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2 of a kind: Chubb, Hunt give Browns powerful backfield

Tue Nov 12 5:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer

Players: Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Kareem Hunt, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Mason Rudolph, Austin Seibert

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes between Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) and strong safety Micah Hyde (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


In this May 15, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns' Kareem Hunt (27) and Nick Chubb (24) talk during an NFL football organized team activity session at the team's training facility in Berea, Ohio. With Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game NFL suspension to join Nick Chubb in Clevelands backfield, the Browns (3-6) have a dynamic duo that will test opposing defenses through the air and on the ground. In Sundays 19-16 win over Buffalo, the Hunt-Chubb tandem combined for 147 yards rushing and 49 receiving while helping the Browns snap a four-game losing streak that halted a season shaped by high expectations from dissolving into another mess. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)


Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, top, is tackled by Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)


Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) rushes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)


BEREA, Ohio (AP) Freddie Kitchens has struggled to make two star wide receivers happy. The Browns coach now has a pair of elite running backs to please as well.

One football. Four playmakers.

That's not necessarily a bad problem.

With Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game NFL suspension to join Nick Chubb in Cleveland's backfield, the Browns (3-6) have a dynamic duo that will test opposing defenses on the ground and through the air.

In Sunday's 19-16 win over Buffalo, the Hunt-Chubb tandem debuted and combined for 196 total yards while helping the Browns snap a four-game losing streak that halted this season shaped by high expectations from dissolving into another maddening mess.

Kitchens, whose future was beginning to look bleak and remains unclear, understands that Chubb-Hunt can be a potent 1-2 combination.

''Anytime you can get guys who can do things with the ball in their hands and they can also play off of other people, that definitely impacts decisions, alignments and assignments,'' Kitchens said Tuesday as the Browns prepared for Thursday night's game against the surging Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) ''When you have more than a couple of options, it's always, from that positon in particular, very good.''

And very needed.

To this point, the Browns have lacked a clear offensive identity.

The two-back, Chubb-Hunt set may change that.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn't developed any consistent chemistry with Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has just one touchdown catch as teams have focused on taking him away with double teams. The Browns went out of their way to get Beckham involved on Sunday as he was targeted 12 times - Mayfield just missed him on two long throws - and had five catches.

Jarvis Landry had one of his best games this season with nine receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.

The Browns have already seen how Hunt's versatility will prevent teams from keying on Chubb, who is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season, while creating more downfield opportunities for Beckham and Landry.

''We kind of did some experiments on just how much we can do with that package,'' Mayfield said. ''Obviously, two dynamic players with Nick and Kareem, we are able to do a lot but kind of make to where we format it where it all looks similar, but we are doing different things out of it. It can be an explosive package for us. We just have to go out there and do our job.''

From the start on Sunday, Hunt did his job, unleashing months of pent-up energy.

On Cleveland's second play, he lined up alongside Chubb and then delivered a kick-out block that cleared a path for his teammate on a 21-yard run. It was a tone-setter and perhaps a sign of things to come.

''They're both willing blockers, they both can catch out of the backfield, then can line up in different spots and they both run with great energy,'' said left guard Joel Bitonio. ''It was cool to see `em both out there. Hunt ran the ball hard the few times he got it. The cool thing was he was lead-blocking a few times and some of those were big spring plays. You know we don't have a fullback in there, but he kind of acted like it a couple times.

''That was really cool to see, his willingness to be that guy.''

Hunt's debut for the Browns was a revelation in many ways.

The 24-year-old former NFL rushing champion is determined to change his personal narrative following two ugly, off-field incidents that led to his release by the Kansas City Chiefs last year and subsequent league punishment. To some, the disturbing video of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman during an argument last year has painted him as an unforgivable villain.

However, the Browns have been impressed with his attitude and maturity. He's made strides off the field. On it, he's a potentially game-changing player.

''Whatever the team needs, he'll do,'' said center JC Tretter. ''He showed it.''

Hunt understands there may be people not thrilled that he's getting a second chance. That's something else he has avoided focusing on.

