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.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Allen Hurns (ankle, knee) did not take part in practice on Wednesday. All three of Hurns, Devante Parker (concussion) and Albert Wilson (concussion) are in danger of missing the Week 15 contest against the Giants. Hurns has become the No. 2 behind Parker late in the year, but he still has only 29 receptions (44 targets) for 366 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Hurns will only be worth a flier as a flex play in deeper leagues if Parker is inactive this Sunday. Receivers Trevor Davis, Isaiah Ford and Mack Hollins could be forced into heavy playing time this weekend as well.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said rookie running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) isn't a lock to return in Week 15 against the Jaguars despite positive results from his MRI exam. Jacobs's status is unclear for this Sunday, although he was a limited participant in the walkthrough practice on Wednesday. Jacobs must prove to Gruden and the coaching staff in the next two days that he's ready to return after missing Week 14. Deandre Washington and Jalen Richard would once again handle the backfield if Jacobs is forced to miss another game. If the stud rookie returns, he'll be a high-upside RB1 against a Jaguars team that continues to get roasted on the ground.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis (knee) returned to a full practice on Wednesday. It puts the struggling second-year wideout on track to return in Week 15 against the Falcons for the first time since Nov. 11 against the Seahawks. The 24-year-old has just 11 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games and is buried on the team's receiver depth chart. Pettis should be on waiver wires in all redraft leagues, and it's even questionable that he should be stashed in dynasty/keeper leagues with the way he's fallen in his second year in the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings rookie running back Alexander Mattison (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. There's still a chance that Mattison can play in Week 15 against the Chargers, but nothing is guaranteed. With Dalvin Cook (chest) seeing a full workload against the Lions last Sunday, Mattison would be nothing more than a little-used backup against the Bolts this weekend if he's active. Mattison has been impressive when on the field, but he just doesn't see enough volume behind Cook to have standalone value. Ameer Abdullah and Michael Boone are behind Mattison on the running back depth chart in Minnesota.
Washington Redskins WR Paul Richardson (hamstring) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Richardson has missed the last few games but appears to have a chance to play in Week 15. He would see a handful of targets if he active for the game but can be avoided in most leagues.
Washington Redskins RB Adrian Peterson (toe) fully participated in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Peterson will receive a majority of the carries with Derrius Guice out for the season and was productive in the role earlier this season. He can be a No. 2 running back or flex option in fantasy leagues.
Philadelphia Eagles RB Jordan Howard (shoulder) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Howard still has not been cleared for contact, so his status for Week 15 is uncertain. Fantasy players should know more later in the week but will need other options available in case Howard misses another game.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Nelson Agholor (knee) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Agholor was not able to play last week and appears to be questionable for Week 15. He would have a favorable matchup if he plays, but fantasy players may want to consider other options for their lineups.
Philadelphia Eagles DE Derek Barnett (ankle), WR Alshon Jeffery (foot) and OT Lane Johnson (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11. CB Jalen Mills (elbow) was limited during practice, while LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (concussion) fully participated in practice.
The New Orleans Saints officially placed defensive end Marcus Davenport (Achilles) and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (ankle) on season-ending Injured Reserve on Wednesday. The combination of losing both defensive linemen is a pretty big blow to this Saints Defense to close out the year. Davenport, a first-round pick in 2018, had 31 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles in his 13 games, while Rankins, a first-rounder in 2016, had 10 tackles and two sacks in his 10 games in 2019. New Orleans' defense will be a low-tier fantasy play on Monday night in Week 15 against the fading and injured Colts offense in the superdome in a bounce-back game.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) was limited in practice on Wednesday after being inactive in the Week 15 loss to the Broncos. Fuller could be a game-time decision this Sunday against the Titans. If he sits out a second straight game, Kenny Stills and Keke Coutee would have bigger roles alongside top wideout DeAndre Hopkins. If Fuller returns to action on Sunday, fantasy owners should consider the speedy deep threat as a boom-or-bust WR2 commodity as the Texans look to bounce back from a frustrating loss.
Houston Texans OT Chris Clark (hip), CB Gareon Conley (hip), RB Taiwan Jones (hamstring), LB Brennan Scarlett (Achilles, shoulder) and DE Carlos Watkins (hamstring) were limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (knee) was limited in practice on Wednesday. Njoku returned in Week 14 from a wrist injury that landed him on Injured Reserve after Week 2, and he played limited snaps on his way to just one catch for four yards in the win over the Bengals. The 23-year-old should be fine to play this weekend against the Cardinals. Arizona has been atrocious against opposing tight ends, but even so, Njoku is a boom/bust TE1/2 for fantasy owners feeling lucky in the second round of the fantasy playoffs.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (knee) and tight end Jimmy Graham (wrist) were limited participants in Wednesday's practice. Graham was limited last week but was able to play against the Redskins, so he should suit up this week barring a setback. Allison, on the other hand, is a new addition to the report and will have to prove he's healthy in the final two sessions. If healthy, both would be shaky starts in Week 15 against the Chicago Bears.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald (concussion) and running back Jaylen Samuels (groin) both were missing from practice on Wednesday. Not only is McDonald questionable for Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night, but he hasn't cleared 50 yards the entire season and has only three touchdowns. He has just five catches for 25 yards in the last three games combined. Even if he's active, he can't be trusted in fantasy lineups in a very difficult draw in Buffalo. Nick Vannett would be a desperation TE2 if McDonald is inactive. Samuels is basically useless in fantasy with James Conner (shoulder) expected to return this Sunday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston (knee, thumb) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Winston is expected to play this week despite the thumb injury, but fantasy players should check on his status later in the week. He is a risky option in fantasy leagues because of his interceptions but could still be a low-end No. 1 quarterback in some leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Demar Dotson (non-injury), WR Mike Evans (hamstring), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) and OT Donovan Smith (ankle, knee) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 11. OG Alex Cappa (elbow), WR Scott Miller (hamstring) and LB Anthony Nelson (hamstring) were limited during practice.
Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (hamstring) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller was not able to play last week, and his status for Week 15 is uncertain. Fantasy players should monitor his progress this week but may want to look for other options to use in their lineups.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett (knee) is considered "day-to-day" by head coach Sean McVay. "His knee is making progress, but not ready to get out there and practice with us yet." Everett has essentially been day-to-day since suffering the injury in Week 13. He's missed the last two games as a result and cannot be trusted for fantasy lineups in Week 15 against the Panthers. Starting the week off with another missed practice is a bad sign. Tyler Higbee has gone for 14 catches (19 targets) for 223 yards and a touchdown the last two weeks against the Cardinals and Seahawks with Everett sidelined. Higbee will keep his TE1 status in the fantasy playoffs if Everett remains out.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Howard has been close to playing for weeks it seems, but he has yet to be cleared and hasn't seen the field since Nov. 3 against the Bears. If he does return in Week 15 against the Redskins, he could have his workload monitored and limited because of the long layoff, making him more of a risky RB2/3. Rookie Miles Sanders has been the workhorse in Philly's backfield with Howard sidelined, and he'll maintain RB2 upside in a solid matchup this Sunday if Howard misses another game.