading Tampa Bay with 69 targets so far this season and with Antonio Brown unlikely to feature, Godwin is the top candidate to be the latest wideout to capitalise significantly on Washington's unexpected defensive frailties.

Tight End: Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions

Freiermuth may be the answer to fantasy managers' prayers when it comes to the famously top-heavy tight end position.

He has emerged as a key weapon for Ben Roethlisberger in recent weeks, scoring three touchdowns in his past two games.

A matchup with a Detroit defense giving up the most yards per pass play in the NFL (8.28) could provide a recipe for a career day.

Defense: Cleveland Browns @ New England Patriots

The Browns defense did an excellent job frustrating Joe Burrow and Co. in their thumping win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week.

This week, they get a favourable matchup in the form of the Patriots. Yes, the Pats are 5-4, but they rank 20th in yards per play (5.46), are tied sixth for the most giveaways (14) and lead the league with 60 negative plays on offense.

Look for Cleveland's defense to enjoy another successful day on the road.

Cassius Marsh has accused Tony Corrente of "hip-checking" him prior to the official flagging the Chicago Bears linebacker for taunting in the fourth quarter of their defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The incident occurred shortly after Marsh followed a sack on opposing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with his custom spinning-jump kick celebration.

Marsh then made contact with Corrente having moved towards the Steelers' bench. The official produced a flag and the Bears were penalised 15 yards.

The Steelers would go on to a kick what would become a crucial field goal for a 26-20 lead, in a game they won 29-27 to move to 5-3 for the season.

Reflecting on the incident after the game, Marsh said: "On my way to the sideline, I got hip-checked by the ref. It's pretty clear. 

"If I was to do that to a ref or even touch a ref, we get kicked out of the game and possibly suspended and fined. I just think that that was incredibly inappropriate.

"I think that one was just bad timing. It's pretty clear to everybody who saw it that I wasn't taunting. 

"I've been doing the celebration my whole career. It's just sad to see stuff like that happen in a close game like that."

Corrente himself insists the contact with Marsh had no part to play in his decision to make the call.

"First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year," Corrente said in a pool report. 

"And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them.

"I didn't judge [the contact] as anything that I dealt with. That had nothing to do with it. It was the taunting aspect."

Justin Fields had led the rallying Bears (3-6) to a 27-26 advantage with less than two minutes remaining, dazzling with a 16-yard pass to Darnell Mooney during the closing stages as Roethlisberger and the Steelers were left with work to do.

Roethlisberger (21-of-30 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns) fuelled a seven-play drive to get Chris Boswell into position for a game-winning field goal – the Steelers snapping a three-game skid against the Bears as Cairo Santos, who had made 40 consecutive field goals, four short of the all-time record, failed with a 65-yard effort in his reply.

"We're finding ways to win the game," Roethlisberger said. 

"Played well enough. Not great. But offensively speaking, we're just doing enough right now."

The Pittsburgh Steelers held on for their fourth consecutive NFL win after withstanding a late surge from the Chicago Bears 29-27.

Chris Boswell's 40-yard field goal lifted the Steelers (5-3) as Cairo Santos' last-gasp 65-yard effort fell short in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Justin Fields had led the rallying Bears (3-6) to a 27-26 lead with less than two minutes remaining, dazzling with a 16-yard pass to Darnell Mooney during the closing stages as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were left with work to do.

Roethlisberger (21-of-30 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns) fuelled a seven-play drive to get Boswell into position for the game-winning kick – the Steelers snapping a three-game skid against the Bears as Santos, who had made 40 consecutive field goals, four short of the all-time record, failed in his reply.

No team in NFL history had more wins on Mondays than the Steelers entering the contest and they set out to extend that run after Najee Harris' 10-yard rush gave the hosts a 7-0 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

The Steelers continued to dominate – Roethlisberger throwing touchdown passes to Pat Freiermuth in the second and third quarters for a commanding 20-6 advantage heading into the final period.

T.J. Watt also reached 60 career sacks in his 69th appearance, with only three players reaching the mark in fewer games – Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas, and brother J.J. Watt.

Chicago erased the deficit behind Mooney, who rushed for a score and caught Fields' (17-of-29 passing for 291 yards, a TD and interception) throw in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers had all the answers in a tight finish.

Matt Nagy is back with the Chicago Bears after the head coach cleared COVID-19 protocol ahead of the Week 9 showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nagy was absent from last week's 33-22 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers following a positive coronavirus test, leaving special teams co-ordinator Chris Tabor in charge.

But after eight days in quarantine, Nagy is set to return to the sidelines for Monday's clash with the Steelers as the slumping Bears (3-5) seek to snap a three-game skid.

"We just had our walkthrough," Nagy said on Thursday. "It was great to be able to get outside to get back out there with them.

"I was cleared on Tuesday, so I was back in the office Tuesday morning. I was able to get back in here and get back to some quote-unquote normalcy. It was awesome seeing all the coaches and really just kind of getting back on track."

Chicago have been outscored by 72 points this season. That is the Bears' worst point differential through their first eight games of a season since 2000 (minus-92 points), per Stats Perform.

The Bears have won their last three games against the Steelers – the most recent of which was a 23-17 overtime victory in Week 3 of the 2017 season.

Chicago are 19-7-1 all-time against Pittsburgh, but that includes Bears wins in each of the teams' first 10 meetings, all before 1950.

"There's definite urgency, and I think that that's OK," Nagy said. "You need to have that … We have this game coming up and we have a bye and then you have eight games after that. But the only thing that matters is making sure that we get that win. The wins change everything.

"Look at the Steelers. They started out 1-3. Here they are 4-3. They've won three in a row. They fought through it. They probably have pretty good leaders, probably have guys that care about playing. And they don't point fingers, they don't blame, they're not negative. They're positive. We've got a positive room in there. The players are positive. They care.

