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    The disappearance of Aaron Jones

    After touching the ball 10 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, running back Aaron Jones received only six touches for 15 yards during the second half of the Green Bay Packers’ loss at Seattle.

    For a team short on playmakers with Jimmy Graham lost in the second quarter with a finger injury, Randall Cobb inactive and Geronimo Allison on injured reserve, Jones’ limited role perhaps played a big role in the 27-24 verdict.

    What happened?

    — Green Bay only ran 23 plays and gained three first downs in the second half. (Plus, having gone 3-of-11 on third down, they ran only 49 plays for the entire game.) That limited the opportunities to get Jones involved.

    — So did the play-calling, whether it was coach Mike McCarthy’s calls or quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ checks. On eight first-down plays in the second half, the Packers threw on seven of them.

    — One play that didn’t count was Jones’ 18-yard run early in the third quarter, with a needless block in the back by receiver Equanimeous St. Brown overturning one of Green Bay’s only explosive plays in the second half. This was vintage Jones. Sprung into the open field by left tackle David Bakhtiari’s dominant block on Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner, Jones exploded into the secondary. One Seattle defender dove at Jones but didn’t lay a finger on him. Jones was contacted at the 39 and drove forward for 7 more yards.

    — On a third-and-3 with 4:41 left in the third quarter, after a 7-yard run by Jones, Jones was replaced by fellow running back Jamaal Williams. Rodgers called timeout but Williams stayed on the field. Rodgers was sacked – Williams was open in the flat but would have had to beat the safety one-on-one to get the first down. It was Williams’ only snap of the second half.

    — With Green Bay clinging to a 21-20 lead early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers dumped the ball off to Jones for a gain of 1. Had Rodgers pulled the trigger faster on the checkdown, Jones would have had time to set up the defenders. Instead, he caught the ball and was immediately chopped down.

    — On the next play, Rodgers threw a quick pass in the flat to St. Brown that was incomplete. It very well could have been a pass all the way. If it was a run-pass option, the handoff to Jones was wide open because of the double-team block by left guard Lane Taylor and center Corey Linsley.

    — On the next play, third-and-9, Rodgers uncorked his best pass of the night, a gain of 57 to Davante Adams. Jones stayed in for pass protection and clearly held the safety but no flag was thrown.

    — On first down at the 17, Rodgers was in trouble and flipped the ball to Jones for a gain of 1. Jones did well to get back to the line of scrimmage.

    — On second-and-9, the Packers used the same bunch-set sweep to Jones that resulted in the opening-drive touchdown. The blocking wasn’t nearly as good this time. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin shocked Adams back and made the tackle. That, with about 9 1/2 minutes remaining, would be Jones’ final touch of the night.

    — On third-and-5 from the 12, Rodgers was sacked. Still with a clean pocket, Rodgers could have tossed the ball to Jones, who was all alone at the 16 and would have had a chance to get to the 7 for the first down. A field goal made it 24-20.

    — Now trailing 27-24, Green Bay started its last possession at its 25 with 5:08 to play. On first down, Jones was open immediately at the 26 and would have gained at least a few yards. Instead, with the rush closing in, Rodgers threw off his back foot in the direction of St. Brown for an incompletion. A second-down pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling gained 8 and a third-down pass to Valdes-Scantling didn’t even reach Valdes-Scantling’s feet. On fourth-and-2, McCarthy sent out the punt team rather than let his Aarons – two-time MVP Rodgers and NFL yards-per-carry leader Jones – try to keep the drive alive.

    Seattle ran out the clock and, with that, the Packers’ season clock is close to running out, too. Jones played 44 of 49 offensive snaps. The lack of touches, especially considering the number of injuries depleting the offense’s options, seems inexcusable. 

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    Andy Reid press conference wrap: Mahomes for MVP, injuries, more

    Chiefs head coach Andy Reid met with reporters for a press conference Monday and addressed plenty of topics surrounding his team’s 26-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals as well as the big showdown next Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams in Mexico City.

    Reid began by discussing the situation surrounding the girlfriend of Patrick Mahomes, whose stepfather passed away on Sunday, and offered condolences for the family. Reid told reporters the situation shouldn’t affect Mahomes’ status for this week.