''I really do not pay too much attention with that,'' he said when asked if he senses how fans have received his return. ''It is up to you. If you like me, you like me.''

NOTES: DE Olivier Vernon (knee) and S Eric Murray (knee) remain sidelined and will likely miss Thursday's game. ... The season's first significant snowfall forced the Browns to practice indoors. But kicker Austin Seibert, punter Jamie Gillan and long snapper Charley Hughlett went outside to get their work in. ... Mayfield will match up Thursday against Steelers QB Mason Rudolph for the first time as pros. They faced each other three times in college with Mayfield leading Oklahoma to a 3-0 record against Rudolph and Oklahoma State. ''Mason is a great guy,'' Mayfield said. ''He is playing well, taking care of the ball, putting them in a good position to win.''

Player Notes
Minnesota Vikings Dec 14 2:00pm ET

The Vikings Defense has been inconsistent this season, but they definitely have the talent to put up a solid total on the road in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Vikings racked up five sacks and two interceptions against David Blough and the Detroit Lions last week. Phillip Rivers awaits in Week 15, a 38-year-old who has the fifth-most interceptions this year with 15. They have plenty of weapons in Austin Ekeler, Melvin Gordon, Hunter Henry, and Keenan Allen, so the Vikings will definitely have their work cut out for them. Safety Jayron Kearse (toe) has been ruled out and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) is questionable, but it's fair to wonder how significant their absences would even be in this contest as Kearse is a backup and Rhodes has been awful all year. Start the Vikings Defense as they have a good chance of picking up sacks and turnovers in Week 15's road tilt.

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Irv Smith Jr. Dec 14 1:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. is not a recommended option for Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Smith Jr. actually received more snaps and targets than Kyle Rudolph in a Week 14 victory over the Detroit Lions, but he was only able to muster three catches for 21 yards. He just simply doesn't get enough targets or red-zone looks to be started with confidence this week, and the Chargers Defense being stellar against tight ends certainly doesn't help his outlook. There are likely higher-upside TE2 streamers available for you to use in your fantasy playoff matchup.

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Jordan Howard Dec 14 1:30pm ET

Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) have been ruled out for Week 15 against the Washington Redskins. Howard was limited all week and is probably closer to a return than Agholor, who logged three DNPs this week. With Howard out, Miles Sanders and Boston Scott will lead the backfield against Washington's 27th-ranked run defense. Already thin at wide receiver, the Eagles will start JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, and Robert Davis. The real winners are tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, who will both see more targets against Washington- they've allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to tight ends.

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Kyle Rudolph Dec 14 1:20pm ET

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph saw his four-game touchdown streak come to and end last week against the Lions, and his outlook for Week 15 isn't looking encouraging. The Chargers Defense has allowed an average of just under four catches per game to tight ends this season and safety Derwin James has made a huge difference since his return in Week 13. Rudolph ranks sixth in red-zone targets among tight ends this season, but his touchdown equity definitely takes a hit with Adam Thielen set to return to action. Owners should prepare for the potential floor game from the touchdown-dependent veteran tight end.

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Kerryon Johnson Dec 14 12:30pm ET

Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson (knee, IR) is setback-free and nearing a return to the field. Johnson hasn't played since tearing his meniscus in Week 7, which he had November surgery to repair. The 22-year-old has practiced the last two weeks, earning the praise of Coach Matt Patricia for his "good energy." With the Lions sitting at 3-9-1, there's no real reason for Johnson to be out there, though the team seems to want him to get game reps before the season ends. If he returns next week, he'll be looking at a timeshare backfield with Bo Scarborough, which will presumably lower both player's fantasy values.

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Andy Dalton Dec 14 11:10am ET

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton finds himself in a matchup to avoid on Sunday against the Patriots' league-best passing defense. New England has allowed only 15.4 points a game to opposing quarterbacks, and Dalton hasn't topped 262 yards through the air in his two games since being back under center. He should see a fair amount of garbage time to rack up stats, but the risk greatly outweighs the reward. He might be in play in deep two-quarterback leagues, but owners in other formats should be looking for another option.

