Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt tied the NFL single-season sack record with 22 1/2 last season but has been out since Week 1 with an injury. The Steelers hope Watt can play Sunday. Phil Pavely/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers could get a much-needed jolt as they begin the second half of their season.

Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the team is optimistic that star outside linebacker T.J. Watt will be available for Sunday’s visit from New Orleans.

Watt, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has been out since sustaining a left pectoral injury late in regulation of a Week 1 overtime win over Cincinnati. The Steelers have slumped without him and come off their bye week at 2-6, the team’s worst record through eight games since 2013.

While Tomlin cautioned there is still “some work ahead of us” for both Watt and safety Damontae Kazee (out all year with a wrist injury) before they are activated off injured reserve, they appear to be ready to go barring a late setback.

“Obviously, those are two veteran players that are NFL capable and obviously going to be positive contributors to our efforts if available,” Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh’s pass rush has essentially disappeared during Watt’s absence. The Steelers racked up seven sacks in the season opener against the Bengals and have managed all of eight in the seven games since Watt’s exit.


Watt, who tied Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s NFL record last season by getting 22 1/2 sacks, should provide a boost as Pittsburgh attempts to emerge from a disappointing first half.

SCHEDULE: The NFL has made its first change of the season to its “Sunday Night Football” schedule by moving the Nov. 20 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers into prime time.

The game between the AFC West rivals will kick off at 8:20 p.m. on NBC with the matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers moving to 4:25 p.m. on CBS.

The Chargers will appear on Sunday night in consecutive weeks. They will travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in prime time on Sunday. The Bolts are also scheduled to host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night on Jan. 1 in Week 17.

The Chiefs will be making their third of four scheduled Sunday night appearances. They defeated Tampa Bay on Oct. 2 and Tennessee in overtime this past Sunday. Kansas City is also scheduled to play Denver under the lights on Dec. 11.

FALCONS: Atlanta’s depth at left guard took another hit when Matt Hennessy was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.


Hennessy started in Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers as a fill-in for Elijah Wilkinson, who was placed on IR last week with a knee injury. Another left guard, Jalen Mayfield, already is on IR.

COWBOYS: Time will tell if Dallas signs free-agent receiver Odell Beckam Jr. to bolster what is their weakest position group.

A lot of moving parts are still undetermined, including the status of Beckham’s recovery from a torn ACL, his contract demands and interest from other teams.

But the team is seemingly all in on recruiting the former three-time Pro Bowler to the Cowboys and envisioning him with a blue star on his helmet.

One day after Coach Mike McCarthy openly lauded Beckham’s skills as a receiver and acknowledged that the Cowboys had done their due diligence on his background and character, owner Jerry Jones doubled down on the team’s interest.

“Odell is someone that we have all the appreciation in the world for what he is as a competitor,” Jones said. “I know the Cowboys star on that helmet, when he puts it on, could look pretty good.”


GIANTS: Safety Xavier McKinney accepted responsibility for the off-road accident that injured his left hand during the bye week and will force him to miss at least the next four games.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since the mishap in Mexico last week, McKinney said his injured fingers were surgically repaired when he returned to the United States. He wore a hard cast on his hand and a sling over his shoulder. There is no timetable for his return.

McKinney was vague in giving details about the accident which he said happened on Wednesday of last week. The 23-year-old would not say whether he was a passenger or was driving what he described as a Can-Am. When he tweeted about the accident Monday he had said it was on an ATV.

He said the vehicle tilted over and he fell on his hand during a sightseeing tour in Cabo. He later said the vehicle did not flip over and something hit his hand, but he didn’t know what it was.

RAIDERS: Safety Johnathan Abram, who failed to meet the expectations of a first-round draft pick, was waived by the Las Vegas Raiders.

Abram, who was drafted 27th overall in 2019 out of Mississippi State, started the first seven games this season before being moved to a reserve role the past two weeks and having his playing time slashed.

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