    There was some talk from there about the game against the Cardinals, in particular how the defense played and what Reid thought about the offensive line. Reid also expressed some excitement over getting the chance to face the Rams in Mexico next week.

    Reid in addition gave some brief injury news, saying there wasn’t anything of note to come from Sunday’s game and that Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens, who were out Sunday, could be back on the field next Monday. 

    Read on for a rundown of Reid’s comments from his press conference.

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    By shutting it down, Bell ignoring solution to his own cause

    Just for a minute, go back two months to the day Steelers offensive linemen ripped Le’Veon Bell for not reporting.

    While national media came down hard on the linemen for getting into Bell’s business, some of us were maintaining that Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were right, and that Bell must report immediately and make amends before time made it more difficult.

    Apparently, though, the point of no return has been breached. Reports say Bell won’t show up by Tuesday afternoon, the deadline if he wants to play this season. And that’s a shame, because I don’t think that was his intention when he set out.

    I believe Bell wanted to return, but that each passed landmark, with the continuing success of James Conner and the team, made the necessary face-to-faces that much more difficult for him to address.

    Bell may be brave when carrying a ball through opposing defenses, but he appears cowardly when he needed to instead suck it up and do what needed to be done.

    Not that he had any reason for such cowardice. The line would embrace him; Mike Tomlin would embrace him; so would Conner, who speaks so highly and humbly of Bell at every turn. It would’ve been awkward, sure, but do-able, and necessary, both for Bell and the team.

    There’s even a way for Bell to report and still fix what’s broken and caused his year-long standoff in the first place.

    I don’t believe Bell’s in it just for the money. I believe that he believes he’s doing what’s right for the future of his position. And contrary to popular opinion, running back remains the second-most important position in football.

    Look at what Conner has done for the Steelers. He’s opened up the entire offensive arsenal because of the respect defenses must show for him. The line between stopping the steady drip, drip, drip of what Conner does for this offense and Ben Roethlisberger‘s passing game has made the Steelers a legitimate championship contender.

    We in Pittsburgh all know deep down that football still begins with the running game. Randy Fichtner has rejuvenated that concept after the organization became lost in the desert with Bruce Arians and Todd Haley.

    Problem is, running backs most times don’t survive the brutality of their job, and they eventually take their teams down with them. The greatest Steelers team of all-time was eliminated in the 1976 playoffs because both backs were injured. Jerome Bettis was leading the NFL in rushing in 2001 when he went down in Game 11 with a groin injury. He tried to return for the playoffs, but couldn’t and the Steelers were eliminated.

    Bettis worked for the Steelers in 2005 because he knew he was at the end and embraced a role as closer, giving the Steelers two backs that championship season.

    But then in 2007 the wheels came off Willie Parker, with a late-season broken leg, and the Steelers and Najeh Davenport were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

    The plan in 2008 was to pair Parker with first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall. Ray Lewis broke Mendenhall’s shoulder blade and ended his season, but Parker was injured early in 2008 and the surprising Mewelde Moore stepped in. Parker returned fresh and the Steelers won it all.

    Mendenhall was the feature back in the 2010 run, but the Steelers had little else. I’m not sure if Mendenhall was out of gas in the Super Bowl, but his fumble was the game-changer.

    The Steelers found themselves with a new star runner in 2014, but Bell was injured in the season finale and missed the playoff elimination game with Ben Tate as the starter.

    And in 2015, Bell’s mid-season injury gave Pittsburgh a playoff starter named Fitzgerald Toussaint, and he fumbled it away.

    In 2016, Bell was hurt by the time the AFC title game rolled around. His groin injury forced him out of the second quarter and New England had no problem stopping 34-year-old DeAngelo Williams in his final game.

    In 2017, the Steelers drafted Conner to complement Bell. Not that both would share in-game duties, but even Conner couldn’t hold up. His injury left it all up to Bell, and he touched the ball a career-high 406 times in the regular season before bowing out of the playoffs.

    No one has run with a ball in his hands that many times and won a championship since 1998, when Terrell Davis had 417 regular-season touches and went on to hoist a Lombardi. It was Davis’ second consecutive season of toting 400 times and winning the title, and for that he was voted into the Hall of Fame, in spite of falling off the proverbial cliff following that fourth season in the league.

