Tue Nov 12 5:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes between Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) and strong safety Micah Hyde (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
In this May 15, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns' Kareem Hunt (27) and Nick Chubb (24) talk during an NFL football organized team activity session at the team's training facility in Berea, Ohio. With Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game NFL suspension to join Nick Chubb in Clevelands backfield, the Browns (3-6) have a dynamic duo that will test opposing defenses through the air and on the ground. In Sundays 19-16 win over Buffalo, the Hunt-Chubb tandem combined for 147 yards rushing and 49 receiving while helping the Browns snap a four-game losing streak that halted a season shaped by high expectations from dissolving into another mess. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, top, is tackled by Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) rushes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
BEREA, Ohio (AP) Freddie Kitchens has struggled to make two star wide receivers happy. The Browns coach now has a pair of elite running backs to please as well.
One football. Four playmakers.
That's not necessarily a bad problem.
With Kareem Hunt returning from his eight-game NFL suspension to join Nick Chubb in Cleveland's backfield, the Browns (3-6) have a dynamic duo that will test opposing defenses on the ground and through the air.
In Sunday's 19-16 win over Buffalo, the Hunt-Chubb tandem debuted and combined for 196 total yards while helping the Browns snap a four-game losing streak that halted this season shaped by high expectations from dissolving into another maddening mess.
Kitchens, whose future was beginning to look bleak and remains unclear, understands that Chubb-Hunt can be a potent 1-2 combination.
''Anytime you can get guys who can do things with the ball in their hands and they can also play off of other people, that definitely impacts decisions, alignments and assignments,'' Kitchens said Tuesday as the Browns prepared for Thursday night's game against the surging Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) ''When you have more than a couple of options, it's always, from that positon in particular, very good.''
And very needed.
To this point, the Browns have lacked a clear offensive identity.
The two-back, Chubb-Hunt set may change that.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn't developed any consistent chemistry with Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who has just one touchdown catch as teams have focused on taking him away with double teams. The Browns went out of their way to get Beckham involved on Sunday as he was targeted 12 times - Mayfield just missed him on two long throws - and had five catches.
Jarvis Landry had one of his best games this season with nine receptions for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns have already seen how Hunt's versatility will prevent teams from keying on Chubb, who is on the verge of a 1,000-yard season, while creating more downfield opportunities for Beckham and Landry.
''We kind of did some experiments on just how much we can do with that package,'' Mayfield said. ''Obviously, two dynamic players with Nick and Kareem, we are able to do a lot but kind of make to where we format it where it all looks similar, but we are doing different things out of it. It can be an explosive package for us. We just have to go out there and do our job.''
From the start on Sunday, Hunt did his job, unleashing months of pent-up energy.
On Cleveland's second play, he lined up alongside Chubb and then delivered a kick-out block that cleared a path for his teammate on a 21-yard run. It was a tone-setter and perhaps a sign of things to come.
''They're both willing blockers, they both can catch out of the backfield, then can line up in different spots and they both run with great energy,'' said left guard Joel Bitonio. ''It was cool to see `em both out there. Hunt ran the ball hard the few times he got it. The cool thing was he was lead-blocking a few times and some of those were big spring plays. You know we don't have a fullback in there, but he kind of acted like it a couple times.
''That was really cool to see, his willingness to be that guy.''
Hunt's debut for the Browns was a revelation in many ways.
The 24-year-old former NFL rushing champion is determined to change his personal narrative following two ugly, off-field incidents that led to his release by the Kansas City Chiefs last year and subsequent league punishment. To some, the disturbing video of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman during an argument last year has painted him as an unforgivable villain.
However, the Browns have been impressed with his attitude and maturity. He's made strides off the field. On it, he's a potentially game-changing player.
''Whatever the team needs, he'll do,'' said center JC Tretter. ''He showed it.''
Hunt understands there may be people not thrilled that he's getting a second chance. That's something else he has avoided focusing on.
''I really do not pay too much attention with that,'' he said when asked if he senses how fans have received his return. ''It is up to you. If you like me, you like me.''
NOTES: DE Olivier Vernon (knee) and S Eric Murray (knee) remain sidelined and will likely miss Thursday's game. ... The season's first significant snowfall forced the Browns to practice indoors. But kicker Austin Seibert, punter Jamie Gillan and long snapper Charley Hughlett went outside to get their work in. ... Mayfield will match up Thursday against Steelers QB Mason Rudolph for the first time as pros. They faced each other three times in college with Mayfield leading Oklahoma to a 3-0 record against Rudolph and Oklahoma State. ''Mason is a great guy,'' Mayfield said. ''He is playing well, taking care of the ball, putting them in a good position to win.''
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett (knee) is considered "day-to-day" by head coach Sean McVay. "His knee is making progress, but not ready to get out there and practice with us yet." Everett has essentially been day-to-day since suffering the injury in Week 13. He's missed the last two games as a result and cannot be trusted for fantasy lineups in Week 15 against the Panthers. Starting the week off with another missed practice is a bad sign. Tyler Higbee has gone for 14 catches (19 targets) for 223 yards and a touchdown the last two weeks against the Cardinals and Seahawks with Everett sidelined. Higbee will keep his TE1 status in the fantasy playoffs if Everett remains out.
Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard (shoulder) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Howard has been close to playing for weeks it seems, but he has yet to be cleared and hasn't seen the field since Nov. 3 against the Bears. If he does return in Week 15 against the Redskins, he could have his workload monitored and limited because of the long layoff, making him more of a risky RB2/3. Rookie Miles Sanders has been the workhorse in Philly's backfield with Howard sidelined, and he'll maintain RB2 upside in a solid matchup this Sunday if Howard misses another game.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews has been listed as questionable with a minor knee injury, but is expected to play Thursday Night against the Jets. Andrews was only able to record one catch on three targets for 14 yards before exiting the game in Sunday's Week 14 win over the Buffalo Bills. It's a possibility that Baltimore could sit Andrews to preserve his health as the Ravens make a push for first place. He was limited in practice Tuesday and Wednesday, but has been limited in practice for much of the season and has still played in every game. Through Week 14 of the season, Andrews leads the Ravens in targets, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. If Andrews is on the field he should be in your starting lineups against the Jets in Week 15.
Arizona Cardinals wide receivers Christian Kirk (ankle) and Andy Isabella (shoulder) were both limited in practice on Wednesday. Both players should be on track to play in Week 15 against the Browns, but we'll keep an eye on their status the rest of the week. Kirk had eight catches on nine targets for 85 yards in the loss to the Steelers last week. He'll be an upside WR2 if he's able to play this weekend against Cleveland alongside Larry Fitzgerald. Other than his 88-yard touchdown catch on Halloween against the 49ers, Isabella has done very little (8-185-1) in his rookie season. He's purely a dynasty stash for his long-term upside.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was officially listed as questionable with a quadriceps injury for Week 15 but confidently confirmed Tuesday that he would start against the Jets on Thursday night. The Ravens face a Jets Defense that conceded 245 passing yards and 65 rushing yards from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 14, but did not allow the Dolphins to find the end zone. The Jets defense has allowed 21 total touchdowns and an average of 19 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2019. At this point in the season, it's not looking like any team will be able to stop the Lamar Jackson train. Jackson could produce high-ceiling numbers in the best matchup he's had in weeks. It would be wise to throw him in your starting lineups in a game where he will likely break Michael Vick's single-season rushing record for a quarterback.
New England Patriots running back James White will take on a Bengals Defense in Week 15 that is allowing the eighth most fantasy points to opposing backs this season. The Patriots offense is in quite a slump right now but White has emerged as the lead back over the past few games. Teammate Sony Michel simply is not a threat in the passing game and White brings more versatility to the position. The Bengals have allowed 16 different running backs this season to post 10 or more fantasy points against them and look for quarterback Tom Brady to target White plenty in this contest. White will be a RB2/3 option in Week 15 with a solid chance at 100 total yards from scrimmage against the Bengals.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) remained out of practice on Wednesday after sitting out on Monday night against the Giants. Agholor has a chance to be fantasy relevant as the team's No. 1 receiver with Alshon Jeffery (foot) now done for the year in the final three games, but there's no guarantee that Agholor will play this Sunday against the Redskins. He had just two catches for 11 yards in the season opener against Washington. If Agholor is out for his second straight game, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert would be the top three pass-catchers for Carson Wentz.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and running back James Conner (shoulder) were both full participants in practice on Wednesday. The Steelers are expecting to get both players back for Week 15 against the Bills on Sunday night. Smith-Schuster and Conner have both been out since Nov. 14 and will return to a difficult matchup against a strong Bills Defense. Their pending returns are bad news for Benny Snell Jr. and James Washington mostly. It's likely that Bills shutdown cornerback Tre'Davious White will shadow Smith-Schuster in his return on Sunday evening. This whole offense will receive a boost with both players on track to return, but it's still somewhat limited with Devlin Hodges leading the charge under center.
New England Patriots wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle) was listed as limited at practice on Wednesday. Sanu returned to the field last week but caught only one pass and it is clear that the ankle injury is hampering his ability to play at full speed. The Patriots will take on a Bengals Defense that is allowing the 10th fewest fantasy points to opposing receivers this season and have allowed only two touchdowns to receivers since Week 10. Sanu should be considered on course to suit up in Week 15 but the injury, combined with the state of the Patriots offense, makes him unusable in most fantasy formats.
