Wed Nov 13 2:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
In this Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers play at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)
In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passes during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, in Foxborough, Mass. The Pittsburgh Steelers play at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)
CLEVELAND (AP) Separated by roughly 130 miles and six Super Bowl titles, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have a hostile, historic rivalry resuscitated from being heavily one-sided to much more competitive the past few years.
The hatred has never waned.
''It's a big game. It's Browns vs. Steelers,'' said Cleveland running back and native Kareem Hunt, who is about to get his first on-field taste of the long-running football feud. ''I've been watching this my whole life.''
The Steelers and Browns are getting together again Thursday night for the 135th time, renewing their deep disdain for each other in front of a national TV audience in what have been unexpected seasons for both teams.
The Steelers have salvaged theirs.
Cleveland has work to do.
''Everything's at stake, man,'' said Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie. ''We have no more time to waste.''
Their margin for error expunged by a flurry of penalties, turnovers, questionable plays calls by rookie coach Freddie Kitchens in several disappointing early season losses, the Browns (3-6) will try to keep their faint playoff hopes flickering against the Steelers (5-4).
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, leaned on its championship pedigree to regroup after moving on from Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and then losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 to injury. Led by a ball-hawking defense, the Steelers have wiped out a 1-4 start.
''We are still scratching and clawing to make this thing happen and to keep winning games and keep stacking victories and let the chips fall where they may,'' said second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has settled in after replacing Big Ben. ''We are not in the position where we can take anyone lightly.''
Talent and commercial endorsements haven't been nearly enough in Cleveland. The NFL's most publicized team in the preseason has failed to live up to expectations.
However, the Browns, who stopped a four-game skid with their first home win of the season Sunday over Buffalo, have a soft schedule ahead and haven't given up on ending the league's longest playoff drought going back to 2002.
Another loss would all but end their chances.
The key for Cleveland will be ball security. The Steelers are second in the league with 26 takeaways, the most for a Pittsburgh team through nine games since 1987.
''They are making a lot of plays right now,'' said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who hasn't thrown a pick in two games after having a league-high 12 through seven.
During their winning streak, the Steelers have forced 14 turnovers, with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick returning two for touchdowns. Fitzpatrick came over in a trade from Miami and already has five interceptions and a fumble recovery in seven games.
Browns guard Joel Bitonio isn't surprised by the Steelers' surge. It's who they are.
''I know a lot of people probably tried to write `em off at the beginning of the year when they lost all those guys and had the injury to Ben,'' he said. ''But they fight. ... They rallied around their defense and their culture and said, `Hey, we're not giving up on this season.' It's really been impressive to see.''
Mayfield and Rudolph have history. They played each other three times in college, with Mayfield leading Oklahoma to a 3-0 mark against Rudolph's Oklahoma State squad in a rivalry known as ''Bedlam.''
In their last meeting, Mayfield passed for 598 yards and five touchdowns and Rudolph had 448 and five TDs in a 62-52 loss to the Sooners.
Rudolph isn't looking for revenge or at the past.
''You want to win every game you can and do your rival games hurt more when you lose? For sure. You wouldn't be human if you said otherwise,'' Rudolph said. ''We are trying to push the mud off us from the earlier September run we had.''
Now that Hunt is back from an eight-game suspension, the Browns are likely to pair him often in the backfield with Nick Chubb, who is closing in on 1,000 yards.
Both backs can run and catch, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knows his defense can't focus on one or the other.
''They have big-time weapons,'' he said. ''Obviously, the two-back set is something that they did a week ago with a great deal of success. ... They are very multiple. That is one of the things that is challenging about them. Our hands are going to be full.''
SHOULDERING THE LOAD
Steelers running back James Conner is expected to play after missing two games with a sprained shoulder suffered against Miami on Oct. 28. Conner will wear larger shoulder pads for extra protection.
Pittsburgh's running game has languished much of the season. The Steelers are 27th in yards rushing, 28th in yards per carry. Those numbers need to change if Pittsburgh wants to take pressure off Rudolph.
''Having James back will be big for us, especially with the confidence that he'll have coming into it,'' tight end Vance McDonald said.
Conner lit up the Browns last season, piling up 404 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden remembers his days with the Browns fondly even though they didn't have a single winning season during his tenure.
''It's always going to be a little special because I spent seven years there,'' said Haden, drafted by Cleveland with the No. 7 overall pick in 2010 and cut in 2017. ''That's not going to go away. I just want to win a little more. I don't know if that's possible.''