    It’s a B-R-U-T-A-L position, and Bell took a stand for it this year. It’s a position that most times leaves young backs, if not broken, less than scary as offensive threats by the time their second contract negotiation rolls around.

    Conner emerged this year, and Bell could’ve returned to provide one of the greatest running back “committees” of all time. Of course, Bell figured there was no forging that kind of committee, and he also no doubt feels – like all great running backs, including Conner – that he becomes more effective in-game with more carries. That’s the old RB standby that goes back to fullback Franco Harris running behind halfback Rocky Bleier in the 1970s.

    Yes, that was back when coaches could find carries for both Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick because they used two at a time. When that dynamic turned from split backs into tailbacks, few managed to stay healthy throughout a championship season.

    Ego probably had more to do with those lone backs trying to gut it out through a groin pull than the recent “committees” of Jay Ajayi-LeGarrette Blount-Corey Clement for the 2017 Eagles, Blount-James White-Dion Lewis for the 2016 Patriots, and Ronnie Hillman-C.J. Anderson of the 2015 Broncos.

    Those teams won championships without star runners, not because the position is unimportant, but because fresh legs in January are so vital. That can’t happen with one superstar getting all the money, yet here were the Steelers in a rare position to utilize two such superstars down the stretch this season.

    No, it’s unlikely that Tomlin would’ve used Bell to bite into Conner’s workload at this point, and it’s probably how Bell sees the wall being written. And it’s probably why he’s finally decided to shut it all down.

    But what if Conner goes down, even for a game or two. Bell could step in, make his mark, win back the fans, and the coach, and perhaps convince Tomlin to do something unique to NFL ball: Start and utilize a different running back each game. Like a starting pitcher.

    It may not be considered the drastic idea in the near future that it would be today – particularly if a team wins a title doing it – but it’s becoming clear that a “pitch count” is needed at a position where weekly effectiveness comes with more in-game carries, but seasonal effectiveness comes with less usage for one back.

    It seems drastic, but perhaps would be the harbinger of what Bell is attempting to solve. “Starting pitchers” could’ve been the break Bell’s cause needed. He could’ve solved this obvious problem in the NFL payscale by reporting and showing how a team needs the position to win a title.

    After all, starting pitchers only work a quarter, maybe a fifth, of what everyday baseball regulars work, yet they still earn massive paychecks.

    What a shame Bell didn’t have the intestinal fortitude it takes to admit to an NFL locker room he was wrong. Because in the end, he could’ve proven he was right.

    Torch of one-back futility being passed. (Photo: Getty)
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    Cowboys STARCAST: The math and mediocrity and a chance at Philly

    FRISCO – On this edition of “Cowboys STARcast,” podcast host Jamie Horton and Cowboys247 columnist Patrik Walker take a look back to a fateful Monday night at AT&T Stadium where (quite probably) the 2018 season came to an end for your Dallas Cowboys. Yes, yes, the Cowboys still have a few of what we can call “mathematical opportunities,” even at 3-5, maybe in part because the NFC East remains largely mediocre … at least until this weekend, when Dallas experiences another prime time game, this one Sunday night at the 4-4 Philadelphia Eagles.

    Indeed, with Ezekiel Elliott announcing this as a “must-win” game, and with what we’re learning unfolded at practice here inside The Star in Frisco on Wednesday (scoop featuring tight end Geoff Swaim and defensive end Randy Gregory is here), the urgency is real.

    Meanwhile, perhaps one of my guys is playing “Devil’s Advocate” here in pondering whether maybe the problem with the Dallas Cowboys offense isn’t the work of the beleaguered offensive coordinator Scott Linehan after all. Sure, he’s a problem — the numbers say it is so — but if your job is to scheme plays that get guys open and help you succeed, you also need a quarterback who can execute said scheme.

    And so yes, even amid Cowboys owner Jerry Jones issuing a future contract-related vote of confidence for Dak Prescott, … Maybe, just maybe, the Dallas Cowboys don’t currently have a quarterback who can do those necessarily things (My guys still are of the belief that Scott Linehan needs to go, though.)

