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Determined Dalton, Bengals prep for Pittsburgh

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Determined Dalton, Bengals prep for Pittsburgh

CINCINNATI (AP) Andy Dalton needs to play much better than he has in the past few weeks if the Bengals are going to pull off a franchise rarity.

Dalton was indecisive and repeatedly missed throws during a 34-13 win in Philadelphia that was set up by the Eagles' fumbling. Despite their struggles on offense, the Bengals (8-6) moved into playoff position with the victory last Thursday.

They can clinch a spot on Sunday by beating the Steelers (7-7) in Pittsburgh, something that's been very tough for them to do. A lot of it will come down to whether Dalton pulls out of his recent slump.

``I've had chances and I haven't hit them,'' Dalton said on Wednesday. ``I expect to play better myself, and I'm going to play better.''

The second-year quarterback is 0-6 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. During the three losses to Pittsburgh, he has completed only 40 of 82 passes and never thrown for more than 170 yards in a game. The Bengals have only 38 first downs in the three games.

Dalton has been on a downturn in the last three games - wins at San Diego and Philadelphia, as well as a home loss to Dallas. His passer ratings of 65.2, 76.1 and 74.2 are his lowest for a three-game stretch this season. He has thrown for three touchdowns, been intercepted three times and gotten sacked 12 times.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said some of the sacks have been the result of Dalton holding onto the ball too long. He was 13 of 27 for 127 yards with six sacks in the loss at Philadelphia, one of the worst showings of his career.

``We expect to see progress and not regression, and he kind of took a step back,'' Gruden said. ``That's disappointing. But in fairness to him, it's a road game, a Thursday night game against a pretty good defensive front and they have two good cornerbacks and they did a good job. They played hard and spirited and took it to us.

``But we had some plays that should have been made that weren't.''

Dalton's passer rating has been lower only one other time this season. He was 14 of 28 for 105 yards with a game-turning interception and a 56.4 passer rating during a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 21. Dalton managed only one completion to A.J. Green as the Steelers took away quick throws to the Pro Bowl receiver.

Dalton and Green never got comfortable against Pittsburgh's defense.

``There were a couple of opportunities,'' Green said on Wednesday. ``But their scheme is so good it's hard to guess what they're doing.''

The rematch is a decisive game for both teams.

A loss would eliminate the Steelers. The Bengals would clinch at least a wild card berth with a victory and make a little franchise history. Only once during their 44 previous seasons have they gone to the playoffs in back-to-back years. They were a wild card last season as well, losing to Houston in the opening round.

Only twice in franchise history have the Bengals followed a playoff appearance with a winning record the next season. A victory in Pittsburgh would mark the third time it's happened.

Cincinnati finishes the season at home against Baltimore (9-5), which leads the AFC North and has already clinched a playoff spot.

If the Bengals lose to the Steelers, they would have the same record but Pittsburgh would have the head-to-head tiebreaker by sweeping the season series. Essentially, the season comes down to this game.

``There's really not much else to say except we've got to come play our best,'' Dalton said. ``And we've got to do whatever it takes to win the game.''

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NOTES: Some players wore hats with Chris Henry's No. 15 and had photos of the former Bengals receiver in their lockers on Wednesday. Henry died in December 2009 after falling out of a pickup truck driven by his fiancee. His former teammates do something every December in his memory. ... Josh Brown will likely do the kicking for the third straight game. K Mike Nugent said Wednesday he's still bothered by a strained right calf that has prevented him from kicking a ball hard. ``You don't want to have something react and kind of go through the whole process for another however many days,'' Nugent said. ``One of those things - just being very patient with it.'' Brown has made all of his six field goal attempts, including a 52-yarder.

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Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

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USA Today Sports

Orioles agree to one-year deal with pitcher Chris Tillman, according to reports

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A person familiar with the negotiations says pitcher Chris Tillman and the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract.

The deal includes performance bonuses, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal had not yet been announced.