The 30-year-old has revived his career in Pittsburgh, signing a contract extension in August.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams (knee) and tight end Jimmy Graham (calf, wrist) were both limited in practice on Thursday. Williams is a new addition to the injury report for Week 14 against the Redskins, so we'll have to keep an eye on his status on Friday. Williams has maintained RB3 value for fantasy owners alongside Aaron Jones, but his status may be in doubt this weekend. Jones would have RB1 upside if he has this backfield all to himself in a great matchup. Graham should be able to play, but he's become an unattractive touchdown-dependent TE2 with a low target floor. He hasn't scored since Oct. 20 and has a combined four catches the last three games.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida (ankle) and wide receivers Deebo Samuel (shoulder) and Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) are practicing in full on Thursday. Breida is the big one, as he hasn't played since Nov. 11 against the Seahawks. His return will make it hard to trust anyone in San Fran's backfield, which includes Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. Jeffery Wilson could be a healthy scratch with Breida back in Week 14 to face the Bills in a tough matchup. Samuel and Sanders are good to go as well. Samuel has become the better fantasy wideout over Sanders, but the rookie is still a boom/bust WR3 for fantasy owners in this run-first offense.
Updating a previous report, Tennessee Titans rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown (calf) was limited in practice on Thursday. Brown is a new addition to the injury report for Week 14 against the Raiders, so his status on Friday will be worth watching. The 22-year-old rookie has been solid in his first season, catching 34 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns, but he just doesn't see consistent targets in this run-first offense. He'll be on the WR3/4 borderline as a boom-or-bust play if he's active. If he sits out, Corey Davis will be more attractive as a WR4/flex in the first round of the fantasy playoffs.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith gets a tough matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. Smith has posted nine catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns for the whole season and hasn't seen more than three targets in a game yet. He's not even close to fantasy relevance at this point and will now face the league's best pass defense. Leave Smith on the waiver wire.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) and kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee) did not practice on Thursday. Hilton is holding out hope to play again this year, but at this point there's probably a greater chance that he's put on Injured Reserve. Zach Pascal is the team's top wideout with Hilton sidelined, and he has streaming appeal this weekend against a weak Tampa secondary. Marcus Johnson and Parris Campbell (hand) could fill out three-receiver sets. Don't count on Hilton the rest of the way. Vinatieri might find a similar fate as Hilton after the team claimed Chase McLaughlin on Wednesday. He's unlikely to play this weekend and has been a disaster in 2019 with 14 missed kicks. McLaughlin might be worth a flier the rest of the way in deeper leagues.
Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) was added to the Week 14 injury report against the Bills. He got in a limited practice on Thursday. It's not the first time Brown has been added the injury report midweek as the Ravens try to play it safe with their speedy deep threat. The 22-year-old rookie has the skills to get behind any defense for a long touchdown play, but his snaps have been heavily limited in his first year and he doesn't draw enough targets to be a realistic weekly fantasy commodity. Brown hasn't gone over 100 yards since the season opener and had only two targets last week. He'll be a boom/bust WR4 if he plays. Willie Snead, Miles Boykin and Mark Andrews would see more targets if Brown is forced to sit out.
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that the team isn't ruling out wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) for Week 14 against the Lions. "Hes frustrated. I think hes got a good opportunity this week (to play), so well see. Hes working really hard. He obviously wants to get out there with his guys. Hes a great competitor. ... When he's ready, he's ready," Zimmer said. Thielen has yet to practice this week, however, so fantasy owners shouldn't be banking on him playing against Detroit. If he does suit up, though, he'll have WR2 upside in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. Stefon Diggs also has high-end WR2 upside regardless of whether Thielen plays. Kyle Rudolph and Olabisi Johnson won't have as much appeal if Thielen returns.
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said that he expects running back Dalvin Cook (chest) to play in Week 14 against the Lions and be close to 100 percent. Cook left the Monday night game against the Seahawks and didn't return, but he said shortly after that he planned on playing this Sunday, and he's been limited in practices so far this week. Barring a late setback, Cook will be active and will be a high-end RB1 in a great matchup against Detroit. Cook ranks fifth in the NFL with 1.046 yards on the ground. Backup Alexander Mattison could see more change-of-pace work behind Cook this week, but he's still tough to trust for standalone value.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (hand) returned to a full practice on Thursday. Mack has been sidelined since Nov. 17, but he's well on his way to returning to action in Week 14 against the Buccaneers. In a tough matchup against Tampa's defensive front and possibly at risk of sharing touches with Jonathan Williams, Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines, Mack will be more of a low-end RB2 this weekend if he makes his way back. Rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell (hand) has practiced in full the last two days as well, making it likely he makes his return this weekend. He should be in three-wide sets with Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson, but Campbell is a fantasy dart throw the rest of the way in this run-first offense.
