Wed Dec 8 5:08pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
BEREA, Ohio (AP) Baker Mayfield's bruises aren't as black and blue as they were before the late, but much-needed bye.
The Browns' record is still shaded in mediocrity.
The one-week break gave Cleveland's quarterback a chance to heal and recoup from a 12-game battering and mentally prepare himself for a grueling five-game finish to maybe save the season and cement his future with the Browns.
''It's crunch time,'' Mayfield said Wednesday.
Is it ever.
The Browns (6-6) are facing a win-or-else situation on Sunday when they host the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens (8-4) in the second matchup between the rivals in three weeks. The scheduling oddity fits right in with his quirky season in which they have yet to separate from the pack.
A win would move the Browns within a game of the division lead, and closer to a wild-card spot.
A loss could push their playoff hopes past the perilous stage.
''Everything that we can accomplish is still in front of us so if we handle it correctly, that will happen,'' Mayfield said. ''''I feel confident where I'm at, where we're at and where we're headed.''
During the time away, Mayfield relaxed for a few days in Arizona before visiting family in Austin, Texas. It was a welcomed chance for his body to recover after playing with a torn labrum and fractured humorous bone in his left shoulder, a bruised right knee and left heel and groin issue.
''Quite a bit, to be honest with you,'' Mayfield said when asked what the week did for him physically. ''I haven't had any major setbacks the past few weeks, and I had another week off so I'm looking forward to keep getting better as the weeks go on.''
The Browns are counting on Mayfield to be at his best in the season's biggest games.
Last week, general manager Andrew Berry seemed to issue a simultaneous vote of confidence and challenge to Mayfield, saying he expected the QB to shine down the stretch against Baltimore, Las Vegas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - all teams in the playoff picture.
Never one to back down, Mayfield shares Berry's optimism.
''Anytime you can kind of step back, re-evaluate everything, come back with a fresh mindset and realize where we are right now and just have that one-week-at-a-time mentality,'' he said. That is where our heads are, and that is where I play my best.''
Browns tight end Austin Hooper expects it as well.
''Everyone in this building believes in him,'' Hooper said. ''No matter where you stand with anything, anybody, you can't ever question Bake's toughness, and for him to have a week to just heal up alone is huge.
''We all believe in him. We have believed in him. We'll continue to believe in him. He's the leader of our football team, so we're ready to watch him be him.''
The Browns stumbled into their bye following a 16-10 loss at Baltimore. It was especially stinging since Cleveland intercepted Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson four times and couldn't capitalize.
Maybe there was more to it.
''To be honest with you, the past couple games it looked like we were just out of gas,'' Hooper said. ''It's the latest bye week I've ever had - the latest bye week a lot of these coaches have ever had.''
Given their maddening inconsistency and bouts of ineptitude, the Browns are fortunate to still have a shot at the postseason. They've played well in spurts, just not enough of them. They've also been penalty prone and predictable.
The bye week afforded coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff some time to tinker with things, and there was a focus on jump-starting an offense that has scored 17 points just once in the past six games.
Stefanski wouldn't reveal any schematic changes, but signs point toward a personnel swap on the line, where backup right tackle Blake Hance has struggled filling in for All-Pro Jack Conklin.
Also, with tight end David Njoku currently on the COVID-19 reserve list, Stefanski may not be able to use as many ''13 personnel'' packages - one running back, three tight ends, one wide receiver - as he likes.
The Ravens stacked the line of scrimmage two weeks ago, daring the Browns to throw while holding Cleveland to a season-low 40 yards rushing.
''We have to put together a game plan that can account for those types of things and go make a big play,'' Stefanski said. ''There should, in theory, be some grass opened up in the defensive secondary.''
However Baltimore decides to attack or defend this time is irrelevant to Stefanski.
''We have to find a way,'' he said.
NOTES: WRs Jarvis Landry (knee) and Anthony Schwartz (concussion), DT Malik Jackson (knee) and TE Harrison Bryant (ankle) missed practice. Stefanski ruled Bryant out for Sunday. ... The loss of Ravens star CB Marlon Humphrey, who suffered a torn chest muscle, should help Cleveland's chances. ''He's a key piece, a great player,'' Stefanski said. ''You hate to see that for them. Does it change them? I think it remains to be seen.''