    On the field, looking back and looking forward, wide receiver Amari Cooper seems as advertised: a soft-spoken “football guy” who defeated the learning curve and immediately moved to the top of the Dallas totem pole as a target — hopefully justifying now, and for the future, that he can be a blue-chip weapon for this offense. (And be a better player than Dallas would’ve eventually drafted in April 2019 with the first-round pick instead given to the Oakland Raiders.) The offensive line continues to look broken and bad. (Time for a “Best 5” change? Time to move La’el Collins? That’s not the vibe I’m getting from here inside The Star.) The defense continues to keep its offense in football games, in spite of the fact that finally, in the loss to the Titans, they were torched and tired. (We’ll know more today in practice, but a healthier Randy Gregory can mean some help is on the way … even as an unhealthy Sean Lee means maybe a month of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vaner Esch holding down the linebacking fort all by their lonesome.) But now comes a chance at rejuvenation chance in Philly, all of which gives us much to discuss on this edition of ‘Cowboys STARcast’!

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    Connor Williams out; Should Cowboys try La’el in Best 5 shuffle?

    FRISCO – The Dallas Cowboys have made a medical decision regarding Connor Williams’ knee, as will undergo arthroscopic surgery today.
    Now the Cowboys have another decision to make: Is the “Best 5” philosophy the best thing for this O-line?

    The Cowboys are optimistic the rookie Williams can return later this month, possibly as soon as two games from now against the Atlanta Falcons. But in the meantime, there is a vacancy at his left guard spot … and with a game at the Philadelphia Eagles, not much time to mess around with choosing an option.
    Privately, the Cowboys are saying that they favor the least shuffling possible, which would mean Adam Redmond gets the elevation from being the “swing guard” to being a starter, and the other four O-line spots go unshuffled.

    But there are a number of arguments that favor a different approach, a “Best 5” approach, meaning simply that regardless of position, a team simply finds a way to play its best five blockers.

    Maybe Redmond has shown in practice in recent weeks, while subbing for right guard Zack Martin (who has been nursing a bum knee), that he is indeed one of the “Best 5.” He has so-far established that he’s superior to veteran backup Xavier Su’a-Filo, who hasn’t been part of the 46-man game-day roster since joining the club. The Cowboys think Redmond is more athletic than Su’a-Filo and therefore a better fit for what they do at guard.

    Another option, maybe in part as a response to the muscular interior D-line nature of this week’s foe in Philly? That would fuel a shift of right tackle La’el Collins to left guard, with swing tackle Cam Fleming — who has NFL playoff experience as a starter — to the first team. The Cowboys have brainstormed on this one, and seem to be leaning against it, as it would require multiple moves for a group that has already shown inconsistencies so great that Dallas used the bye week to fire position coach Paul Alexander in favor of Marc Colombo and the out-of-retirement Hudson Houck.

    Maybe “more change” would be “too much change.”

    Dallas probably won’t move center Joe Looney to left guard and replace him at center Redmond. But that would require Redmond to make the line calls, something the veteran Looney has actually done well in place of Travis Frederick, who has been sidelined all year with his autoimmune illness.

    Williams has started every game during his rookie season after the Cowboys drafted the Texas standout in the second round. He’ll get bigger and stronger and better eventually, but of course at 3-5 Dallas needs to find a way to get better now. Maybe it would reek of desperation to change so much in the form of the “Best 5.” … or maybe “desperation” is a frank reason why the Cowboys should consider it.

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    Cowboys StarCAST: Dak Carryover and the Amari Cooper trade idea

    FRISCO – On this edition of ‘Cowboys STARcast,’ Jamie Horton sits down with Cowboys247 columnist Patrik Walker to continue to heap praise upon the Cowboys after a masterful 40-7 beatdown of the Jacksonville Jaguars and that AFC power’s once-top ranked defense. Wide receiver Cole Beasley had too much sauce and QB Dak Prescott had too much swagger — and all the zone-read type offensive weaponry he himself can bring. It all worked and at 3-3, confidence has been restored. ….

    (Photo: 247Sports)

    Or has it? When it comes to Prescott, we really believe we are going to see a repeat, in terms of philosophy, of was we saw Dak and this offense did last week to dismantle the Jags. And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, speaking Friday morning on 105.3 The Fan, said as much. He also reiterated his belief that Dak is a franchise QB. Why?

