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.
Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins completed 19 of 28 throws for 261 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's loss to the Eagles. For the first time in more than a month, Haskins completed over 60% of his passes. Sunday also marked a career-high for passing yards and was the second time the rookie threw multiple touchdowns. An otherwise mistake-free outing was upended on the last play of the game, when Haskins fumbled to give the Eagles a defensive touchdown. By and large, Haskins took a major step in the right direction with his Week 15 effort in a divisional game. We're looking for building blocks that may translate into a prominent fantasy status in 2020, and games like these help set the table for that possibility.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel earned three targets against the Falcons in Week 15 and managed just one catch for 29 yards. He also had an eight-yard rush in the game. Samuel had been on a hot streak coming into this game with either five-or-more catches or a touchdown in five straight games. Despite a favorable matchup against the Falcons, the 49ers offense struggled as a whole in this game. Samuel and the 49ers will look to get back on track against the Rams in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was held to just two catches for nine yards on four targets in Week 15 against the Falcons. Sanders was coming off of a remarkable 157-yard performance against the Saints in Week 14, so it was surprising to see him struggle to make his mark against a very generous Falcons pass defense. Fellow wide receiver Deebo Samuel only had one catch in this game and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only threw for 200 yards, so it was a rough day for the 49ers offense as a whole. Sanders will look to bounce back against the Rams in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida had a rough game against the Falcons in Week 15. He fumbled twice, though only one was recovered by the Falcons. He had four carries in the game and managed just 11 yards and he caught both of his targets in the passing game for six yards. Raheem Mostert was the focal point of the 49ers' run game again this week. Mostert had 14 carries in the game. Breida was equalled in carries by Tevin Coleman, though Coleman outperformed him, gaining 40 yards on his four carries thanks to a 37-yard rush.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman rushed the ball four times for 40 yards in Week 15 against the Falcons. He had a 37-yard rush that was the team's biggest play from scrimmage on the day. This was the third straight game in which Coleman was held to five-or-fewer carries. Raheem Mostert has taken over as the No. 1 running back in San Francisco and he had 14 carries in this game. Coleman, meanwhile, is sharing No. 2 back duties with Matt Breida, though Coleman outperformed Breida in this game. Coleman is a drop candidate in any season-long league that ends in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle had a monstrous game in Week 15 against the Falcons. He caught 13 of his 17 targets for a season-high 134 yards, his third 100-yard game of the year. This was the first time all year that Kittle had earned over 10 targets and also the first time that he'd had double-digit receptions. Kittle is a stud and an absolute must-start tight end. He'll look to stay hot as the team takes on the Rams in Week 16.
Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky completed 29-of-53 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers. He also ran for 29 yards.
Fantasy Spin: The Bears managed to do a little better offensively than Week 1 against the Packers, but they were still lacking. Trubisky remains more of a QB2 in most fantasy leagues heading into Week 16 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't able to take advantage of a favorable home matchup against the Falcons in Week 15. He completed 22-of-34 passes for 200 yards and just one touchdown in the game. He didn't have any turnovers in the game, which makes his fantasy line passable, but the potential was there for a big, big game and Garoppolo wasn't able to deliver. He'll look to bounce back and get the team back in the win column against the Rams in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert was the focus of the team's running game once again in Week 15 against the 49ers. He had a team-high 14 carries and rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown. He also added a five-yard reception and he lost a fumble. Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida had four carries each, so it's rather clear that Mostert is the guy to own in San Francisco right now. He figures to be an RB2 going forward. His next matchup is against the Rams in Week 16.