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Tyler Boyd Dec 14 11:10am ET

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd is a risky option on Sunday when he takes on the Patriots top-ranked pass defense, which is allowing only 25 PPR points a game to receivers. Boyd usually sees the lions share of the Bengals' targets; however, he was out-targeted by Alex Erickson last week, and the two were only one target apart in Week 12 against Pittsburgh. With Boyd likely seeing Stephon Gilmore in coverage, it wouldn't be shocking to see Andy Dalton turn to Erickson and John Ross for targets. Boyd could see a bump in volume during garbage time, but you likely don't want to rely on that with fantasy seasons on the line, which makes Boyd more of a low-end WR3 or WR4 in this matchup.

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Joe Mixon Dec 14 11:00am ET

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon will get a stern test on Sunday against the New England Patriots. The Patriots are tops in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to running backs, only giving up 16 PPR points a game to the position. While Mixon has been trending up of late, he did only see 59% of the team's snaps last week while they trailed the Browns, with Giovani Bernard seeing 40% of snaps. Mixon also hasn't topped four targets per game during his resurgence, so his passing game involvement hasn't grown to a level that would salvage this matchup. With the Bengals figuring to be behind for much of the game, Mixon won't see much value on the ground and could only play 60% of the team's snaps. That makes him a touchdown-dependent low-end RB2 and a player to avoid in DFS.

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Curtis Samuel Dec 14 10:20am ET

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel is coming off of a two-catch, 25-yard performance against the Falcons in Week 14. Despite this, the 23-year-old has five receiving touchdowns on the year and has the capacity for another against an average Seahawks Defense. Fantasy managers need to understand that there is some risk involved with Samuel in Week 15, but the upside is equally there.

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D.J. Moore Dec 14 10:00am ET

Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore has been one of the league's most productive wideouts in 2019 and will look continue that trend on Sunday against a Seahawks Defense that has allowed a middle-of-the-pack 35.43 fantasy points to his position. Moore didn't have the best outing in Week 14, finishing with just four catches for 81 yards. Despite this, the 22-year-old has remained relatively consistent and has been targeted at least eight times in 10 games this year, while receiving double-digit looks in seven games. He is a solid option in all formats in Week 15 but should be considered a must-start in PPR formats.

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Kyle Allen Dec 14 9:50am ET

Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen will attempt to salvage what has been a disappointing season on Sunday against Seattle. With Cam Newton (foot) potentially already having played his last game with the club, the sophomore will look to make his case to remain the signal-caller come next season, with Seattle being the first of the team's final three opponents in 2019. Though the Seahawks are a long way removed from the "Legion of Boom" days, the defensive unit has played well enough to get the job done for a team that is propelled by a high-octane offense. With Allen throwing all 12 over his interceptions on the year throughout his previous seven starts, fantasy owners shouldn't expect much, while realizing that he could have a few solid outings left in the tank for those in need of a fantasy quarterback in Week 15.

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Christian McCaffrey Dec 14 9:30am ET

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has failed to hit the 100-yard mark on the ground in any of his last four games but has stepped things up as a receiver, nonetheless, by collecting 38 of his 48 targets for 330 yards during that same span. The Seahawks have been decent against opposing backs this year, limiting them to just 23.10 fantasy points point per game. Though this may seem discouraging to some degree, McCaffrey is the kind of player who could easily cause that average to rise by the end of Week 15. With the Panthers out of postseason contention, however, the 23-year-old could see a decline in snaps, but while this is a realistic possibility, he has played too well this year to bench. Consider him a must-start despite the risks.

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Aaron Jones Dec 14 5:30am ET

Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones did not play well during his first encounter with the Bears Defense back in Week 1, finishing the night with just 39 yards on 13 attempts, while catching only one pass for no gain. However, the 25-year-old is fresh off of a Week 14 outing against the Redskins, where he logged 134 yards and a score to go along with six catches for 58 yards. Though Chicago is a much more formidable opponent, his performance against Washington suggests that the potential for significant production is always there, with his outlook for Week 15 being no different despite the tougher matchup.

