Guest of the League
4th and 44
FFL: Week 14 | NFL: Week 14

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
Nick Foles Dec 7 4:10pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa will be looking to get back on track when the Chargers visit the Jaguars on Sunday this week. Bosa, who has 8.5 sacks on the season, has been held without one in over a month. This week, he'll face rookie Gardner Minshew, newly appointed starter for the Jaguars after Nick Foles fell flat over the last couple games. Minshew is much more agile and improvisational than Foles, but he's also raw and hopefully someone that Bosa can catch making a mistake or two. The Chargers Defense has been up and down recently, but a strong showing against a fellow disappointing team could help right the ship for the last few games of the season.

From RotoBaller

Michael Badgley Dec 7 4:00pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers kicker Michael Badgley was booming balls a mile up in the sky last week, but he'll be back down near sea level this go around. Badgley missed a 55-yarder in Denver last week, and he'll be just 16 feet above sea level in Week 14 when he is kicking in Jacksonville. Badgley is a far cry from where he was last season, making just 76% of his kicks this year as compared to the 93.8% he knocked through in 2018. Also, while he was perfect in kicks less than 50 yards in length last year, he's missed two such kicks this season. Badgley isn't a terrible kicker, especially compared to some in LA's history, but he certainly hasn't lived up to his billing.

From RotoBaller

David Njoku Dec 7 3:50pm ET

The Cleveland Browns activated tight end David Njoku from injured reserve on Saturday. Njoku fractured his wrist during Week 2 against the New York Jets and has spent most of the season on the sidelines. Njoku is not expected to be limited on Sunday, which will push Demetrius Harris, Stephen Carlson, and Ricky Seals-Jones back to reserve roles. Njoku's next two weeks set up perfectly in fantasy as he will face two teams that struggle to contain tight ends in Cincinnati and the Arizona Cardinals. Njoku's return is an instant boost to Baker Mayfield's stock as the team has been missing a red-zone presence this season.

From RotoBaller

Hunter Henry Dec 7 3:50pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry will have his work cut out for him in Week 14. Henry will be facing off against a Jacksonville defense that has been one of the stingiest in the land versus opposing tight ends. Jacksonville's held opposing tight ends to zero touchdowns in the last four weeks, and they're top-10 in limiting the production of opposing tight ends this season. Henry had been on a hot streak until last week when he got shut down by Denver, so he could use a bounce back. Unfortunately, the Jaguars' difficult defense makes a big week unlikely, though most owners won't be able to pass up the tantalizing possibilities of a big week from the young TE.

From RotoBaller

Keenan Allen Dec 7 3:30pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is making up for lost time by racking up touchdowns in two straight games. Now, he'll face another stout defensive backfield that is tied for the fourth-fewest receiving touchdowns this season. Jacksonville has allowed quite a few yards to wideouts, but they've been able to keep them out of the end zone. Allen has done a good job of hauling in passes sent his way this year, but he's still pulling himself out of the doldrums where he struggled to get meaningful yardage in the middle of the year. He's been on a roll the last few weeks though, and he should find a way to continue that momentum this week. Expect solid numbers for the fantasy playoffs.

From RotoBaller

Mike Williams Dec 7 3:20pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams went huge last week against the Denver Broncos, and he'll be looking to continue building on his progress. Williams racked up 117 yards as he was the go-to receiver for deep passes, giving him a new career-high. He'll now turn his sights on the Jaguars, a less dominant secondary than that of the Broncos. However, in this case, them being less dominant may actually cut into Williams' production instead of helping it. One of the natural ways Denver's stingy secondary helped Williams is that Philip Rivers wanted to avoid Chris Harris Jr, who shadowed Keenan Allen all day. Jacksonville's secondary isn't so top-heavy, so Williams may not see as much work and Allen may see more. Williams has shown he can be a superstar though, so Rivers should still find him for a big play or two no matter what,

From RotoBaller

Melvin Gordon Dec 7 2:30pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has been on a roll recently, and that train shouldn't slow down on Sunday against Jacksonville. Gordon has posted 90 or more yards from scrimmage in four straight games, and he's about to face one of the worst rushing defenses in the entire league. The Jaguars have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards and second-most rushing touchdowns in the NFL, and Gordon has returned to his full form. Expect Gordon to be a linchpin in the Chargers offense this week, and he could be one of the highest-performing players across the league.

From RotoBaller

Austin Ekeler Dec 7 2:30pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler has once again proven that he can still be a productive fantasy weapon even when Melvin Gordon is fully healthy and performing, and he should continue some of that production this week against a Jacksonville defense that is extremely susceptible to running backs. Ekeler has touched the ball 34 times in the last three games, and he's racked up 247 yards on those touches, averaging 7.27 yards per touch. He's also scored a pair of touchdowns, and fantasy owners should look for him to be attacking the end zone once again this week. Since Ekeler is officially a backup, there's always the possibility of a dud if the coaching staff decides to push the ball elsewhere, but his recent production more than warrants continued use.

From RotoBaller

D.J. Chark Dec 7 1:50pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver D.J. Chark has seen his role in the Jaguars offense fade some lately, but with rookie Gardner Minshew back at quarterback, Chark's in a good spot to get back to the level he was at early in the season. Chark averages more yards per reception with Minshew at quarterback and caught five touchdowns from the first-year passer. This week's meeting with the Chargers isn't a great one for Jacksonville's passing game, but if you're going to trust one of these receivers, it should be Chark.

