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NFL Playoffs League - FFL: Week 1 | NFL: Week 15

High stakes: Steelers, Browns renew rivalry, plenty on line

Wed Nov 13 2:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer

Players: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Vance McDonald, James Conner, Kareem Hunt, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Mason Rudolph

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.''

COLLEGE REUNION

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.''

TAKE TWO

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.

HEY, JOE

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.

Player Notes
Jared Cook Dec 14 3:00pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (elbow) and tight end Jared Cook (concussion) were both listed as full participants. Brees was a late add to the injury report on Friday with an elbow injury that looked to have occurred on the last drive of a narrow, Week 14 loss to the 49ers. Cook was able to get a full session in after a limited one on Thursday. Both should be good to go on Monday night- and should be in lineups against the Colts 22nd-ranked pass defense.

From RotoBaller

T Y Hilton Dec 14 2:50pm ET

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf) is a game-time decision for Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints. The 30-year-old is closer to a return this week after being limited in practice, compared to DNPs last week. Even if he does suit up, it's risky to play him, considering it's a Monday night game plus he may see a lot of Saints star corner Marshon Lattimore. It's also worth noting that the team did limit him earlier in the year when he first attempted to return from this injury. If he's unable to go, receivers Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson, as well as tight end Jack Doyle, would see upticks in targets.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller

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.

From RotoBaller