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Jamaal Williams Dec 14 5:30am ET

Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams still remains fantasy relevant despite rushing for a subpar 24 yards on seven carries against the Redskins in Week 14. The 24-year-old has demonstrated this season that he can produce on a week-to-week basis, as evident by the five touchdowns he logged in four-straight outings not too long ago. While the matchup against a tough Chicago Defense will likely make fantasy owners apprehensive, he still should have a place in fantasy lineups, especially in deeper formats for those looking for someone with a significant upside in Week 15.

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Davante Adams Dec 14 3:30am ET

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (toe) has been removed from the team's injury report and should be ready to go against the Bears in Week 15. After an up-and-down season from a production standpoint to start the year, coupled with a four-game absence as a result of turf toe, the 26-year-old has picked things up, especially as of late, compiling 31 catches (49 targets) for 307 yards and three touchdowns over his last five outings. He did struggle against Chicago in Week 1, but the upside is always there whenever he is on the field and should be considered a must-start in all formats on Sunday.

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Aaron Rodgers Dec 14 2:30am ET

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a difficult matchup on Sunday against a Bears Defense that limited him to just 203 yards and a touchdown during the Thursday night season opener. The veteran hasn't been consistent, especially as of late, and has logged a touchdown or less in four of his last five games. The 36-year-old has played relatively well against Chicago throughout his tenure in the league, however, maintaining a 66.9 completion percentage to go along with 46 scores and only 10 picks in 22 career meetings. The upside is there for the fantasy managers who won't be scared off by his recent string of shoddy performances and is worth a start in Week 15 in all formats.

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Stefon Diggs Dec 14 1:10am ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs had a great game in a tough matchup last week, beating Darius Slay for six catches and 92 yards in the win. He'll have another tough draw against Casey Hayward and the Los Angeles Chargers Defense in Week 15. They have a great secondary and play a lot of zone coverage, which is not Diggs' strong suit. However, Diggs has shown huge upside this season and he put up strong fantasy numbers despite tough matchups in two of the last three weeks. Having Adam Thielen back to draw attention away only helps his cause, and this game projecting to be close means that the Vikings will likely be forced to the air more. Start Diggs as a WR2 who has some sneaky upside in Week 15.

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Dalvin Cook Dec 14 12:40am ET

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is as volume-based RB1 in Week 15, as he has been for most of the season. He wasn't listed on the injury report at all on Friday and backup Alexander Mattison (ankle) being out definitely increases his projected workload. Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah will split the backup role, but it's unlikely that they'll see the type of volume that Mattison was getting. The Chargers Defense ranks 23rd in rush DVOA but has been stingy as of late as they've had key players return from injury. In fact, they haven't allowed a back to eclipse 63 total yards in their last three games. Start Cook as an RB1 this week as he's a lock for at least 20 touches and a good bet for a few red zone opportunities.

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Leonard Fournette Dec 13 11:20pm ET

Despite struggling in Week 14 against the Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette should still be considered a solid RB2 in Week 15 against the Oakland Raiders. Fournette dominates the backfield touches on this Jaguars team and has seen his role as a pass-catcher increase over the past three games. The Raiders Defense hasn't offered too much resistance to opposing backs this year and are also allowing the fourth-most receiving yards to running backs. With D.J. Chark out, expect quarterback Gardner Minshew to rely more on Fournette as a receiving option as well, setting him up for what should be a solid outing.

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Dede Westbrook Dec 13 11:20pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook should be the team's top weapon on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders with fellow receiver D.J. Chark already ruled out. Westbrook entered the year as the team's number one target, but Chark emerged as a key deep threat and Westbrook dealt with injuries. Now, though, the third-year receiver has a great shot to put up strong fantasy numbers against a Raiders team that's allowing the 13th-most PPR points per game to opposing wide receivers. He's still got risk, especially as he deals with a shoulder issue, but he's the best fantasy option among Jags pass-catchers this week.

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