New England Patriots running back Sony Michel will take on a Bengals Defense in Week 15 that is allowing the eighth most fantasy points to opposing backs this season. But Michel has completely fallen off the fantasy map as of late, totaling only 15 carries for 53 yards over his last two games. Matters got so bad for Michel last week that James White, Brandon Bolden and Rex Burkhead all saw more carries in the game than him. The second-year running back has been a major disappointment this season and pinning your fantasy hopes on him as a starter in Week 15 would be a mistake.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have an excellent chance to get his offense back on track this week against an awful Bengals team in Week 15. Brady and the Patriots offense has severely struggled the past few weeks and Brady has passed for only nine touchdowns over his last eight games. New England is trying to incorporate young receivers into the offense on the fly and Brady will go up against a Bengals Defense that is allowing the ninth most fantasy points to passers this season. The Bengals haven't allowed a substantial amount of touchdowns but certainly are lenient in passing yards allowed. This is a perfect opportunity to have a positive offensive day against an inferior opponent and Brady has a shot at top-10 numbers among QB's for Week 15.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee, shoulder) did not take part in practice on Wednesday. Edelman has been on the injury report pretty much all year with nagging injuries, but he manages to play every week and remains quarterback Tom Brady's favorite aerial target. Edelman had eight catches on 12 targets for 95 yards and a touchdown in the Week 15 loss to the Chiefs. He's found paydirt in back-to-back weeks and has seen double-digit targets in every game since Oct. 6 against the Redskins. Expect him to return to practice later this week and play against Cincinnati, where he'll be a must-start in the fantasy playoffs.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is likely to make his second straight start in Week 15 against the Dolphins despite rookie Daniel Jones (ankle) returning to a limited practice on Wednesday, according to a team official. It could be the 38-year-old Manning's final home start for the G-Men. The decision will ultimately be head coach Pat Shurmur's, but the Giants will be cautious with Jones. Jones insisted he's improving and is pushing to play, but he's just hoping he can play in one of the final three games of the season. Manning was 15-for-30 for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the overtime loss to the Eagles on Monday night. Even in a juicy matchup with Miami, Manning would be a low-end QB2 for fantasy if he starts again.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (knee) was held out of practice on Wednesday. The Falcons are likely just giving Freeman some rest early in the week after he went for 84 yards and his first rushing touchdown of the season on 17 carries in Week 14 against the Panthers. It was a breath of fresh air for his fantasy owners, but he could go right back to being a disappointment in Week 15 against a tough Niners defensive front. Consider Freeman more of a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 for this Sunday at San Francisco. He's one to fade in DFS.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll thinks that wide receiver Tyler Lockett (illness, shin) is "really back" and ready to go for Week 15 against the Panthers. Since his 152-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers on Nov. 3, Lockett has been missing in action for his fantasy owners. He hasn't gone over four catches or 43 yards in four games since, including a donut in Week 13 against the Vikings. Lockett had four catches for 43 yards in the Sunday night win over the Rams. There's always top-shelf upside here, but he's become more of a boom/bust WR3 in Seattle's run-first offense of late.
The Chicago Bears Defense will take on the Packers in Week 15 and Green Bay is allowing the sixth fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Bears defense is loaded with talent but have been extremely disappointing from a fantasy perspective this season. They currently rank outside of the top-15 in fantasy points scored among defenses and have 10 or more fantasy points only once over their last nine games. The biggest issue for the team has been a steep decline in turnovers and sacks from the previous season. The Packers offense hasn't lit up the league this season but the Bears defense lacks enough fantasy appeal to keep them on the bench in Week 15.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (foot) was limited in practice on Wednesday. In his return from Injured Reserve in Week 14 against the Browns, Ross was pretty much invisible, catching two of three targets for just 28 yards. The speedster is now dealing with a foot injury, but he should be able to play this Sunday against the Patriots at home. Ross can always break away for a touchdown as a deep-threat specialist, but he just can't be trusted in the fantasy playoffs in a tough matchup with New England. He'll be more of a boom-or-bust WR4/5, but his targets could go up with Auden Tate (knee) on Injured Reserve and A.J. Green (ankle) still nowhere close to returning.
Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen will take on a Packers Defense in Week 15 that is allowing the fifth most fantasy points to opposing backs this season. Green Bay has allowed 13 different running backs to post 11 or more fantasy points against them and 13 rushing touchdowns. The matchup is appealing but Cohen lacks value as a fantasy starter for Week 15. He has a role in an improving offense but his touches have decreased as the season has gone along. Cohen has taken on more of a change-of-pace role in the offense and his touches have been capped in the 8-to-12 range. Cohen has game-breaking talent but his fantasy floor should be keep him on the bench in most leagues in Week 15.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson will face the Packers for the second time this season in Week 15. The veteran posted seven receptions for 102 yards in Week 1 and is having a Pro Bowl-type season with 76 receptions for 898 yards and seven touchdowns. The Bears will face a Packers Defense that is allowing the ninth fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and possess some of the more talented cornerbacks in the league. But this shouldn't scare fantasy owners from starting Robinson, who continues to deliver solid performances weekly. Robinson is a solid WR2 with WR1 upside in Week 15 as the Bears season is on the line.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and tight end Ben Braunecker (concussion) are still in the league's concussion protocol and didn't practice on Wednesday. Wide receiver Javon Wims (knee) also missed practice. Gabriel and Braunecker are questionable, at best, and obviously shouldn't be counted on in fantasy lineups for Week 15 against the Packers. Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller are the only Chicago pass-catchers worthy of being in fantasy lineups this Sunday. Rookie Jesper Horsted is the best bet at tight end if Braunecker misses another game, but he's off the fantasy radar.