Carolina Panthers interim head coach Perry Fewell said the tight end position will be a committee approach this week with Greg Olsen (concussion) unlikely to play. The committee will include Chris Manhertz, Ian Thomas and Alex Armah. Thomas is the best bet of the bunch after he posted 36 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games as a rookie last year with Olsen missing time due to injury. He has only five receptions (nine targets) for 28 yards in 2019, though, with Olsen staying healthy up until now. Thomas is the best bet of this group as a TE2 streamer, but he won't be a strong fantasy option if he sees limited snaps. If you own Olsen, you need to look for other options.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn will face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. Ginn has been a feast-or-famine deep-threat this year. He owns the highest yards per reception mark on the Saints but will play a 49ers Defense that allows the fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more. The 34-year-old is coming off a catch-less game and hasn't caught more than three passes since Week 1. Ginn should be benched, or left on the waiver wire, for the fantasy playoffs.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (hamstring) returned to practice on Thursday after being held out on Wednesday. The Titans are just resting Henry early in the week. He's been the best running back in the NFL in the last three games, running for well over 100 yards in each contest and totaling five touchdowns in that span on the ground. He'll get another great matchup in the Raiders in Week 14. Henry is a must-start fantasy commodity in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Tennessee Titans rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown (undisclosed) left practice early after stretching with an undisclosed ailment. Wideout Adam Humphries (ankle) also missed practice for the second straight day. Brown's situation is worth monitoring the rest of the week. He would be a likely candidate to sit out in Week 14 against the Raiders if he can't get back to practice on Friday. With Humphries also on the wrong side of questionable for this weekend, it could be Tajae Sharpe, Cody Hollister and Kalif Raymond behind Corey Davis in the receiving game. Only Davis would be worth fantasy consideration as a WR4/flex against Oakland.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (shoulder) and tight end Austin Hooper (knee) are both practicing again on Thursday, which is a good sign for their availability in Week 14 against the Panthers. Jones missed the Thanksgiving game and Hooper has missed the last three contests, so getting them both back would be excellent news for quarterback Matt Ryan. Despite not scoring since Sept. 22, Jones will return to being a high-end WR1 if he's active. He had six catches for 91 yards against Carolina in the first meeting on Nov. 17. Hooper has been a breakout star this year with 56 receptions for 608 yards and six touchdowns, so he'll be a must-start TE1 if he's back this Sunday.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas will face the stingy San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. The 49ers have allowed only 134.2 passing yards per game this year, best in the NFL. Despite this, one receiver has posted at least 50 yards or scored a touchdown in eight games against the 49ers this year. Considering how involved Thomas is, he should be able to eclipse 50 yards. He has the lowest upside of virtually any WR1 this week and has some risk, given that Drew Brees may struggle to put up good numbers. Still, Thomas has been the best fantasy asset at wide receiver this year. It's realistic to expect him to at least reach 15 fantasy points, even against this defense.
Oakland Raiders rookie running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) wasn't seen at the start of practice on Thursday. Jacobs revealed on Tuesday that he's been playing through a fractured shoulder since Week 7, so back-to-back missed practices are now more concerning for anyone that owns Jacobs. Despite his injured shoulder, Jacobs has remained productive in his first season and is fourth in the NFL with 1,061 rushing yards in 2019. He'll be a bit more of a risky RB1 this weekend if he suits up, but his fantasy owners will have their minds more at ease if Jacobs returns to practice on Friday. If he cannot play this weekend, Deandre Washington would be the obvious plug and play, with Jalen Richard mixing in on passing downs.
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (knee), who revealed he's dealing with an MCL injury, is in doubt for Week 14 against the Texans. "I'm already undersized. When you take away exotic movements that make me who I am it changes the type of player I am. I have to get that back to go out and play. If I don't have that back then I need to take time to get that right," Miller said. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, but that doesn't mean he'll play this weekend. Another Miller absence would be great news for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and the whole offense. Even if Miller suits up, the Broncos Defense should be avoided in fantasy.
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead, who leads the team with 10 sacks this year, walked off the practice field on Thursday with an undisclosed injury. Armstead's 10 sacks in 2019 are more than his combined total (9.5) in his previous four seasons. The Niners pass rush has been a strength of their defense all year, but they've had key injuries in recent weeks, although Dee Ford (hamstring) is on track to return after missing two games. Armstead has played 73 percent of the defense's snaps this year on the edge and inside. Solomon Thomas would likely replace Armstead if needed. Drew Brees and the Saints offense would receive a boost if Armstead cannot play.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray will face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14. San Francisco's defense ranks 22nd against the run despite being the best in the league against the pass, presenting Murray with a good matchup. The problem is, he's seen a steady decrease in snaps and touches over the last three games, including his second-lowest snap total of the season last week, 13. This usage makes Murray nothing more than flex play in deep leagues, even in a more run-friendly matchup.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (shoulder) has been ruled out for Week 14 against the Cardinals despite getting in some limited practice this week. It will be his third straight missed game, and fantasy owners shouldn't be holding out much hope that he can help you the rest of the way if you've made the fantasy playoffs. A Pro Bowler in 2018, Conner has disappointed with 390 rushing yards and five missed games. Benny Snell Jr. should continue to carry the load on early downs in Conner's absence. He'll be an upside RB3 in the good matchup with Arizona, but Jaylen Samuels should continue to see more work in the passing game.