Tillman was 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 19 starts and five relief appearances last year. He would be the second starter added by the Orioles in the past week after right-hander Andrew Cashner.

Tillman likely would join right-handers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Cashner in the rotation.

The 29-year-old right-hander lives in Sarasota and had been working out at the Orioles' facility before spring training. Manager Buck Showalter watched Tillman throw and was impressed.

Tillman began last season on the disabled list with right shoulder stiffness.

"Better than he did last year at this time. I think he's got the chance to pitch well for somebody this year," Showalter said. "A lot of the challenges he had last year -- this time last year -- aren't there. Somebody's going to reap the benefits."

Tillman's is 73-55 with a 4.43 ERA in nine major league seasons, all with the Orioles. He won 16 games in both 2013 and 2016.

"He's a guy when he's healthy you can bank on him giving you 200 innings and keeping his ERA between a 3 and a 4," Gausman said. "That in the AL East is always going to be very valuable."

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

The Wizards experienced a wild ride before the All-Star break, but came out of it on solid ground, fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 33-24 record. With 27 games still remaining until the postseason, here is a look at the biggest storylines moving forward...

Who will they sign?

The Wizards are close to signing a new player as they were left with open roster spots following the trade deadline when they dealt guard Sheldon Mac to Atlanta for a second round pick. The Wizards have keyed in on the backup point guard position and are likely to go in that direction with the move. But they could still be in the market for other players, possibly someone at the backup wing position, even if they sign a point guard.

The Wizards only have a few days left to make a move because they need to get their roster to 14 players within 14 days of the Mac trade on Feb. 8. Their next game is on Thursday against the Cavaliers, so they could have someone in the building in time to play in that game.

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When will Wall return?

Wall had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 31 and was prescribed a recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, meaning he still has about another three weeks to go before a return is possible. It could be another five weeks before he's back on the court. That puts him in the range of missing another 10-to-17 games.

The Wizards have played nine games since he went down and have won seven of them, but they aren't even halfway there yet. They have a long way to go. Because it's Wall and his return will have a domino effect, this is the most important storyline to watch for the Wizards moving forward.

How will Wall fit back in?

Wall's return will of course be a big deal for the Wizards. They will be adding an All-Star back into their lineup with just weeks before the start of the playoffs. But at the moment, they have a good thing going and are playing much better than they were in the last week or two before he was shut down. That, of course, had a lot to do with Wall playing injured.

It will be interesting if the Wizards are still winning at anything close to their current rate when Wall comes back. That would be the ideal scenario because they could ease him back into the lineup and take their time getting him up to speed. But it will also create a complex situation for head coach Scott Brooks, who will need to make adjustments to his rotation. The alternative would be if the Wizards aren't playing well when Wall returns and the concern there would be the urge to rush him back in any capacity.

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Tough schedule

The Wizards have fared quite well for themselves so far with a 33-24 record despite injuries to Wall, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter to varying degrees. But they have done so while enjoying the easiest schedule in the NBA, 30th out of 30 teams. It is about to get a lot tougher coming out of the All-Star break.

All in the next five weeks the Wizards will see the Cavs, Bucks, Warriors, Raptors, Pacers (twice), Timberwolves, Celtics, Spurs (twice) and the Nuggets. Of their next 17 games, 15 will be against teams currently in the playoff picture. They could be without Wall for all of them. That won't be easy.

Can Oubre get back on track?

While Wall has been out, just about everyone on the Wizards has stepped their games up to compensate. Though he still impacts games in other ways, Kelly Oubre, Jr. has been one exception on offense. In his last 11 games, Oubre has averaged 9.4 points and shot just 31.2 percent from the field and 23.2 percent from three. In his previous 46 games, he averaged 12.4 points while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three.

That is a major difference and the Wizards certainly want to get the early-season version of Oubre back. At his best he is one of their most consistent scorers and an excellent three-point shooter. When he's contributing on both ends of the floor, the Wizards are tough to beat.

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