    “Because I’ve seen him do the things that give you long-term promise for a quarterback,” Jones said on G-Bag Nation. “He’s extraordinarily diligent in his preparation. He carries preparation as good as anybody I’ve ever seen from the class room to the practice field. And then from the practice field to the game. That’s a huge ingredient when it comes to the quarterback. He needs to be able to, frankly, outwork everybody. And he does.”

    “He does have all the tools,” Jones continued. “He’s got the arm. He’s got the size. He’s does have passing instincts. And of course if you were going to complain or critique, you have to look at what we’ve done passing in those last 10 games. But I know where we’re trying to go with him and the receiver corps.”

    The Cowboys have alternated wins and losses through the first six weeks of the season, yet none of those wins have come away from AT&T Stadium. Is it a brand new home-field advantage, or simply a matter of scheduling circumstance? Like the Cowboys offense, none of what you just read made any sense, but maybe that’s the point. But seriously … in the Cowboys’ own in-the-building opinion, the struggles on the road are about “communication,” as we wrote on Thursday:

    Usually in pro sports, when the fellas call a team meeting, it’s a sign of conflict, maybe even a sign of desperation … and usually the action is a secretive one. All of that makes Thursday in the Dallas Cowboys locker room here inside The Star a unique one … because the meeting was held, the meeting was revealed to the media, and the issue was communicated.

    And what issue was communicated? The issue of “communication.”

    “We addressed the elephant in the room as an offense,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said. “I think it was great. It was a great meeting. We had the whole offense in there and just talking among the coaches and players about the thing maybe we need to do better on the road — just communication.”

    Meanwhile, we believe we’ve got the answers regarding what is going to happen to the Dallas linebackers on Sunday. From our story earlier this week, which seems to be magically coming to fruition:

    They’ve had their own in-house debate over the importance of getting linebacker Sean Lee on the field as soon as possible vs. taking advantage of an annual schedule quirk that would allow him another expanding period of rehab.

    But Sean Lee’s own answer to the debate? He’s been on the practice field in preparation for playing at Washington on Sunday — and, I’m told, he was atop the triangular rotation of the two linebacking spots, leading the group with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch behind him.

    That in-house debate is normal and understandable. On the one hand, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has cited the fact that following the Washington game, Dallas has a bye in Week 8 before it plays its eighth game, at home against the Tennessee Titans on Monday, November 5. Should Lee be held out of the Redskins game, his hamstring will end up being given five weeks of rest and rehab.

    On the other hand, as coach Jason Garrett notes, they only play 16 of these things. Opportunities are fleeting. And players want to play — a mantra especially fitting for Lee.

    “Believe me,” Lee told me, “I’m doing everything I can to be on the field where I belong.”

    And there are other concerns and other headliners here. What of Leighton Vander Esch, Byron Jones Jaylon Smith, Anthony Brown, Tavon Austin, and… Amari Cooper? We’re discussing them all inside this StarCAST. It’s a jam-packed edition of ‘Cowboys STARcast’ … listen in!

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    Cam Heyward critical of Burfict, NFL

    It seems like we are going to be talking about last week’s Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals game for a long time.

    The Steelers won the matchup 28-21 for their second straight win, but the real storyline had to do with dirty plays, which contributed to the ongoing conversation about how well the NFL is upholding its own policy when it comes to dangerous hits. 

    At the center of this conversation is of course Vontaze Burfict

    As a longtime member of the Bengals, Burfict hates the Steelers. He has a low opinion of the organization and has acted as a head-hunter whenever he’s lined up against Pittsburgh. Last Sunday, he had another questionable hit on star receiver Antonio Brown that did not draw a flag, but did draw a lot of backlash. 

    What’s interesting is that even Bengals players can’t always answer to what their starting linebacker is doing. 

    On Thursday, Tim Benz was interviewing Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward on the WDVE morning show, getting his thoughts on what ensued on the field last Sunday. Heyward claimed that Bengals defensive lineman Geno Atkins doesn’t understand why Burfict turns into a different animal when he plays the Steelers.