From RotoBaller

Chris Conley Dec 7 1:50pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Chris Conley has been incredibly consistent over the past three games, so if you need a fantasy wide receiver who'll catch four passes for 50 yards, Conley's the guy for you. He doesn't have tremendous upside and has just two touchdown receptions on the year, but his current role with the Jaguars does give him a solid floor. Sometimes, that's what you need.

From RotoBaller

Minnesota Vikings Dec 7 1:40pm ET

The Minnesota Vikings Defense is one of the top plays at the position in Week 14. They will square off with undrafted rookie quarterback David Blough and the Detroit Lions at home in an important divisional battle. Blough played well in a narrow loss to the Bears in his debut in Week 13, but he did throw an interception and took two sacks in the game. The Vikings average 2.8 sacks per game and have a chance to get after the rookie with the Lions offensive line struggling. The Vikings secondary has been atrocious lately and the Lions have some deep-threat weapons, but it's safe to count on Mike Zimmer's defense to rebound at home after last week's brutal effort against the Seattle Seahawks. Start them with confidence in Week 14 as they have a great chance at picking up sacks and turnovers for your fantasy squad.

From RotoBaller

Stefon Diggs Dec 7 1:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is a WR2 with a wide range of outcomes in Week 14. It's been up-and-down for Diggs since Adam Thielen (hamstring) has been out as he has registered three monster fantasy outputs while also mixing in three very modest efforts. Detroit has struggled to defend the pass this year as they rank 26th in pass DVOA and are in the bottom-five in fantasy points allowed to the position. Though Diggs will likely see a lot of Darius Slay in coverage, the Vikings will find ways to scheme him open as their top receiving option. It should be noted that the passing game volume could take a slight hit with the Vikings favored by 13 points at home. Keep Diggs locked in as a solid WR2 with elite upside and a lower floor than most receivers in his range.

From RotoBaller

Dede Westbrook Dec 7 1:20pm ET

Don't let his touchdown reception last week fool you; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook has had limited upside all season and while he's unlikely to bottom out like he did in Gardner Minshew's first game as quarterback for the Jags, he's not a great option in Minshew's return to the starting role. Westbrook's targets and yardage have been smaller than most expected coming into this season, which makes it difficult to trust him, especially in shallower leagues.

From RotoBaller

Leonard Fournette Dec 7 1:00pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette should be in line for a solid performance in Sunday's meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers allow the ninth-most PPR points to opposing running backs, and while in years past that PPR part of the equation wouldn't mean much to Fournette, he's been targeted 23 times in the passing game over the last two weeks. He's going to get a lot of touches on Sunday, and the Chargers are a team that he can exploit. Feel confident using Fournette as an RB1.

From RotoBaller

Olabisi Johnson Dec 7 12:50pm ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Olabisi Johnson remains in the mix as the Vikings No. 2 receiver with Adam Thielen (hamstring) out. Johnson had been playing at least 70% of snaps every week Thielen has missed, but he put up a 56% snap count in Week 13 as Laquon Treadwell carved out an increased role. Johnson finished with one catch for one yard in a loss to the Seahawks. "Bisi" has a much better chance to produce this week as the Lions Defense has gotten torched all season and shutdown corner Darius Slay will likely stick with Stefon Diggs all game long. As a reminder, Johnson is one game removed from catching six of nine targets for 35 yards in a comeback win over the Broncos in Week 11. There could be some volume concerns this week with the Vikings favored by 13 points, but Johnson is the Vikings backup receiver to take a chance on if you're in desperate need.

From RotoBaller

Philip Rivers Dec 7 12:50pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had his best game in a month last week when he completed 69% of his passes, but the Chargers still found a way to lose at the last second. This week, he'll face a porous Jacksonville defense that has been sliding recently. Though mediocre for the season, the Jaguars have fallen apart recently, allowing 26 or more points in four straight games. They've been ripped by opposing quarterbacks, allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in the last month. With LA desperately looking to nail down a win after so many close losses, expect Rivers to have the opportunity for a big game.

From RotoBaller

Evan Engram Dec 7 12:30pm ET

The New York Giants ruled out both tight ends Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) for Monday night. That means Kaden Smith will get another start. He could be put into DFS Showdown slates, but he's not a recommended option in season-long playoffs given the Giants' full complement of healthy wide receivers.

From RotoBaller

Daniel Jones Dec 7 12:30pm ET

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones will miss Monday night's game with an ankle injury. As has been expected all week, Eli Manning will get the start and becomes a low-end QB2 option in season-long leagues. This improves Saquon Barkley's value a little since Manning dumps off to running backs more than he runs, but it doesn't do much to the value of the Giants' wide receivers. Perhaps a slight bump down for Golden Tate since the two have never played together.

From RotoBaller

Laquon Treadwell Dec 7 12:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Laquon Treadwell will likely see extended playing time again this week in the absence of top wideout Adam Thielen (hamstring). Treadwell caught one of his two targets for a wide-open 58-yard score last week, but he should not be considered as a starting option in Week 14. The fourth-year wideout has seen one or zero targets in five of his seven games played - that fact alone should have you looking elsewhere for desperation streaming options. He'll compete with Olabisi Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, and Dalvin Cook for (likely) limited targets behind Stefon Diggs this week. If you must have a backup receiver from this game, look to Johnson with his higher snap count and target-share.

From RotoBaller

Gardner Minshew II Dec 7 12:20pm ET

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew is the starter again, but his first start since reclaiming that role comes in a bad situation. The Jags play the Chargers, who've allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing passers this season. The safest bet for you in a season-long fantasy league is to do what you can to avoid playing Minshew this week, though he's not the worst option in a two-quarterback league. He threw for 147 yards and a touchdown in one half of play against Tampa.

From RotoBaller