Minnesota Vikings linebackers Eric Kendricks (biceps) and Anthony Barr (hamstring, knee) both practiced in full on Wednesday and were removed from the final injury report for Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday. Kendricks and Barr will return after the Week 13 loss to the Detroit Lions. Barr has missed six games this year due to injury, but he's been effective when on the field with 32 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. Kendricks enters Week 14 action as the fifth-ranked IDP linebacker thanks to 63 tackles, four sacks, four passes defensed, two interceptions and a fumble recovery in 11 games. Return him to your starting lineups if he's on your roster.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got in a full practice on Wednesday and was removed from the injury report ahead of his team's Thursday night game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14. Roethlisberger draws a plus matchup against a Vikings defense that is allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks in 2021. Big fantasy weeks have been few and far between for Roethlisberger this season but he does have some upside against a Minnesota offense that can put plenty of points on the board. Treat Roethlisberger as a mid-range QB2 in fantasy for Week 14.
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (foot) missed practice all week and will miss the Week 14 game on Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings. It will be the fourth straight game that Haden has missed. The Steelers will miss their 32-year-old cornerback, but the Steelers defense/special teams might be worth throwing in your starting fantasy lineups this week as a streamer while going up against a Vikings offense that won't have wide receiver Adam Thielen (ankle) and could be without their star running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) for a second straight game. Star linebacker T.J. Watt is healthy and can wreck an offensive game plan almost single-handedly.
The Los Angeles Chargers placed wide receiver Mike Williams and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Receiver Keenan Allen is also on the COVID-19 list, so the Chargers could be down their top two receivers this weekend against the New York Giants. If both Williams and Allen are vaccinated, they could be cleared to return if they are asymptomatic and return two negative tests 24 hours apart before Sunday's game. However, fantasy managers can't count on that and should prepare to be without them just in case. Jalen Guyton, who caught his first touchdown of the year last week, is now a hot waiver-wire pickup as a plug-and-play option if both Williams and Allen don't get cleared. Rookie Josh Palmer would serve as the No. 2, while tight ends Jared Cook and Donald Parham would see more targets as well.
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (knee) fully participated in practice Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Elliott has been held to under 50 rushing yards in each of the last four games but has been involved in the passing game during those games. He should see plenty of touches this week and can be at least a No. 2 running back in fantasy leagues.
Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (groin) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 8. WR Cedrick Wilson (ankle) was limited during practice.
Los Angeles Chargers WR Mike Williams was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Williams probably will miss the Week 14 game since it is only a few days away. Jalen Guyton may be the main option in the passing game if Williams and Keenan Allen are not able to play and can be a No. 3 receiver in fantasy leagues.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (knee) was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and is expected to play in Week 14 against the New York Jets. Kamara has been out since Week 9, but all signs are pointing toward him having a full workload this weekend, especially with veteran Mark Ingram II on the COVID-19 list. Despite the long layoff due to his knee injury, Kamara will be a must-start RB1 in his return against a Jets defense that has allowed the third-most rushing yards per game (133.4) and the most fantasy points per game to RBs in 2021. If Ingram isn't cleared by Sunday's game, expect Ty Montgomery and Tony Jones Jr. to spell Kamara in his return.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (finger) was a full participant in practice on Wednesday. It confirms an earlier report that he was in line to play in Week 14 against the New York Jets despite suffering from mallet finger in last Thursday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Hill won't need surgery on his finger, but that doesn't mean that the 31-year-old will be very accurate throwing the football the rest of the season. Luckily, he'll be facing a Jets defense that just isn't good. They've allowed the fourth-most passing yards per game (263.4), although they've allowed the third-fewest rushing yards to QBs. Hill isn't valuable for his arm. He should run enough to be a low-end QB1 after going for 101 yards on 11 attempts in his first start of the year last week.
Washington Football Team RB J.D. McKissic (concussion) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: McKissic still needs to pass the concussion tests to play, so his status for Week 14 is uncertain. He can be at least a flex option when healthy, but fantasy players will need a backup plan ready in case he sits again.
Washington Football Team WR Curtis Samuel (groin) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Samuel received only two touches in the last game and finished with negative two yards. He is still working his way back from the injury but can be avoided in fantasy leagues.
