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.
The New England Patriots Defense was able to contain, for the most part, an explosive Chiefs offense but came up short in the team's 23-17 loss in Week 14. The Patriots had their 21-game winning streak at home snapped as the defense totaled one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. The Patriots defense has failed to replicate their borderline historic numbers from the first half of the season and the slump the offense is currently in isn't helping matters. The vaunted unit, however, will be back at the top of the rankings in Week 15 against an awful Bengals team.
New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead carried the ball seven times for 15 yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The offense endured one of its worst performances of the season but Burkhead's snaps went up. He even out-snapped second-year running back Sony Michel and it is fair to question if the Patriots may opt to use more of Burkhead moving forward. Even if his playing time increases, Burkhead will struggle to rise above RB4 status heading into Week 15.
Kansas City Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy was given the start against the New England Patriots in Week 14. Lead back Damien Williams (ribs) did not suit up for this one, so the veteran McCoy was given the start. However, McCoy was unable to capitalize on the extra opportunities. He rushed 11 times for 39 yards and caught one pass for four yards through the air. Spencer Ware and Darwin Thompson took snaps in the backfield as well, but McCoy didn't do anything to deserve extra snaps. At this point in the season, McCoy has turned into a desperation flex option for deep leagues. He might get another start in Week 15, but he hasn't done enough to warrant starting him in most formats.
New England Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu caught only one pass for 13 yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs in Week 14. The veteran receiver was targeted only once and was a complete non-factor in the game. Sanu has been dealing with an ankle injury and it is fair to question whether he can truly contribute the rest of the fantasy season. He simply is struggling to get on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady and is learning a new offense on the fly. Sanu should ride the fantasy bench in Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry caught one pass for 12 yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. Harry caught the pass and made an excellent, athletic move towards the end zone but was called out of bounds. Upon further replay, Harry in fact scored on his lone reception but the Patriots were out of challenges to reverse the ruling. The rookie receiver has size and speed but is way behind in terms of his knowledge of the nuances in the Patriots offense. Harry is not fantasy viable right now outside of keeper or dynasty leagues.
New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray posted 64 rushing yards on seven carries and caught two of three targets for 25 yards in a 48-46 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Murray was out-touched by Alvin Kamara 17-nine, though Murray looked like the better player in this game. It was a great rebound effort for the 29-year-old, who had seen his snaps decrease steadily over the last three games. Perhaps the coaching staff will look to Murray more moving forward, especially considering they promised him more touches earlier in the year. He and the Saints will take on a strong Indianapolis Colts run defense in Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers caught one pass for 35 yards in the team's 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The rookie was able to make a splash-play but did little else with his three targets in the game. The Patriots offense is in crisis mode right now and expecting a rookie like Meyers to pull them out of it is not realistic. Meyers should, however, continue to see a consistent amount of game snaps as the Patriots offense is very thin at wide receiver right now.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was held in check by the Patriots during their Week 14 contest. The reigning MVP was held under 300 passing yards for the third straight game. Mahomes completed 26 of 40 passing attempts for 283 yards and one touchdown with one interception in the victory over New England. The Pats defense has been tough to pass against this season, so it's not surprising that Mahomes was slowed down. Fantasy owners can hope for a rebound contest against the average Denver Broncos pass defense in Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught eight passes for 95 yards and one touchdown in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs in Week 14. New England's offense is in full-blown crisis mode but Edelman continues to put up career numbers. Edelman surpassed 1,000 yards receiving for the third time in his career and now has 90 receptions on the season with six touchdowns. The Patriots offense is in a deep slump but Edelman can be safely dropped into fantasy starting lineups heading into Week 15.
New England Patriots running back James White carried the ball six times for 33 yards and added five receptions for 35 yards in the Patriots Week 14 loss to the Chiefs. On a night when the Patriots offense struggled for most of the game there weren't many bright spots to be found. From a fantasy perspective, however, White is slowly taking hold of the lead running back duties in the backfield. The Patriots appear to have lost all faith in second-year back Sony Michel and White brings versatility in the passing game. Look for White's touches to continue to rise in the final three games of the season.
The Minnesota Vikings Defense came through in a big way in Week 14's victory over the Detroit Lions. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo both had interceptions and the Vikings sacked David Blough five times in what was a dominating effort from start to finish. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was an absolute force as he picked up three sacks and three tackles for loss in the win. Hunter became the youngest player to reach 50 sacks in the history of the NFL; it's past time for him to be a household name in the league. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and Mike Hughes (oblique) left the contest late, but Mike Zimmer wasn't concerned about their injuries after the game. The Vikings Defense will be a recommended play in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed only 19 of 36 passes for 169 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. New England had a 21-game winning streak at home snapped as the offense continued its descent into mediocrity. All of the blame should not go to Brady but the future Hall of Famer's completion percentage continues to plummet. Four rushing touchdowns have helped his fantasy production over the last month but Brady has passed for only nine touchdowns over his last eight games played. The Patriots are heading towards the playoffs but will need massive improvement if they hope to defend their title. Brady's fantasy value is in free-fall right now.
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel carried the ball only five times for eight yards in the Patriots 23-17 loss to the Chiefs. The second-year running back was completely phased out of the team's offensive game plan as the Patriots search for an offensive identity. His fantasy value, in turn, has reached a new low as James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden all out-rushed Michel. The talented back has lost so much fantasy luster over the last month that fantasy owners may need to consider dropping him in favor of higher upside options moving forward.
Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton caught five of his seven targets for 34 yards in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Fantasy Spin: Although he didn't pile up a bunch of yards, Sutton led the team in receptions and targets. A Week 15 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs should have him back in the WR2 conversation.
Denver Broncos LB Todd Davis finished with 15 tackles, including five solo stops, in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Fantasy Spin: Davis has quietly delivered double-digit tackles in five straight games, making him a streaming option for those in the IDP market.
New Orleans Saints WR Tre'Quan Smith snagged two of his four targets for 29 yards and a touchdown vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Smith missed so much time this year with ankle injury and was set back because of it. He how has scores in two of his last three but has no more than a pair of catches in any of the last five appearances. That kind of involvement is of no use in fantasy playoff lineups.
Denver Broncos CB Kareem Jackson finished with 11 tackles, including six solo stops, an interception, three passes defensed and returned a fumble 70 yards for a touchdown in a 38-24 win over the Houston Texans in Week 14.
Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison had 14 carries for 46 yards in Week 14, adding two receptions for 18 yards in the win. The 16 touches were a new career-high for the rookie as he got a lot of late-game run with the Vikings holding a sizeable lead. Mattison likely won't offer standalone value in the fantasy playoffs, but he remains valuable as a priority handcuff to starter Dalvin Cook.
New Orleans Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. caught four passes for 50 yards on six targets vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14 on Sunday, Dec. 8.
Fantasy Spin: Ginn is merely a flier for a cheap touchdown most weeks. With so much at stake in Week 15, he's no better than a weak flex vs. Indy. The Colts gave up six WR scores in the five games entering Week 14 before allowing a trio of TDs to the position against the Bucs.
The Washington Redskins Defense played well enough to hold the Packers to 20 points on Sunday, but the bigger story is that they straight-up could not stop Aaron Jones on the ground. Jones rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and added six receptions for 58 yards. Jones' big day on the ground offset the fact that this Washington defense was largely able to hold Aaron Rodgers in check, as they sacked the Packers quarterback four times, held him to 195 yards and one touchdown through the air, and forced him to lose a fumble. The Redskins remain a risky option for any fantasy owner contending for a league championship, but they're not without upside.