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Steelers

Four downs: Lineman Hubbard could become passing target

| Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, 7:09 p.m.
Steelers offensive guard Chris Hubbard before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Ohio Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.
Steelers offensive guard Chris Hubbard before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, Ohio Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.

1. Steelers

pass to the big man

Todd Haley couldn't suppress a chuckle when told Chris Hubbard said he could catch.

“We'll see,” the offensive coordinator said of his backup tackle. “He is a lineman.”

Haley then turned serious and conceded Hubbard is an athletic lineman — and he's been taking advantage of that with more frequency in recent weeks.

Hubbard is peeking his head into the tight end meeting rooms more often. He played 18 snaps last week as an extra tackle (officially, a tight end). Hubbard said he did that some in college at UAB — and even ran routes, at times. He never caught a pass.

Could he as a Steeler?

“It's on the menu,” Hubbard said with a smile. “It could, possible, maybe one day. One day. We will see. Who knows?”

2. AFC NORTH

window closing?

The Bengals have been one of the NFL's best franchises the past decade. Seriously. Cincinnati joins New England as the only teams to make the playoffs the past five seasons. That streak almost certainly will come to an end in 2016. Have the Bengals' chances for a Super Bowl, too? On defense, five of 11 starters are age 30 or older — or will be by the first week of February when the Super Bowl is played. On offense, three-fifths of the line is due for free agency.

3. NFL

let the d.j. play

Partly because he was the only running back taken in the 2015 draft that did not play at the “major” (FBS) college level, David Johnson was the seventh back selected. Rest assured, Arizona is content it didn't use its third-round pick on a running back from a powerhouse such as Florida, USC or Michigan State (where the three running backs taken after Johnson played).

If Johnson accumulates 100 yards from scrimmage in the Cardinals' game at Miami on Sunday, he'll match Edgerrin James (in 2005) as the only players in NFL history to have 100 or more scrimmage yards in each of his team's first 13 games. With a rushing touchdown Sunday, Johnson would become only the second player in NFL history (joining Hall of Famer Gale Sayers) to have 20 rushing touchdowns, eight receiving touchdowns and at least one kickoff return touchdown over his first two seasons.

T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) and Duke Johnson (Miami) – all taken before Johnson – don't have near the résumés.

4. Fantasy

Start: RB Matt Forte, Jets. Yes, he's totaled a mere 52 rushing yards the past two weeks – but he has a feeble 49ers defense to feast upon.

Bench: WR Rishard Mathews, Titans. Seven touchdowns in the past eight games is tempting. Facing the Broncos' top-ranked pass defense, not as much so.

Sleeper: TE Dennis Pitta, Ravens. Pitta is reestablishing his rapport with Joe Flacco, and New England's defense has shown susceptible at times to tight ends.

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