Washington Football Team S Landon Collins (foot), LB Jamin Davis (concussion) and OG Wes Schweitzer (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Dec. 8. DT Jonathan Allen (groin), LB Jordan Kunaszyk (hamstring), C Tyler Larsen (knee) and OG Brandon Scherff (knee) were limited during practice.
New York Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay (ribs) was moving gingerly during individual drills on Wednesday and went to a side field to work with trainers. He was officially listed as a non-practice participant. The Giants receivers are pretty much all injured, which is nothing new for 2021. Rookie Kadarius Toney (oblique, quadriceps) missed another practice, and Sterling Shepard (quadriceps) hasn't played since Week 8. If quarterback Mike Glennon is able to return from his concussion with Daniel Jones (neck) likely out, he might not have many good options to throw the ball to. This entire Giants offense is stuck in the mud, and their injury situation hasn't helped. Golladay had three catches for 37 yards before leaving the game last Sunday. Darius Slayton is one of the only healthy Giants receivers.
New York Giants rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney (oblique, quadriceps) missed another practice session on Wednesday and only worked on a side field with trainers. Toney has missed the last two games, and it's looking like Sterling Shepard (quadriceps), who hasn't played since Week 8, is closer to returning than Toney. Kenny Golladay (ribs) is hurt again and is in danger of missing Week 14 against the Los Angeles Chargers this weekend. What's new for the Giants this year? Fantasy managers shouldn't be relying on Toney this weekend, even if he's active, with either Mike Glennon (concussion) or Jake Fromm expected to make the start under center at quarterback. Darius Slayton is one of the few healthy wideouts for this team.
The New York Giants are "optimistic" that quarterback Mike Glennon (head) will be cleared from the league's concussion protocol and be ready to play against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, according to head coach Joe Judge. Glennon will start this weekend if he clears the protocol. He wasn't able to practice on Wednesday, but he still has a few more days to gain clearance. Daniel Jones (neck) remains limited in practice, but he's expected to miss a second straight game and has yet to be cleared for contact in practices. If Glennon isn't cleared, Jake Fromm would make his first career NFL start. The Chargers defense is a very strong streaming option in fantasy in Week 14, especially considering how beat up New York's receivers are as well.
New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram will be placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Fantasy Spin: Ingram's status for Week 14 is in question since the game is only a few days away. Fantasy players can monitor the situation but may need to look for other options in their lineups.
New York Giants quarterback Mike Glennon (concussion) only worked on a side field during practice on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Daniel Jones (neck) continued to be limited after missing last week's game. Jones is unlikely to return in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Chargers, so if Glennon cannot clear the league's concussion protocol, it will be Jake Fromm making his first NFL start on Sunday. If that's the case, fantasy managers may want to avoid all of the Giants offensive weapons in fantasy. Just last week, Fromm was getting repetitions on the Buffalo Bills practice squad. No matter how New York's QB situation shakes out this week, the Chargers defense will be a strong play in fantasy. Glennon went 23-for-44 for 187 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in the Week 13 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (ankle) wasn't seen at the portion of practice open to the media on Wednesday. Higgins picked up an ankle injury in the Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but he managed to score a touchdown for the second straight week and put up over 100 yards receiving for the second straight week with a season-high 138 yards on 14 targets and nine receptions. Higgins' ankle injury isn't believed to be serious, but fantasy managers will want to keep an eye on his practice status over the next couple of days. As long as he returns and is active on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, he should be a locked-in WR2 in fantasy. Rookie Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd would have higher ceilings if Higgins was unable to play.
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said that running back Joe Mixon (illness) is out sick on Wednesday. Mixon injured his neck in the second half of the Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, but he returned to the contest and the injury isn't an issue heading into Week 14 against the San Francisco 49ers. Those that roster Mixon may want to snag Samaje Perine off the waiver wire as insurance, but as long as Mixon returns to practice at some point this week, he should be good to go and would be a high-end RB1 against a Niners defense that has been a top-10 matchup in terms of fantasy points per week to the RB position all year.
New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley (ankle) was limited during practice Wednesday, Dec. 8. The Giants did not hold a practice Wednesday, so this is an estimation.
Fantasy Spin: Barkley is back on the injury report, so fantasy players will need monitor the situation over the next few days. He will see plenty of touches if he plays and can be a No. 2 running back in most leagues.