    “I remember when we were at the Pro Bowl, talking to Geno Atkins about it,” Heyward said. “And he was just like, ‘I don’t understand it.’ They say Vontaze Burfict is a great guy. But when he plays us, he just likes to turn up.”

    Benz then asked Heyward to clarify if Atkins was questioning Burfict’s loose-cannon nature.

    “I don’t think he understands it. I don’t think his own teammates understand it,” Heyward said. “Sometimes they are just flabbergasted as to what is going on. I’m not going to put words in Geno’s mouth, but I don’t think some of the players even understand what’s going on. Let’s be honest, who tackles like that any more in this league? That’s poor tackling on any level. If that’s the case, then that’s poor on the Bengals for even teaching that.”

    Illegal hits and how the NFL defines and punishes them has been one of the most talked about topics this season. It seems as though there is not any consistency with how the NFL is judging these hits, and if Burfict’s hit on Brown goes unpunished by the league, then there is definitely something terribly wrong with the system. 

    “Repeat offenders should be fined more or held to a higher standard,” Heyward said. “Everybody has to be held accountable. If you are going to give T.J. Watt a penalty for sticking his pinkie out there on (Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan‘s) ankle, what are you saying? Are you saying (protection) only applies to quarterbacks? Or does it apply to every player?”

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    10 things the Chiefs and Pats said about each other this week

    To no surprise, this week’s collection of quotes between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots isn’t quite as entertaining as what came out before the Chiefs and Jaguars game last week. 

    Bill Belichick’s Patriots as always played things close to the vest this week, with both teams by and large avoiding the type of bulletin board material that came outl ast week. Perhaps there may have been a quote or two that may or may not fire up Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, but by and large, the quotes that came from both teams were by and large complimentary and respectful.

    But there was at least one great Belichick moment, as well as some quotes of interest from both coaching staffs about their upcoming opponent, plus there were also some words of interest on the Gronk-Kelce debate.

    And, of course, this week’s quarterbacks gave their thoughts on what they’ve seen from each other’s games. 

    Read on for some of what the Chiefs and Patriots said about one another this week. 

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    Broadcast team for Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals

    To watch the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals square off, tune in to CBS at 1:00 EST. The game will be called by Ian Eagle, Dan Foutsand Evan Washburn. The radio broadcast will be on Sirius channels 127 (Pittsburgh) and 82 (Cincinnati) as well as XM channels 390 (Pittsburgh) and 227 (Cincinnati). Out of market fanscan, as always, stream the game on NFL Sunday Ticket as it will not be a nationally televised game.

    The Steelers and Bengals will play in one of the biggest games of the season on Sunday. The Steelers are the defending AFC North champions and are coming off of a 13-3 season. The Bengals are 4-1 and lead the North as of right now. If the Steelers take this game on the road in Cincinnati, they reclaim their throne as favorites in the division and get their year back on track. If the Bengals win, they announce their legitimacy to a world that is skeptical considering the questionable quality of their wins so far. One team is trying to prove itself as a contender. The other is trying to hold on to their spot as one.

    The Steelers have won their last six games against the Bengals, nine out of their last 10 and 14 out of their last 17. That has not prevented the rivalry from becoming one of the fiercest in all of football. The Bengals and the Steelers despise each other, and every time they play, someone is bound to do something unnecessarily physical and incite some sort of conflict. Usually, that player is Vontaze Burfict. He has made illegal hits on several Steelers. Last season, JuJu Smith-Schuster laid a vicious block on him and stood over him afterward, drawing a one-game suspension for the play. This is the first time the Bengals will have seen the Steelers since.

    They come into this game new and improved. Their explosive offense has returned to form this season with A.J. Green looking like one of the NFL’s best receivers once again. Cordy Glenn has stabilized a poor offensive line, and Geno Atkins has led one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. This is perhaps the most complete Cincinnati team in recent memory, and this is their opportunity to show the Steelers that they won’t be pushed around anymore.

    But the Steelers pushed around the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, dominating them en route to a 41-17 blowout. They got off to a slow start due in part to injuries and in part to their own bad habits, but the Steelers seem to be rolling now. They can’t afford to fall 2.5 games behind the Bengals this early, especially with a loss to the Ravens already in the books. The Steelers will give the Bengals all they can handle on Sunday. This should be one of the games of the week.