"We want to start a different streak. Let's win one and then win another and continue to go and see where it leads. That's kind of the mindset that we have."

In fantasy football, as in life, things do not always work out the way you planned.

Every year, fantasy managers will leave their draft in a great mood, believing they have nailed it, only to see their star players fail to live up to expectations.

This week's look at some of the top selections for Week 9 features such players heavily, with some who have struggled with consistency or injuries appearing in line for a strong outing this weekend.

Stats Perform looks at four offensive players and a defense who should be fantasy starters in Week 9.

Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens

Cousins can be a confounding quarterback for Vikings fans and fantasy players alike, as his 184-yard performance in the Week 8 loss to the Dallas Cowboys demonstrated.

Yet he has an intriguing bounce-back matchup on the road as the Vikings aim to stay in touch in the NFC playoff race.

The Ravens are conceding 7.35 yards per play, the fifth-most in the NFL, and saw their defense shredded for 415 yards passing by Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in their last game before the bye.

Cousins already has three 300-yard games to his name this season and unquestionably has the weapons to take advantage of the Baltimore defense and record another on Sunday.

Running Back: Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Chicago Bears

Harris has not been efficient in his rookie season, averaging 3.74 yards per carry, but this is a selection predominantly about volume.

Indeed, the former Alabama star has carried the ball 128 times so far this season. Only three players have recorded more rushing attempts.

That is a recipe for success against a Bears defense allowing 4.55 yards per carry, the eighth highest in the NFL. Fantasy managers with Harris on their roster should be optimistic about a player with three touchdowns in his last four games.

Wide Receiver: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Diggs has endured a mediocre year, continually frustrating his fantasy owners, though he did find the endzone for the second successive week as Buffalo defeated the Miami Dolphins last week.

And the wideout who led the league in receiving yardage last year gets another chance to exploit a vastly inferior opponent this week as the Bills travel to Jacksonville.

The 1-6 Jaguars are giving up 8.18 yards per pass play. Only the Detroit Lions (8.28) have been more charitable to opposing passing attacks this season, making the Jaguars the ideal opponent for Diggs as he looks to record only his second 100-yard performance of the season.

Tight End: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Like Diggs, it's been an underwhelming season for Kittle, though for different reasons as he missed the last three games with a calf injury.

Prior to being put on injured reserve, however, Kittle had seen 19 targets across his last two games. With Kittle anticipated to return this week, expect him to be a favoured target of Jimmy Garoppolo, which could lead to a big day with the 49ers offense seeming to find its rhythm in the Week 8 win over the Bears.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos

Third in the league in takeaways with 14, backing an opportunistic defense like that of the Cowboys is never a bad play.

This week they face a Broncos offense that has committed a turnover in all but one game and is averaging 5.51 yards per play, putting them 21st in the NFL.

The Cowboys are eyeing a playoff run while the Broncos, despite being 4-4, appear focused on building for the future, events on Sunday should reflect that.

Mike Tomlin said it is better for the Pittsburgh Steelers to have volunteers than hostages after they traded Melvin Ingram to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Steelers sent Ingram to the Chiefs in exchange for a sixth-round pick in next year's draft.

Ingram was in his first season with the Steelers, having spent nine years with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

He tallied 25 pressures for the Steelers this year, third on the team behind Cameron Heyward (42) and T.J. Watt (27).

However, Ingram had reportedly stated a desire for more playing time, which he will now hope to get for a Chiefs defense that has struggled for much of 2021.

Asked about the deal, Steelers head coach Tomlin said: "I enjoyed working with Melvin. it just didn't work out the way we envisioned, the way he envisioned.

"What the team needs is first and foremost. But from a team perspective, it's better to have volunteers than it is to have hostages."

Baker Mayfield will return from a shoulder injury for the Cleveland Browns in Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed the news on Friday after the quarterback missed their 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 7 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Mayfield's absence broke his streak of 51 consecutive starts for the Browns, but he will return after a one-week layoff.

"Medically, he’s ready to go," Stefanski told reporters on Friday, confirming Mayfield will start. "Our doctors, our trainers, the second opinions felt very comfortable about that.

"Baker's feels that he's ready. He feels he's ready to help this team win."

The 2018 NFL Draft top pick has been able to participate in three days of practice this week.

Case Keenum started in Mayfield's absence against the Broncos, completing 21 of 33 attempts for 199 yards and one touchdown.

Mayfield, who is in the fourth year of his five-year rookie deal, has thrown at 67.1 per cent this season for 1,474 yards, including six touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

Every few years, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's name surfaces in media reports as a potential candidate for a high-profile college football vacancy. 

It has happened again in recent weeks with traditional powerhouses the University of Southern California and Louisiana State University making mid-season coaching moves. 

Asked at a Tuesday news conference about speculation that he might end up in one of those jobs, Tomlin scoffed at the notion he would leave one of the NFL's most storied franchises to coach in the collegiate ranks. 

"I mean, that's a joke to me," Tomlin said. "I got one of the best jobs in all of professional sport. Why would I have any interest in coaching college football?

"That will be the last time I address it. Not only today but moving forward. Never say never, but never. OK? Anybody else got any questions about any college jobs? There's not a booster with a big enough blank check."

Tomlin, 49, spent a few years as a college assistant before being hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs coach in 2001.

He has been in the NFL ever since and has led the Steelers since 2007, winning the Super Bowl the following year. 

Tomlin has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh and led the team to the playoffs nine times in 14 seasons entering 2021. 

The Steelers are 3-3 this season, giving Tomlin a 148-81-1 regular-season record. He is 8-8 in playoff games. 

Tomlin is under contract with Pittsburgh through 2024. 

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