Oakland Raiders tight end Darren Waller caught eight of 10 targets for 122 yards in the team's 20-16 home loss to the Jaguars on Sunday. The 26-year-old dominated looks from Derek Carr once again, with five players finishing with three targets for the next most volume on the team. Waller now has 1,001 yards on 80 receptions during his breakout campaign, but has only found the end zone three times. His high-volume usage keeps him planted as a TE1, and should be treated as much versus the Chargers in Week 16.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper had a disappointing showing in Week 15 against the 49ers. He was targeted six times in the game, but wound up with just three catches for 20 yards. The Falcons leaned heavily on Julio Jones in this game. Jones was targeted 20 times and accounted for 134 of the team's 210 air yards. With Calvin Ridley (abdominal) out for the rest of the year, Hooper should have at least around six targets per game going forward and more often than not, he'll deliver solid starting tight end numbers with that target share. He'll look to bounce back against the Jaguars in Week 16.
Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo only had one field goal attempt against the 49ers in Week 15, but he was able to connect on it. He hit a 43-yard field goal and he was also 2-for-2 on extra-point attempts. Koo is now 17-of-19 on field goals with the Falcons this year. He's a solid starting kicker option. He'd earned at least three field goal attempts in all of his previous five games this year.
The Green Bay Packers Defense posted three sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery in a 21-13 win over the Chicago Bears. It was a strong performance in which they only allowed 13 points. The highlight of the day for Green Bay was an interception by 6-foot-6, 296-pound defensive lineman Dean Lowry. Green Bay will look to put up another solid stat line against the Minnesota Vikings next week.
The Falcons Defense was able to come through with a solid performance despite being in a tough spot on the road against the 49ers in Week 15. They recovered two fumbles in the game and held the 49ers to 22 points. The 49ers had scored over 35 points in three of their previous four games coming into this week. On the whole, the Falcons defense has had a rough year, but they've shown a few glimpses of hope here and there. They'll look to build off this solid performance against the Jaguars in Week 16.
Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill rushed the ball just one time for 16 yards against the 49ers in Week 15. It was a surprisingly low workload for Hill after he'd earned nine carries the previous week. The team didn't run the ball a ton in Week 15. Devonta Freeman led the way with 12 carries for 39 yards and Qadree Ollison had a one-yard touchdown run on his only carry. Hill isn't worth starting or even owning in most leagues as Freeman is the clear No. 1 back in this offense.
Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams broke his six-game scoreless drought by hitting a 40-yard score on the first drive of the game in the team's 20-16 loss to the Jaguars. He broke a sure-tackle about ten yards down the field and ran for the rest untouched for the touchdown. Williams failed to do much the rest of the way, adding just one catch for five yards the rest of the way as the offense as a whole sputtered in the second half. The veteran hasn't shown any consistency this season and is a risky play for the fantasy championship next week. Williams will be a TD-dependant WR4 in a road date with the Chargers who held him to 25 yards back in Week 10.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones dominated the 49ers in Week 15, delivering one of his biggest games of the year and ending his nine-game touchdown drought. Jones was targeted a whopping 20 times by Matt Ryan in the game and reeled in 13 receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan only had a total of 210 passing yards in a game, so Jones accounted for well over half of the team's air yardage. Jones is an absolute stud, even though the season as a whole has been slightly underwhelming by his lofty standards. He'll look to stay hot against the Jaguars in Week 16.
Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby made all three extra-point attempts in a 21-13 win over the Chicago Bears. The 35-year-old has relied on extra-points for the majority of his fantasy points, as he's only attempted 17 field goals this year. For that reason, he's more dependent on his offense being successful than other kickers. Crosby could be a better play next week in a potentially high scoring game next week against the Minnesota Vikings.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage caught five of his six targets for 27 yards in Week 15 against the 49ers. He also added a six-yard rush. The Falcons came away with an impressive victory in the game and they leaned heavily on Julio Jones to get the win. Jones caught 13 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. Gage has five-or-more receptions in three of his past four games now and is a viable WR3 or flex play in deep leagues, but his upside is limited as he's only topped 60 receiving yards once this year.
New York Giants WR Golden Tate had just one grab on four targets in Week 15 against the Miami Dolphins, but it was good for a 51-yard touchdown.
Fantasy Spin: Despite the long touchdown, Tate is only worth a look as a WR5 in most fantasy leagues heading into Week 16 against the Washington Redskins.