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    James Conner’s 2nd TD puts Steelers in control, 27-10

    James Conner has had an emphatic response to anyone doubting his ability. After three mediocre games on the ground, Conner has 17 carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns after nearly three quarters of play. His second score of the game — set up by fullback Roosevelt Nix‘s blocked punt — gave the Steelers a 27-10 lead. 

    Conner, Pittsburgh’s third round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, is also the Steelers’ leading receiver with 65 receiving yards. And after a 1-2-1 start, Conner and the Steelers are in position to win their second game of the season and first game of the year at Heinz Field. 

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    Kansas City Chiefs vs. Jacksonville Jaguars expert picks

    The predictions are in for this week’s showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) at Arrowhead Stadium, and not surprisingly the national prognosticators are picking this one to be a close call.

    Most analysts are going with the Chiefs, although more than a few think the Jaguars will come away with a win. A few think the Chiefs will win, but not by enough to cover a three-point spread.

    This game stands as the marquee matchup of the weekend as well as one of the most intriguing of the NFL’s first five weeks. It’ll be strength against strength as Jacksonville’s top-ranked defense tries to slow down the high-powered Chiefs offense led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

    The game kicks off Sunday at 1 p.m. ET/12 p.m. CT in front of what should be a revved-up Arrowhead Stadium crowd. It’s the second home game of the season for the Chiefs, and having their crowd at their back won’t hurt their chances.

    Read on for a look at what the national analysts are saying about this game. 

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    Cowboys roster juggle: Irving return could mean Frederick to IR

    FRISCO – The Dallas Cowboys — in an unfortunate way — have a few options as it regards returning defensive lineman David Irving to this weekend’s 53-man roster ahead of the Sunday night game at Houston.

    One of those options, at owner Jerry Jones acknowledged on Friday on 105.3 The Fan: shuffle All-Pro center Travis Frederick to IR.

    And indeed, that would be my prediction of what’s going to happen here shortly.

    Frederick, of course, was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome before the start of the season. In what could be considered an optimistic gesture, Dallas kept him on the 53 rather than placing him on the IR at that time, as doing the latter would’ve locked him out of being on the roster for the first eight weeks of the season.

    Now we are five weeks in, and while the long-term prognosis on Frederick remains positive, this is a condition that is an unpredictable one. And so putting Frederick on IR now would “hedge the bet” on his eventual return, which of course could still come in December (for Week 13, to be specific.)

    The team is almost certain to activate Irving, and maybe play him 12 to 15 snaps on Sunday night at Houston, as he comes back from his four-game NFL suspension. Irving did not practice on Thursday due to a personal matter, meaning that coming into Friday he’s essentially had one full and real practice in the last … well, forever, as he also skipped all of training camp in Oxnard for personal reasons.

    Irving’s conditioning figures to be an issue on Sunday, but he does have his weight below 290, so that’s a help. And Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins may be healthy enough to play some defensive tackle, too, so that will take some of the burden off of Irving’s re-debut.

    Frederick being placed on IR would mean he’s sidelined for eight weeks, and would for the moment remove receiver Terrance Williams from consideration here. The Cowboys say Williams is dealing with a foot issue — exactly the right thing to say to make him a consideration for IR himself — but he’s also dealing with off-the-field concerns that could eventually see the NFL hand down a short suspension due to his offseason entanglement in a public-intoxication arrest.

    In addition to dealing with the off-field concerns with Irving, his fellow defensive lineman Randy Gregory also missed the Thursday afternoon workout due to an NFL-mandated doctor’s appointment in Chicago, all a part of his reinstatement guidelines. That leaves some here inside The Star pondering why Gregory’s appointments can’t be on, say, Tuesday, which is a players’ day off. Or maybe they could be in the actual city in which a player resides, as the city of Dallas surely is populated by doctors and stuff. In any event, once the Cowboys get through Friday and get to Sunday, Terrance Williams might remain in limbo (maybe his suspension comes next week?), Travis Frederick might be on IR (with hopes for December health) and Gregory and Irving should be on the field helping harass the Texans.

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